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Archive for the ‘darning’ Category

Today is Fashion Revolution Day, and like last year, I’d like to spend some time thinking about all those expert skills hiding behind all those cheap clothes we expect to see on The High Street.

Fashion Revolution Day - Who Made My Clothes?

Fashion Revolution Day: who made my clothes?

When I was writing my new artist statement, I spent a lot of time thinking about motivations for repair, captured in the following sentence:

By exploring the motivations for repair Tom shifts the emphasis from the new and perfect to the old and imperfect, enabling him  to highlight the relationship between garment and wearer.

There are manifold motivations for mending, ranging from societal issues through to the very personal: concerns about environmental impact of the clothes life-cycle, concerns about living conditions of people making cheap clothes, budget constraints, sentimental value; I’m sure you can add more to the list.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 02a

A darning sampler in the form of socks from a time that repair came natural to people; from the Fries Museum

The people behind Fashion Revolution Day ask you to think about who made your clothes. For me personally, this question can more and more be answered by: I made my clothes. I have made my own boxershorts, trousers, numerous socks, cardigans, and sweaters. With less success I’ve also attempted to make some shirts, and it’ll be some time before I feel happy to tackle a jacket or coat.

Making my own clothes has made me realise that it takes a lot of time, skill and effort to create garments I’m happy to wear. Of course, I’m not a professional tailor, so I’m happy spending my whole Christmas holiday on one pair of tweed trousers. I don’t know any shortcuts or tricks to make things go faster and I don’t feel the need to use them, either. Every time I make something, I learn something. How to make a nice welted pocket; how to bind edges on knitwear; how to copy a pattern from an existing garment.

boxershorts from old sheets

Boxershorts made from ripped sheets: the softest cotton you can get your hands on! The pattern was copied from a pair of boxershorts I already owned

Making my own clothes has made me realise, too, that those cheap t-shirts, jeans, and other items were made under very different circumstances. The shops we buy these from are mostly trying to get a decent profit margin. At the same time, their customers demand a low price for these items. Something is going to get squeezed somewhere. You will notice that when you buy cheap clothes, their material quality might be poor, seams might fall apart easily, or the finishing isn’t great. This is not because those people in sweatshops like Rana Plaza don’t have the required skills, but because they are constrained by time or poor quality materials.

I believe therefore that clothes made by those people deserve the same respect as that carefully hand-knitted sweater you made at home. When I do buy new clothes (I mostly shop secondhand now), I try to buy something made to last, but I know that’s not always possible. And I myself have not always been in the position to buy less, but of higher quality. It happens. I try not to feel too bad about it (some people in the sustainable fashion corner worry about what might happen if suddenly nobody buys cheap clothes anymore: thousands of people in developing countries would suddenly be without a job.)

Visible Mending of a Cardigan

An early Visible Mending example

There is no one solution to these ethical questions, and I think we should all do what is within our reach. For me this means I will repair my clothes, including cheap ones. When repairing clothes, my mind often starts to wander and I think about who made the item. It might be me, a dear friend, or indeed, it might be an anonymous seamstress.

So, even if you will never find out who made your clothes, you can still think about this person.

Pay them respect and repair your garments.

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What is it I do?

In the past few months I have been thinking a lot about what I do as a maker. Throughout the coming months, I want to blog a bit more about what my creative practice means to me.

The Visible Mending Programme - Shoulder and Sleeve Detail

Using knitting to mend knitting: a private commission

Thinking about what I do means I have updated my ‘About‘ page, and I’ll use this as a guide to write these blog posts:

Tom is a self-taught textiles practitioner, with an emphasis on creating and repairing knitted objects, working mostly with wool. He is currently based in Brighton, UK. Tom’s craft practice is slow, allowing him to gain a deep understanding of material qualities and the traditional techniques that he uses for making and mending contemporary objects. Through his combined interest in sustainability and the rich textile history around wool in Britain he has started to question when the life of a woollen garment (and by extension any object) starts and ends. By exploring the motivations for repair Tom shifts the emphasis from the new and perfect to the old and imperfect, enabling him  to highlight the relationship between garment and wearer. His interest in using traditional techniques for creating and repairing (woollen) textiles mean that in Tom’s practice creating and mending textiles are in constant conversation with each other.

Self-taught Pocket Repair

A complex pocket repair, learnt from a book on clothes repairs

Many people assume I have a textiles background and studied textiles or fashion at college. As I firmly believe anybody can do what I do, it’s the first thing I wanted to say about myself: I’m a self-taught maker. I originally trained as a radiotherapy radiographer and have worked in a hospital to treat cancer patients. Nowadays I work for one of the companies that make radiotherapy treatment machines. All my making and repairing started out as a hobby and it’s been a very exciting journey so far, and one that is far from finished.

