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Archive for the ‘darning’ Category

On 17 September I’ll be running a very special darning workshop at The Keep, Brighton. The Keep is a centre for archives that opens up access to all the collections of the East Sussex Record Office (ESRO), the Royal Pavilion & Museums Local History Collections and the internationally significant University of Sussex Special Collections, including the Mass Observation Archives.

Yarn Advert Bellmans WW2

No coupons for khaki wool; three special offers of this popular shade; The Brighton Herald, 1941

The Archive holds the papers generated by the original Mass Observation organisation between 1937 and 1949, with a few later additions from the 1950s as well as some documents from the 1960s. The material collected by Mass Observation falls into two main categories:

  • Personal writing: A national panel of volunteer writers were recruited to reply to regular questionnaires and tasks, including writing diaries
  • Topic collections: A team of paid investigators went into a variety of public situations and recorded people’s behaviour and conversation in as much detail as possible. This was first conducted in Bolton (known as Worktown) and then in other locations across the country

Make Do and Mend Notebook

Make Do and Mend notes, held in the Mass Observation Archive (reference: SxMOA 99/83)

Having all these collections in one place makes it easy to find some interesting cross-collection links. For instance, at The Keep you can find copies of women’s magazines such as Woman’s Own (a weekly publication first published in 1932 and still going strong) and Woman’s Journal (published monthly from 1927 to 2001). Woman’s Own was aimed at a different kind of woman than Woman’s Journal. This is not only evident on the front cover: Woman’s Own usually shows a child or a woman, often actively occupied with something or other. Woman’s Journal, on the other hand, has portraits of upper class ladies, wearing a ball-gown or other fancy outfit.

The Second World War saw unprecedented government intervention into everyday life on the British home front. Food rationing began in 1940 and clothes were rationed from 1 June 1941. Fabric was essential for war purposes, such as uniforms. By reducing civilian clothing production, factory space and labour could be freed up for war production.

Rationing forced people to be painfully mathematic in how they spent their limited supply of clothing coupons – and to find shrewd ways to avoid doing so. The government-backed ‘Make Do and Mend’ scheme was introduced to encourage people to revive and repair worn-out clothes. Handmade and hand-repaired clothing became an essential part of wartime life. People got creative across the country out of necessity, finding ways to make and care for clothes – and forge their own wartime style.Make Do and Mend Scheme WW2

Mend and make-do to save buying new, issued by the Board of Trade

This governmental intervention was subtly visible in these magazines, to a greater or lesser degree: although both had sections on making accessories, sewing, knitting, and crocheting, Woman’s Journal also featured a monthly spread on the latest fashions from Paris. In contrast, Woman’s Own would often highlight how many, or rather, how few coupons were needed for the materials required for a particular project.

Adverts from yarn companies (and you’ll find more of these in Woman’s Own than in Woman’s Journal) will, as less and less yarn becomes available for the domestic market, acknowledge that their yarns may be difficult to get hold of, but if you can, they’re worth buying. From a Lavenda advert from November 1943: “pure wool can and should be used over and over again.” Magazines have articles on how to re-use wool, and patterns start accommodating for having fewer resources: many items have shorter sleeves, v-necks (both save on yarn), use fewer buttons, or have yarn-saving stitch patterns: open-work inserts (lace stitches require less wool per area than textured stitches) or Fair Isle patterns, so you can use up odds and ends.

The Board of Trade also placed “infomercials” in Woman’s Own and Woman’s Journal as part of the Make Do and Mend campaign. They usually consisted of a few hints or tips around a certain topic (remaking old clothes into new ones, taking care of fabric, etc) and included a small section on Make Do and Mend classes. Women were encouraged to attend one of these classes, or set one up. The Mass Observation Archive contains two exercise books with textile samples from Mrs Watkins, who attended this class in Portslade. Some of these Board of Trade infomercials were also published in the Picture Post, a magazine more directed at a male readership: instead of a call to join a Make Do and Mend class, men were asked to “count their coupons”! One of them, however, does show sailors and soldiers darning their own socks…

Make Do and Mend with Patch

Invisible mending by using threads harvested from hem or seam, from Mrs Watkins’s notebook

I hope you will join me at my darning workshop at The Keep on 17 September, as it will give you a unique chance to see the some of these magazines and archived objects all gathered together especially for the occasion. Fiona Courage, Special Collections Manager and Mass Observation Curator (Library), will  give an introduction to The Keep, and be at hand to answer any questions you may have about items on display.

