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It is with great pleasure and not a little bit of pride that I came in the top ten of the 2017 Textielmuseum contest! This year the theme was “reinventing textiles”:

“We live in a society where many of us throw away things quickly when they are out of fashion or seem just a tiny bit worn. The contemporary design world is about material and its use. Designers seek both high and low tech ways to rediscover the materials and elements they work with and apply innovative ways to create a product. Materials are recycled and upcycled to give new life to texture, form and colour.

 

Design a special product or material application in which the theme ‘Reinventing Textiles’ adds value to the design.

Consider which (textile) objects you tend to throw away and how to give it a second life as an interior product, toy or item of clothing with a high design value. For example, a curtain shaded by the sun, worn clothes, a carpet that’s been walked on over and over again etc. Think about ways to repair, decorate, embroider, unravel, trim, smear, refurbish or customize textiles or apply textile techniques to non-textile materials.

How can you apply the wearing and tearing in a positive way and use it in a design or product? Research, experiment, learn the origination techniques of materials and innovate. Upcycle instead of downcycle – make ragged outfit textile products that are attractive to you.”

A quick note: all pictures in this blog post were taken by Saskia de Feijter, proprietor of Rotterdam’s hippest yarn shop, Ja, Wol!

tomofholland textielmuseum design contest top ten

Me at the award ceremony and opening of the Reinventing Textiles Exhibition

I work mostly with wool, and enjoy creating and repairing knitted objects. I like to do things that take forever, as it allows me to gain a deep understanding of material qualities and the traditional techniques I use for making and mending contemporary objects. By exploring the motivations I favour not the new and perfect but the old and imperfect, as that allows me to highlight the relationship between garment and wearer. My interest in using traditional techniques for creating and repairing (woollen) textiles means that creating and mending textiles are in constant conversation with each other.

Tomofholland Visiblemending vintage blanket Textielmuseum

My mother inspecting my handiwork

The Textielmuseum is located in Tilburg, a city in an area of The Netherland which has a rich textile history. The museum is housed in a former textiles factory, once one the largest employers of the area. One of the permanent exhibits is about woollen blanket manufacturing, showing all the different stages of making a blanket, from spinning wool to weaving to finishing.

tom of holland the new craftsmen tea towel 3

Vintage patched linen tea towels

The museum also still has a working damask mill, and they frequently collaborate with designers, creating beautiful contempary table linens. I may have indulged myself somewhat in the museum shop…

Also on the premises is the TextielLab, a unique knowledge centre, combining a specialised workshop for the manufacture of unique fabrics and an open studio where innovation is central. National and international designers, architects, artists and promising students are guided by product developers and technical experts, and so discover the endless possibilities of yarn, computer-controlled techniques and craftsmanship.

I love the outward looking approach of the Textielmuseum and TextielLab, showing great respect for traditional techniques, yet at the same time exploring new directions in textiles, and it’s a great honour to have be part of the top ten in the Reinventing Textiles contest.

The entries of the contest top ten and winners is on display at the Textielmuseum until 10 December.

tomofholland vintage blanket visiblemending textielmuseum

Showing off my blanket!

With thanks to Sas for letting me use her pictures.

 

Hemmed Patches

One of my favourite techniques for repairing woven textiles is the hemmed patch. old tea towels with hemmed patches

Old tea towels with hemmed patches

There are many repair techniques, and in “the olden days” it was deemed important that a repair would be as inconspicuous as possible. However, the least visible techniques are generally also the weakest, and for every item in need of repair, one had to weigh up strength against invisibility. One technique that makes for invisible repairs is the oversewn patch.

oversewn patch front

an unassuming piece of fabric with scalloped edges…

oversewn patch back

…turns out to be a oversewn patch sampler, showing many different shaped patches

This vintage sampler shows the oversewn patch technique in all its glory; as you can see, it’s possible to make a repair nigh on invisible. Not only can you perfectly match a pattern, the sewing technique used makes for a very smooth transition from background fabric to patch. On a blouse or shirt this would be a good technique to use, but if you want to repair tea towels, which get washed frequently, you’d soon end up with fraying seams, and very likely, new holes where the stitching isn’t quite strong enough to withstand the washing process.

