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In my last post I talked about my participation in the Sanquhar Workshop, organised by the Knitting in the Round initiative from the University of Glasgow. Today I’d like to tell you little bit more about the history of knitting in Sanquhar and how I got interested in this subject.

Sanquhar Handling Collection at Knitting Reference Library

The Knitting Reference Library holds a small handling collection of Sanquhar gloves – image taken courtesy of the Knitting Reference Library

About five years ago I learnt how to knit gloves, and like many knitters, I started browsing Ravelry for nice patterns. That’s where I first encountered the amazing Sanquhar gloves. Never having done any stranded colourwork, I’m not sure why I ordered all four available patterns from the Scottish Women’s Rural Institutes not soon after. It was a steep learning curve for me, but at the same time as I was struggling to knit my first pair, I researched the knitting tradition of the town of Sanquhar, which incidentally, can also claim to have the oldest post office in the world, dating back to 1712.

HISTORY AND TRADITION

The first knitters in Scotland were highly paid craftsmen of the 16th and 17th century, but by the mid 1700s knitting skills had spread throughout the country and created a thriving cottage industry, mainly producing knitted stockings. The entire Scottish hand-knitting industry declined dramatically in the late 1700s, due to a variety of reasons, amongst others the loss of trade to the American Colonies, and the increasing industrialisation of spinning and processing wool. It was most probably around the late 1700s that the distinctive two-colour patterns developed as an attempt to create a product that stood out and thus protect the livelihood of local knitters.
Thomas Brown, a Sanquhar printer,  noted in his Union Gazeteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1807), that the stockings were ‘almost peculiar to the place…parti-coloured and of great variety of patterns.’ Mittens, and rather later, gloves were made in the same manner.  One feature of good eighteenth-century stockings was that the customer’s name or initials could be worked into the tops. This may be the origin of the Sanquhar practice of working these into the wrists. Although Brown doesn’t mention it, this was a feature by the 1890s. The gloves were knitted from a yarn referred to as ‘drugget’ and this appears to be a wool/linen or a wool/cotton blend. The knitters sourced this yarn from the nearby John M’Queen’s Mill in Crawick, where it was used in the production of carpets.

Sanquhar Gloves with Initials

Sanquhar gloves usually have the initials of the wearer stitched into the wrist – these gloves are from the handling collection of the Tollbooth Museum in Sanquhar

Hand knitting as a cottage industry died out in Sanquhar during the 19th century, but the tradition has survived. The presentation of specially knitted gloves to the Cornet and other principals during the annual Sanquhar Riding of the Marches Festival is still an important part of these celebrations, when all the horse riders of Sanquhar ride around the boundaries of the burgh. Today Sanquhar knitting is rarely made for sale. Nonetheless the style remains a favourite with keen knitters, with pattern leaflets available from the Scottish Women’s Rural Institutes and other sources found on the internet.

SANQUHAR STITCH PATTERNS

Sanquhar knitting is worked in two shades throughout. Although black and white are most common, other colour combinations regularly found are yellow and brown, and red and green. The patterns show a resemblance to other erstwhile thriving cottage industries in Cumbria and the Dales; small and intricate, the two yarns are worked into a close fabric, with no long strands. One particular refinement of the gloves are the small finger and thumb gussets, which improve fit and relieve stress points in the fabric where the fingers join the hand.

Sanquhar Glove in Duke Pattern with finger gusset

The little finger gusset is shown here at the base of the ring finger - image taken courtesy of the Knitting Reference Library

The stitch patterns can be divided into two main types. Firstly the so-called dambrod patterns: a grid of black lines on a white ground, filled in with diamond or saltire variations. Secondly check and tweed patterns: all-over patterns in diagonal checks, and small motifs scattered on a spot pattern background. It’s likely some of the patterns were named in honour of local benefactors and visiting dignitaries, like the Dukes of Queensberry and of Buccleuch, who gave large orders for gloves, and the Prince of Wales, who was entertained by the Duke of Buccleuch in 1871. The Glendyne pattern was named after Robert Nivison when he took the title Lord Glendyne of Sanquhar. The cuffs are knitted in black and white ribbing or broken ribbing. It is customary to work the wearer’s initials in the wrist.
As the patterns fit around the gloves just so, the size of the gloves is altered by changing the tension: thicker needles for larger gloves, thinner needles for smaller gloves.