Ever from since I was a kid I have been creative and dabbled in all sorts of things such as drawing, caligraphy, crochet, origami, knitting, and whatnot. And I have always done minor repairs to my clothes, usually with very little thought behind it. Then, about eight or nine years ago I was inspired by a hugely expensive designer scarf to knit my own scarf, as I vaguely remembered knitting as a child. I got myself some needles and yarn and a learn-to-knit-in-ten-easy-steps book.

Cornish knitfrock - learnt from a book

A Cornish knit-frock: made according to the “recipe” in the Cornish Knit-frock book by Mary Wright

And from then on, I discovered the wealth of information contained in books and on the internet. I was encouraged by people around me to explore and try out things and not be afraid to fail; I feel knitting is really very suited to the inquisitive mind. It doesn’t have to cost much, and it’s easy to try something out and if it doesn’t go to your liking, you can simply rip back and try again.

And even if there is nobody around to discuss and learn from face-to-face, there is still so much help to be found around you: regular readers of my blog know I love old needlecraft books, and then, of course, there is the internet. I have learnt a lot from the forums on Ravelry (including, what books might be of interest to me.) It has opened my eyes to what knitting can be, and the potential that each knitter carries within in them.

Mary Walker Phillips Exploration Swatch Wall Hanging

An exploration of Mary Walker Phillips’s work; I would never have heard of Mary Walker Philips if it wasn’t for the internet

The above swatch would not have happened if I didn’t have access to the internet. It’s how I found out about Mary Walker Phillips’s work. It’s how I learnt about her book Creative Knitting, which has been very inspiring and revelatory. It’s how I learnt isn’t always necessary to start a new adventure with rigorous planning and calculating and worrying things won’t work out. Sometimes you just need to cast on and get going.

I truly believe that anybody can become a great knitter and I hope that sharing my knitting projects on this blog is testament to that. It’s great to get comments on my blog posts that show it has inspired you go on your own knitting adventure: may sticks and string lead you down unheard of avenues and be ready to be surprised. I have a lot of fun this way, and I hope you do, too!

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Dear readers, first things first: a happy new year to you! I hope 2015 will be full of many fullfilling spinning, knitting, darning, and other crafty pursuits. I’d like to thank you all for following my blog and leaving me comments; I really appreciate your interest and support.

It’s a time for reflection, so I want to share with you some of my 2014 highlights, and also talk about what I have planned for 2015. I hope you will be as excited about that as I am!

2014

Looking back at my blog posts, I find I have done a lot of things, and I also realise there are a fair few things I haven’t even got round to share with you.

In chronological order here are some of my personal favourites of last year:

Creative knitting

Mary Walker Phillips Exploration Swatch Wall Hanging

A linen swatch, exploring Mary Walker Phillips’s book Creative Knitting

Returning from my parents after Christmas 2013, I had found out about Mary Walker Phillips, who wrote, amongst others, Creative knitting. For somebody who usually does a lot of planning and swatching this was a refreshing approach. After knitting this linen swatch I have been taken her philosophy to heart, and it’s given me a sense of freedom and let things happen as they come. As I always need a balance in my practice, I have also started a jumper with the largest amount of planning and swatching I have ever done. Using these different approaches side by side means they inform each other and make me value them both more than I did before.

Playing with wool with Deborah Robson

Wool Types workshop with Deb Robson

Deb Robson in her element: wool and spinning wheels, and a captive audience

2014 was the first time I went to Fibre East as I really, REALLY wanted to attend Deb Robson’s class on wool types. I almost didn’t make it, as I had an awful flu the days before, but I’m glad I went, as half a year later my head is still spinning (pun intended!) with all the possibilities of wool. Deb Robson is most generous and amazing in sharing her knowledge and knows how to get anybody interested in wool. Unfortunately I did not have much time for spinning since, so this is something I would really like to remedy in 2015.

Friesian darning samplers

Fries Museum stoplap darning sampler 4

One of the many darning samplers I saw at the Fries Museum

When the textile conservator of the Fries Museum, Gieneke Arnolli, invited me to view their collection of darning samplers, I couldn’t wait to get on the plane! I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and Gieneke’s hospitality. I learnt so much from it I had to write not one, not two, but three blog posts about it. It has inspired me to learn more about repairing cloth in the coming year.

A visit to Sanquhar

Sanquhar Gloves with Initials

Darned Sanquhar gloves, what a treat!

