Archive for the ‘remaking’ Category

During a paper I gave at In the Loop 4, I mentioned a blurring of boundaries: when does a garment start, and when does it end? Musings about Taking time, Woolly Comrade Felicity ‘Felix’ Ford’s Slow Wardrobe project, and having conversations with other friends who make clothes to last, have culminated into my own thoughts about a Slow Wardrobe.

Brioche Sweater and grafitti

My Brioche Sweater: a recently completed garment. Or is it?

Since I started repairing with purpose, I’m slowly but surely drifting away from the idea that once the last loose end has been woven in, a garment is finished. Over time, clothes start to develop signs of wear, of having been washed, of having been used. Inevitably, an edge starts to fray, a seat wears thin, or a hole appears, and the time comes I’ll be getting out my darning needle. By making my mends visible, I continue adding to the garment. A beautiful mend can be worn as a badge of honour, and in my view, augments and alters the garment repaired.

Flanelette Plaid shirt darning by tomofholland

Darning the threadbare yoke seam of a flannelette shirt

A shift of focus from trying to keep things looking new and perfect to favouring the old and imperfect, means I’ve stopped looking at repair as a chore, but as a creative challenge in its own right. Instead of fixing something that is broken, which implies the item was finished, I now continue working on something that wasn’t complete yet. This idea is perhaps easier to embrace where it concerns clothes I made myself, but I now extend it to the clothes I buy. I frequently purchase secondhand clothes, and they already show signs of wear, and the time to repair something usually comes along sooner.

Tom spinning a yarn

Spinning a yarn

Conversely, making my own clothes has made me question at what point a garment starts. When you buy something, you could be led to believe that your garment’s life starts when you’ve handed over your cash. But this, of course, isn’t true. Somebody somewhere has laid out cloth, cut it up, seamed it, pressed it. Most likely different people were involved in different stages and many things are now mechanised.

When making your own clothes, you get to choose the fabric or yarn, the pattern, the buttons, and put it all together into a garment. You could argue that the item starts its life when you clapped your eyes on that beautiful tweed, or when you dreamt up that Christmas jumper and you started looking for the right yarn. Now that I also spin, even if as yet I haven’t spun enough of one yarn to make a whole jumper, my boundary has shifted even further back: it is possible to make a garment-specific fibre, so really, its life starts there. In fact, we can take it back right to the beginning: wool, linen, silk, and cotton are all fibres that theoretically I could grow or farm myself.

Roger from Diamond Fibre Mill

Roger from Diamond Fibre Mill spinning a yarn or two

So even if I’m not personally involved in all the process steps from farming to harvesting to processing of fibres, and subsequently turning the resulting cloth or yarn into a garment, I’m aware that all these steps are part of the story. If you want to get an understanding of some of the issues around the fashion industry, then there’s no better way than trying to make something yourself. When you wash your raw fleece, you’ll notice how much water you use. When you spin a yarn, you understand how difficult it can be to get something just right. When you sew a shirt, you get a feel for how complicated sewing can be. Try and imagine any of these processes on an industrial scale, and soon all sorts of questions pop up: how can we grow/farm fibres in huge quantities? What happens with waste water from processing fibres and dyeing it? What happens to by-products and waste from the spinning process? How can somebody sew 50 shirts a day? How are prices of clothing set on the High Street?

These are just a few questions, and answering them is difficult, and fixing things that appear to be a problem is also very complicated. So what can I do about it myself? Talking to people such as Sarah Corbett from the Craftivist Collective, or reading John-Paul Flintoff’s book Sew Your Own, made me realise that there will be things I personally cannot influence, but there are other things I can do something about. I can run workshops, I can volunteer, I can decide what goes into my wardrobe, and I can share my experiences in this blog.

A follow-up post is in the making, in which I want to share with you my thoughts about my Slow Wardrobe: what does it mean to me? Sewing and knitting my own clothes, making things that last, repairing things, and thinking about long-term style, not short-term fashion.