Tolbooth Museum Sanquhar Gloves 1Tolbooth Museum Sanquhar Gloves 2

The Sanquhar gloves come in a wide range of patterns as this display at the Tollbooth Museum shows – dambrod patterns at the top; tweed patterns at the bottom, with the exception of the Duke glove fifth from the left

SOME HINTS AND TIPS ON KNITTING SANQUHAR GLOVES

First and foremost it’s important to knit a decent sized tension swatch in the round. Read through your pattern and work out how many stitches go round the hand, as sometimes this is more than the number of stitches you cast on. Measure around your hand and work out what your tension should be for a good fit.
The most common alteration to the traditional patterns is probably the cast-on: one way to avoid the cast-on edge curling over,  is to use a variation of the long-tail cast-on sometimes called twisted German cast-on, followed by two rows of purl, before starting the ribbing.

An other alteration often seen on the Ravelry Sanquhar group is to stagger the finger gussets at the correct height according to the wearer’s hand, rather than all on the same round. A personal alteration is to decrease 5% in the black round after the cuff to narrow the wrist. Then, after knitting the wrist, I increase back to the original number of stitches. This makes for a more comfortable fit, especially as ribbing in stranded colourwork doesn’t pull in.

Prince of Wales Sanquhar Gloves

My gloves in the Prince of Wales pattern – the fingers each start at the right height

You can read more about the Sanquhar knitting tradition on the FutureMuseum website, the Dumfries Museum website, and about Riding of the Marches on the committee’s website.

A Visit to Sanquhar

Last weekend two long longed-for visits happened all at once. Some of you may know that I have a bit of a “thing” for the gloves knitted in the Scottish Royal Borough of Sanquhar, and I had always wanted to visit the local Tolbooth Museum where there’s a lovely display of these gloves, with a wealth of information. So you can imagine I didn’t hesitate when Professor Lynn Abrams asked me to give a presentation at a Knitting in the Round event set in Sanquhar itself.

Sanquhar circa 1860

Sanquhar High Street circa 1860 – the building with the clocktower now houses the Tollbooth Museum

The event was very informal and convivial. Lynn Abrams presented on knitting in the Scottish landscape – wool has always been very important in Scotland in many different ways. I did a presentation on the history of Sanquhar knitting, and how the old patterns and gloves to this day have inspired knitters the world over. A very tasty lunch was available in the café of the A’ the Airts Centre, where the event was hosted.

Tolbooth Museum Sanquhar Gloves 1

Tolbooth Museum Sanquhar Gloves 2

A gallery of Sanquhar Gloves

The Tolbooth museum had a small but perfectly formed permanent exhibition on the gloves. They also had a handling collection, which contained, amongst others, a number of gloves belonging to one lady cyclist. Most of these were darned on the palm side; you can imagine I was elated to see these!

SanquharVisit02

Cycling gloves with darning

Also on display were some carpets made in nearby Crawick. Originally the gloves were knitted with left over warp threads of the carpet manufacture, which explains the hardwearing qualities these gloves were famed for (within limits, as evidenced by the above gloves…)

Sanquhar carpet

A carpet made in John McQueen’s Mill, Crawick

However, the absolute highlight of the day for me was meeting May McCormick. Mary still knits Sanquhar gloves to a very high standard, and indeed, she is the very person who knits the gloves for the Coronet who leads the riding of the marches, an annual event taking place in August, going back about 400 years, when Sanquhar became a Scottish Royal Borough. I was too excited to talk to her and get some hints and tips from a master knitter to get a picture with her. However, to make up for it I can share with you the beautiful display she made:

Mary McCormick's Sanquhar Knitting Display

Mary McCormick’s Sanquhar Knitting Display, showing all the different patterns, including samplers, scarves and stockings

So, what about that other visit, I hear you ask? Well, I also got to meet a good friend whom I had not met before. How? In the age of email and internet, this is possible. Through our mutual friend Dr Felicity Ford, better known perhaps as KNITSONIK, I have known Kate Davies for a few years now, and we’ve worked on Wovember together. We have been scheming to meet up in real life for such a long time, and my visit to Sanquhar finally made this possible.

We spent many happy hours together, talking about small things and large, eating food and drinking tea, and going for a long drive.

West Highlands

My first time in the West Highlands and I could tick off all typical attractions in one go: castle ruin, tick; loch, tick; glenn, tick; mountain, tick!

The George Hotel at Loch Fyne

The George Hotel at Loch Fyne

We had a gorgeous lunch at the George Hotel at Loch Fyne – the only place that Samuel Johnson managed to enjoy when he visited Scotland.

