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Most repair commissions I receive have an interesting back story, but some stand out more than others, making the repair even more meaningful.

Visible Mending of Gansey

A gansey repaired

One such story is behind the repair commission of a traditional gansey I worked on over a year ago. As Virginia has written so eloquently about the history and memories infused in her gansey, she’s given me permission to tell her story in her own words. After that, I will take you through the repairs I have performed on this gorgeous gansey.

Virginia’s story

This sweater and I go back to the end of May, 1971, when I was twenty-four years old, newly arrived in the UK from a two-year teaching appointment in Hong Kong. My mother had come from California to meet me, and together we went to stay with friends of my parents who had returned to their home in Guernsey following wartime evacuation. One of our first stops was, of course, the Guernsey knitwear factory.

That summer I made my way to Scotland, and in the West Highlands became fascinated by the lives of the remaining Gaelic-speaking people in the Outer Hebrides – people who still harvested their own peat for fuel, and gathered seaweed to fertilise their crops; who still milked their own cows, and made their own butter and crowdie cheese; who sheared their own blackface sheep, one of which they slaughtered every now then, producing not only the most fragrant mutton but also fabulous black- and white puddings; who gathered shellfish and carrageen moss (which makes a delightful blancmange pudding) on the shore. Some of them also made their own whisky, and fished at midnight for wild salmon in the rivers. When these people realised I was seriously interested in what they were doing and wasn’t the usual sort of tourist, I was welcomed as an extra pair of hands. I think it is safe to say that my background as a college-educated American suburbanite afforded me scant preparation for hauling hemp bags of peats across boggy moorland, or for pursuing unwilling ewes across the same terrain, or shearing the same sheep once we had them confined in the sheep-fank, or walking miles in the constant drizzle. Apart from a thin anorak and a pair of wellington boots, my blue guernsey sweater protected me during all of these adventures, and in its time has been covered in fish-scales, sea water, and sheep shit to the point that other people were inclined to leave the room when I came in.

This was an important summer for me, because it set me on a path I’ve followed ever since. I am now a research fellow in the department of Celtic and Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing interests that were ignited during that first summer forty-five years ago.

After years of mistreatment, the sweater eventually reached the state it was in when I consigned it to Tom. Having tried unsuccessfully to repair it myself, I had long since packed it away in a trunk. Every couple of years I would come across it, and the memories would come back, and I would put it away again. I am fully confident that he will restore it to wearability, and can’t wait to see the result!

Visible Mending Gansey Before Picture

Virginia’s gansey shows a lovely patina from years of wear and being out in the open, protecting her from wind and water

Gansey Repair Case Study

This gansey has aged beautifully. Having been outdoors many a time, in salty sea air and seeing plenty of action, the fabric has an almost shimmering quality in places. I was excited to see previous repairs, and I always prefer to leave those in as much as I can, to honour the life the garment has already seen. My repairs will add to the patina and history.

visible mending gansey - fraying cuff

both cuffs showed previous repairs where the seams had come undone, and the sun has bleached some areas more than others

Originally I wanted to use a traditional navy Guernsey 5-ply yarn, but when I saw Blacker Yarns Pure Romney worsted-spun Guernsey 5-ply in Oxblood, I changed my mind, as it seemed perfect: although a different colour, there wasn’t too much contrast. I felt it would show off the repairs, yet not scream for attention.

Virginia’s gansey presented a number of different issues I needed to address. Here is how I did it and why:

Small holes: there were a few small holes, which I repaired by Swiss darning (aka duplicate stitching.) Swiss darning retains the stretchy quality of the knit fabric, and after a while will become so integrated in the fabric that it looks as if it has always been there.

