Earlier this year my friend and sound artist Dr Felicity Ford went on a month-long residency at the MoKS Center for Art and Social Practice in Tartu, Estonia. Dr Felicity Ford spent some time travelling, recording sounds, visiting sheep farmers, interviewing amazing makers, before staying at MoKS for her British-Estonian textile traditions swap-out, using native sheep breed fibres and traditional indigenous plant dyes. You can read all about it in this wonderful blog post here. She also visited a couple of local history museums, which showcased some of the amazing textile traditions in Estonia.
As it turns out, not only were the Estonian women (as traditionally it were women who did all the needlework), amazing knitters and weavers, they were also astonishingly good at darning. The following pictures were taken by Felicity Ford and she has kindly given me permission to share them with you in this blog post. So, without further ado, here’s a highlight of Astonishing Estonian Darns:
A beautiful knitted jumper, with darning in contrasting colours, how could I not like this mend?
There were also incredible socks. The knitting has a mind-bogglingly teeny-tiny gauge, and the colours have been carefully chosen to create rich patterns. The plain sock shows a beautiful pattern in travelling stitches.
But not only the knitting is beautiful, the darning and mending skills shown here are in a league of their own.
These were clearly very valuable items, a lot of time, effort and skill must’ve gone into creating them. All the evidence of mending makes me think that these garments were worn a lot and were not only for Sunday Best. If only these socks could tell their stories, from the moment the fibres were spun into wool, knitted up into the most beautiful things, down to all the hard work they will have seen and the necessity of repair – I would love to hear them.
Furthermore, Felicity also bought an Estonian book on needlecraft. She doesn’t read Estonian, but the book is so full of diagrams and pictures, that it is still a joy to browse through. It contains a whole section in fabric repair, with lovingly made illustrations.
Rebuilding a stocking web with supporting threads (you can make completely invisible mends in knitted fabrics this way):
Classic darn for rips in fabric. Look at the detail of the frayed edges:
After that close-up to show how to do the darn, here is an illustration of two finished darns, showing the little loops you should leave so that the darn has some give:
There is also a section on embroidery or damask darning, so that you can rebuild a particular weave in fabric. I would like to learn more about these techniques:
I really like this illustration of a fabric patch in a checked fabric, as the patch doesn’t quite line up with the fabric, even though clearly the same material was used for making the patch. A dotted line shows how the classic hedge tear has been covered:
I would like to thank Felicity once more for letting me share these pictures with you. I hope you enjoyed these pictures as much as I did, and marvelled at the astonishing Estonian craftsmanship showcased in these items.
Please note that the copyright of all pictures in this post belongs to Felicity Ford.