If this has made you curious about the knitting in Sanquhar, then keep an eye out for my next blog post, where I will go into a bit more detail of the history of Sanquhar knitting.

When I visited the Fries Museum earlier this year, their textile conservator, Gieneke Arnolli, showed me an old Dutch knitting book that I just couldn’t get out of my head. I felt it would be an indispensable addition to my knitting library, but it took me a while to find a copy of this book.

a better course in knitting - breien in betere banen

A Better Course in Knitting – “Het Breien in Betere Banen” by L De Vries-Hamburger

Het Breien in Betere Banen, which I think translates best into A Better Course in Knitting was written by L De Vries-Hamburger and published in 1949 by DA Daamen’s Uitgeversmaatschappij n.v., ‘s-Gravenhage, The Netherlands (you may know ‘s-Gravenhage better as Den Haag.) So far I have not been able to learn much about De Vries-Hamburger. From the introduction I know she taught knitting after the Second World War, and she wrote this book as result of many requests by her students.

The introduction is an essay about her one-woman quest to shift knitting from the realm of domestic craft to that of applied arts, and an attempt at creating a new folk art movement. De Vries-Hamburger recoils at the thought of knitting patterns written out row by row, as this will lead to the mind-numbing copying of someone else’s creative thoughts. She makes this very clear in the opening paragraph:

What is the purpose of this book?

Is it necessary that another new item is added to the reams of existing ones and is the publication justified?

Those that speak thus expect a knitting book, preferably brimful with new patterns.

This book, although it deals with knitting, is not that book.

She feels that every girl and woman is capable of creating unique garments, and following knitting patterns to the letter can never be fully satisfactory. Handicrafts can be much more than that! This book aims to point out possibilities and make knitters more confident in their own abilities.

BreienInBetereBanenSidewaysKnit

left: blouse designed by the wearer and knitter, aged 16; right: both dresses designed and created by the wearer: no. 1 by a girl aged 9, no. 2 by a girl aged 11. De body of dress 1 is knitted in red and white cotton; the other in pale yellow, white, and rust-brown cotton. Skirts and sleeves made from cotton fabric

So, this book then doesn’t give you any knitting patterns, but plenty of hints and tips on how to approach the knitting of garments. De Vries-Hamburger is a fan of knitting from the top, as she feels it’s easier to try on works in progress on and ensure a good fit. When knitting from the top is not desirable for whatever reason, she advocates knitting the ribbing last. The knitting starts with the main part of the body or sleeve. These then get blocked and sewn up, and the ribbing is knitted in the round from the cast-on edge down. This way it’s easier to adjust length, or replace fraying cuffs and welts.

a better course in knitting - het breien in betere banen - de vries-hamburger

Creating tweed effects by using two or more colours in a “mistake rib” pattern

This book was written not long after the Second World War, and in one section where this becomes apparent is on how to create colourful fabrics without resorting to stranded colourwork. Yes, stranded colourwork is good way of using up odds and ends, but she points out that by playing around with mistake rib (cast on an ODD number of stitches, then K2, P2 to end (you’ll end with 1 knit or 1 purl); turn work, and again K2, P2 to end (again you’ll end with 1 knit or 1 purl) and using more than one colour can be even more economical. The purls on top of knits in different colours create pleasing tweed effects. By using double-pointed needles it is possible to knit the right side of the fabric more than once, by sliding it back to the other side of the needle once a row is knitted. This way it’s possible to knit odd numbered repeats. For instance in the little swatch above, in the top section I knitted two rows in white, and one in blue.

a better course in knitting - het breien in betere banen - de vries-hamburger

Creating dazzling effects with simple stitch patterns on top, and using short-rows for shaping fabrics

However, De Vries-Hamburger also likes to play with colour in a more traditional way and has lots of lovely examples of stranded colourwork. She even devotes a whole section on sideways knitting (knitting from side seam to side seam instead of knitting from top to bottom or vice versa,) and how a few simple stranded colourwork rows can look very sophisticated when used this way, such as the blouses shown in the second picture.