Visible mending gansey - patch detail

there was already one obvious repair in the form of a patch, which in turn developed a hole

visible mending gansey - patch patched

repairing the repair: meta-mending

Shoulder seam: the shoulder seams of traditional ganseys are often bound off together on the outside. Although this gansey was machine-knit, you can achieve the same result by using a three-needle bind-off on the outside. As with the small holes, I wanted to retain the same properties in the mend as in the original shoulder seam, so I used more duplicate stitching to emulate the bound-off row.

visible mending gansey - shoulder seam

the shoulder seam has been repaired with duplicate stitching, in order to retain the same properties as the original seam

Cuffs: at one point the seams in the cuffs had busted, and they were visibly whip-stitched together. The main challenge, however, were the fraying cuffs. I repaired this by unravelling each cuff until I had a round of stitches in sound yarn. I particularly liked the cuff where the bust seam had been sewn back together not quite straight, so there’s now a step in the transition from the old to the new stitches. Using short rows allowed me to level up the rounds before binding off.

visible mending gansey - preparing the cuff

After unravelling, I put all the stitches on double-pointed needles, size 1.5mm (UK 15, US 000) and re-knitted the cuffs in the round

visible mending gansey - stepped cuff repair

one of the cuffs was not sewn together straight along the seam, which I resolved by using some short-rows to level up, before knitting in the round to complete the new cuff

Splits at hemline: on traditional ganseys, there is often a side-seam split between the front and back hem. This usually becomes a stress point, resulting in some damage, which is exactly what happened here. I didn’t want to sew it all back together, as then I would invite the same issues to occur. Instead, I used a buttonhole stitch to neaten the unravelling edges, and the resulting curve should prove to be much more resilient.

visible mending gansey - split seam repair

buttonhole stitch is not usually used in knitwear repair, but here it neatens the raw edges and gives additional strength to a common stress point in the garment

Thinning elbows: these are unavoidable over time, but on this gansey, the shape of the weak area didn’t quite conform to the usual thinning area from elbows. Who knows what happened there? I ended up using a traditional stocking darn to close up holes, and strengthen the surrounding weak areas with some Swiss darning. I really like the differences in texture within one area of repair.

visible mending gansey - elbow repair prep

as the gansey is such a dark colour, I temporarily marked the area the repair with some basting thread. This way I could ensure all of the thinning fabric would be reinforced with Swiss darning

visible mending gansey - elbow repair finished

the finished elbow repairs consist of a mixture of techniques, resulting in a mix of textures, adding more interest to this area

Finishing touches: every repair commission gets a serial number, stitched in by hand.

visible mending gansey - serial number VMP07

this gansey has serial number VMP07: the seventh item I repaired since I started logging my Visible Mending Programme repairs

Be Inspired!
I hope you enjoyed my gansey repair case study. Although I didn’t go explain my techniques step-by-step, I hope you have gained an appreciation of the things I look for when repairing a garment, from yarn choice to choosing techniques. All the techniques I used for this gansey repair can be found in older needlework and knitting books, and there are also plenty of tutorials to be found on the internet.

Repairing your beloved garments, whether they were bought in a shop or a precious hand-knit, is not only a way to extend the life of your garments, but it also allows you to be creative and put as much thought into the repair, as you may have done when first knitting that jumper. When the time comes that you will need to mend it, you can create a beautiful darn, and wear it as a badge of honour!

visible mending gansey - repairs finished

the finished gansey!

Note: this blog post is an adaptation of an article originally published in Rib Magazine, issue 2: knitting for men and for those who knit for them.

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Anybody who’s met me at a darning-related event will have seen a dark green sweater with numerous moth holes in it. It was given to me about six years ago to practice my visible mending on. It had sadly surfaced from a relative’s wardrobe with many moth holes. What better to repair it with than some gorgeous hand-spun, hand-dyed yarn. It was a very textural and variegated yarn, and made for a beautiful contrast to the fine machine-knit jumper. I enjoyed this challenge to make use of jumper and yarn.

