Design & Make

Kintsugi

by Gael Welstead February 09, 2016
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The dish in my kitchen had been upsetting me—taunting me every time I put the kettle on by poking out behind my other tea things. Although its heyday as part of my teatime ritual was long gone, I hadn’t yet parted with it. Since I first spotted the dish sitting independently on the shelf of a charity shop, it had become my trusty cup holder when having a quiet tea. Now in three pieces, it lurked moodily behind my mugs, wondering whether it would ever be invited to the table again.

I’d been uncertain how to fix it until I came across the practice of kintsugi. In Japanese, kin means gold and tsugi means to connect to the world. Kintsugi is the art of mending broken pottery with gold.

The craft originated about 500 years ago when (it’s believed) an Emperor, dissatisfied with the repair of some broken ceramics, commissioned a more beautiful means of mending. The idea of tsugi encourages people to see objects in a more spiritual way, to find beauty in broken or old things: the beauty isn’t within the object itself, but within the mind of the person looking at it.

Kinstugi-plate

A plate repaired by the process of kintsugi.

It’s a way of thinking that’s gathering pace. Products like Sugru, a colorful moldable glue, services like Restart, which revives broken electronics, and communities like Fixperts, who seem to repair just about anything, are making fixing much easier and more accessible.

So I tracked down a modern kintsugi kit, and sat down to spend an afternoon with the dish. Drinking tea and keeping my ears content with Paolo Nutini’s soulful Glaswegian voice, the dish and I bonded. While taking such care with the fragile broken pieces, I experienced a sense of intimacy; it felt good to be serving the dish in return for the many times it had served me.

It was exciting to try a new craft, rewarding to solve the puzzle of fitting the shards back together, and satisfying to restore something not just back to its functioning self but to something almost anew and beguiling. I could feel a sense of tsugi as I repaired the dish, and I was starting to realize endless new possibilities for beauty in the world.

It can be heartbreaking when the things we love fall apart. As someone who gets emotionally attached to my things, it’s comforting to find that sometimes mending can make them better, more beautiful and more unique. The contrast of manufacture and handcraft in one piece becomes special, too.

Now the dish holds not just my teacup, but also the memory of our afternoon together. A memory my left index finger, now marred with a big gold spot, still holds too. When practicing kintsugi, gloves are advised.

This story was originally published in Thoughtful.

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