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A few weeks ago I started working on a Visible Mending commission from the Knitting & Crochet Guild. Avid readers of my blog might remember the horror of this sleeve:

Knitting & Crochet Guild cardigan close-up of damaged sleeve

A sorry sleeve in desperate need of some Visible Mending love

The lovely people at the Knitting & Crochet Guild believe that this damage may have been caused by some corrosive fluid that might have spilt onto it during a flooding at their archives. And indeed, when I was trying to tidy up the holes before starting the repairs, the stained wool was so brittle it almost crumbled in my hands. I have collected this as the Guild might be able to get it analysed at a forensics lab. There were four small holes and one large whopper. What follows is not a repair tutorial; instead I wanted to give you an insight in the technicalities of this repair.

I first tackled the small holes with an advanced method of Swiss darning; or duplicate stitching as it’s also known. Usually you can simply embroider over the existing stitches, but to do this on a hole, you’ll first need to provide some support for the stitches you’re making with your tapestry needle. After that it’s simply a case of keeping track of the colours, just as if you were knitting the pattern.

Knitting and Crochet Guild Commission Swiss Darning pt 1

A framework made with sewing thread to support the new stitches as they are worked

Knitting and Crochet Guild Commission Swiss Darning pt 2

Then the Swiss darning proper can commence, staying strictly in pattern of the original Fair Isle pattern

Knitting and Crochet Guild Commission Swiss Darning pt 3

The completed Swiss darn. The top row grafts the new stitches to the old

Once this was completed on four small holes I could start with the large hole. I wanted to employ a technique I had found in a very old Dutch booklet on teaching darning and repair skills to girls (seeing this book was originally published in 1888, of course it would only be girls that would need to learn these skills at the time; the authors would probably be mystified why I would want to use this book in earnest!) For this mending technique you knit every row with a new strand or strands of yarn for each row. The beginning of the strands of yarn are Swiss darned in over the stitches of the original fabric, and after knitting the row, the ends are darned in, too. The last row which will close the hole up, is grafted in place.

Knitting and Crochet Guild Commission Dutch darning Pt 1

the first few rows completed; you can see the beginning of a new strand of yarn being darned into place

Knitting and Crochet Guild Commission Dutch darning Pt 2

Grafting of the last row was also a patterned row. I used the Sock Toe Chimney grafting method, hence the bits of white cotton knitting that suddenly appeared

After finishing off all the ends it was time for a wash ‘n’ block and the excitement of seeing the finished Visible Mend was almost too much to bear for me – this surely must be the technically most demanding repair I’ve done to date.

Knitting and Crochet Guild Commission Completed Close-up

The repaired areas blend in beautifully with the original Fair Isle fabric and colours

For this original Fair Isle hand-knit cardigan I wanted to stay close to its provenance. Therefore I wanted to use a Shetland wool for this repair. I settled on Jamieson & Smith’s Supreme jumper weight, as it comes in so many natural undyed shades. I set the camera on my mobile phone to take black-and-white pictures, and that way I chose the natural shades that came closest to the original colours, as seen in black-and-white. It turns out that the black-and-white filter on my phone gives different results than the one on my proper camera, as you will have to agree that in the following picture the Shetland Supreme shades look a bit lighter on the whole. Perhaps the light was different, too. Who knows.

Knitting and Crochet Guild Commission in black and white

The finished cardigan in black-and-white

Knitting and Crochet Guild Commission in colour


And the cardigan “in glorious technicolor”

This weekend the Guild will have their annual convention and I’m pleased that this cardigan was ready in time to be shared with all Guild members. Angharad, volunteer Textile Archivist of the Knitting & Crochet Guild, emailed me to say she and her colleagues were very pleased with the end result, as they feel “it has made the garment into something very special whereas before it was very sad and folorn.” What a great result of such a lovely commission!

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Some repair commissions are so much more than mending a hole or two. I recently completed a very special commission, which I would like to share with you. Bernadette sent me an email with a repair commission request, and as she has put her conundrum in such concise and clear words, I will quote the relevant parts here:

I have a pullover that my mother knitted me in the 1980s.  It was  cream coloured natural wool — I’ve since dyed it grey.  It’s a typically big and baggy eighties style from a pattern by Edina Ronay. It didn’t really suit me, the undyed colour was a kind of dirty cream and the neckline is wrong.  