Read more here about my workshop at The Keep, or, if you simply can’t wait to book a place, please call 01273 482349.

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Recently, I was invited to deliver the keynote speech at Cultures of Repair: Past and Present, a one-day conference to conclude A Remedy for Rents, an exhibition of darning samplers from the Whitelands College Collection.

Curated by Vivienne Richmond, head of Goldsmiths History Department, A Remedy for Rents showcased a rare collection of exceptionally fine needlework by working-class women in the last quarter of the 19th century. As students at Whitelands College, the first all-female teacher training college, now part of the University of Roehampton, the women were training to teach in elementary schools for working-class children and their needlework focused on the production and repair of simple garments and household textiles.

Remedy for Rents offered a rare opportunity to see needlework by non-elite Victorian women, but illuminates also the history of working-class dress, female education and gendered roles, experiences and expectations in 19th-century Britain and beyond. If you missed this exhibition, then you will have a second chance to catch it again, see details at the end of this post.

Photography credit: all the images I’m showing here were taken by David Ramkalawon, and all items belong to the Whitelands College Collection, University of Roehampton, and are used with kind permission.

Note: simply click on an image to get a closer view of the exquisite needlework

Specimens of Needlework Whitelands College

Specimens of Needle Work, Whitelands College K.S. 1902. This unassuming leatherbound book contains a stunning collection of extraordinary needlework

The items on display are of an an amazingly high quality, and provide me with a lot of inspiration, and something to aspire to. The book shown above holds page after page of darning samplers and plain sewing samplers, each and every one of them showing the very best needlework.

Sampler by Annie Hewins 1879

Sampler made by Annie Hewins, 1879. It shows a combination of darns, damask darns, patching, decorative borders and buttonholes. All made by hand

Tailored buttonhole by Annie Hewins 1879, Whitelands College Collection

Close-up of one of the buttonholes from the sampler shown above

Whereas most of the darning and embroidery samplers I’ve seen from the late 19th century are no longer of the finest quality displayed in work from earlier centuries, the work displayed by the teachers in training at Whitelands College is an exception, and it’s almost inconceivable that they were all made by hand. I’m particularly fond of the many fancy handworked buttonholes; I’ll be giving them a go when the opportunity arises.

I’ll share more images from the needlework on display throughout this post, but I’d also like to share with you the one-day conference. Vivienne Richmond talked about past cultures of repair. Needlework was a respectable way for a woman to earn some money, both teaching it, or providing needlework as a service to other households. Obviously, learning needlework is a very hands-on approach, and the Whitelands College Collection is a prime example of the students’ work. If you want to know a bit more about this, then I can recommend the blog posts I wrote about darning samplers from the Fries Museum (parts 1, 2, and 3). She also touched on the Make Do and Mend campaign of World War 2, and all those middle-class women who, with the very best intentions, wanted to teach working class women on how to mend their clothes and to be careful with resources. Needless to say their reception was rather mixed, as for working class women making do and mending was already part and parcel of their lives.

Sleeve with darning detail, Whitelands College Collection

One of the many practice pieces: a sleeve with cuff, ruffle, patching, darning, and stitching

After learning about repair in the past, we moved on to a number of artists and makers who use repair as part of their practice:

Lizzie Cannon has a background in geography and as a result her artwork reflects her keen sense of space and place. She gathers discarded items which get augmented by adding other elements, often using embroidery techniques. Her ongoing project Mended Leaves investigates how mending reflects, and sometimes accelerates, decay of delicate structures. The threads used to mend the holes in the leaves are carefully matched with the leaf is still fresh, but later contrasts with the changed colour once the leaf has dried.

Katherine May works as a designer, researcher and facilitator tracing the threads that weave together textiles and society. Through research and making she explores the origins of materials and the story of techniques. Her projects often reflect specific social contexts and emphasise participation through the dressing or inhabiting of these spaces, that she uses as a platform to engage people in an imaginative and sensory relationship with cloth. This was seen in Water – Colour a site specific installation where a ritual of practice evolved through indigo dyeing on site over 2 months. With her work she aims to expose the relational aspects of textiles and subvert prevailing processes of value production.