a better course in knitting - het breien in betere banen - de vries-hamburger

Short-row shaping used to great effect in this detail for a gored skirt

I feel that De Vries-Hamburger really understands knitting and the qualities of knitted fabric. She is very clear on why knitting is a unique way of creating fabric, as it is possible to shape it whilst you create it. Compare this to sewing, where one uses a piece of cloth, which needs to be cut to make the shaping. With this in mind, she believes that a knitter should start by asking: what kind of fabric do I need to make this item fit for purpose, and once this is determined, start looking what yarns and stitches will lead to the desired effect. This in contrast to what often happens: a knitter has some pretty yarn and a stitch dictionary, and then tries to find a garment  to which these can be applied.

a better course in knitting - het breien in betere banen - de vries-hamburger

Some of the inspirational images in “Het Breien in Betere Banen”

As has been made clear to the knitter and reader in the introduction, this book does not contain a single knitting pattern. However, it is full of inspirational pictures, which De Vries-Hamburger hopes will be a starting point on an exciting creative journey for the intrepid knitter.

Reading this book, which was written in 1949, I came across many prescient ideas that resonate with latter-day knitters who probably have never heard of De Vries-Hamburger. To name a few: Barbara Walker advocates knitting from the top in order to create well-fitting garments. The inimitable and opinionated Elizabeth Zimmermann also wanted to free knitters from the yoke of the knitting pattern and preferred to give knitters “recipes” in which they can plug in their own ideas. And even finding links to the 21st Century is not difficult: Amy Twigger-Holroyd‘s PhD research on home-made fashion, sustainability, and design is partly based on the believe in the inate creativity of knitters to design and adapt their own clothes – something she calls Folk Fashion.

So, why did I decide to use a herringbone tweed fabric as a backdrop for my pictures?

a better course in knitting - breien in betere banen - de vries-hamburger men's outfit

An inspiring outfit!

I was smitten by the only men’s garment in this book. It is knitted in alternating stripes of brioche rib, and honeycomb brioche (if you want to know more about brioche stitches, then look no further than Nancy Marchant; what she doesn’t know about brioche stitch is not worth knowing.) As you may have gathered, there is no pattern for this jumper, and I have done a lot of swatching to arrive at the right fabric. I also happen to have a length of herringbone tweed I purchased from Jamieson’s of Shetland during Shetland Wool Week last week.

Taking a leaf out of De Vries-Hamburger’s book so to speak, I started with thinking about the fabric I wanted to make for this jumper, and then started to look for an appropriate yarn. I ended up with a very surprising choice: Blacker Swan merino 4-ply. I’m usually not a fan of merino yarns. Yes, they’re soft, and yes, they take dye beautifully, but they seem to lack any character. I also have a notion (unsubstantiated at this point) that the merino fibres finding their way into hand-knitting yarns are often not the best quality that can be offered by merino sheep. I have more than once been disappointed in the amount of pilling that ensues after a few wears. On top of that merino is often treated to be superwash, which to my mind alters the handle of the yarn unfavourably. Blacker Swan seems to be different, and although this may be due to the fact it has some Shetland fibre mixed in, I’m more than willing to give merino a chance once more.

a better course in knitting - het breien in betere banen - brioche stitch swatch

A whole outfit in the making

I’m looking forward to cast on and start knitting, and use my long Christmas break to make a smashing pair of tweed trousers and keep you updated on my progress. And, of course, to let you know how I got on with my renewed interest in merino wool.

When Magnus from Foula Wool asked me last year to design a pattern for a men’s cardigan using his Foula Wool, I did not only delight in all the natural colours it comes in, but also by its texture. After I designed the cardigan I kept playing with the wool, and decided to try out some travelling stitches (also known as twisted stitches or Bavarian cables.)

I’m pleased to say that I managed to persuade Magnus that textured knits also work well in his yarn, and that it would be shame to limit his patterns to colourwork only. And here, dear readers, is the end result of my pleading:

Crofters Mittens knitting pattern by tomofholland

Crofters Mittens, showing a Celtic knot design on the back, and a twisted garter rib on the palm

The Crofters Mittens are designed to show off the excellent stitch definition of the Foula wool, and comes in three sizes (please note: cuff not included, which measures 2″ when folded back on itself):

Small: 7.5” circumference, length from wrist to tip: 7.5”

Medium: 8” circumference, length from wrist to tip: 8”

Large: 8.5” circumference, length from wrist to tip: 8.5”

Crofters Mittens knitting pattern by tomofholland

The first half of the ribbing is knitted on a bigger needle than the second half; this means the ribbing folds over nicely at the midway line and falls right into place

This pattern assumes you know how to knit twisted stitches and how to knit in the round using the Magic Loop technique. The mittens start of with a tubular cast-on. The first half of the ribbed cuff is knitted on slightly larger needles than the second of the cuff, to ensure it folds over neatly. The wrist is knitted in stocking stitch. The hand and the thumb are knitted in twisted stitches throughout. The shaping of the top at the back of the hand is cleverly hidden within the pattern.