A hemmed patch, on the other hand, encases the raw edges of the hole and patch inserted, and the double line of stitching ensures a strong repair. Of course, it is still possible to match the pattern, but the hem will always show up. My favourite books on mending will discuss the pros and cons of each technique, taking these kind of things into account.

hemmed patch pattern match

Pattern-matched hemmed patch

When I first started using the hemmed patch, I was lucky to have a number of tea towels in different colourways of the same weave pattern. It allowed me to pattern match, yet make the repair stand out even more through the use of different colours. I was intrigued by this disruption of the pattern, and I wanted to explore this concept further.

tomofholland tea towel the new craftsmen process 1

Vintage tea towel with stripes

I sourced a pile of striped vintage linen tea towels, cut patches from the striped sections of one sacrificial tea towel, and started playing around with different ways of disrupting the stripes. The end result hints at other design possibilities for weaving the fabric used for these towels.

tom of holland the new craftsmen tea towel 3

Red and green stripes disrupted

multi colour tea towel

Bold stripes call for a bold approach to patching

Tom-of-holland-the-new-craftsmen-tea-towel-7-590x590

Vintage tea towels with hemmed patch, available at The New Craftsmen

It was hard to stop, so I made a whole pile of these towels, and the green and red striped ones are exclusively available through The New Craftsmen.

Bookbinding

I spent a very enjoyable day at The Keep yesterday, making a casebound notebook at a one-day workshop led by their conservator, Melissa Williams. Being the conservator in an archive that holds many different documents and books, with some going back to the 12th century, Melissa really knows her “métier” and she freely shared her knowledge, making sure that the bookbinding techniques taught can be used at home, without specialist equipment, and only a few special tools.

bookbinding tools and notebook

All ready for the day: a paperweight, bone folder, bookbinder’s awl, glue brush, shoe knife, and empty pages to take plenty of notes

I have always enjoyed using nice stationery, and appreciate well-made books, in particular with “proper” linen covers, and I was very excited when my husband gave me this workshop as a present! I have always been curious about how books are made, and this workshop was a nice introduction. Of course, there are many ways of making books, and this workshop was very practical: we were taught one way of making a casebound book, and everybody left with their own by the end of it. Needless to say, Melissa showed us how to work to archival standards, and the materials used reflected this.

bookbinding workshop - book cloths

The stockroom in the conservator’s studio not only contains plenty of book cloth, but also greyboard, vellum, parchment, and other things I have no idea what they are for

I felt right at home in Melissa’s studio: specialist equipment everywhere, all the high-quality materials she uses, her in-depth knowledge of bookbinding, conservation, and preservation, always trying to achieve the best of her abilities, it all chimed with me.

bookbinding workshop - different sewing techniques

A different kind of sampler: a variety of ways to bind sections of a book together

We were taught how to make a casebound notebook, containing five sections. When you open a hardback book, you will probably notice that there are a number of sections, each of which has some thread in the middle. So we started with folding large sheets of paper that would become the sections (Melissa told us that she once went to a conference where she attended a 1.5 hour talk on how to fold paper!) After making holes in each section with a bookbinder’s awl, it was time to get stitching. I really enjoyed looking at the binding sampler shown above. The tape methods shown on the left are what we used, and if I remember correctly, the three methods with the cord are usually used when covering a book with leather – you may have seen antique books with a leather spine with thick ridges across it. This is what those ridges hide.

bookbinding workshop - sewing the folded sections

A professional bookbinder would probably use a “sewing frame,” but all techniques used in the workshop are achievable at home

After sewing the sections together, we moved on to gluing. Bookbinders tend to use PVA glue nowadays, but in the olden days the glue was usually made from bones. As a result, antique books often harbour whole colonies of bugs in the spine, as the bone glue can provide nutrients for literally centuries. Gluing happens in several stages, using thin layers that each need to dry out, otherwise the book will contain too much moisture when finished, and once assembled, would struggle to dry properly.