Ruby Hoette  works independently as a designer/curator/researcher exploring fashion in context through the intersection of theory and practice. Her projects reveal patterns of use and often investigate the construction of value and meaning in fashion. The WORN_RELICS project was launched in 2008. It is an interactive online archive in which the stories and memories attached to garments can be collected and shared. The project explores the idea that clothing acquires value over time through being worn. It is a platform for the communication of the creativity and innovation that can be found in the diverse ways we interact with clothing in everyday life.

Miniature Knitted Sock, Whitelands College Collection

Many items were made on a miniature scale. They’re easily confused with dolls clothes, but their main purpose was to learn all the different sewing techniques and construction of all manner of garments. This lace sock measures no more than 4.5cm (less than 2in) in height. I guesstimate it has about 60 stitches in the round.

Those of you who have been following my blog, may have noticed that many of the other artists and makers’ themes and interests are reflected in my own practice, so my keynote speech tied it all nicely together. I spoke about my love of old sewing and needlework books; my issues with using the phrase ‘make do and mend’ in the 21st century, when many people make the choice between replacing or repairing; aspects of Japanese crafts such as boro and sashiko, but at the same time trying to bring things back to local culture; learning from studying samplers (see links to Fries Museum above); and my bottomless mending basket at home.

Detail of sampler made by Witteridge, Whitelands College Collection

A darn made to emulate a jersey (machine knitted) fabric, which is made by stem stitching over foundation threads that go across the hole

I also discussed my shift in focus, or end point, of a garment. If I aim to wear clothes for a long time, than I will have to acknowledge that they will need some repairs at some point. With that in mind, when I make my own clothes, a garment isn’t really finished when I cast off that last stitch, or sew in some ends. I know there is more work to be done down the line. So those finishing touches are not final, but merely one of the stops on the journey of the garment’s life. To me, making and repairing are no longer discrete activities, they belong together, and the boundaries between the two are blurred: repairing is making.

Whitelands College Collection Sample Garment

A miniature undershirt as a way of learning all aspects of technique and construction of undershirts

If you want to catch Remedy for Rents at Roehampton, then please know that they don’t have a webpage for the exhibition yet, but in the meantime people are welcome to contact Gilly King: Gilly.King@roehampton.ac.uk for further information. The exhibition is opening there on 14 May, 2016 and running to July (actual closing date tbc).

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Happy new year to all my blog readers! Now that it is 2016, I would like to reflect on what 2015 brought me, and my thoughts about the year ahead.

Tea Hat with toast, marmalade and Wood's Ware in Beryl

A knitted ‘tea hat’, made from my handspun yarn, was the start to 2015

The year just gone has been really rather busy for me, despite wanting to take it a bit slower. But then there were so many exciting places to go, amazing people to see, and creative projects to make! Here are some recurring themes in my year:

Community

pitt rivers class picture

Darning Master Class at the Pitt Rivers Museum

First and foremost I feel part of a textile community, and 2015 really reinforced this belonging. Attending events and venues such as Edinburgh Yarn Festival, Shetland Wool Week, Pitt Rivers Museum, and In the Loop 4, where I managed to meet up with friends old and new played a big part in this.  They all provided fertile ground for discussions about knitting, fibre, and wool. But it wasn’t all serious, it was a good way to catch up with old friends, and meet others for the first time, even if I knew their work well, or knew them through social media. It always feels good to meet like-minded people, discuss shared interests, and continue the conversations afterwards. It was nice to see friends taking on new projects and run away with them, and being able to help them out.

Creativity in Technique

Heraldic Sweater Front View 2

Creativity in technique: my Heraldic Sweater, combining sequence knitting and patching

In 2015 I learnt a lot of new things and many of these revolve around technique. Some bigger than others, ranging from a new-to-me superstretchy cast-on (double needle cast on, see June Hemmons Hiatt’s Principles of Knitting) to a whole new way of creating complicated textured fabrics using simple techniques, called Sequence Knitting. My interest in 1980s knitwear has blossomed last year: once you can see past the boxy shapes, a heady mix of technique, colour, and texture is revealed, and nothing was deemed too complicated. A collaboration with Wolf & Gypsy Vintage allowed me to explore the repair of woven textiles.