I have a bit of a “thing” for the traditional gloves from Sanquhar, so I was more than happy to attend the one-day workshop in Sanquhar itself. I gave a presentation on the Sanquhar knitting tradition, met a lot of interesting people, and developed a bit of a “thing” for Scotland – to be fair the first seeds for that were sown a long time ago.

Hacking the KNITSONIK System

KNITSONIK System Swatch Complete

A swatch made according, or against, the KNITSONIK System, depending on your point of view

My comrade in wool and good friend Felicity “Felix” Ford, published a book on how to find inspiration for stranded colourwork patterns in everyday things. She asked me to hack her system and I enjoyed taking on this challenge. As I had helped her out a bit with the book, we have had many conversations on rules and guidelines you can set yourself, and on how strict her instructions in her book should be. I think we both learnt a lot from this, and it has added a new perspective on my quest to be a more creative knitter and trying to let go of rules and planning.

Mending

Of course my year is not complete without some mending and repairing, and I have worked on two very special commissions this year, so they deserve a special mention.

The Visible Mending Programme - repaired jumper

“A Mother’s Work” repair commission for a private client

A Mother’s Work” was a very special repair commission that went much further than simply fixing a jumper. Being asked to repair somebody’s jumper made by her mum who has passed away proved to be a very intimate experience.

Knitting and Crochet Guild Commission in colour

Knitting & Crochet Guild Repair Commission

The other special repair was commissioned by the Knitting & Crochet Guild, and it allowed me to use some traditional techniques, which I have highlighted by using naturally coloured undyed yarns.

And apart from the things I did blog about, I have done some other things that made 2014 a great year for me: I made a jumper with a graphic design on the front built up in single row stripes and other technical details; I have been interviewed a few times by PhD students, magazines, and newspapers, which helped me think about and better understand my own practice; I volunteered at the monthly Brighton Repair Café, which I thoroughly enjoy, so I’m looking forward to many more meet-ups to come (incidentally, the next one is on 31 January 2015.)

2015

I’m much looking forward to 2015, as I have plenty of things I’d like to get done, such as:

Repairs

Late last year I met up with my good friend and repair comrade Bridget Harvey, and we have started a repair dialogue. We want to explore the difference between functional and non-functional repair, using a pair of tatty tea towels.

My visit to the Fries Museum has given me an insight in repairing cloth, and also about the way you can learn to repair, and who traditionally performed repairs of household items and clothes. I want to learn more about repairing and darning cloth, using some early 20th Century Dutch lesson plan books I have.

Spinning and creative knitting

Spinning and creative knitting will meet each other this year, as I have a project in mind that involves first spinning up British rare breed fibres, and free-form-knit them up in some sort of mythological cloak. I want to learn more about the role of clothes in myths, sagas and folklore at the same time.

Finishing things

There are also some things left over from 2014 that need finishing. Most importantly a Shetland fleece spinning project that’s currently on hold; I have started a jumper in brioche stitch (this is the project I mentioned earlier, for which I’m doing a extraordinary amount of swatching and planning.) I’m also knitting a  version of my Tom of da Peathill cardigan in a more roomy version; I have one sleeve left to do!

In summary, 2015 will be a year in which I will be doing a lot of personal, slow craft projects. Some of you may know that I also have a full-time office job, so in order to make sure I get to do the things I want to do to grow as a maker and mender, I have decided to run fewer darning workshops this year. I’m sure I’ll keep myself busy with planned things, and any surprises that might pop up. I hope you are looking forward to a new year as much as I do!

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Last weekend two long longed-for visits happened all at once. Some of you may know that I have a bit of a “thing” for the gloves knitted in the Scottish Royal Borough of Sanquhar, and I had always wanted to visit the local Tolbooth Museum where there’s a lovely display of these gloves, with a wealth of information. So you can imagine I didn’t hesitate when Professor Lynn Abrams asked me to give a presentation at a Knitting in the Round event set in Sanquhar itself.

Sanquhar circa 1860

Sanquhar High Street circa 1860 – the building with the clocktower now houses the Tollbooth Museum

The event was very informal and convivial. Lynn Abrams presented on knitting in the Scottish landscape – wool has always been very important in Scotland in many different ways. I did a presentation on the history of Sanquhar knitting, and how the old patterns and gloves to this day have inspired knitters the world over. A very tasty lunch was available in the café of the A’ the Airts Centre, where the event was hosted.

