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FEATURE: Highlighting the benefits of make-do-and-mend culture

Waste not Feature - The Sewing Studio - Dressmaker Sylwia Dworzecka, ANL-160518-145603009
Waste not Feature - The Sewing Studio - Dressmaker Sylwia Dworzecka, ANL-160518-145603009

How do you react if the microwave goes on the blink, a handbag strap snaps, or the zip breaks on your trousers or skirt.

If your first thought is, oh well, better get a new one you are far from alone.

Waste not Feature - Smart Step - Cobbler Glen Catchpole ANL-160518-145405009
Waste not Feature - Smart Step - Cobbler Glen Catchpole ANL-160518-145405009

But hang on a minute. Although a repair will cost you money it would probably be a lot cheaper than a replacement.

And, even in today’s throwaway society there are still plenty of people out there to do it for you.

It’s just that a lot of us have become conditioned to dump the old one and head for the shops as soon as something goes wrong.

But make-do-and-mend is on the up. It goes with the rising interest in crafts and increasing uneasiness over rampant consumerism and its knock-on impact on the planet.

waste not mending - blogger Jen Gale ANL-160522-150616001
waste not mending - blogger Jen Gale ANL-160522-150616001

“When you tap into making things last,” says Bury St Edmunds’ bin-trimming blogger Karen Cannard, “it can make you feel just as good as retail therapy.

“We need to wake people up to the joy of fixing, and talk about it more. Once something is spoken about it becomes more of a social norm.”

Bury has a range of businesses that will come to the aid of damaged clothes, shoes, and household items.

Shoes are rarely a write-off no matter how much they’ve been abused, according to cobbler Glenn Catchpole.

“There’s very little you can’t do to a shoe,” says the master shoemaker who served his apprenticeship with classic English brand Start-rite in Norwich and has also worked for Bally, Van Dal and Clarks.

He’s a partner with master repairer Jamie Smart in Smart Step Shoes in Abbeygate Street.

“With the skills we have between us we can basically take on anything,” he says.

“If a shoe or bag is good quality to start with it’s usually worth repairing, so there’s no need to ditch an old favourite just because it’s showing signs of wear.

Problems from worn down heels, to frayed handbag straps, to broken zips on boots can be fixed.

“It costs £40 to completely replace a sole and heel,” says Glenn. “But a pair of high quality men’s shoes can cost hundreds of pounds, so it’s definitely worth it.

“However bad you think it is, before you throw it in the bin let us have a look. Quotes are free.”

He also sees signs that people are falling out of love with ultra-cheap shoes that often don’t fit properly and are chucked out at the end of the season.

“I think they are starting to realise that wearing cheap things on your feet isn’t beneficial because they won’t support your foot,” he says.

Household appliances like cookers, washing machines, microwaves and vacuum cleaners can also often be mended instead of replaced.

It might give you a buzz to get a nice shiny new one ... but is it really the best way?

Richard Phillips has been repairing electrical goods since 1978 and now works from his home in Bury.

“Because washing machines haven’t gone up in price for about 20 years people often don’t think about the possibility of repair,” he said.

“There is a lot of wastage. If you go to the tip you’ll see loads of them being dumped when they could often be mended.

“But I still have a lot of regular customers who keep their old appliances. One has a 30 year-old cooker on which I’ve had to adapt the element to keep it going.

“A cooker element costs around £80. A new cooker is at least £250, and a high quality one could be a lot more.

“I think it’s important to repair things rather than send them to landfill.”

Some modern appliances, though, are impossible to work on because they are sealed units, or spare parts are not available.

Kettles, irons, and all but the most expensive toasters are now made to be disposable.

When it comes to clothing, a skilled dressmaker can work wonders with alterations and repairs.

Sylwia Dworzecka has run The Sewing Studio in St John’s Street, Bury for six years.

She has loved sewing since childhood – graduating from making dolls’ clothes to cutting up her mother’s wedding dress to make herself a skirt.

With her team, Bryony, Christina and Karen, she takes on anything from updating a much-loved garment to give it a new lease of life, to turning up hems, to replacing zips.

“We do a lot of alterations, sometimes to things that have sentimental value, for instance if a daughter wants to wear her mother’s wedding dress,” she says.

“We can take things in, which is easy, and let them out which is more difficult and sometimes you have to take material from somewhere else on the garment and add it into the side.

“Sometimes you can create something quite new and unique by adding some ribbon or lace.”

She says if people have bought good quality clothes they often like to keep them for a long time.

Changing the lapel shape on jackets to keep up with fashion, or altering the shape of trousers, are frequent requests.

Sylwia also plans to start giving sewing lessons to teach people how to do less complicated alterations and repairs.

But there are some simple sewing tasks most of us could tackle.

Award-winning blogger Jen Gale has declared this month Mend-it May. She is urging everyone to have a go, and she knows some impressive statistics to support her philosophy, quite apart from the money you will save.

For instance getting three months extra wear from an item of clothing will decrease its carbon, waste and water footprints by up to ten percent.

But even more staggering is the amount of water it takes to produce just one cotton T-shirt ... almost three times what an average person drinks in a year.

So before consigning that cheap and cheerful tee to the bin because a seam has split, maybe we should all think very hard about picking up a needle and thread instead.

Jen, whose thrifty tips appear regularly in the national press, is not a lifetime make-do-and-mender.

She started sewing after her first son was born, then in 2012 she and her husband Ben embarked on an experiment to buy nothing new for a year.

She now writes a blog (mymakedoandmendlife.com) which is packed full of information ... including how to darn.

Darning was a mystery to her until a stranger who heard her on the radio sent her a wooden darning mushroom that had belonged to their grandmother.

Jen was so touched she felt obliged to try it out and mastered the technique well enough to mend a pair of her husband’s socks.

“They were just ordinary M&S socks, but three years later they’re still going strong,” she says.

“And actually you don’t need a darning mushroom. Any curved object will do, like a lightbulb or an orange.”

But what about those of us who recoil in horror at the thought of threading a needle, let alone doing anything with it.

Well, not so long ago Jen was just that person. “At one time if a button fell off I wouldn’t even attempt to sew it back,” she says.

“But I’d encourage everyone to have a go. What’s the worst that could happen?”