Broken: Mending and Repair in a Throwaway World by Katie Treggiden

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Review by Liz Dexter

These are all menders and remakers working in collaboration with nature. They understand that as humans we are part of the natural world and that we can exist in a way that is beneficial, restorative and regenerative to the more-than-human world.

Katie Treggiden is a craft and design journalist, focusing on “creativity as a positive agent for social change”. She has written four books, including Wasted: When Trash Becomes Treasure, and in this book she looks at 25 craftspeople and the work and activism they are carrying out with items that might normally be thrown away. These range from making mismatching and subversive repairs to chairs using traditional techniques through filling in potholes with attractive and resilient mosaic designs to the explicitly feminist work of creating washing lines full of children’s clothes, napkins, dusters and scraps of cloth embroidered with the everyday tasks of a housewife and mother over a year. So some pieces are useful, some are art, many are activism and some are two or three of these. 

After a foreword by Jay Blades of The Repair Shop and an introduction setting out the book’s stall in general and giving some definitions, Treggiden divides her book into Repair as restoration of function, Repair as storytelling, Repair as activism, Repair as healing and Regeneration as repair. Each section features an average of five people who are doing various things within that area (but also overlapping with others). 

The first section on restoring function looks both at more straightforward use of older techniques that have started to die out or producing a quality that is not available much now, and innovative materials that can be used by anyone to keep machines and objects going. The storytelling section looks at, for example, the damage to items being highlighted as part of their narrative rather than causing them to be discarded. When looking at activism we meet people who have created items to be carried at demonstrations and remake china to include modern images of destruction in a traditional blue-and-white china design, and in Repair as healing we meet people literally stitching lives together and processing memories of disaster by fusing pieces together in interesting ways – this is also where we find the potholes which I think were my favourite feature. Finally, Regeneration as repair highlights schemes to, for example, reintroduce heritage corn types and reinvigorate agave growing in Central America, using the output to create materials like beautiful inlays from corn and agave that can be sold and used to make high-end decorative items and furniture. And one featured creator makes tiny houses for birds and insects to go into new housing developments – the range of people included here is truly remarkable and there’s something to inspire everyone.

This book, a high-quality item in itself, it’s clear (I read a PDF proof copy) has plenty of explanatory text as well as high-quality pictures, with interviews with all of the features artists, designers and craftspeople and fascinating details about their lives and work, and should inspire the reader to include repairing, reusing and recycling in their daily lives (it’s certainly inspired me to look for a more sustainable solution for some collapsing dining chairs). 

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Liz Dexter tries to repair, reuse, recycle. If anyone can help her to sort those dining chairs out, please speak up! She blogs about reading, running and working from home at

Katie Treggiden, Broken: Mending and Repair in a Throwaway World (Ludion, 2023) ‎ 978- 9493039896, 224pp., col. ill. hardback.

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1 comment

  1. Sounds fascinating Liz – we tend to hold onto stuff until it falls to bits, and even then are prone to fixing things with duct tape….

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