Tom Says Darn It! Visits Newcastle

Or to be more precise, I visited Gateshead, as I was invited by The Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead, which is just on the other side of the river Tyne from Newcastle. The Shipley has a new exhibition on, called ‘Collected Threads,’ celebrating 35 years of the Shipley Craft Collection. One of the events around this exhibition was the Shipley Late last Friday, where a number of artists and makers were asked to lead drop-in workshops. Amongst others, one could learn to make Suffock puffs, make jewellery out of bicycle inner tubes and felt collars. And, of course, how to darn!

The Shipley Art Gallery opened in 1917, bequested by Joseph Shipley, who was a local sollicitor. He had a large collection of paintings. Here’s one of them:

Unfortunately I did not manage to note any particulars of this painting, so I don’t know who painted it, or who’s portrait it is. Although I don’t think it’s a Vermeer, it does have a certain Dutch feel to it. If anybody knows, I’d love to hear from you!

In 1977, 35 years ago exactly, The Shipley started to collect contemporary craft made in Britain. It contains about 400 objects and some of the highlights are currently on display as part of the new exhibition. I particularly liked this tapestry by Sandra Milroy, titled Bleached Wall Under Thatch (1980-1982):

I love the contrasting textures and irregularities and the colours she used. It has a very warm feel about it through the use of wool and hessian. Another example of texture and wool, but this time entirely practical, where these three beautiful ganseys:

My hands are itching to knit one! But that was not what I was at The Shipley for. I set up my little stall with darned socks, a large and motley collection of threads and yarns and an abundance of swatches and needles:

Hiding under the table you can see the wheels of my trolley that helped me transport all these treasures to the gallery. The doors opened at 6pm and it didn’t take long before it was buzzing with people, drink in hand, walking around and soaking up the creative atmosphere. Here you can see yours truly, discussing yarns:

There was a wide range of darning skills to be found in Gateshead. Some people told me they darned all the time, whereas others had never darned in their lives. I was shocked, however, that one girl told me she THREW OUT HER HANDKNITTED SOCKS when they developed holes as she didn’t know how to mend them! I’m pleased to report that after last Friday, this shall not happen again, ever.

Many people knew that I would be teaching darning, and they brought with them cherished items in need of some Tender Love & Care. This ranged from a wild Italian knit from the 80s (colourful flowers on a ground of black and white checks, it looked much better than I could ever describe it – if only I had taken a picture), to these lovely Scandinavian hand-knitted gloves:

The left glove, confusingly displayed on the right, had been darned previously in a cream coloured yarn. The lady who brought them told me that she didn’t know who had knitted these gloves, as her husband has had them for years, and they are his absolute favourite gloves. I was not surprised to hear this, as they were nicely knitted, and had a classic Nordic Rose (or star) on the back. The right glove, as displayed on the left, had some big holes in the index finger and thumb, and the lady who brought them in was enthralled by my glove darner. She told me it made darning so much easier!

I also learnt some darning techniques from the visitors. One lady in particular showed me some invisible mending principles, which she had learnt from her grandmother. I wish I could have met her grandmother, and learn all the tricks!

With around 200 visitors the Shipley Late was a very successful and fun evening, and learning as well as teaching made it an even more worthwhile event. If you’re in the neighbourhood, I can heartily recommend a visit to The Shipley and who knows, you might bump into some darning!

16 Replies to “Tom Says Darn It! Visits Newcastle”

  1. It’s certainly not a Vermeer. There are very few and that’s not one of them. I tried a search using google but didn’t come up with anything. It’s unfortunate that the Shipley doesn’t have its collection online.

  2. That’s a very nice blog post Tom, my only cavil is below…. It was a great evening at the Shipley, thoroughly enjoyable, and your darning stall was one of the highlights. Quite a revelation, and thanks for the tip about that lovely Japanese yarn that self-stripes. Unfortunately i-Knit are out of stock at the moment, so I’ll have to wait to add to my stock of un-knitted or half-knitted items….

