Belfast’s Repair Café gives worn-out items a second life

‘Use it up, wear it out, make do or do without’

Tue, 01/07/2020 - 11:45am

    BELFAST—Broken zippers, a busted toaster, holey sweaters and buzzing electronics—it was like the Island of Misfit Toys in the small back room of the Belfast Fiber Arts store on Saturday, January 4, where a crowd of people with older or worn items in their hands, looked for an expert repair.

    The Belfast Repair Cafe is a band of “fix-perts,” all volunteers, who come together every couple of months to lend their expertise and repair broken items for free.

    Marcia Cooper, of Belfast Repair Café said, “We’re part of the Belfast Community Works, a nonprofit, and we’ve been doing this for a couple of years.”

    This past Saturday marked their third time at Belfast Fiberarts, who donates the space for free.


    Jasmine Fowler and Sasha Kutsy, founders of Belfast Community Works were initially looking for a Maker Space for their kids when they collaborated to join the international Repair Café movement in a local environment.

    “For me it’s about sustainability, not creating more trash or products that are poorly made,” said Fowler. “Secondary to that is creating community. All of these people coming together and sharing skills is what’s it’s about.”

    “Relearning so many of these skills that we are losing is also important, “ added Kutsy. “And like Jasmine, the biggest part for me is the community-building, just meeting your neighbors and discovering everyone’s skills that can be put to use, building those connections.”

    “Last month, a gentleman came in with an old tattered quilt that he’d made with his mom when he was nine years old,” said Kutsy. “He brought it in and said ‘I don’t care if it’s perfect; I just want it to last.’ None of us are professional quilters, but he trusted we’d just put it back together enough and he left pretty happy.”

    The Repair Café is always looking for people with a variety of skills, not just in sewing or electronics.

    “We had someone come in with a broken vase and since we don’t have anyone who can repair ceramics at the moment, but could use that skill,” said Fowler.

    Even those who are curious to see what the Repair Cafe is all about are welcome.

    “We just had someone a minute ago come in and tell us he didn’t have anything to fix, he just wanted to see what was happening back here,” said Fowler. Then he left his name and said he was handy and could volunteer next time.”

    Jasmine works on an old wool sweater than has a hole in it.
    By flipping it around and using a process of wool felting, you’re essentially filling in the hole with new material, but rather than weaving it in, you’re pricking it with a needle over and over until it blends.
    Flip the sweater back around a voila, the hole is barely noticeable and fixed.

    Meanwhile on the electronic side....


    Paul Eagle sat at one of two  “electronics” stations, working on various radios, switches and lamps that were put forth on the table.

    “I’ve been a repair person on and off in electronics and mechanics and have always worked on my car and fixed things,” he said. “If you know the basic principles of electronics, it’s fun to try and figure out the problem.”

    Eagle, who has been with the Belfast Repair Café for a year, said most common items brought in are lamps, toasters, mixers, blenders, and vacuum cleaners.

    “We encourage people to participate in the repair so they can learn something,” he said.

    “People don’t want to throw it into the landfill,” said Cooper. “And let’s face it, this stuff is designed to break and end up there,” said Cooper. “And it’s probably cheaper to buy a new one, but if you can fix it, you’re not adding to the landfill or wasting your money on another piece of junk.”

    Bart Read, an engineering manager, worked on an electric heater at the other station.

    “We’ve isolated it down to the switch as the problem–it took about five minutes to come to that conclusion,” Read said.  “It’s totally fun. The other thing is if we can’t get it work again, it’s not the end of the world. But, we do have to make sure that in rewiring, the repair doesn’t cause more problems.”

    Read said not everything can get a second life.

    “We’ve had stuff that’s come in where a mouse chewed through all of the wires of a remote control car and there was no fixing that. So we said forget it,” he said smiling.

    The Repair Café takes donations to defray the cost of advertising and other nominal costs. They also use the Belfast Community Works Facebook page to promote their upcoming cafes while they continue to work on a website. In advance of the next Repair Café and encourage people to fill out a form on their website or post a comment on their Facebook page of what they intend to bring in next time, so the volunteers can have the right tools on hand.