MUM+DAD Sweater moth holes

A sweater riddled with moth holes…

MUM+DAD Sweater Repaired tomofholland visiblemending

A mere six years later, all holes repaired

One thing that always interests me is the motivation for repair: every mend I have done has a story behind it. When I take on a visible mending commission, I always want to know the story of the item under repair. This is no different for the things I repair for myself, and this green jumper is a prime example.

The gift of sweater and yarn was bigger than I could ever have imagined, and in those six years, a lot of things have happened. I met amazing people along the way, I have learnt so much about repairing textiles, and yet I feel I have only just scratched the surface of what is possible.

The first record of the sweater that I can find, is when I wrote about attending the MEND*RS Symposium as Mender in Residence. It was a meeting of like-minded people at an old farm, and I have fond memories of gathering in the barn, talking about the subversiveness of repair, and with wild plans to change the world.

MUM+DAD Sweater Repaired tomofholland visiblemending

Extreme slow stitching – I always say I like to do things that take forever, but a six-year project must be my record!

Nowadays many people choose to throw out worn clothes, but I prefer to repair my clothes. From attending the MEND*RS Symposium it was clear I was not the only one. A few speakers had a background in fashion, and we talked about the issues around fast fashion. Clothes made in the fast fashion system are often of poor quality. Not because they are made by low-skilled people, but because highly-skilled people have to work with inferior materials and are under huge time pressure to meet deadlines. For me, repairing clothes is a way of honouring those anonymous makers. Speaking about my concerns with fast fashion at that symposium, and others such as John-Paul Flintoff and Sarah Corbett, I have come to realise that being informed about issues your concerned about is very important. It will help with focussing your attention to things you can do something about. This is something I spoke about with Sarah at length as part of her School of Gentle Protest.

MUM+DAD Sweater Repaired tomofholland visiblemending

The ribbing at cuffs and welts were the trickiest

Concerns around fast fashion is only one of many different motivations of repair, and I’m also very much interested in emotional connections to the item repaired. Mending an item, even through commissioning someone like me, allows you to highlight the story behind it, and one of my most favourite commissions was rather poignant. Mending a jumper knitted by a mother repaired a somewhat fraught relationship, and it was very special to work on.

MUM+DAD Sweater Repaired tomofholland visiblemending

Reminiscing about repairs

Likewise my green jumper has obtained a lot of memories and stories through the six years I’ve been working on it. Looking at the darns up close shows me how I have improved my technique over time. It has accompanied me to every single workshop, talk, and darning event. It started many a conversation about the meaning of repair, and I’ve made many friends as a result.

The sweater is now back on rotation in me and my husband’s wardrobe, and I’m looking forward to many more adventures together!

MUM+DAD Sweater Repaired silly pose tomofholland visiblemending

With many thanks to Anna “Sweaterspotter” Maltz for the impromptu photoshoot!

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Late last year, I met Mrs Pademelon and her Joey.

MrsPademelonsJoeyBook

Mrs Pademelon’s Joey, a classic children’s book from Australia, first published in 1967

MrsPademelonBefore2

Mrs Pademelon and her Joey, in dire need of a spot of darning!

This toy was knitted for a colleague’s husband by his mum, based on his favourite book, Mrs Pademelon’s Joey. It was much loved, although a balaclava knitted from the same wool was deemed too scratchy by the young recipient. Subsequently, when my colleague’s daughter was born, Mrs Pademelon became her beloved companion, and still loves her now, ten years on. Mrs Pademelon has received the love of two young children along and has lived a while in the loft. Looking after children is hard work, as Mrs Pademelon can attest, and her coat is much in need of repair.

MrsPademelonBefore1

Joey was misbehaving when I took this picture!

When my colleague asked me to repair this cherished knitted toy, I was somewhat flummoxed by her name. It turns out that pademelons are small to medium sized marsupials found inhabiting the forests of Australia and a number of its surrounding islands. The pademelon is most closely related to the wallaby and the kangaroo. The pademelon is a solitary and nocturnal animal meaning that the pademelon, spends the light daytime hours resting, and goes foraging for food during the cooler cover of night.