Wolf and Gypsy Trousers VMP Detail

hand-stitched patches, and a tailored buttonhole in this piece for Wolf & Gypsy Vintage

‘Slowness’

Handspun from Shetland Wool Week 2015

Handspun yarns from a workshop I attended at Shetland Wool Week, with apologies for the poor picture quality

Last year I’ve been thinking a lot about taking time in my creative practice. In a shift of focus from trying to keep things looking new and perfect to favouring the old and imperfect, means I’ve stopped looking at repair as a chore, but as a creative challenge in its own right. Instead of fixing something that is broken, which implies the item was finished, I now continue working on something that wasn’t complete yet.

Slowtober‘ has given me a lot of thought about the materials I use, whether these are secondhand or new, and as I explained in the linked post, there is lots of food for thought. One material that made me really happy, though, is Louise Spong’s South Down Yarns. The sheep that provide the wool roam the South Downs near where I live, and if you read my interview with her and Jenny Dean over on the Wovember blog, you will learn about the provenance of the yarn, and the sensitive way how it is dyed.

And this leads me neatly to the year ahead.

And for 2016…

Darning sampler 1892 diagonal slash darn back

Frozen in time: a mend on an antique darning sampler that will never be completed

In 2016 I will continue walking down the slow path I’ve turned onto, taking step after thoughtful step. Some of the plans I had made for last year didn’t come to fruition, so this year I’m going to be even more careful with the time I have for being creative. As I want to take things slow, it doesn’t bother me unduly that I didn’t start certain things, and it’s always good to have plenty of ideas. Here are some of them:

I would like to spend more time spinning; I have plenty of fleece to keep me busy, and I’d love to spin a sweater’s worth of yarn.

The Wolf & Gypsy Vintage collaboration, my interest in antique darning samplers, and my old books on clothes repair mean I would like to spend more time teaching myself more sewing skills, and I’d love to make a modern version of a ‘plain sewing’ sampler.

I also have more ideas for creative knitting, and like the Heraldic Sweater pictured above, they combine technique with elements left to chance. As always, I look forward to sharing my pursuits here on my blog, and I hope you will enjoy strolling along in the most leisurely fashion. Happy new year!

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Currently on at the Pitt Rivers Museum is the “Preserving What Is Valued” case display and museum trail. It demonstrates how people from all parts of the world repair their material culture. Conservators study objects in great detail and part of their role is to determine at what stage a repair has been made. If the repair was made by the originating community while it was still in use this provides an additional level of information and can give the object a deeper resonance. Identifying an original repair can raise questions that make us think about the object’s history differently.

gourd vessel with visible mending using beads

Gourd vessel, decoratively repaired using beads, collection Pitt Rivers Museum

I was invited to run two darning classes as part of the events around this display. My name is Tom and I’m a self-taught textile practitioner, and one of the things I do is run the Visible Mending Programme. Through this programme I seek to highlight that the art and craftsmanship of clothes repair is particularly relevant in a world where more and more people voice their dissatisfaction with fashion’s throwaway culture. By exploring the story behind garment and repair, the programme reinforces the relationship between the wearer and garment, leading to people wearing their existing clothes for longer, with the beautiful darn worn as a badge of honour.

The Visible Mending Programme - repaired jumper

“A mother’s Work…” repair commission for private client. You can read more about it here.

