Mending Books

This is not a blog post about mending books, but a post about some of my favourite books about mending.

tomofholland collection of mending books

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:

tomofholland's copy of Mend It! by Maureen Goldsworthy

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?

Page from tomofholland's Mend It! book by Maureen Goldsworthy

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.

tomofholland's copy of Make Do and Mend

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!

a page from tomofholland's Make Do and Mend book

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.

tomofholland's copy of Practical Home Mending Made Easy

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.

page from tomofholland's Practical Home Mending Brooks Picken

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:

tomofholland's copy of Vrouwelijke Handwerken


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:

a page from tomofholland's copy of Vrouwelijke Handwerken

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.

tomofholland's copy of Weldons Encyclopedia of Needlework

An unassuming – even boring – cover hides a wealth of information: don’t judge a book by its covers!

a page from tomofholland's copy of Weldons Encyclopedia of Needlework

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:

tomofholland's copy of Mending and Repairing

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?

Flanelette Plaid shirt darning by tomofholland

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

22 Replies to “Mending Books”

  1. I have a copy of the encyclopaedia which my gran gave me. it even has graffiti from my uncle (now in his late 50s!) it is such a useful book.

  2. Lovely! The graphics in the Make Do and Mend book are fabulous, aren’t they? The influence of the strip cartoon is clear. I also had a giggle at the long list of female-only reasons why someone might repair garments in the next book. It’s a very good example of the post-war emphasis on getting women back into the home after their wartime work in factories and elsewhere.

  3. What a wonderful glimpse of your library! I especially love the different flavour and focus for each of the mending books, depending on when it was published. I think this post also shows how you can build something amazing through really using the old books that languish on the shelves of charity shops, and on the tables at car boot sales. You animate these old books through how you work them into your contemporary practice, and this to me is magic. Reading your blog over the years has made me see old instruction manuals with fresh eyes; in your applications of the knowledge they contain, you bring them alive.

      1. I agree with Felicity, the living continuity of your mending with the old sources is very cool. To see the various techniques and methods “in action” is fascinating. What a nice collection/resource. I’m a knitter/natural dyer/crafter guy in Canada, I will keep on the look out for old mending books to start my own mending library. I really enjoy your blog as well as your sharing of your VMP processes and projects. Thank you. I’m slowly learning a few mending/sewing techniques – and just mended a favorite pair of knit socks. I have a lot of respect for those exploring clothing/fashion/textiles as a meaningful craft and source of artistic expression rather than merely a mass produced consumable product. I’m also interested in sustainable, natural dyeing and bio-regional textiles and clothing, as well as historical traditions – India Flint, Rebecca Burgess, Miawa Supply, Kate Davies, etc. – it all connects.

  4. Super! I wonder if I can find any of them, esp the first one. Glad you brought them to our attention. And yea for the comfy flannel shirt…the best. Thanks.

    1. Joanne, I think you would be rather disappointed with the rest of the book in that respect. It’s all about doing what’s reflects best on husband and how it makes you a good wife to be able to repair garments in order to save embarrassment for him!

  5. Yes, the old books are the best, although, as you say, they do tend towards giving us all a lesson in being ‘wifely’ – quite amusing really. My recent acquisition was a copy of Mary Thomas’ Embroidery Book (1936), given to me by an artist friend called Mary Thomas! She had two copies and had taken part in one of my Beginners’ Embroidery workshops to learn stitches for embellishing her artwork, so she gave me one of her copies as a gift.

    There is a chapter called Darning on Fabrics in which she states that “Darning Stitch, used as a decoration, has a history as noble and ancient as Cross Stitch”! There is also a Mary Thomas’ Knitting Book and a book of knitting patterns, published by Hodder & Stoughton, London.

  6. Great post – a lovely companion to recent interest in kintsugi joinery on various craft and design blogs. Do you know Frau Fiber’s work? Your post reminds me of a mending project Carole did in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. Shared your post on Critical Craft Forum as well, thanks to Betsy Greer.

  7. Wow! What is truly amazing is that the books are from another era (or generation?). It goes to show that mending was very much the norm then vis a vis today. Do you recommend any mending books that we can get in the book store today? 🙂

  8. This is fascinating! Being a mom and now Grammy…I have the dubious honor of repairing Teddy bears to favorite pants or whatever. I’ be been sewing since I was a kid…always loved sewing.. But of late, been too busy to do much but mending…
    Looking forward to finding the books you recommended!

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