For the repairs I used two yarns from The Little Grey Sheep: the solid blue is Stein Fine wool, and the heathered blue is Hampshire 4-ply. For such a classic knitted toy, I used the perenial classic stocking darn as a technique.

Mrs Pademelon Repaired Visible Mending by Tom of Holland

Mrs Pademelon and Joey sport some new patches on their coats

Mrs Pademelon Repaired Visible Mending by Tom of Holland closeup

Photobombed by Joey!

I worked the darn on the bias, as I find that works nicer on the garter stitch background. The heathered blue makes for a vibrant repair.

Mrs Pademelon Repaired Visible Mending by Tom of Holland closeup 2

Solid blue for belly repairs, heathered blue for back repairs

Repairing this toy brought simple pleasures: perhaps it was not the most challenging job I’ve ever done, but nevertheless it was immensely satisfying. While stitching, I tried to imagine what it was like to knit this toy: I’m not sure there was a published pattern. Every child enjoys a cuddly toy, and being able to make one for your own child imbues it with care and love for that child. It made me chuckle to think that the balaclava from the same wool wasn’t appreciated quite as much due to its scratchy nature!

Clearly much loved, I hope that Mrs Pademelon and her Joey will stay in my colleague’s family for a long time to come and will bring joy to a few more generations of children.

Mrs Pademelon Waves Goodbye

Mrs Pademelon says g’day!

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It is with great pleasure and not a little bit of pride that I came in the top ten of the 2017 Textielmuseum contest! This year the theme was “reinventing textiles”:

“We live in a society where many of us throw away things quickly when they are out of fashion or seem just a tiny bit worn. The contemporary design world is about material and its use. Designers seek both high and low tech ways to rediscover the materials and elements they work with and apply innovative ways to create a product. Materials are recycled and upcycled to give new life to texture, form and colour.

 

Design a special product or material application in which the theme ‘Reinventing Textiles’ adds value to the design.

Consider which (textile) objects you tend to throw away and how to give it a second life as an interior product, toy or item of clothing with a high design value. For example, a curtain shaded by the sun, worn clothes, a carpet that’s been walked on over and over again etc. Think about ways to repair, decorate, embroider, unravel, trim, smear, refurbish or customize textiles or apply textile techniques to non-textile materials.

How can you apply the wearing and tearing in a positive way and use it in a design or product? Research, experiment, learn the origination techniques of materials and innovate. Upcycle instead of downcycle – make ragged outfit textile products that are attractive to you.”

A quick note: all pictures in this blog post were taken by Saskia de Feijter, proprietor of Rotterdam’s hippest yarn shop, Ja, Wol!

tomofholland textielmuseum design contest top ten

Me at the award ceremony and opening of the Reinventing Textiles Exhibition

I work mostly with wool, and enjoy creating and repairing knitted objects. I like to do things that take forever, as it allows me to gain a deep understanding of material qualities and the traditional techniques I use for making and mending contemporary objects. By exploring the motivations I favour not the new and perfect but the old and imperfect, as that allows me to highlight the relationship between garment and wearer. My interest in using traditional techniques for creating and repairing (woollen) textiles means that creating and mending textiles are in constant conversation with each other.

Tomofholland Visiblemending vintage blanket Textielmuseum

My mother inspecting my handiwork

The Textielmuseum is located in Tilburg, a city in an area of The Netherland which has a rich textile history. The museum is housed in a former textiles factory, once one the largest employers of the area. One of the permanent exhibits is about woollen blanket manufacturing, showing all the different stages of making a blanket, from spinning wool to weaving to finishing.

tom of holland the new craftsmen tea towel 3

Vintage patched linen tea towels

The museum also still has a working damask mill, and they frequently collaborate with designers, creating beautiful contempary table linens. I may have indulged myself somewhat in the museum shop…

Also on the premises is the TextielLab, a unique knowledge centre, combining a specialised workshop for the manufacture of unique fabrics and an open studio where innovation is central. National and international designers, architects, artists and promising students are guided by product developers and technical experts, and so discover the endless possibilities of yarn, computer-controlled techniques and craftsmanship.