The following special techniques are used in making these mittens:
Tubular cast-on with waste yarn, the tutorial follows below!
Twisted stitches (sometimes known as travelling stitches or Bavarian stitches, see Donna Druchunas’s detailed explanation of a number of techniques here: http://www.knitty.com/ISSUEff12/FEATff12EK.php I prefer the technique that doesn’t require a cable needle)
Twisted decreases (see abbreviations for explanation)
Magic Loop with long circular needle (see Kristin Fraser’s explanation here: http://www.knitty.com/ISSUEss14/FEATss14VT.php)

Of course, a pattern launch by me would not be complete without a tutorial! So, today I want to show you how I did the tubular cast-on for these mittens. I used to favour what’s usually called the Italian cast-on or alternating cast-on, which is a variation of the long-tail cast-on (although the needle movements are completely different.) But after reading Catherine Lowe‘s The Ravell’d Sleeve, I tried out her method and it gives me better results, and doesn’t depend on accurately maintaining the tension of your cast-on in order to look good.

You can buy the Crofters Mittens pattern here.

Tubular Cast-On Using Waste Yarn for Knitting in the Round

Assuming you want an even number of stitches for a 1×1 ribbing, first calculate how many stitches you need to cast on. If your ribbing is X stitches in the round, then add 2 to X. Then divide this by 2. This is how many stitches you will need to cast-on (for example, if your ribbing will be 52 stitches in the round, then 52 + 2 = 54, 54 / 2 = 27, so cast on 27 stitches.) Using smooth waste yarn and a circular needle one size smaller than you want to use for your ribbing, very loosely cast on calculated number of stitches with the long-tail cast-on method. Make sure to space the stitches far apart to create lots of stretch.

Tubular Cast On with Waste Yarn Tutorial 01

long-tail cast-on with stitches spread wide apart

Now knit across the first row. At the end of the row, break off the waste yarn and attach the main yarn to the tail of the waste yarn. Turn work and then purl across to the end, then turn your work again.

Tubular Cast On with Waste Yarn Tutorial 02

One row knitted with waste yarn, followed by a purl row in the main yarn

Now the fun begins! * knit 1, then increase by purling into the running thread between the stitch just knitted and the next stitch *, repeat from * to * to the last two stitches, and knit 1, purl 1. You have now reached the end of the row. Turn your work one more time.

Tubular Cast On with Waste Yarn Tutorial 03

The running thread between the stitch just knitted and the next stitch is clearly visible just underneath the left needle tipTubular Cast On with Waste Yarn Tutorial 04

With the left needle, you can lift up the running thread so it’s easier to work

Tubular Cast On with Waste Yarn Tutorial 05

The purl increase in the running thread completed

This is the last row worked flat. * Knit 1, bring yarn to front, slip the purl stitch purl-wise, then bring yarn to back * repeat from * to * to end. You have just ended on a purl stitch.

Tubular Cast On with Waste Yarn Tutorial 06

The purl stitch is slipped from the left needle to the right needle without working it. Notice that the working thread has been brought to the front before slipping the stitch

You are now ready to join in the round. You can place a marker if you find this easier to find the beginning of the round. I’m using the Magic Loop technique. So, here goes: join in the round, and again * Knit 1, bring yarn to front, slip the purl stitch purl-wise, then bring yarn to back * repeat from * to * to end.. The tubular cast-on is now completed.

Now change your needle size to the one you wanted to use for your ribbing and knit the knits and purl the purls (so no more slipping of stitches.)

tubular cast on with waste yarn tutorial 07

Tubular knitting of an extremely small tube in progress

You can leave the waste yarn in place until you have finished the object you’re making.

tubular cast on with waste yarn tutorial 08

One tiny tube of knitting. The waste yarn was left in place

Once you’re ready to remove it, first unpick the knot holding the main yarn tied to the waste yarn, then very carefully cut off the cast-on row with scissors. As there’s an additional row of waste yarn, it should be quite easy to stay away from the edge of the ribbing.

tubular cast on with waste yarn tutorial 09

The cutting of the cast-on row has started

 Once the cast-on row has been cut off, it should be fairly easy to unpick the remainder of the threads. Depending on where exactly you cut, you may be left with one last row of waste yarn peaking out of the ribbing. This is easily removed by carefully pulling on the waste yarn: it will come out as one strand.

tubular cast on with waste yarn tutorial 10

As I cut close to the cast-on edge, I had a row of waste yarn remaining after I removed all the cut ends

All the is left to do, is use some judicious darning in of the yarn tail, et voila, your tubular cast-on is complete!

tubular cast on with waste yarn tutorial 11

One tube with tubular cast-on. Can you work out where the beginning of the row was?