The darning classes were well attended and the participants were taught two classic knitwear repair techniques: firstly Swiss darning, also known as duplicate stitching, which is a good way to reinforce thinning fabrics such as elbows on sleeves, or to cover up stains.

pitt rivers class swiss darning swatch

Swiss darning in action by one of the participants

The second technique taught was the classic stocking darn, using a darning mushroom. It creates a woven patch that is integrated with the knit fabric, and is a good way to repair holes. Of course this is best known for sock repairs.

pitt rivers class completed swatch swiss and stocking darn

A completed practice swatch, showing a stocking darn and rows of Swiss darning in bold colours

Throughout the class, I shared many hints and tips on repairing, such as what tools and materials to use for best results, examples of my work, and how to look after your woollens. Half-way through the class we had a break, and everybody was encouraged to see the display cabinet and follow the museum trail to find original repairs.

muslin handkerchief repair close-up

tortoise shell comb repaired with metal strip

The Pitt Rivers holds many repaired objects in its collection, from all over the world. Here shown a delicate muslin handkerchief with some rather crude darns, and a tortoise shell comb repaired with a riveted metal strip

I found the repairs very inspiring: an inventive use of locally available materials such as baste fibres, small decorative additions such as beads, or the neat way stitching cracks, the use of staples, or even items made in such a way that they could be easily repaired in the future. I won’t go into too much detail, as it’s fun to go and see it all for yourself!

The Preserving What is Valued case display and museum trail at the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, 29 June 2015 – 3 January 2016. More information here.

pitt rivers class picture

At the end of the workshop, all participants proudly show off their new skills!

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This blog post was originally published on the Education Pitt, Learning for Schools, Families, Communities and Adults blog.

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I’m very excited to announce a extraordinary Visible Mending Programme collaboration with one of Brighton’s finest vintage clothes shops: Wolf & Gypsy Vintage. I have been shopping at Wolf & Gypsy since they first opened their doors many a moon ago, so it was only a matter of time I’d walk in with some visibly mended clothes. Laura, the owner of Wolf & Gypsy, loved the look of my repaired French workwear so much, that she asked me to create a micro-collection for her. And that’s exactly what I did.

Wolf and Gypsy Window Display

May All Your Dreams Be Indigo, at Wolf & Gypsy Vintage Boutique, Brighton

All four pieces I repaired are of an indigo blue, and I think they were all dyed with a chemical dye rather than actual plant-based indigo. I decided to provide a contrast by using vintage Japanese natural indigo-dyed fabrics; by only using yellow sewing and embroidery threads I highlighted all the hand stitching.

Wolf and Gypsy Trousers VMP Detail

All garments have been repaired visibly, and the Visible Mending Programme logo is handstitched into each garment

Laura carefully hand picks all the garments for her shop, and I have used the same attention to detail in making the repairs. Although the fabric I used for patching is Japanese, I steered clear of employing Japanese embroidery techniques, such as sashiko and boro. Instead, I found my inspiration from my old, and very Western, needlework books.

I’d love to share some before-and-after pictures:

KLM Overalls

Being from The Netherlands, I could only ever repair some overalls originating from my home country. KLM (Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij) is the Royal Dutch Airlines.

Wolf and Gypsy Visible Mending Programme Overalls Before

A crumpled KLM overalls in dire need of some TLC

Wolf and Gypsy Visible Mending Programme Overalls After

Rejuvinated overalls: new button, fraying cuffs dealt with, small holes turned into eyelets

Overalls repairs: fraying cuffs rebound with fabric, small holes highlighted with eyelet embroidery.

Friendship Sweatshirt

Although there wasn’t any actual damage on this sweatshirt, it did look a bit dull. To remedy this, I added a colourful darn to be worn as a badge of honour. “Friendship” is the unknown-to-me label of this sweatshirt

Wolf and Gypsy Visible Mending Programme Sweatshirt Before

The Friendship sweatshirt is looking for some pizzazz

Wolf and Gypsy Visible Mending Programme Sweatshirt After

A beautiful darn to be worn as a badge of honour

Sweatshirt repair: darn in multiple colours, created with my Speedweve.

French Workwear Trousers

These are very similar to the trousers I walked into the shop with and which led to this gig to start with. I’m happy with the look of the binding around the pockets (see picture above), and a fabric patch which shows fading. Most of all though, I love the tailor’s buttonholes, handstitched in a perlé cotton to make them stand out.

Wolf and Gypsy Visible Mending Programme Trousers Before

These French workwear trousers needed a fair bit of attention

Wolf and Gypsy Visible Mending Programme Trousers After Patch Detail

I love the fading on the patch, which I’ve sewn in using the flannel patch method, more commonly used for, you guessed it, flannel!

