This is not a blog post about mending books, but a post about some of my favourite books about mending.
A small selection of my mending library
I frequently get questions about where I’ve learnt my mending skills, and what books I would recommend. Most of my skills come from old books, combined with a lot of practice. I favour old books as they tend to go more in-depth, and usually have many repair approaches depending on the fabric and what needs repairing. I’ll discuss a selection of my favourite books, in order of acquisition:
Don’t just think about it, MEND IT!
A call to arms for all my mending comrades, I think Mend It! A Complete Guide to Clothes Repair is a great introduction into mending and repairing clothes. As it states on the cover, it is pretty much complete, and deals with many repair jobs. It has clear instructions with a mix of graphics and photographs. The introduction sets the scene for all of my mending books:
‘As invisible as possible…’
A cigarette burn on a good skirt – a tear in a new pair of pants […] Mend it! Not perhaps with an eye-catching darn or a thumping great patch, but with one of the many methods that will make a nearly or completely invisible repair[.]
Regular readers of my blog will know that I’m a big fan of the eye-catching darn or thumping great patch, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to do a shoddy job on the repairs! Not so in these books, where as invisible as possible is the holy grail of repair – clothes ought to end up looking as new again. For me this means they lose some of their character, and hide the fact that they have been with you for a while. They’re worth repairing because they mean something to you, so why not make it into a feature and let them tell their story?
The photographs, diagrams, and clear instructions in Mend It! guide you through many a repair job
The next book is a compilation of Make Do and Mend instruction leaflets, published by the Board of Trade during WWII.
Make Do and Mend; keeping family and home afloat on war rations
This book contains reproductions of the official Second World War instruction leaflets on how to run your household on war rations. So not only does it contains hints and tips on repairing, but also on how to be efficient with fuel, how to look after household linen, woollens, and shoes, and how to refashion worn out garments into something else – the idea of ‘upcycling’ is nothing new!
Charming illustrations hide the hardship of living through the Second World War
The Make Do and Mend campaign was so successful we still use the phrase today. There are many things in this compilation that still make a lot of sense now. The charming illustrations in these instruction pamphlets issued by The Board of Trade do a good job of masking the hardships suffered in every day life during and after the Second World War, particularly when viewed from a distance of well over half a century. In those days, people really didn’t have any choice but to make do and mend, as there was not much new to be had. Therefore I struggle when people nowadays use the phrase ‘Make Do and Mend’ nilly-willy, when in fact what they have done is to chose to repair something rather than the throw it out and replace it – something that is often much cheaper in the 21st Century.
Partical Home Mending Made Easy, printed in 1946
My other favourite mending book full of techniques for many situations, including temporary fixes when you’re on the go, was printed in 1946. Practical Home Mending Made Easy is probably also easily the most gendered of my needlework books. Many needlework books will always address the reader as being a woman, and assume that it’s only the woman who will undertake the mending and repair jobs lurking in the mending basket, but this one seems to go one step further. The preface starts with a list of the type of women who might make use of this book: a business girl with hardly time to repair that broken shoulder strap, a little girl just learning to handle needle and thread, a big girl with a new husband’s shirts to take care of, a favourite grandma with the responsibility for taking care of play clothes, a veteran housekeeper, etc. Yet there is hope for us men, too:
A mere man? Yes – the book is for you, too. You needn’t master all the information in it, but if you concentrate on a few essential pages and become expert in button sewing, patching and darning – and you can – you will have the admiration of all your girl and women friends, and be as independent as you please.
Darning is a fine art – and not only practised by women!
The following book is in Dutch and I discussed it in the blog post about repairing a cardigan from the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection:
The title translated from the Dutch: The Feminine Handicrafts for School and House; marking, Swiss darning and darning
De Vrouwelijke Handwerken voor School en Huis; Het Merken, Mazen en Stoppen (The Feminine Handicrafts for School and House; marking, Swiss darning and darning), was written in 1888 for teaching needlework, and is part of a small series – the other two volumes cover sewing and knitting. It shows how to teach marking (embroidering initials into clothes for identification purposes during laundry day,) repairing woven fabric by means of darning, and repairing knitwear by means of Swiss darning and other techniques. The illustrations in this book are absolutely stunning:
Beautiful and clear illustrations in a century-old book
Then there are the numerous Needlework Companions, Dictionaries and Compilations you can find in many a secondhand bookshop and carboot sale. They usually have a section on repairing, mending, and darning. I have chosen to show Weldons Encyclopedia of Needlework – they published a fair few of these, with ever changing content, so it’s always worth seeing if there is something new to learn.
An unassuming – even boring – cover hides a wealth of information: don’t judge a book by its covers!
One of my favourites: Scotch darning!
This particular book brings back fond memories. I had seen it at a stall on Brighton’s Saturday street market and I never bought it as I thought they were asking a ludicrous price for it. But I always remembered seeing the Scotch darning section. As Weldons have published this encyclopdia many times, and kept changing the content, I never found it again. Until, that was, I was teaching at the Hope & Elvis Studio. Louise, owner of the studio, is a wonderful woman and I always enjoy going back there. It was languishing on her studio bookshelves and she generously gifted it to me. Every time I open this book I think about her, and Hope & Elvis.
The last book to share is a bit of an oddity. I haven’t had a chance to read any of it yet, but it seems to combine a personal repair journey with repair techniques for anything ranging from China to furniture, to clothes. There are very few pictures or diagrams, but the cover is a gem:
Vignettes on the cover of Mending and Repairing
Lastly, you may wonder what that flanelette plaid shirt is doing there, serving as a backdrop for my books?
Labour of Love – repairing my partner’s comfy shirt
My partner often wears this XXL oversized nightshirt instead of a housecoat – I shall be talking about the repairs in another blog post soon, so keep an eye out!
Goldsworthy, M; Mend It! A Complete Guide to Clothes Repair; 1979, Book Blub Associates by arrangement with Mills & Boon Ltd, London
Norman, J (foreword); Make Do and Mend; Keeping Family and Home Afloat on War Rations; 2007, Michael O’Mara Books Limited, London
Brooks Picken, M; Practical Home Mending Made Easy; 1946, Odhams Press Ltd. London
Author unknown; Weldons Encyclopedia of Needlework; The Waverly Book Co. Ltd, London
Teunisse, A and Velden, van der, AM; De Vrouwelijke Handwerken voor School en Huis; Het Merken, Mazen en Stoppen; 1916 (12th revised edition) Versluys, Amsterdam
Leland, CG; Mending and Repairing; Chatto & Windus, London
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