I have a drawer full of tea towels. Some of them are new, some of them are special, and some of them have seen better days.
Tatty Tea Towels Repair Dialogue
Two tatty tea towels
Always on the look-out for new mending projects, I’m going to find an answer to the question “How to repair a pair of tatty tea towels?” I’m not going to find out on my own though; and it won’t be the only question we will seek to answer. My friend and fellow mender and maker Bridget Harvey and I first met at the MendRS Symposium in 2012, so when I was thinking about repairing together, I knew she’d be the perfect partner for a Repair Dialogue.
The Repair Dialogue involves two menders, two towels, two questions and two end results. Once the repairs have been completed, one towel is to remain functional so it’s still fit for purpose. The other towel can become non-functional.
Repair Dialogue - Functional Towel
This towel is to remain fit for purpose
At the moment, Bridget has the “functional tea towel” and I have the “non-functional tea towel.” Each of us will do a repair, post the towel to the other, and then pick up the repair where the other left off. I’m looking forward to see what we’ll come up with, and how our repairs will influence each other.
Repair Dialogue - non-functional towel
And this towel can become non-functional
Thinking about when a tea towel is still fit for purpose is going to be an interesting question to answer. It’d be easy to just add some patches and be done with it, but that would be an easy solution, and far from thought-provoking. Both Bridget and I are excited about using these towels as a vehicle to explore the boundaries and finding out when a repair crosses over from functional to non-functional. I often discuss this at my darning master classes, as a functional repair requires certain materials and techniques. For instance, darning a hole in a fine gauge machine-knitted sock with a bulky yarn would be uncomfortable to wear. On the other hand, repairing moth holes in a jumper with that same bulky yarn might lead to spectacular results.
Repair Dialogue - non-functional towel detail
A challenge lying ahead in the functional repair category
Everyday textiles can have a very interesting story to tell, and whenever I use these towels, my thoughts go back to when I first lived on my own:
After I graduated in 1997, I moved to Amsterdam for my first job as a radiotherapy radiographer, and I found a teeny tiny house to live in. I furnished it with things gathered from many different sources. An old sofa that once belonged to my parents, now long gone. A small dining table from a colleague in exchange for home-made biscuits (yes, it’s the very table that still features as a backdrop in many of my pictures now.) A table lamp bought by my godmother on a shopping trip together. The tea towels however, I bought myself. They come from a Dutch department store called the HEMA*; they make everything under their own label, and most of their stuff is very reasonably priced and has a plain and modern look to it. I picked this particular pattern as I liked the reference to traditional textiles from the Brabant province. In the UK you might refer to this pattern as ‘gingham’ but in Dutch we call it ‘Brabants bont.’
Repair Dialogue - non-functional towel detail
The non-functional towel has a different challenge
The towels have served me well and I’m a bit sad to see that they are now so well-used that they have started to disintegrate. One of the towels has a very old grey/brown mark on it from straining home-made chicken stock as I didn’t have the more usual cheesecloth used for this purpose. The debris left in the towel after straining stained it and subsequently refused to shift in the wash. That’s okay with me. Although stained, the towel is clean and still dries dishes very well. As both Bridget and I have a lot of other things on I don’t expect them to be fully repaired any time soon, but I I’m really looking forward to the outcome of our Repair Dialogue and sharing the progress and findings on my blog. I hope you will, too!
 ——————

*) Hema opened a store in London this year: http://www.hemashop.com/gb/.

I’m a reluctant fan of Kaffe Fassett‘s work; my appreciation for his sense of colour has come to me only a couple of years ago. Partly this stems from my slight colour blindness, which can make working with colours difficult for me. It might also have to do with the era in which Fassett first became a household name: the 1980s. It’s easy to dismiss that decade as one with ugly garment shapes and be done with it, but once you start to really look at the designs from that era, there is a bounty of inspiration to be found. Knitwear designers like Susan Duckworth and Patricia Roberts to name just a few, and indeed Kaffe Fassett, were masters at combining textures, shapes, and colour and I find there is lots to learn from studying these elements of their design.