bookbinding workshop - mull and brown paper cover the spine

Mull and brown paper cover the spine. The big block is a brick covered in book cloth keeping the sections weighed down flat and in place

The spine is first covered in mull, a stiff open-weave fabric, and then some brown paper, and then everything is trimmed. That’s most of the inner workings finished, and it was time to move on to the most exciting bit: preparing the book cloth and covering the greyboard!

bookbinding workshop - making corners when covering the board

The bookbinders equivalent of “hospital corners”

bookbinding workshop - finished case

Boards covered in cloth, and a spine stiffener made from brown paper

Gluing in the sewn sections into the boards was the most difficult part, and despite my best efforts, the finished book isn’t quite true. However, this does in no way detract from the marvel of having managed to make my own notebook.

Bookbinding workshop - detail of finished book

A “proper” notebook, made by my own fair hands!

Since coming home, I must have picked up this notebook at least twenty times, caressing the linen cloth, looking at the end papers (even if plain) and admiring the nicely turned out corners.

bookbinding workshop - finished book

A slight imperfection in the cloth adds to the charm of this notebook

I can’t wait to have filled up my current notebook, so I can start using this one. I may have discovered a new hobby, as I’m already overflowing with ideas of playing around with scraps of bookcloth and combining them with my interest in mending. I can highly recommend this workshop, which not only gives you an insight into the art of bookbinding, but also a beautiful casebound book you made yourself!

Cobbled Together

Cobbled together: transitive verb. 1 chiefly British : to mend or patch coarsely. 2 : repair, make cobble shoes. 3 : to make or put together roughly or hastily —often used with together or up : cobble together an agreement, cobble up a temporary solution.

Canvas and leather shoe repair WIP

Shoes in need of some cobbling with a difference

My friend Sam absolutely loves these shoes, and she has worn them a lot. As a result, the canvas in the creases on the top of the toes had started to deteriorate, and I loved the repair challenge this posed to me. It’s not a job that I think a cobbler would ever take on, but in general I think that taking your shoes to the cobbler’s is probably one of the few acts of repair that people still do on a regular basis, and probably one of the few things I don’t do myself. It’s also one of the few mainstream shops still geared exclusively towards repairing, alongside mobile phone and computer repair shops.

Electrical Repair Agency, Newcastle

Electrical Repair Agency in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK. I happened upon it on a Sunday, so it’s hard to tell whether they were still in business

There used to be many repair shops, such as the one I photographed in Newcastle when I was visiting in 2012, but it seems there are not that many left now. Indeed, this is one of the reasons that Martine Postma founded the Repair Cafe Foundation, and why I volunteer at one. As explained on their website:

We throw away vast amounts of stuff. Even things with almost nothing wrong, and which could get a new lease on life after a simple repair. The trouble is, lots of people have forgotten that they can repair things themselves or they no longer know how. Knowing how to make repairs is a skill quickly lost. Society doesn’t always show much appreciation for the people who still have this practical knowledge, and against their will they are often left standing on the sidelines. Their experience is never used, or hardly ever.

The Repair Café changes all that! People who might otherwise be sidelined are getting involved again. Valuable practical knowledge is getting passed on. Things are being used for longer and don’t have to be thrown away. This reduces the volume of raw materials and energy needed to make new products. […] The Repair Café teaches people to see their possessions in a new light. And, once again, to appreciate their value. The Repair Café helps change people’s mindset. This is essential to kindle people’s enthusiasm for a sustainable society.

But most of all, the Repair Café just wants to show how much fun repairing things can be, and how easy it often is.

Canvas and leather shoe repair WIP closeup

Repair in progress

I definitely find fixing fun, and apart from giving me an opportunity to be creative, I find that when I’m absorbed in the task at hand, my mind frequently starts wandering and I have the freedom to roam wherever my mind wants to take me. Fixing Sam’s shoes made me thinking about cobblers and the meaning of the verb “to cobble together” — as you can see in the definition from Merriam-Webster posted in the opening paragraph of this post, it is mostly used to describe mending or patching in a rough or hasty manner: the complete opposite of the way I approached this repair.