Wolf and Gypsy Visible Mending Programme Trousers After Buttonhole Detail

I love working proper tailored buttonholes, and this commission was a good excuse to really make ’em stand out!

Trousers repairs: fraying pockets rebound with fabric, fraying buttonholes restitched, hems re-sewn, patches, waistband cord ends replaced.

French Workwear Jacket

Possibly my favourite of the series: the pockets had a lot of tiny holes in them, so these got covered up by pocket-sized patches. One sleeve had a very ugly and stiff iron-on patch. This peeled off easily, and I replaced it with a classic felled patch.

Wolf and Gypsy Visible Mending Programme Jacket Before

The jacket sported a really rather ugly iron-on patch and some holes were crudely sewn together

Wolf and Gypsy Visible Mending Programme Jacket After

Luckily the patch came off easily, and a new patch was inserted with felled seams

Wolf and Gypsy Visible Mending Programme Jacket After Detail

Patches on the pockets, and the patches behind holes, which have been delicately outlined with a half-back stitch

Jacket repairs: buttons replaced, various patches, fraying cuffs rebound.

If you find yourself in Brighton during the month of November, then you can avail yourself of one of these fine Visible Mending Programme garments. Each one comes with a special card that details the repair materials and techniques used. I hope four lucky people will enjoy wearing these as much as I enjoyed repairing them!

Wolf and Gypsy May All Your Dreams Be Indigo Banner

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Previously I spoke about the concept of a Slow Wardrobe, and how I’m changing the way I’m looking at the boundaries of where clothes begin and end. I was pretty confident that I knew where I was going, and what I would write in this follow-up post. However, at that time I wasn’t aware of Karen Templer’s Slow Fashion October initiative. She really opened up the topic of Slow Fashion. Some aspects I hadn’t really given a lot of thought before, while other aspects have been shown in a different light. This has left me not quite knowing how to give shape to my Slow Wardrobe — however, that’s something I embrace: I deliberately chose the title Slow Thinking as I’m still shaping my thoughts and I’m in no rush to come up with “the answer” any time soon; in fact, there is no one right answer.

Hand-spun Jacob yarn

Hand-spun yarn from Jacob fleece, acquired through Ravelry

Some of the most pertinent discussions for me revolve around a number of topics, and as I’m still working out where I stand on them, I just list them here (I feel Karen captured some important discussions in the this round-up post. Warning, following this link will send you right down a Slowtober rabbit hole with many avenues to explore):

  1. The “privilege” of repair and wearing repaired clothes, or wearing the same outfit frequently; and what is acceptable where (eg office vs home, uniforms (workman clothes, but also high earners, such as Steve Jobs and many a fashion designer who always wear the same outfit), suits/office wear and gender differences therein)
  2. The notion that one should buy less, but spend more on individual items: does a higher price tag always equate to better quality? But also: not everybody can afford the initial lay-out
  3. The all-or-nothing way of thinking. Just because you can’t do everything, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do anything at all. There are many entry points to make a difference to suit different budgets (read this post about knitting yarns by Karen to see what I mean, even if most of her examples are US based)
  4. Making your own clothes is another thing that gets mentioned a lot. Again, it is not a solution that can work for everybody: nowadays, making your own clothes comes at a high cost, which you could express in money and time. Some people have neither, others have one but not the other

So with that in mind, I would like to share what certain aspects of a Slow Wardrobe mean to me at the moment. This is mostly about when I want to make something new, but I’m conscious that there’s another side of my wardrobe, which is all the clothes I already have. I tend to wear clothes for many seasons, and they are important, too.

Materials

When I make my own clothes, I have more control over the materials I use for the garments. I can choose to use mill ends, secondhand, repurpose, or buy fully traceable materials. Obviously this depends on what I want to make. For example, when it comes to wool yarn for knitting, I can take it as far back as buying a raw fleece and do ALL the processing myself. Money-wise this is a very cheap option, but it is extremely time consuming. This would be a very different story for eg cotton fabrics; I would not be spinning and weaving cotton to make, for instance, boxershorts, so then I can look around for another solution.

