In contemporary consumer culture, few activities are deemed so pointless as those that involve the repair and conservation of everyday items such as clothing. Indeed, as mass-produced goods have become ever cheaper for the global population, it has become a sign of prosperity to be able to dispose of any item that is less than perfect, however minor or superficial the damage.
Yet growing interest in the sustainability of material goods has led to a small body of work around craftsmanship (e.g. Sennett, 2008; Crawford, 2009). Related to this is the notion of ‘everyday’ skills that two or three generations ago were commonplace (Burman, 1999), but which have tended to disappear as economies flourish. Specifically, my interest lies in those mundane mending skills that have typically been practiced and taught by women, such as the repair and alteration of clothing.
Many feminists of the 1970s and 80s rejected such unpaid labour (and therefore also lost the skills), but in an age of global economic uncertainty, there are indications of a re-engagement with the values of domestic craft. Does this, however, represent a genuine revival of mundane household skills, or is it merely the middle-classes dabbling with nostalgic ideas of craft?
Changing gender roles; notions of valued versus unvalued labour; and Veblenian themes of conspicuous consumption and waste are all relevant to this discussion. The subject also invites questions relating to the meaning of repair and mending on a more abstract level. Is the desire to mend driven purely by economic necessity, or does it reflect a deeper unconscious desire to preserve and protect valued objects? If this is taking place on a societal level, does it reflect changing values, a move away from rapacious consumption, or is it merely a temporary change in behaviour in the face of economic uncertainty? Many intriguing questions arise from the apparently mundane practices of mending, and they deserve to be explored in more detail.