Kaffe Fassett Banner with Anna Maltz

My friend Anna Maltz takes colour to the 21st Century

Now that I have some of his knitting books, I have started to get an understanding of how colours can work together. Even if the end result is not always to my taste, I can learn a lot from it. But looking at pictures is very different from looking at the actual garments. So when my friend and knitbuddy Anna Maltz (some of you may know her as Sweaterspotter) asked if I wanted to visit the Kaffe Fassett retrospective at the American Museum in Bath with her, I just had to say yes.

Rosie Wilks tree decorations for Kaffe Fassett at American Museum

Kaffe Fassett inspired tree decorations by Rosie Wilks greet you when you walk up to the exhibition

Fassett has a connection to the American Museum that goes back to the 1960s, when he made beautiful pen drawings of the period rooms. These drawings are also on display throughout the museum. The knitwear, needlepoint, and patchwork quilts were displayed in a theatrical setting, saturated in colour and dramatically lit.

tomofholland in the Kaffe Fassett American Museum entrance

Here’s me in the psychedelic entrance to the exhibition

I think that for me, the exhibition was not entirely successful. It was great to see all those pieces for real and I really enjoyed looking at them, but both Anna and I felt we haven’t learnt more about Kaffe Fassett the designer than we already knew. If you are interested in the background story, then I can highly recommend a five-part documentary you can find on the 4OD website here (my apologies, I’m not sure if you can view this outside the UK.) It was made when Glorious Knitting was released, and he talks about his passion for knitting, the connection between knitting and painting, sources of inspiration, and on being a professional designer.

Kaffe Fasset at American Museum patchwork quilt and coat

‘Pools of colour’ in every corner of the exhibition

In order to bring some structure in the displays, the exhibition was grouped in ‘pools of colour’ and this worked well. Although Fassett sometimes uses up to sixty different colours in a design (and in the patchwork quilts this is arguably even more if you look at all the printed fabrics) there is usually one colour group that dominates and I think that’s the key to working with colour. Any other colours that are thrown in the mix are there to add a little frisson to the colour scheme, and thereby lifting up and bringing it all together into a coherent design.

Stone Colours Kaffe Fassett at American Museum

Tumbling blocks and a peplum jacket in muted colours

Yellow Chair Kaffe Fassett at American Museum

An artfully aged yellow chair with a beautiful needlepoint cushion

Hidden Treasures Kaffe Fassett at American Museum

A sneaky peek: hiding under this huge shawl were a sweater and a cardigan

Mirror mirror on the wall Kaffe Fassett American Museum

‘Mirror mirror on the wall’ the entrance to the exhibition

Apart from the Kaffe Fassett exhibition, which is on until 2 November, the American Museum also houses a great permanent collection of quilts, patchwork, rugs and blankets and is situated on beautiful grounds. Lest you think it’s only about textiles – I am biased, after all – the collection at the Museum is in fact extremely varied, ranging from quilts to Renaissance maps, and Shaker furniture to ancient Native American tools. It takes you on a journey through the history of America, from its early settlers to the twentieth century, which made it well worth a visit!

A few weeks ago I visited the Fries Museum archives, and their textile conservator Gieneke Arnolli shared with me many beautiful textiles related to mending and repairing. It was the first time I saw darning samplers in real life. These samplers were educational tools for young girls, teaching them how to repair woven fabrics. However, the Fries Museum also holds many samplers for learning how to repair knitted fabrics. Needless to say that as I particularly enjoy repairing knitwear, these were possibly even more exciting than the darning samplers I shared in my previous post!

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 01a

One of many knitted darning samplers. This one stands out as it was knitted from and repaired with wool

The above knitted darning sampler is different from most of the samplers in the collection, as it was knitted from and repaired with wool. Most other samplers used cotton. Incidentally, it is also similar to the technique I used for repairing the Knitting & Crochet Guild Cardigan commission. As with most of these samplers, the back of the fabric is just as beautiful and interesting as the front.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 01b

The back shows how the sides of the hole were folded back and edges neatly trimmed

The knitted darning samplers can be split into two main categories: the first is the sampler in the shape of a sock or stocking, knitted in the round; the second is the sampler in the shape of a rectangle, knitted flat. Often, the sampler is divided into squares, using red yarn, each containing a repair. Some girls practised the same technique over and over again, whereas others show a great range of techniques.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 02a

Darning samplers in shape of stockings, one the left stocking even the cast-on edge has been repaired

Most often the repairs were executed in red yarn, although most samplers also have at least a couple of repairs in white yarn, too. The left stocking above mostly shows woven darns. In Dutch this technique has two names, depending on what is being repaired: if a hole is repaired by weaving, then it is called ‘stoppen;’ if a thin area is reinforced by weaving, then this is called ‘doorstoppen.’