I love the outward looking approach of the Textielmuseum and TextielLab, showing great respect for traditional techniques, yet at the same time exploring new directions in textiles, and it’s a great honour to have be part of the top ten in the Reinventing Textiles contest.

The entries of the contest top ten and winners is on display at the Textielmuseum until 10 December.

tomofholland vintage blanket visiblemending textielmuseum

Showing off my blanket!

With thanks to Sas for letting me use her pictures.

 

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A recent repair commission made me think about how a change in attitude can lead to a different response to repairs. It can be quite a challenge to be accepting of things not looking perfect and new, and I think that part of wanting to keep using things for longer, I had to accept that they will show signs of wear and tear.

Red Cardigan Before

A parcel from Estonia: small holes carefully marked with safety pins

This cardigan was sent to me all the way from Estonia to repair; it already had some visible mends, so it may not come as a surprise that it was a commission I really enjoyed taking on. The owner had carefully put in safety pins to mark all the small holes that weren’t so obvious, which showed me he really cared about this cardigan.

Red Cardigan VMP09 Front View

Response to repairs: the repairs I added reflect the shape of the original repairs

Here he is in his own words when I asked him about this cardigan:

I have liked all sorts of old things since I was a kid. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that when I was growing up, Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union – since most „old things“ were from the pre-war independence era, they were automatically cool and desirable as relics of better times. As most aspects of our independence were either strictly forbidden or at least discouraged by the Soviet authorities, it just contributed to the appeal. I started with collecting stamps, moved on to coins, and later to other objects like pins/badges, furniture, clothing etc.

I find American vintage clothing (vs European) interesting as it is somewhat more difficult for me to place in a specific era – European pre-war clothing is distinctly different from that of the 50/60s. America did not suffer such a rupture in their culture as Europe did due to the war, therefore US clothing from the pre-war era more naturally transitioned into the post-war pop culture and beyond. Americans wore college cardigans already back in the 20s, and, in a way, continue to do so nowadays. So in a way, American vintage is more „timeless“.

This particular cardigan reminds me of a really cool trip to California, fits me really well, and already has very nice hand darned repairs on it. The guy that I bought it from was really interesting to talk to, and had in my opinion the right attitude about vintage. For me, visible mending reminds me of the repairs that my grandmothers did on my clothes when I was a kid in the late 70s/early 80s. To be honest, I was not a huge fan of those back then – so it’s also a bit ironic that I find it appealing now. But then again, life seems to be full of ironies of that sort as one goes from youth to middle age

Red Cardigan VMP09 Detail of Back

Original repairs were executed in classic darning techniques, using cottom embroidery thread. I used Appleton’s Brothers crewel wool instead

It gave me a little bit of insight of what it was like to grow up in Estonia for somebody who is of a similar age to me. We can probably all think of things that were considered “cool and desirable” when we were younger, and how our ideas about what that means have changed as we grow older. For me, although I have always repaired my own clothes, I would only buy new items, never secondhand. They were often American brands (Levi’s, Converse, etc,) or European brands that had a similar look. This has changed dramatically, from going through a phase of buying designer clothes, favouring Belgian designers such as Martin Margiela, Dirk Bikkembergs, and Dries van Noten. Nowadays, I rarely buy new clothes. They are usualy secondhand, or more increasingly, I make them myself.

Red Cardigan VMP09 Detail of Neck Line

A particular challenge was the neckline, where the holes were right on the edge where the fabric folds to the back

My client’s response to clothes and repairs has changed a lot as well: he tells us how as a kid he didn’t particularly like the mending by his grandmothers. Now, he is happy to buy clothes that are already visibly mended, and I think this is an important shift. Caring to repair means accepting that you can continue using things for longer, instead of replacing them. It’s something I try to strive for in other areas of life as well, to varying degrees of success, but we have to start somewhere!

