Friday, 22 November 2013

Reusing in Edmonton: Introducing the Edmonton Repairathon

You might be asking yourself, "What on earth is a repairathon?" right about now. They are neither a well-known nor widespread phenomenon, but when you finish reading this article, you'll be pleased as punch to have one in Edmonton.

Kate patching a hole
I've been sewing for a long time. I have happy memories of pestering my poor mother while she made halloween costumes (she probably thinks of those times less fondly) and of making my first project - a small pillow. As an adult, I realized how valuable a skill sewing can be. I'm terribly short, you see, and the ability to hem my own pants rather than having to take them to a tailor saves me a lot of time and money.

I'm not an expert, by any means, but thanks to a lot of creativity and plain old stubbornness, I can get through most projects. Because of this, I was surprised when one of my best friends asked me to sew a button back onto her pants, claiming she didn't even know where to begin. I got curious; it turns out that a lot of people in my social circles don't have even basic sewing skills.

This is where the Edmonton Repairathon comes in. Taking cue from a group in Toronto, organizers set out to recruit volunteers who were interested in helping people prolong the life of their clothing. They will sew on buttons, stitch up seams, and patch holes. They'll even teach you how to do it, if you want. No RSVP is required, just show up with your item.

Project goals, from the group Facebook page
And get this: it's free.

I thought this was a great idea, and signed up to volunteer at their very first public event, which took place on October 27th. Prior to that, the group's founders had met up for a practice run where they fixed items for friends and family.

To be honest, no one was really sure what to expect. It was the first event, and though the Metro had run a short piece on the group, we had no idea how many people would show up or what the best way to organize the event would be. In the end, several stations were set up - about 5 volunteers on sewing machines, with several others ready to do prep and small hand-sewing tasks, and a few more at the doors to help greet people and direct them to whichever sewing station would best suit their needs.

I was blown away by the number of people who showed up, garments in hand. There was actually a line up, and we were forced to turn some latecomers away as we scrambled to finish what we'd already taken on! I think the most popular items brought in were coats or pants requiring a new zipper; we completely blew through our small supply of donated zippers and had a lot of trouble matching length and colour. For future events, customers must bring their own replacement zipper.

Heather and Su helping with setup
Unfortunately we did not get solid numbers regarding attendance or items repaired, but in two hours I stitched two seams, darned a hole in the back of a sweater, ripped out several zippers to help prepare garments for the machine-sewers, and chatted with patrons about the environmental and monetary benefits of repairing clothing rather than purchasing new. Multiply that by 13 volunteers, and you have a heck of a lot of good work!

The volunteers of the Edmonton Repairathon don't just donate their time and skill, but also their supplies! Buttons, thread, hooks sewing machines, and tools are all brought from home. Several volunteers also baked snacks to share with patrons. All in all, it turned out to be a really fun event, kind of like a big crafting circle. The next event is coming up this Sunday, November 24th, so come on down to get a few items repaired, learn a skill, and make some new friends in the process.

Check out the group's Facebook Page or email to learn how you can get involved or donate supplies, and to keep up on all their latest news.

-Sarah (Volunteer)