Canvas leather brogues repaired topview

Shoe repair finished. I thought a quick polish wouldn’t go amiss either

For this repair I used some linen thread supplied by Namolio and I “simply” darned the thread in. In principle this is a very simple technique. The threads of the original canvas running from side to side were mostly still intact, so I viewed those as the warp threads, and the repair thread as the weft. I wove in and out of the warp, and extended this into the still sound fabric. Once that was completed, I reinforced the weakest warp threads by darning alongside them. As the damage was right in the middle of a concave surface it was a challenge to get the needle in right where I wanted it, putting my patience to the test. I’m glad I persevered, as I’m very happy with the end result. As is Sam; I hope she’ll walk many more miles in these.

Canvas leather brogues repaired

What a beautiful pair of shoes; as you can see, I did leave some work for an actual cobbler

A recent repair commission made me think about how a change in attitude can lead to a different response to repairs. It can be quite a challenge to be accepting of things not looking perfect and new, and I think that part of wanting to keep using things for longer, I had to accept that they will show signs of wear and tear.

Red Cardigan Before

A parcel from Estonia: small holes carefully marked with safety pins

This cardigan was sent to me all the way from Estonia to repair; it already had some visible mends, so it may not come as a surprise that it was a commission I really enjoyed taking on. The owner had carefully put in safety pins to mark all the small holes that weren’t so obvious, which showed me he really cared about this cardigan.

Red Cardigan VMP09 Front View

Response to repairs: the repairs I added reflect the shape of the original repairs

Here he is in his own words when I asked him about this cardigan:

I have liked all sorts of old things since I was a kid. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that when I was growing up, Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union – since most „old things“ were from the pre-war independence era, they were automatically cool and desirable as relics of better times. As most aspects of our independence were either strictly forbidden or at least discouraged by the Soviet authorities, it just contributed to the appeal. I started with collecting stamps, moved on to coins, and later to other objects like pins/badges, furniture, clothing etc.

I find American vintage clothing (vs European) interesting as it is somewhat more difficult for me to place in a specific era – European pre-war clothing is distinctly different from that of the 50/60s. America did not suffer such a rupture in their culture as Europe did due to the war, therefore US clothing from the pre-war era more naturally transitioned into the post-war pop culture and beyond. Americans wore college cardigans already back in the 20s, and, in a way, continue to do so nowadays. So in a way, American vintage is more „timeless“.

This particular cardigan reminds me of a really cool trip to California, fits me really well, and already has very nice hand darned repairs on it. The guy that I bought it from was really interesting to talk to, and had in my opinion the right attitude about vintage. For me, visible mending reminds me of the repairs that my grandmothers did on my clothes when I was a kid in the late 70s/early 80s. To be honest, I was not a huge fan of those back then – so it’s also a bit ironic that I find it appealing now. But then again, life seems to be full of ironies of that sort as one goes from youth to middle age

Red Cardigan VMP09 Detail of Back

Original repairs were executed in classic darning techniques, using cottom embroidery thread. I used Appleton’s Brothers crewel wool instead

It gave me a little bit of insight of what it was like to grow up in Estonia for somebody who is of a similar age to me. We can probably all think of things that were considered “cool and desirable” when we were younger, and how our ideas about what that means have changed as we grow older. For me, although I have always repaired my own clothes, I would only buy new items, never secondhand. They were often American brands (Levi’s, Converse, etc,) or European brands that had a similar look. This has changed dramatically, from going through a phase of buying designer clothes, favouring Belgian designers such as Martin Margiela, Dirk Bikkembergs, and Dries van Noten. Nowadays, I rarely buy new clothes. They are usualy secondhand, or more increasingly, I make them myself.