Red Cardigan VMP09 Detail of Back of Neck Line

Responding to previous repairs by echoeing the existing ones in shape and colour contrast

If you are feeling inspired to take a creative approach to repair, then I hope you don’t mind me unashamedly plugging my Creative Mending workshop at The New Craftsmen in London, on 22 July. There are still a few places available, so buy your ticket here before it sells out!

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I’m pleased to let you all know that I will be running a Creative Mending workshop at The New Craftsmen, on 22 July, as part of their summer exhibition Animal, Vegetable, Mineral – a joyful celebration of new talents and new pieces.

Workshop at Wool House

A Tom of Holland workshop in full swing

I started working with The New Craftsmen last year, and as a result I’ve been involved in some pretty exciting things, such as Makers House, in collaboration with Burberry, and A Home For All, in collaboration with Selfridges.

The New Craftsmen curates, commissions and sells unique contemporary objects that are rooted in craftsmanship and narrative. Spanning furniture, lighting, textiles, gifts, ceramics and decorative accessories, our range is made by a growing network of over 100 makers across the British Isles.

The Creative Mending workshop at The New Craftsmen will be informed by some of the pieces I made for the summer exhibition; Sue Parker, the stylist behind the exhibition, asked me to visibly mend three boilersuits, which will be for sale:

Tom of Holland boilersuit for The New Craftsmen, with braided belt

Boilersuit with braided belt (VMP09)

Besides a few holes, which I repaired with classic darns, he first boilersuit also had a broken zipper, which presented me with an exciting challenge: how do I visibly mend a broken closure? After removing the zipper I tried out a few things, but ended up using a braid as a belt. The seam allowance that was exposed after removing the zipper has been stitched down with small stitches, echoing the zipper teeth.

Tom of Holland boilersuit for The New Craftsmen, with braided belt, detail

Detail showing the stitches, reminiscent of the zipper teeth. Each boilersuit has a serial number stitched in

Tom of Holland boilersuit for The New Craftsmen, with oversewn patches

Boilersuit with oversewn patches (VMP10)

The second boilersuit had some paint stains, rather than holes, and here I used hand-dyed fabrics that were stained during the dyeing process. Instead of stitching them over the paint stains, I placed them in each others’ vicinity, thus reinforcing the presence of stains on the various fabrics.

Tom of Holland boilersuit for The New Craftsmen, with oversewn patches, detail

Stains of various kinds reinforce each other’s presence; the patches are inserted using the oversewn patching technique

The third boilersuit had paint stains, missing buttons, a fraying cuff, and some busted armhole seams.

Tom of Holland boilersuit for The New Craftsmen, with textured layers

Backview of boilersuit with patched cuff, boro-inspired decorations, and replaced buttons (VMP11)

All the stitching and repairing on this boilersuit used a hand-dyed silk thread, which was a dream to sew with. In addition to repairing the busted seams and sewing on new buttons, I really wanted to try out some boro-inspired techniques, where the simple running stitches create a ripple effect in the fabric.

Tom of Holland boilersuit for The New Craftsmen, with textured layers, detail

Boro-inspired patches; the silk patch in particular shimmers as a result of the ripple effect of the simple running stitches

I turned accidental paint stains into acts of intention by outlining them with small back stitches.

Tom of Holland boilersuit for The New Craftsmen, with textured layers, detail of stain

Turning accidental paint stains into intentional decorations by outlining them in back stitch

As you can see, the three boilersuits each have a different focus in their repairs, and highlight in one way or another what needed repairing. Another thing it highlights is the question: when does something require a repair? One of the boilersuits had merely some paint stains, and in this case, the repair wasn’t something that was broken, but more about how you would be able to wear this garment.

