Mending, making & manufacture: can we redesign the sock?

March 20, 2009 by
Filed under: Education Matters 

In a VoxPop for Design week last week I proposed making a spectacle of myself on the Fourth Plinth by running up samples on my sewing machine in full view of the public; and to their benefit, since I propsoed giving away the fruits of my labour. My stated reason was that we have become distanced from production; our competence to invent or improvise solutions to the practical problems that beset us is diminished in proportion to the increasing quantity of solutions we buy. Jonathan Glancey wrote stirringly about this growing incompetence to make in the Guardian last summer.

I’ve  commissioned an essay for the RSA about the renewed interest in making and manufacturing after a period when business and policy have tended to concentrate on knowledge and services. I’m asking for a fresh account of why we stopped making things (if we did stop); what the benefits of making things are; and how making things might become easier. What conditions would foster small, local, manufacturing entrepreneurship? And what are the implications for improvisation and innovation among ordinary citizens who, while they may be making to save money or resources, are not making to make money? 

Our understanding of services became rich and metaphysical as the last century turned and the internet came to define so much of business. But Mark Adams, Director of Vitsoe and one of Britain’s most resolute and articulate design-led manufacturers, reminded me that products and services are not an either/or. In a new dawn of manufacturing, on a planet where sense tells us to make and buy for longevity, and in a society with today’s level of personal expectation and individualism, goods and services are critically interdependent.

The service aspect of goods brings us to repair. An obvious symptom of our remoteness from making is our disinclination to repair. In gathering an interest group around making, manufacturing and repair I discovered that my Dutch friends at Premsela are involved with Platform.21 in a Repair project in full swing. In true Dutch style, it emphasises the surprising beauty and surreality of repaired objects; hybrids of style and substance; relocations of meaning and memory; repair as a creative project under artistic direction. Our RSA repair project will be less self-expression and more self-reliance.

Among my own repairs, I confess to darning socks. There’s a design problem: while manufacturers frequently advertise a “reinforced heel”, they don’t address the real stress point which is not the heel but the tendon area above the heel where the edge of your shoe wears the yarn away.

Comments

  • http://www.freedomclothingproject.org/ joe

    Emily, this is exactly what we’re working on at the moment – (re)creating a culture of ‘mend, make-do and do it yourself’ as well as supporting local maker-producers. We’ve been particularly focussing on products made with waste materials and workshops teaching people how to do simple things themselves.

    It is a model we’ve had a lot of enthusiastic people asking us to replicate across the country.

  • http://www.freedomclothingproject.org joe

    Emily, this is exactly what we’re working on at the moment – (re)creating a culture of ‘mend, make-do and do it yourself’ as well as supporting local maker-producers. We’ve been particularly focussing on products made with waste materials and workshops teaching people how to do simple things themselves.

    It is a model we’ve had a lot of enthusiastic people asking us to replicate across the country.

  • matthew taylor

    Love this. Especially the Dutch repaired monoblocks

  • matthew taylor

    Love this. Especially the Dutch repaired monoblocks

  • http://jasongullickson.wordpress.com/ Jason J. Gullickson

    I believe that this condition, that of fortunes built on not-making (modern stock market investing, etc.) are the cause of our current economic situation. Fortunately, the current economic situation is a fantastic catalyst for the return of making, mending and manufacture.

    I believe the beginning of this downturn can be traced to the idea that a manufacturing process is “labor intense” is negative. I’m working on an essay to go into this in detail, if the topic is of interest.

  • http://jasongullickson.wordpress.com Jason J. Gullickson

    I believe that this condition, that of fortunes built on not-making (modern stock market investing, etc.) are the cause of our current economic situation. Fortunately, the current economic situation is a fantastic catalyst for the return of making, mending and manufacture.

    I believe the beginning of this downturn can be traced to the idea that a manufacturing process is “labor intense” is negative. I’m working on an essay to go into this in detail, if the topic is of interest.

  • Graham Hayes

    A timely reminder that we embrace the ‘throwaway’ society at our peril. The trouble is that so many of the items we use today are not capable of repair, perhaps the most obvious example being electronic goods. These seem to be designed so that they are fundamentally unrepairable and replacement is the only option, fulfilling the market drive for a high turnover of goods. Indeed the G20 conference is being urged to adopt measures that encourage spending on new products, for example Germany has suggested a scheme to subsidize the destruction of cars over three years old to stimulate the market for new vehicles.

  • Graham Hayes

    A timely reminder that we embrace the ‘throwaway’ society at our peril. The trouble is that so many of the items we use today are not capable of repair, perhaps the most obvious example being electronic goods. These seem to be designed so that they are fundamentally unrepairable and replacement is the only option, fulfilling the market drive for a high turnover of goods. Indeed the G20 conference is being urged to adopt measures that encourage spending on new products, for example Germany has suggested a scheme to subsidize the destruction of cars over three years old to stimulate the market for new vehicles.