There’s a lot of my mother’s work in this garment.  I don’t want to get rid of it – it’s about 25 years old and it’s been at the back of a cupboard for a long time.  So I had an idea to make it wearable by dyeing it grey.  This wasn’t wholly successful. The colour is a bit patchy but on the whole I prefer it to the cream.  It still looked massive on me.  I had another idea to turn it into a cushion – it’s got nice (I think Guernsey) textured patterns all over it and the body would be big enough to make a substantial cushion cover.  So I cut off one of the sleeves, with a view to hacking the thing to bits to make a cushion.  As soon as I’d cut off the sleeve I regretted it.  

There’s  a small hole in one sleeve too.  The pullover means a lot to me, especially since my mother died a couple of years ago.  We didn’t have much in common and knitting is one of my only true connections to her.

Visible Mending Programme - Jumper with hacked off sleeve

Bernadette’s jumper, you can see the cut off sleeve with ragged seams. In this picture I already unpicked the top of the sleeve and picked up the stitches

We exchanged a few emails so I could get a feel of what she wanted and come up with a repair strategy before meeting up.

Thank you for your kind reply.  I’m so glad you understand about the jumper – and about mothers!  I’m sure my own mother would think I was completely mad to be trying to fix up this old jumper she made.
As you can see – not only did I cut off a sleeve, I also cut open the seam of the sleeve.  Why  – I couldn’t really say at this point.  The wool is a bit felted through age, so nothing has come unravelled at all.
Re the neckline – it used to be a lot wider. I think maybe the jumper has shrunk a little bit because the neckline doesn’t seem so wide as I remember it. I guess it’s okay how it is.
I had to come up with a way of reconstructing the sleeve without losing too much of the original knitting. As the sleeve had been cut off and open, rather than carefully unpicked at the seams, I had some unravelling to do and fill in the missing inch at the very top of the sleeve cap. I also needed to do something about the side seams, as these could not be sewn together as they were.
The Visible Mending Programme - Shoulder and Sleeve Detail
A sympathetic contrasting colour was used to fix the sleeve and make up for lost fabric
Looking for a colour that would provide some contrast, yet harmonise well with the lavender grey of the jumper, I settled on a dark grey alpaca sock yarn. I chose a cable stitch that resembled the stitch in the jumper, but wasn’t quite the same to reinforce the idea that this repair was not done by the person who originally knitted the garment.
Picking up stitches from somebody else’s work felt really intimate, and throughout the repair my thoughts went out to Bernadette, and her mother. I admired the skill and effort that went into making this jumper, the even stitches. I have never met Bernadette’s mother, but picking up her work forged a connection, and I imagined how she worked on this jumper. I will never know what might have gone through her mind, yet I was wondering about this; wondering what she would’ve thought about her daughter asking to do this Visible Mend.
Visible Mending Programme - invisible mend on sleeve
One invisible mend is hiding on the sleeve – can you see it?
As I had some original yarn from unravelling the untidy cut edges, I did an invisible mend on the hole in the sleeve. I felt that another, seemingly randomly placed visible mend would distract from the visible sleeve reconstruction. Once I had sewn up the jumper, I ‘de-pilled’ it, and then gently hand-washed it before blocking it. I had asked Bernadette not to wash the jumper before giving it to me for repair, as this might inadvertently do more damage: stitches might unravel, or more felting might occur. As always, once I feel I’ve completed the repair, the final touch was stitching the Visible Mending Programme initials into the garment.
The Visible Mending Programme - stitched logo
VMP – Visible Mending Programme
I guess you might want to know what the jumper looks like now?
Bernadette can wear her mother’s handiwork again, and be reminded of their one true connection
Both Bernadette and I were very pleased with the end result, so let me end with her own words, providing another little glimpse on the value of this jumper:
It really does mean a lot that I still have the jumper.  My mum always tried to make me the jumpers that I chose patterns for.  Unfortunately I had such bad taste back in the 80s that they were mostly horrible, but it wasn’t my Mum’s fault. 

When I was older my Mum made my children quite a few little things, but none of the garments have been hardy enough to survive.  There was one pink fair isle twinset she made my daughter that I really hoped to keep but a moth ate holes in it and it made me feel sad to look at it, and I eventually got rid of it.

