The Craft of Repair
I have often said that repair is both part of most making* practices, and a craft* of its own. I believe it to be a way of making things work in the way you need them to. But is it a craft?
We can start from a truism: all makers make. But not all makers repair things. And not all repair-makers make things. And you might not repair the thing you make, and often you haven't made the thing you are repairing, which might be yours or someone elses.
Distinct from making new, repair engages with the pre-existent ([often used] objects, narratives, owners/users), working with these to create functionality (in whatever form) by making. Making uses our hands, tacit knowledge, and skills learnt, or being learnt, through practise. Repair-making also uses these but to renew our things rather than creating something anew. As with making, it has a history, traditions and can be used to demonstrate skill or prowess.
Repair differs from recycling as it does not break down, reprocess into materials and reform. Importantly, it is also different from upcycling (making new objects out of old or used things or waste material Camb Dict) because upcycling tries to make something better with pre-existing materials - using objects as material rather than as object. These reformational practices do however crossover with some repair-work where we use what is to hand or use parts from one thing to rework another*. I dont think of this work as craftivism though, as that has its own different methodology. t’s not craftivism because … yet it is craftivism because…
Repair could be as simple as adding a supplementary material (taping the arm of your glasses for example**) where it might not be seen as ‘making’ at all. It might need you to find a specific part, and watch some videos. It might require a mix of hi and lo tech manipulation of material (scanning and casting a new part for example**), where a mixture of skills are required. Or something else entirely. There doesnt seem to be an exact place that repair sits.So Is repair a craft practice?
Repair definitely has relationships to the tropes of craft as something one can practise and master, and it doesn’t necessarily need to be ones profession. It is deeply embedded in the practices of traditional crafts, in our industrial pasts and in our domestic histories. It is undergoing a resurgence of interest, as are craft disciplines. There are ways of learning repair as handed on by master to apprentice (Hackney fixers), making tools that can be co-opted for repair and tools solely for repair. It can have political edges, aesthetically communicated (toast jumper? /Emilie tayler pot), motivationally (visible mending movement / right to repair / worker strikes[essay about factory workers in craft reader / craftivism) or incidentally (west elm sofa repair kits/?????)
Accidental then deliberate examples, mending then craft examples
In short, repair can be simple, using to-hand materials to either botch or carefully create a mend, it can also require planning, forethought, skills, a range of technologies, prototyping and practice. It can be practically or politically motivated, conceptually simple or complex. So, while it is an embedded part of many creative disciplines, by responding to existing objects, and drawing from many skill levels and technologies, it also stands discrete, recognised as a craft of its own.
*here i use craft and making interchangeably, as I am focused on the hands-on doing of repair, rather than discourses of hi and lo or sloppy craft, or crafting.
Douglas Harper discusses this specifically in relation to repair in his book, Working Knowledge. There are lots of discussions of bricolage around, not least Claude Levi Strauss.
** See this lovely video from the V&A conservation team about the work they did to restore the Salisbury Cross