boxershorts from old sheets

Boxershorts made from old sheets

Labour

When I make my own clothes, I know there’s only one person involved in the making of it: me. However, I do realise that any materials I use will have been made by somebody, quite possibly not me. So I can do my best to make sure to use “labour-friendly” materials. In addition, I can take my time, which will allow me to get things just as I want them to be.

hand-made clothes

In a completely natural and unstudied pose, I show off some items that each took me a long time to make: socks, trousers, jumper, and gloves were all time-consuming projects

Style

I will need to have a long-term view when it comes to the style of the garments I’m making. I’m no longer a skinny teenager, and if I want to make clothes to last, then I will need to take into account that my body shape might well change over the years. I can make sure that making size alterations in the future will be easy, and keep styles easy and perhaps a bit on the roomy side. I’d like to make clothes with long-term style in mind, not short-term fashion. Obviously, visibly mended clothes will play a big role in my wardrobe.

Longevity

 

Looking after my clothes is important. Make sure they are washed and stored appropriately and they can last a long time indeed. There is a lot of information available on how to take of your clothes, and the Love Your Clothes initiative is a good place to start. In my practice, creating and mending textiles are in constant conversation with each other; if my clothes acquire a darn or a patch along the way, then that can only be welcomed!

I’d love to hear what you have to say about this topic, and I hope that you, like me, are planning to join Karen Templer in Slow Fashion October next year. It will be interesting to see how my thinking will have evolved between now and then.

Edited to add: although this post puts the emphasis on adding new clothes to my wardrobe, I feel it’s important that I believe my existing clothes are the starting point of my Slow Wardrobe. Using what I already have is, from a pure sustainability point of view, probably preferable over adding new things, however “slowly” made. What that means for me as a creative person with (wearable) textiles as my main practice I’m not sure yet. 

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Last year I went to the Fries Museum to see their collection of darning samplers. Little did I know that almost a year later, I would own my own antique darning sampler. Note: if you want to see the following pictures in close-up, simply click on them to see the larger version.

Darning Sampler 1892 Front

My darning sampler was started in 1892 by ‘EAE’, but never finished. I have very little additional information about it

A good excuse to read up on darning samplers and I’d like to share with you some of the things I’ve learnt.

Making darning samplers seemed to be particularly popular in The Netherlands, although you find them also in other countries. What follows comes from Dutch books that specifically talk about darning samplers (listed below) and reflect how things were in The Netherlands; I can only assume things might’ve been similar elsewhere.

Darning samplers seem to have been part of any girl’s education, rich or poor. All women were supposed to help out with household tasks, which included maintenance of clothes and linens. Girls and women ought to keep themselves occupied with useful things, and for those who needed to supplement their income, needlework was a respectable way of earning some extra money.

Darning sampler 1892 fancy darn front

A fancy darn with different patterns in the arms of the cross

Girls were often sent to a small girls’ boarding school (they were often called “French Boarding School” as the girls were also taught French), where needlework was part of the curriculum. It was also taught at orphanages to ensure orphaned girls would be able to look after themselves once they left. For those girls who were too busy during the day (they might have a job as a maid, or help run a household), there were also evening darning and sewing classes.

Needlecraft lessons included embroidery, knitting, sewing, and mending. Often girls started with a cross stitch sampler, practising the letters of the alphabet. Many households sent their laundry to the laundry house and by marking all the linen, they could all be returned cleaned and bleached to the rightful owners. Often these samplers started with the alphabet repeated a few times (making sure the letters were embroidered exactly the same and lined up: an exercise in counting the threads), and then little motifs were added, which could be used for decorative purposes.

As I understand it, girls started with the easier embroidery sampler first, and then moved on to the darning sampler. And in the darning sampler there was also a build-up of complexity in technique. One started off with damask darning, which is nowadays still used as a decorative technique. This simply required the darner to pick up threads from the sound fabric. You can see this in the centre square of my sampler: each of the borders show a different damask darning pattern.