Red Cardigan VMP09 Detail of Neck Line

A particular challenge was the neckline, where the holes were right on the edge where the fabric folds to the back

My client’s response to clothes and repairs has changed a lot as well: he tells us how as a kid he didn’t particularly like the mending by his grandmothers. Now, he is happy to buy clothes that are already visibly mended, and I think this is an important shift. Caring to repair means accepting that you can continue using things for longer, instead of replacing them. It’s something I try to strive for in other areas of life as well, to varying degrees of success, but we have to start somewhere!

Red Cardigan VMP09 Detail of Back of Neck Line

Responding to previous repairs by echoeing the existing ones in shape and colour contrast

If you are feeling inspired to take a creative approach to repair, then I hope you don’t mind me unashamedly plugging my Creative Mending workshop at The New Craftsmen in London, on 22 July. There are still a few places available, so buy your ticket here before it sells out!

I’m pleased to let you all know that I will be running a Creative Mending workshop at The New Craftsmen, on 22 July, as part of their summer exhibition Animal, Vegetable, Mineral – a joyful celebration of new talents and new pieces.

Workshop at Wool House

A Tom of Holland workshop in full swing

I started working with The New Craftsmen last year, and as a result I’ve been involved in some pretty exciting things, such as Makers House, in collaboration with Burberry, and A Home For All, in collaboration with Selfridges.

The New Craftsmen curates, commissions and sells unique contemporary objects that are rooted in craftsmanship and narrative. Spanning furniture, lighting, textiles, gifts, ceramics and decorative accessories, our range is made by a growing network of over 100 makers across the British Isles.

The Creative Mending workshop at The New Craftsmen will be informed by some of the pieces I made for the summer exhibition; Sue Parker, the stylist behind the exhibition, asked me to visibly mend three boilersuits, which will be for sale:

Tom of Holland boilersuit for The New Craftsmen, with braided belt

Boilersuit with braided belt (VMP09)

Besides a few holes, which I repaired with classic darns, he first boilersuit also had a broken zipper, which presented me with an exciting challenge: how do I visibly mend a broken closure? After removing the zipper I tried out a few things, but ended up using a braid as a belt. The seam allowance that was exposed after removing the zipper has been stitched down with small stitches, echoing the zipper teeth.

Tom of Holland boilersuit for The New Craftsmen, with braided belt, detail

Detail showing the stitches, reminiscent of the zipper teeth. Each boilersuit has a serial number stitched in

Tom of Holland boilersuit for The New Craftsmen, with oversewn patches

Boilersuit with oversewn patches (VMP10)

The second boilersuit had some paint stains, rather than holes, and here I used hand-dyed fabrics that were stained during the dyeing process. Instead of stitching them over the paint stains, I placed them in each others’ vicinity, thus reinforcing the presence of stains on the various fabrics.

Tom of Holland boilersuit for The New Craftsmen, with oversewn patches, detail

Stains of various kinds reinforce each other’s presence; the patches are inserted using the oversewn patching technique

The third boilersuit had paint stains, missing buttons, a fraying cuff, and some busted armhole seams.

Tom of Holland boilersuit for The New Craftsmen, with textured layers

Backview of boilersuit with patched cuff, boro-inspired decorations, and replaced buttons (VMP11)

All the stitching and repairing on this boilersuit used a hand-dyed silk thread, which was a dream to sew with. In addition to repairing the busted seams and sewing on new buttons, I really wanted to try out some boro-inspired techniques, where the simple running stitches create a ripple effect in the fabric.

Tom of Holland boilersuit for The New Craftsmen, with textured layers, detail

Boro-inspired patches; the silk patch in particular shimmers as a result of the ripple effect of the simple running stitches

I turned accidental paint stains into acts of intention by outlining them with small back stitches.

Tom of Holland boilersuit for The New Craftsmen, with textured layers, detail of stain

Turning accidental paint stains into intentional decorations by outlining them in back stitch

As you can see, the three boilersuits each have a different focus in their repairs, and highlight in one way or another what needed repairing. Another thing it highlights is the question: when does something require a repair? One of the boilersuits had merely some paint stains, and in this case, the repair wasn’t something that was broken, but more about how you would be able to wear this garment.