So this jumper that you are rescuing is the one surviving garment (apart from an astonishing array of teddy trousers and dresses in acrylic!).

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Tomorrow is Fashion Revolution Day. This day asks people to think about who made the clothes you are wearing.

Who Made Your Clothes - Fashion Revolution Day

This question started to form in my head a few years ago, which is one of the reasons why I started The Visible Mending Programme and I’d like to explain a bit more about the philosophy behind it.

ShetlandWoolWeek Darning at Jamieson & Smith

Visible Mending Workshop at Shetland Wool Week 2013

The Visible Mending Programme seeks to highlight that the art and craftsmanship of clothes repair is particularly relevant in a world where more and more people voice their dissatisfaction with fashion’s throwaway culture. By exploring the story behind garment and repair, the Programme attempts to reinforce the relationship between wearer and garment, hopefully leading to people wearing their existing clothes for longer, with the beautiful darn worn as a badge of honour. The development and crystallisation of these ideas are closely linked to the development of my hand-knitting skills.


Zoe’s cardigan has gone through The Visible Mending Programme a number of times

Taking pride in my craftsmanship of hand-knitting has led to the realisation that I want to take good care of these items to extend their longevity. However, this urge is not quite so strong for clothes purchased on the High Street, even though they were probably produced by highly skilled makers. Although considerable constraints in time and materials can affect their quality they ought to deserve the same care as a hand-knit to honour the anonymous makers and their skills.


A hand-knitted cardigan, designed by myself

Hand-knitting creates close ties with the object made; tracing its evolution and progress reminds one of where, when and how it was made. A good darn also requires craftsmanship, and I frequently employ knitting and crochet techniques for mending, or techniques traditionally used for repairing knitwear. The experience of this process allows one to create a similar connection with shop-bought clothes as with hand-knits. By thinking about how the garment was acquired, the occasions it was worn and the motivation of the repair can reinforce that relationship. Writing a Visible Mending Programme blog, running darning workshops and taking repair work commissions can provide inspiration, skills and services to people and hopefully persuade them that shop-bought clothes deserve care and attention too, just like that precious hand-knit.


A scarf repaired by one of my students during a Visible Mending Workshop

You can read some more over at The Good Wardrobe, where John-Paul Flintoff interviewed me at one of their Sew It Forward events.

So ask yourself: do you know who made your clothes?

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Last week, I showed you two invisible mending commissions I took on. However, there was a third garment to be repaired. What’s more, it’s not the first time I have tackled it. Remember That Green Cardigan?


That Green Cardigan

I hadn’t seen it for a while, and as Zoë has been wearing it day in, day out since it was repaired first time around, it started showing some more fraying, elbow holes and snags. But it was also very nice to see how the old repairs had really settled in; they look like they were always there.


An old repair and fraying of the welts

This time, I used Foula wool for repairs. It’s a somewhat different shade of grey, but the texture is quite similar to the Jacob wool I used previously. Assuming the cardigan will keep returning for more repairs over the coming years, I’d like to continue using different shades of grey (although I doubt I’ll get up to fifty…), making each repair episode discrete, yet all together they form a coherent story.

I used a variety of techniques this time. I’m starting to appreciate crochet as a repair technique:


Old repair in 1×1 ribbing, new repair in single crochet


More crochet repairs

Then there was some thinning fabric to be found in an unexplainable-to-me area. This I reinforced with Swiss darning in Brioche stitch:


Swiss darning in Brioche stitch

As my love for Scotch darning just does not diminish, I used it for the hole in the elbow. The texture is amazing when using a heavy DK weight knitting yarn:


Scotch darning in Foula wool

Zoë’s cardigan is fit for another round of heavy-duty work, which is just as well, as she spends lots of time in the forest, working for Wilderness Wood.


Zoë’s green cardigan, repaired once more

And if you feel inspired by these visible mends, but you’re not quite sure where to start, then sign up for my next darning class at Super+Super HQ in Brighton. You can sign up below:

Eventbrite - Darning Workshop

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Last Friday I made my way up to Retford, Nottinghamshire, to stay with Louise Presley, owner of Hope & Elvis. Louise and her husband Nigel were very welcoming and made me feel right at home, making sure I was fed and watered and had a good night’s sleep in preparation for the darning and mending workshop I ran at her beautiful studio on Saturday.


