It’s not often that in between readings and coffee you get a chance to hone any practical skills. So, when my pants need to be hemmed or my computer is being troublesome, I find myself either at the mercy of my grandmother, or at some Future Shop emptying out my wallet. That, or whatever it is that needs fixing often ends up in the trash.

I found myself in this position once again looking down at my trusty backpack, which had lasted me quite a while during my university travels. In the hopes of saving it, and some dollars, I made my way to the Repair Café. I was a little confused about the concept myself, but on the promise of free coffee and baked goods, I made my way over to the event to see what was what. A monthly affair, this month being held at Skills for Change on St. Clair Avenue West. On September 13, the meet up involved furniture, electrical appliances, bicycles, crockery, toys and more, all to be repaired for no cost at all.

When I first arrived, my honest expectations were to meet elderly people looking to do something with their spare time and antiques. This wasn’t all wrong. But surprisingly, as the morning carried on, I noticed how diverse the group became. Experts on items varied in age and background, and so did those coming with broken items to be mended. As I waited for an expert of my own, I watched as Sam, a young boy, helped a middle-aged man repair his old radio, while an elderly man assisted a young Russian woman with her laptop.

The Repair Café not only offered the opportunity to learn new skills but also the chance to connect with skilled people. After snacking on the free coffee and baked goods for an appropriate amount of time, I made my way to the sewing room where two women were able to help me stitch back together my tattered bag.

The most interesting part of my experience was talking to the women while waiting for my bag to be fixed. I started learning about them and their lives and, without noticing, began thinking  my grandmother. Throughout my life she had been the go-to person for my sewing needs, and I thought she’d be proud of me learning the skill that had originally helped her provide for her own family.

Soon enough I found myself helping another person who had come in while I was waiting for my own bag to be repaired. I had never pulled a seam apart before that day but now I can say that I have. Often, when you get an item repaired, it’s a drop-off, pick-up process, in which you are entirely removed from the proceedings. But at the Repair Café, people are the process and the repairing of items becomes tied to engaging with others. It was an experience that would make the choice to return quite easy. I could come back with another item, or just come to learn about something I hadn’t known about before. 

The next Repair Cafe is being held Saturday, October 18 from 12–4 pm at the Cedarbrae branch of the Toronto Public Library. While I said my goodbyes to some new friends and packed my now repaired backpack, I saw a man in the corner working with books. I asked him if he would be there at the next Repair Cafe. He answered yes. So the next time I go to the Repair Cafe, I’ll be learning about bookbinding.