Wool House, a showcase of the use of wool in many different guises at Somerset House, has now come to an end. Wool House was organised by the Campaign for Wool and I got to play a part in it, too. What’s more, my drop-in darning sessions were a great success and the Campaign for Wool added them to their highlights of the exhibition!
Drop-in darning at Wool House. Photograph © Campaign for Wool and used with their kind permission
As you can see, it was really rather busy – and it was like that all weekend long. In the background you can see two felted wallhangings by Claudy Jongstra. I’d love to see some of her large site-specific installations. Some people knew I was going to be at Wool House, so they brought along holey jumpers and socks, but I also provided swatches to practise on.
Concentration at Wool House. Photograph © Howard Sullivan, Your Studio and used with his kind permission
I also ran a darning master class. As this was more in-depth, I had to restrict this to six people only, but many people watched over our shoulders. For many, darning seems to be connected to memories of grandmothers or mothers regularly taking up darning mushroom and needle. These stories got shared with other visitors and me – somehow this simple act of repairing, either by doing or by observing, is very emotive.
Master class in darning. Photograph © Sue Craig and used with her kind permission
We learnt how to do Swiss darning, or duplicate stitching: a good way to reinforce threadbare fabric which hasn’t developed into a hole yet.
Swiss darning in action. Photograph © Sue Craig and used with her kind permission
And of course, we also wielded darning mushroom and needle. The darning mushroom in particular opened up conversations about mending, as many people have their nan’s or mum’s one, or remember somebody in their family using one frequently. Whilst darning, people start to reflect on repairing garments, what certain items of clothing mean to them, their motivation for repair, and how they get completely absorbed in the act and find it meditative and relaxing. I think this is probably in great contrast to the times when people had the necessity to darn and repair their clothes and it was viewed as a chore.
Stocking darning, the finer points. Photograph © Sue Craig and used with her kind permission
Of course, I was very happy that darning was so popular, although it did mean I didn’t get a chance to look around as much as I would’ve liked to, or chat to other people showing their skills. Luckily some of my friends took pictures that they have let me use with their kind permission. As the beautifully curated rooms have been discussed at length in other places, I have picked here a very small selection of all the things I would’ve wanted to have learnt more about:
Savile Row tailoring: as I have tried to do some more sewing lately, I’m utterly in awe of all the work that goes into making a suit or a couture gown.
Pattern blocks. Photograph © Howard Sullivan, Your Studio and used with his kind permission
I may have mentioned before that I have taken up spinning as well. One of the things I want to do soon, is use my handspun yarn for weaving. After all, darning is weaving on a really teeny-tiny scale! I’ll start with a simple home-made frame loom; it’ll be a while yet before I will be able to make something as beautiful as Jason Collingwood can, using a huge loom.
Jason Collingwood weaving. Photograph © Howard Sullivan, Your Studio and used with his kind permission.
As somebody who really likes hand-stitching buttonholes – yes, really! – I could not finish this post with a perfect example of the art.
A buttonhole, perfectly stitched by hand. Photograph © Howard Sullivan, Your Studio and used with his kind permission.
One final post-script: you can still sign up for my sock-knitting three-week course; taking place 14, 21 and 28 April. More details here.