Hope & Elvis studio, darning examples and reference books on display

By 10am everybody had turned up, and after an introduction to my Visible Mending Programme, I used some of my darned garments to discuss a variety of techniques. I explained why I had chosen them, and what the advantages and disadvantages of each technique was. Then, whilst having a cuppa and a biccie, each student showed what they had brought to repair and we discussed ideas together.


Repair in progress at Hope & Elvis

Throughout the day I demonstrated stocking darning, Swiss darning, Scotch darning* and giving hints and tips on what materials to use, make people think about whether their darns would be practical or an embellishment. Needless to say, I also showed my Speedweve, and I was so pleased to see that Louise not only had one herself, but that she also had a Star darning machine!


A darn in contrasting thread

Louise’s studio is crammed from floor to ceiling with vintage haberdashery, blankets, fabrics, needlework gadgets, threads, yarns, old and new books, and it was fantastic to have all of this to our disposal. Although we had a break for lunch, most people were keen to continue stitching, and I think that when you see the following pictures you’ll agree that everybody made something amazing on Saturday. With apologies in advance: I haven’t remembered everybody’s name – I must be getting on a bit…


Marks made on a blanket


Pattern darning sampler


Buttonhole filling stitch by Mister Finch


Sock stitch sampler


Sturdy sock embellished with damask darning


Delicate darning by Dawn


Patched up ripped underarm seam by Sarah


Meta-darning of a tear in a paisley scarf

It feels good to know that there are a few cardigans, tops and scarves back in the wardrobe, rather than lurking in the mending basket!

I hope my next darning class will be just as successful. It’s coming Friday, 10 May, and there are still a few places left if you’d like to sign up.

*) On Scotch darning: for months now I have been trying to find a copy of a particular edition of Weldon’s Encyclopaedia of Needlework, which explains the Scotch darning technique. I have discussed variations on it in this post, but Saturday was my lucky day. Louise had two copies of said edition, so she gifted one to me! Here is The Page:


Scotch darning explained

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Late last autumn I bought a jumper from a charity shop. It was a nice enough woollen jumper. But after wearing it a few times, I wasn’t feeling the love anymore. As I was keen to explore a technique I tried out on a cardigan last year, I indulged in ten skeins of Appleton’s crewel wool:


Ten shades of Appleton’s crewel wool, and a boring jumper

It was time to say Bye Bye Boring Jumper, and Hello Amazing Jumper:


Bye Bye Boring Jumper, Hello Amazing Jumper!

In a way this is a darning sampler gone slightly out of hand. The bottom half consists of blocks of crewel wool woven in and out of the stitches of the knit fabric:


Damask darning on knitted fabric

As you can see, there’s plenty of different patterns to make, and yet I think I’ll run out of jumper before running out of ideas! In some patterns I pick up a single “leg” of a knit stitch, in others I pick up a whole stitch, or even more. Some of these patterns are based on existing patterns from other sources. There are quite a number of herringbone variations, a Prince of Wales Sanquhar tweed pattern, and a simple houndstooth, too.


The pattern in the middle is based on the Prince of Wales Sanquhar pattern

Unsurprisingly, weaving in and out of the fabric mutes the colours of the crewel wool when seen from a distance. And these colours do deserve to be seen in all their glory:


Appleton Bros. Ltd. London, 100% Wool, made in England Crewel Wool

So I have just started adding a row of what I have called “Finnish” darning in the past, by want of a better word. This really shows off the colours:


As an aside, when I was browsing through a stumpwork book, it turns out that in this needle lace tradition it is called Corded Single Brussels Stitch, but, as a few people have pointed out, it also appears to be a variation of nålbinding. Whichever name you use for this stitch, I just love the way it looks.

It might take a little while yet to finish the Hello Amazing Jumper, but I will be taking it to my one-day darning workshop to share these techniques at Hope & Elvis on Saturday, 4 May (please note, this is now fully booked.) I will also run the same workshop in Glasgow, on Saturday, 18 May at The Stitchery Studio – for which there are still a few places available.

Last but not least, I’ll be running my usual darning class at Super+Super HQ on Friday evening, 10 May.

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