Darning sampler 1892 centre square front

The centre square shows the relatively easy technique of damask darning

Darning sampler 1892 centre square back

The back of the centre square shows that using star stitch (a reversible stitch) for the initials and numbers makes for a very neat finish

After the damask darn they moved on to the real deal: darning across an actual hole. A hole was neatly cut out and the edges whipped to stop them from fraying. First all the vertical threads (the warp, so to speak) were put across the hole by starning some simple damask darning a bit away from the hole, span the thread across the hole and then darn in a bit more on the other side. When turning direction to work back, a little loop was left at the end. Used linen was usually washed a lot, so wouldn’t shrink anymore, but the new darning thread used for the repair would shrink upon the first wash, so these loops allowed for that. The horizontal threads were woven in in a similar fashion, weaving them over and under the warp threads. The first hole (top right in my sampler) would be done in a simple even weave, and then slowly the complexity increased to other weave patterns, such as twill weaves, bird’s eye, satin, and checks.

Darning sampler 1892 even weave darn front

An even weave darn. The irregularity suggests this might have been the first proper darn made on the sampler

Darning sampler 1892 even weave darn back

The back shows whip stitched edges, loops to allow for shrinkage, and also a decorative hem

Colours and materials for repair change through the centuries according to fashion. These practice darns were usually done in coloured threads on a plain white or unbleached ground, so that it was easy to see what you were doing, but also allowing the teacher to spot any mistakes more readily. Old darning samplers often used fine silks, linen or cotton threads on a linen or cotton ground. Less common was the use of wool, although it became more popular when the ‘Berlin wools’ came into fashion for needlepoint. Older darning samplers were often executed with very fine threads, and the holes repaired were rather large and therefore presented a real challenge. The threads used are slowly getting a bit less fine, and likewise the fabric used became coarser throughout the centuries; the variety of techniques seemed to go down as well. Old darning samplers included complex repairs at the edge of the fabric, and the most difficult of all was the darning of a corner. A length of ribbon or tape was used as a corner edge, which was sometimes removed after the darn was completed. Later darning samplers don’t show these complicated repairs, and also the size of the holes to be darned became smaller. This could be due to a number of reasons, but one of them is that for larger holes and corners a sewn-in patch is a much stronger repair than a hand-sewn darn could ever be.

Darning sampler 1892 bird's eye darn front

A bird’s eye darn in two colours

Darning sampler 1892 bird's eye darn back

The bird’s eye darn looks just as neat at the back

My darning sampler seems to be typical of its time: no complex edge or corner darns, and none of the holes are larger than 3x3cm. For whatever reason, this one was left unfinished. One darn in the lower left corner only has the warp threads darned in in a herringbone pattern, and there also the start of repairing a diagonal slash. This repair was complicated, as the edges of the slash are on the diagonal, so liable to stretch out. This darning sampler would’ve been worked on over a good few months. Girls would usually have darning lessons a few hours a week, and it took them about a year to complete a sampler. I will never know why my darning sampler was never finished, but the research in the books I have show that often girls either couldn’t afford the fees, or were not able to attend classes due to other duties taking higher priority. In the country side for instance, there were no lessons during harvest time as everybody, young and old, had to help bring in the harvest.

Darning sampler 1892 unfinished darn

 

The start of a herringbone darn, shown on the back

Darning sampler 1892 diagonal slash darn front

The vertical threads were already completed on this diagonal slash, and the horizontal threads were just started

Darning sampler 1892 diagonal slash darn back

The diagonal slash darn is the only one that shows a knot

The mystery remains, and that is part of the beauty of it. Even if I don’t know a thing about who made this sampler or why it was never completed, it represents an important part of young women’s social history, and will provide me with food for thought and inspiration for years to come.

Darning sampler 1892 back

The back of the darning sampler shows neat finishes

Short bibliography (apologies to non-Dutch readers, but all these books are in Dutch):

Kipp, A; Schipper-van Lottum, MGA; Van der Vlerk, L. Nuttig en Fraai; Zuidhollandse merk- en stoplappen. Becht, Haarlem, 1987.

Schipper-van Lottum, MGA. Merk- en Stoplappen; schoolwerk van Amsterdamse meisjes uit vier eeuwen. Second print, Wereldbibliotheek, Amsterdam, 1980

Schipper-van Lottum, MGA. Stop- en borduurlappen; geschiedenis en techniek. Becht, Haarlem, 1987.

Smith-Sanders, B. Merk- en Stoplappen uit het Burgerweeshuis Amsterdam. Venlo, 2013.

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