Making Do. Domestic Kintsugi?

While I did not experience the United States’ Great Depression of the 1930’s, I am the child of grandparents and parents who did. The depression changed and marked them. Those times came directly down to me in story and indirectly by the example of how they lived.

The old New England mantra, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without”, underlaid daily life . A corollary of “make it do” is “It’ll come in handy some day…”

A further corollary is you don’t buy new when you can buy used, and you don’t buy used when you can fix what you have. Fixing things can be worth doing for its own sake — for the exercise of solving a problem. Or for the sake of one’s honor.  Or even for the art of it.

The Japanese famously repair broken ceramic items in ways that make the repaired object even more special than it would be had it remained unbroken. That work is called “kintsugi”. Since I’m too lazy to come up with my own words, here’s what wiki has to say about kintsugi.

As a philosophy, kintsugi can be seen to have similarities to the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, an embracing of the flawed or imperfect. Japanese aesthetics values marks of wear by the use of an object. This can be seen as a rationale for keeping an object around even after it has broken and as a justification of kintsugi itself, highlighting the cracks and repairs as simply an event in the life of an object rather than allowing its service to end at the time of its damage or breakage. Kintsugi can relate to the Japanese philosophyof “no mind” (無心 mushin), which encompasses the concepts of non-attachment, acceptance of change and fate as aspects of human life.”

Here at Wishetwurra Farm, I have extended the concept to domestic repairs.

I have a nice two-wheeled wheelbarrow.  I actually bought it brand new, in a box, and put it together myself. Most wheelbarrows have single wheels, but this two-wheeler is a nice stable configuration, and is particularly well-suited for some kinds of chores. Someone had borrowed it and dropped it from the back of their pickup truck. The front of the barrow’s pan broke off almost completely, and was hanging on by inches. I did not want to throw away an almost-perfectly-good-tool. My honor was at stake. So was my wallet.

The barrow has a plastic pan, not metal. So welding was out. Does plastic weld? Maybe, but I don’t know how to do that. After some thought, I decided to sew it back together. Why not?
What to use for thread? I chose 12-gauge insulated copper wire, which was extracted from cable scraps left over from wiring work. I drilled holes sized just a bit larger than the diameter of the wire, and set to work. The cable had yielded equal quantities of black and white jacketed wire, so I chose to use two colors for the repair. I began with two  centered white stitches, and then alternated colors.
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An off-center view of the stitching, showing the pair of white stitches.

The wire was thick enough gauge that each bend had to be hammered (with a heavy wood backing block on the other side) to to make all those short little turns. I didn’t bother being precise on the outside of the pan.

Outside-the-pan stitching.


The repair has worked well.
It has lasted more than five years so far.
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Wishetwurra still life: repair, freshly mixed potting dirt, and seedling tray.

I now have a “kintsugi” wheelbarrow.




Postscript: When I went to pick up my wife at the ferry the other day, I noticed a Ford in the parking lot .

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It had a front bumper repair that made my heart glad.

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The repair uses plastic “zip-ties” instead of copper wire. 

4 responses to “Making Do. Domestic Kintsugi?

  1. Perfect! There is a movement, more in Europe perhaps, “visible mending” which is in the same vein, resisting disposable culture. Rather than trying to hide a repair, highlight it using contrasting color and or fabric. Tom of Holland, you can find him on Instagram, teaches mending classes throughout Western Europe.

  2. Well I love your determination. I would have been too lazy to knit that back together and would have been off to the hardware store to buy another. Good for you –

  3. My dad, a Depression-era baby, would be impressed with this repair, as am I! Your ability to repair is only exceeded by your eloquence in its description. Well done!

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