    As regards the Dutch-looking painting you photographed, I consulted my catalogue of Oil Paintings in Public ownership in Tyne & Wear Museums, and puzzlingly, and very disappointingly, it appears not to be listed. The catalogue was published in 2008, so I thought maybe the painting is a recent acquisition. Seemed unlikely – and if as you say it was part of the Shipley bequest, not the case. I will give the Shipley a ring later…

    OK so for my little moan – you headed your entry ‘visits Newcastle’ Yes I know you have to go to Newcastle station to get to Gateshead if coming from afar, but Gateshead is its own place, not a suburb of Newcastle! In fact Gateshead has been fantastic on the arts front, from Gormley’s Field for the British Isles, Angel of the North, Baltic, Sage Gateshead, public scupture etc etc while Newcastle has been quite pathetic. Symbolised by the fact that the beautiful Millenium Bridge which spans the Tyne – from Gateshead to Newcastle – is actually the ‘Gateshead Millenium bridge’ It says so on the Newcastle side – because Newcastle would not co-operate in it’s planning and construction. Unbelievable…. So Gateshead gets a bit cross….

    Musicians appearing at Sage Gateshead would often shout ‘Hello Newcastle!!’ as they came on stage, until signs went up in the dressing rooms saying ‘this is Gateshead – anyone mentioning Newcastle on stage will lose 10% of their fee’. Actually I made that up – but it doesn’t seem to happen any more.

    I live in Newcastle – but I feel for Gateshead for the above reasons.

    Glad you enjoyed your visit!

    1. Hi Diane, nice to meet you last Friday. Shame they ran out of the Noro at I Knit, I think they also sell it at Loop in London (or they used to, anyway) – otherwise google for ‘kureyon sock yarn’.

      I apologise if I offended anybody with the title ‘…visits Newcastle’, I chose this as I got the impression that not everybody knows Gateshead, but most do know Newcastle. I did try to explain this in the first paragraph. If I had known more about the background, I would’ve done it differently.

      Good luck with the darning!

  3. Hi Tom sorry if I went on a bit about Gateshead versus Newcastle – just teasing really…. I rang Shipley Gallery – and the reason the picture is not in the catalogue is because it’s on loan from the National Portrait Gallery! And here is all the gen on it – not Dutch but obviously in the style of….

  4. and here is more info emailed from Shipley Gallery – John Belasyse (Bellasis), 1st Baron Belasyse of Worlaby, 1636

    By Gilbert Jackson (active 1621-1643)

    Oil on canvas

    Lent by the National Portrait Gallery, London

    Purchased with help from the National

    Heritage Memorial Fund and The Art Fund in 1987

    Belasyse (about 1615-1689) was a Royalist army

    officer who raised six regiments for the king

    during the English Civil War. He continued to

    have an adventurous life, forced to resign as

    Governor of Tangier and implicated in the

    alleged Popish Plot (1678) for which he was

    imprisoned for six years. This work was painted

    in the year of his secret marriage to Jane Boteler,

    whose portrait hangs in the background.

    Very little is known about Gilbert Jackson’s life.

    His portraits were often unusually strong in

    colour. His style changed little throughout his

    career, and seemed a little old fashioned when

    compared with the contemporary work of Van


  5. This is a great post,Tom! I have a darning problem – can you help? I am pretty good with a needle and have a ladder or two in my ancient silk long-johns! It is fine thread, do I try to ‘catch’ the stitch that is unraveled and ‘knit’ it back up with a really fine crotchet hook, then finally secure the last stitch? On my travels up and down the ladder I will have to add and secure other laddered stitches… Or should I just sew a thin pleat on the outside of the long-johns? Regards, Swantje

      1. Wow! I will ask my husband to make something similar to this ‘egg’. I do have a very fine hook, but without a latch. It is a bit rusty, so I may have to sand it down a bit with very fine sand paper and get it smooth! Thank you so much for this advice!

      2. I have seen modern-day equivalents, although not quite as fine (but probably near enough) and I have also seen the teeny-tiny latch hook on its own, and somebody told me she had one with the instructions, which was to use an egg cup. If you are close to Bath, then I would recommend you attend the next Big Mend, as I know Scrapiana has one! Details on her blog here:

      3. Oh Tom, I was ‘close to Bath’ many years ago, when I lived in Stockwell/ London in the 90s! But now I am in Sydney/ Australia – and that’s why I enjoy your posts so much! If I could only see everything you describe with my very own eyes… but modern technology is so great for sharing anything with those you are not present in person!

  6. hi, tom, i went to the shipley this week with my pal from scotland – we loved it – when we saw the “thatch” wall hanging she said “i’ve seen this somewhere recently” and now i know she must have seen it on your blog! I wrote a bit about my previous visit to Newcastle and Gateshead on my blog – I planned to go to the shipley that time but couldn’t get my kids out of the park so my friend and i made another special trip. Learning to darn is on my list of things to do but presently I post my socks to my auntie to darn!

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