The right stocking above shows mostly Swiss darning or duplicate stitching. This technique of emulating knitted stitches is called ‘mazen’ in Dutch. It also shows grafting, like the two single rows of red stitches in the right stocking above. It is a way of replacing a missing single row of stitches with a new row, using a blunt darning needle. Incidentally, you might also know grafting as a way of closing the toe on a sock, instead of binding off.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 02b

 

The other side of the same stockings, showing more woven darns on the left, and duplicate stitching on the right, including in ribbing pattern at the cuff

Another technique that was part of sock repair, was reknitting the heel. You can see this in the picture above in the right stocking. For this, the heel flap and heel turn (respectively called ‘big heel’ and ‘small heel’ in Dutch) is unpicked. This leaves you with a hole which has a row of live stitches at the leg side and at the foot side, and edges that were originally the picked up stitches for the gussets. The stitches at the leg side are picked up on one needle, and the edge of each gusset is also picked up on a needle each. The heel flap is knitted as normal, but at the end of each row the last stitch is worked together with a stitch from the gusset edge. Once the heel turn is worked the last row is grafted onto the live stitches at the foot end. Tadah! A new heel!

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 04a

More Swiss darning, or ‘mazen’ on this square sampler, with a variety of different stitch patterns

The most common Swiss darn is executed on thinning fabric. This is relatively simple, as you can use the original stitches as a guideline. However, it is also possible to Swiss darn a hole. I also used this technique on my Knitting & Crochet Guild commission. The sampler above was never finished, and this gives us a glimpse of the technical aspects of Swiss darning a hole. You can see that the hole is neatened, and then a foundation is layed with sewing thread. This foundation will make Swiss darning easier, as it holds the loops of the yarn in place as the rows are worked.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 04b

The back of the sampler shows that all Swiss darns filled in holes, rather than covering thinning areas. You can also see a piece of lino or floorcloth used as a temporary stabiliser

When the holes to be Swiss darned are on the larger side, then you can first baste a piece of lino or floorcloth at the back. This will prevent the hole from being stretched out of shape. At the same time the lino or floorcloth is flexible enough to allow for easier needle and fabric manipulation.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 05

A small undergarment used to practise knitwear repairs

Not all samplers take the shape of socks or squares. I particularly liked this small undergarment. It has beautiful underarm gussets, and a lovely sideseam stitch. Clearly no learning opportunity was wasted, as I’m quite sure the girls would first have to knit the sock, stocking, or other garment, before making holes in it to learn how to repair them. I think my darning workshop students get a good deal here, as I provide them with knitted squares to practise on!

The final sampler I want to share with you may not seem as a high point: at first glance it looks rather unassuming.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 07a

The most exciting darning sampler of all!

It has yellowed a lot, the top half seems rather lumpy-bumpy, and apart from the lace stitches, not much seems to be going on. Upon closer inspection, however, I discovered that the lumps are actually sock heels. Furthermore, most of this small sampler is covered in nigh-on invisible repairs.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 07b

The back is finished off very neatly

The repairs are exemplary on the front as well as the back. Very neatly finished, the repairs really are virtually invisible. I think this was a stocking sampler of sorts. Not only are there heels hiding, there’s also a seam stitch right through the middle, with calf decreases alongside it. Then there are the stitches often used in knitted stockings: two types of ribbing, and a number of fancy stitches that would work well on stockings. It’s like a deconstructed stocking, broken down in its essential elements. We will probably never know why the maker chose to do it this way, rather than by knitting an actual stocking.

I hope you enjoyed reading about my foray into darning samplers, and I would like to thank the Fries Museum and Gieneke Arnolli in particular for inviting me to see these textiles that are not on public display at the moment. I have learnt a lot from them, and their possibilities as sources of inspiration are like a map that will allow me to travel in many directions!

With many thanks to the Fries Museum and Gieneke Arnolli for allowing me to take pictures and giving me permission to share them on my blog.

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