Useful Needlework; or, intentions

The last couple of months has been a very productive one. I can’t reveal everything just yet, but it did involve a lot of hand-stitching of fabrics, and re-reading some of my old books on mending and repairing, such as old Dutch lesson plans to teach girls the art of marking and darning.

Merken Stoppen en Mazen, Nuttige Handwerken

The Female Handicrafts for School and Home, and Useful Needlework. Both are lesson plans to teach girls the art of marking and darning

I have written about these books before, but I looked through them again when I was preparing for one of my workshops a little while ago at Hope & Elvis. In particular The Female Handicrafts contains a lot of detail, starting with the very basics.

How to mark household linen

A page from The Female Handicrafts. showing some letters of the alphabet

For instance, the first chapter on marking household linen, starts with the easy letters with lots of vertical elements, such as the letter “I”. It then moves on to those with strong diagonal lines, and finishes on those which have curves. To learn this, it advocates starting with an open-weave plain fabric, such as scrim. Marking your household linen was important, as many people took their washing to the laundry house, and this way you could check whether nothing was missing and that you actually got your own things back.

Darning fabric technique

A page from Useful Needlework

Likewise, Useful Needlework starts with the simple re-inforcing technique of weaving thread through the fabric, again using something like scrim to get a feel for the technique, before moving on to finer work. Needless to say, I’ve stocked up on scrim, and I have my darning threads at the ready!

msm-stoppen-2

Easy start with darning…

darning in pattern, damask darning

…followed by an intermediate step of adding stripes and checks…

msm-stoppen-3

finishing with something altogether more complex

For the aforementioned workshop at Hope & Elvis I got everybody to make a sewing sampler, based on the samplers I’d seen at Goldsmiths earlier this year, as part of  the A Remedy for Rents exhibition.

20151215CHG_3238

Plain sewing samplers from the Whiteland College College

It was my first foray into teaching something sewing-based, and we all made a small sampler using old textiles. The edges were hemmed using four different hemming techniques, then we made three different types of patches. I had selected the different techniques based on practicality, still useful today. They included amongst others: slip stitch hem, herringbone hem, hemming stitch, napery hem stitch, calico or oversewn patch, tailored patch, and flannel patch. For those who wanted more, I also taught how to hand-work a buttonhole. I don’t believe hand-worked buttonholes are any better or stronger than machine-made ones, but I do think they look very nice.

Tailored buttonhole by Annie Hewins 1879, Whitelands College Collection

Hand-worked buttonhole, found on a sampler in the Whitelands College collection

I’ve also spent a lot of time sewing patches onto sturdy linen tea towels (I will share this project in a couple of weeks) and it became apparent pretty soon that I will have to start using a thimble. I enjoy hand-sewing, and whenever I sew, I tend to do a lot of finishing by hand. When sewing woollen trousers, this is quite easily done without a thimble, but it’s a different story with those tea towels. The needles I use are rather fine, so the eye of the needle is almost as sharp as the point! Teaching myself to use a thimble might take some practice and perseverance, but I’ve found an old tailor’s apprentice trick to get me started.

All-in-all, this means I have a lesson plan of sorts for myself. I’m going to take it all back to the beginning: teach myself how to use a thimble, and then start marking, darning, and patching according to my Dutch books. I hope that this will lead to new inspiration and new off-shoot projects. I will be sharing my pursuits here, and perhaps you’d like to join in! Therefore I will post not only completed work, but also a heads-up post with what I’m planning to concentrate on next. Keep an eye out for the first post in the next one or two weeks.

15 Replies to “Useful Needlework; or, intentions”

  1. I really enjoyed this, thank you for writing it. My mother, now 95 years old, used to hand sew using a thimble and the tailor’s apprentice way. But she never taught me that trick, though she did teach me to sew, so I really have no complaints. But it was wonderful to click on the link and see someone sewing as my mother used to!! And now I can learn how. Thank you, again, very much. And I love your blog, as I also firmly believe in mending, especially after raising four kids on a small income, and now helping out with four grandchildren. Thanks, Tom!

  2. haha, dat boek komt morgen mee: De Vrouwelijke Handwerken!!

    Op 14 nov. 2016 20:02 schreef “tomofholland” :

    > tomofholland posted: “The last couple of months has been a very productive > one. I can’t reveal everything just yet, but it did involve a lot of > hand-stitching of fabrics, and re-reading some of my old books on mending > and repairing, such as old Dutch lesson plans to teach girl” >

  3. Sorry Tom, je bericht dacht ik door te sturen naar dochter, dat ga ik dus nu goéd doen….

    Op 14 nov. 2016 20:34 schreef “GH Kuivenhoven” :

    > haha, dat boek komt morgen mee: > De Vrouwelijke Handwerken!! > > Op 14 nov. 2016 20:02 schreef “tomofholland” >: > >> tomofholland posted: “The last couple of months has been a very >> productive one. I can’t reveal everything just yet, but it did involve a >> lot of hand-stitching of fabrics, and re-reading some of my old books on >> mending and repairing, such as old Dutch lesson plans to teach girl” >>

  4. I often think I should use a thimble, but remember that in schooldays when trying to use one I didn’t like the sweatiness it produced. I’ve never come across the open ended one in the article you link to – might have to get one of these. I also found the tutorial on how to make a leather one excellent.

  5. I recently attended a workshop at the Royal School of Needlework and I discovered the interests of a thimble. I also learned that there is no ‘average thimble’, each finger needs to find its own thimble, that is confortable to work with… So, the start of a new quest! Thank you for sharing your researchs and (re)discoveries!

  6. Couldn’t do without my thimbles for hand-sewing – and I do a surprising amount! (just handsewn an repro Iron Age tunic in wool for a friend). I use the metal ones with a flat top and a rim around it on my middle finger, so the needle end catches on the rim as that finger pushes it through.

  7. Thank for you blog and writings…I love it…I also have plenty of these old stuff and books. ..and i like to read them and plunge myself into them regularly

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