This Creative Mending workshop at The New Craftsmen will not purely focus on technique: not only will I teach you some simple repair techniques through making a small repair sampler, but I also look much forward to having a conversation around visible and creative mending with everybody.

If you would like to come along, then you can buy a ticket, and find out some more information about the workshop here.

All images by The New Craftsmen, and used with their kind permission

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As part of my mending journey I wanted to go back to basics, and follow some old Dutch lesson plans about teaching young girls the ins and outs of marking household linen, and repairing of clothes and linens. The lesson plan I’m using the most, was originally written in 1888, although my edition is from 1916. Larger homes contained considerable quantities of household linen and undergarments, and in order to be able to return everything to its correct place after laundring, they were usually marked with initials and a number. You can read more about it on the always interesting Textilis blog here, including some beautiful examples.

 

Marking sampler from the Whitelands College Collection

Granted, I do not require my linens and undergarments to be marked for wash day, so I could’ve skipped the chapter on marking and go straight for the chapters on repair, but in order to gain a deeper understanding of the methods employed in this book, I decided to spend some time on marking as well. And it turns out that just reading through the chapter, and actually following the instructions are two rather different experiences.

Vrouwelijke Handwerken Sampler

Making a start with the darning sampler, using scrim, crewel wool, and my notebook

The chapter starts with stating that the marking of linen is such a well-known needlecraft, a chapter on its techniques can almost be considered superfluous to requirements. Nevertheless, an outline of how to approach teaching this in a classroom was considered of interest by the authors.

And so it begins: what fabric to use (a loose-weave linen or canvas that is easily counted), what thread (start off with embroidery wool), how to attach the thread, how to finish it. I availed myself of some scrim (nowadays only really used for cleaning windows I think) and some crewel wool. The first steps are easy: a simple border in cross stitch, by making all the crosses in a straight line. This is worked from left to right.

vrouwelijke handwerken sampler, notebook

Sampler in progress, starting with simple cross stitch borders, before progressing to the letters

However, the next few borders are more complex, and here the advise is to work them from right to left. The lesson plan briefly discusses that sometimes it’s best to complete a cross before moving on to the next one, and at other times, you can work them in two journeys, first working one half of the crosses, then the other half on the way back. The emphasis is on keeping things neat and tidy at the back. This makes sense, as you don’t want to have long floats at the back which might get caught during the laundry process.

I tried out various ways with the more complex borders, exploring in which cases it seemed to be better to complete a whole cross, and in which cases it seemed better, or easier, to do them in two journeys. Unsurprisingly, this is different for each border. The lesson plan refers to another book by the same author, which apparently goes into greater detail on cross stitch, but unfortunately, I don’t own that.

Right side of the sampler

After stitching those more complex borders from right to left, it was time to tackle the letters. The book advises you to slowly work your way up from the easiest letters, with mainly vertical elements (I, H, M, N) to the more complex letters (J, L, T, F, E, P, B, R, K, D) followed by those with strong diagonal elements (A, V, W, X, Y, Z) and the most complex ones of all, those with curves (U, C, G, O, Q, S). As the emphasis is on building up the complexity, they writers strongly advise against simply stitching the letters in alphabetical order.

Reading this all made perfect sense to me. However, it’s a different matter in practice: where one was encouraged to keep the floats as short as possible at the back for the border motifs, mostly trying to keep them to short horizontal or vertical dashes, the way it describes how to stitch the letters, is very different. Suddenly we’re back to stitching from left to right, and for most of the letters, it advises you to work them in two journeys. This gives for different floats at the back: some are diagonal, and sometimes they are rather long as well.

wrong side of vrouwelijke handwerken sampler, showing floats

Wrong side of the sampler, showing floats

So far the “take-away” lesson seems to be: do what you think works best, and keep the floats short at the back. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is no one method that will work perfectly every time. That said, I have seen some samplers where the back looks much neater than mine, so clearly there’s is more to learn! When I have found out more, I will share it here with you.

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