This Creative Mending workshop at The New Craftsmen will not purely focus on technique: not only will I teach you some simple repair techniques through making a small repair sampler, but I also look much forward to having a conversation around visible and creative mending with everybody.

If you would like to come along, then you can buy a ticket, and find out some more information about the workshop here.

All images by The New Craftsmen, and used with their kind permission

Marking Linen

As part of my mending journey I wanted to go back to basics, and follow some old Dutch lesson plans about teaching young girls the ins and outs of marking household linen, and repairing of clothes and linens. The lesson plan I’m using the most, was originally written in 1888, although my edition is from 1916. Larger homes contained considerable quantities of household linen and undergarments, and in order to be able to return everything to its correct place after laundring, they were usually marked with initials and a number. You can read more about it on the always interesting Textilis blog here, including some beautiful examples.

 

Marking sampler from the Whitelands College Collection

Granted, I do not require my linens and undergarments to be marked for wash day, so I could’ve skipped the chapter on marking and go straight for the chapters on repair, but in order to gain a deeper understanding of the methods employed in this book, I decided to spend some time on marking as well. And it turns out that just reading through the chapter, and actually following the instructions are two rather different experiences.

Vrouwelijke Handwerken Sampler

Making a start with the darning sampler, using scrim, crewel wool, and my notebook

The chapter starts with stating that the marking of linen is such a well-known needlecraft, a chapter on its techniques can almost be considered superfluous to requirements. Nevertheless, an outline of how to approach teaching this in a classroom was considered of interest by the authors.

And so it begins: what fabric to use (a loose-weave linen or canvas that is easily counted), what thread (start off with embroidery wool), how to attach the thread, how to finish it. I availed myself of some scrim (nowadays only really used for cleaning windows I think) and some crewel wool. The first steps are easy: a simple border in cross stitch, by making all the crosses in a straight line. This is worked from left to right.

vrouwelijke handwerken sampler, notebook

Sampler in progress, starting with simple cross stitch borders, before progressing to the letters

However, the next few borders are more complex, and here the advise is to work them from right to left. The lesson plan briefly discusses that sometimes it’s best to complete a cross before moving on to the next one, and at other times, you can work them in two journeys, first working one half of the crosses, then the other half on the way back. The emphasis is on keeping things neat and tidy at the back. This makes sense, as you don’t want to have long floats at the back which might get caught during the laundry process.

I tried out various ways with the more complex borders, exploring in which cases it seemed to be better to complete a whole cross, and in which cases it seemed better, or easier, to do them in two journeys. Unsurprisingly, this is different for each border. The lesson plan refers to another book by the same author, which apparently goes into greater detail on cross stitch, but unfortunately, I don’t own that.

Right side of the sampler

After stitching those more complex borders from right to left, it was time to tackle the letters. The book advises you to slowly work your way up from the easiest letters, with mainly vertical elements (I, H, M, N) to the more complex letters (J, L, T, F, E, P, B, R, K, D) followed by those with strong diagonal elements (A, V, W, X, Y, Z) and the most complex ones of all, those with curves (U, C, G, O, Q, S). As the emphasis is on building up the complexity, they writers strongly advise against simply stitching the letters in alphabetical order.

Reading this all made perfect sense to me. However, it’s a different matter in practice: where one was encouraged to keep the floats as short as possible at the back for the border motifs, mostly trying to keep them to short horizontal or vertical dashes, the way it describes how to stitch the letters, is very different. Suddenly we’re back to stitching from left to right, and for most of the letters, it advises you to work them in two journeys. This gives for different floats at the back: some are diagonal, and sometimes they are rather long as well.

wrong side of vrouwelijke handwerken sampler, showing floats

Wrong side of the sampler, showing floats

So far the “take-away” lesson seems to be: do what you think works best, and keep the floats short at the back. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is no one method that will work perfectly every time. That said, I have seen some samplers where the back looks much neater than mine, so clearly there’s is more to learn! When I have found out more, I will share it here with you.

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