Tolbooth Museum Sanquhar Gloves 1

Tolbooth Museum Sanquhar Gloves 2

A gallery of Sanquhar Gloves

The Tolbooth museum had a small but perfectly formed permanent exhibition on the gloves. They also had a handling collection, which contained, amongst others, a number of gloves belonging to one lady cyclist. Most of these were darned on the palm side; you can imagine I was elated to see these!

SanquharVisit02

Cycling gloves with darning

Also on display were some carpets made in nearby Crawick. Originally the gloves were knitted with left over warp threads of the carpet manufacture, which explains the hardwearing qualities these gloves were famed for (within limits, as evidenced by the above gloves…)

Sanquhar carpet

A carpet made in John McQueen’s Mill, Crawick

However, the absolute highlight of the day for me was meeting May McCormick. Mary still knits Sanquhar gloves to a very high standard, and indeed, she is the very person who knits the gloves for the Coronet who leads the riding of the marches, an annual event taking place in August, going back about 400 years, when Sanquhar became a Scottish Royal Borough. I was too excited to talk to her and get some hints and tips from a master knitter to get a picture with her. However, to make up for it I can share with you the beautiful display she made:

Mary McCormick's Sanquhar Knitting Display

Mary McCormick’s Sanquhar Knitting Display, showing all the different patterns, including samplers, scarves and stockings

So, what about that other visit, I hear you ask? Well, I also got to meet a good friend whom I had not met before. How? In the age of email and internet, this is possible. Through our mutual friend Dr Felicity Ford, better known perhaps as KNITSONIK, I have known Kate Davies for a few years now, and we’ve worked on Wovember together. We have been scheming to meet up in real life for such a long time, and my visit to Sanquhar finally made this possible.

We spent many happy hours together, talking about small things and large, eating food and drinking tea, and going for a long drive.

West Highlands

My first time in the West Highlands and I could tick off all typical attractions in one go: castle ruin, tick; loch, tick; glenn, tick; mountain, tick!

The George Hotel at Loch Fyne

The George Hotel at Loch Fyne

We had a gorgeous lunch at the George Hotel at Loch Fyne – the only place that Samuel Johnson managed to enjoy when he visited Scotland.

If this has made you curious about the knitting in Sanquhar, then keep an eye out for my next blog post, where I will go into a bit more detail of the history of Sanquhar knitting.

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A few weeks ago I visited the Fries Museum archives, and their textile conservator Gieneke Arnolli shared with me many beautiful textiles related to mending and repairing. It was the first time I saw darning samplers in real life. These samplers were educational tools for young girls, teaching them how to repair woven fabrics. However, the Fries Museum also holds many samplers for learning how to repair knitted fabrics. Needless to say that as I particularly enjoy repairing knitwear, these were possibly even more exciting than the darning samplers I shared in my previous post!

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 01a

One of many knitted darning samplers. This one stands out as it was knitted from and repaired with wool

The above knitted darning sampler is different from most of the samplers in the collection, as it was knitted from and repaired with wool. Most other samplers used cotton. Incidentally, it is also similar to the technique I used for repairing the Knitting & Crochet Guild Cardigan commission. As with most of these samplers, the back of the fabric is just as beautiful and interesting as the front.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 01b

The back shows how the sides of the hole were folded back and edges neatly trimmed

The knitted darning samplers can be split into two main categories: the first is the sampler in the shape of a sock or stocking, knitted in the round; the second is the sampler in the shape of a rectangle, knitted flat. Often, the sampler is divided into squares, using red yarn, each containing a repair. Some girls practised the same technique over and over again, whereas others show a great range of techniques.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 02a

Darning samplers in shape of stockings, one the left stocking even the cast-on edge has been repaired

Most often the repairs were executed in red yarn, although most samplers also have at least a couple of repairs in white yarn, too. The left stocking above mostly shows woven darns. In Dutch this technique has two names, depending on what is being repaired: if a hole is repaired by weaving, then it is called ‘stoppen;’ if a thin area is reinforced by weaving, then this is called ‘doorstoppen.’

The right stocking above shows mostly Swiss darning or duplicate stitching. This technique of emulating knitted stitches is called ‘mazen’ in Dutch. It also shows grafting, like the two single rows of red stitches in the right stocking above. It is a way of replacing a missing single row of stitches with a new row, using a blunt darning needle. Incidentally, you might also know grafting as a way of closing the toe on a sock, instead of binding off.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 02b

 

The other side of the same stockings, showing more woven darns on the left, and duplicate stitching on the right, including in ribbing pattern at the cuff

Another technique that was part of sock repair, was reknitting the heel. You can see this in the picture above in the right stocking. For this, the heel flap and heel turn (respectively called ‘big heel’ and ‘small heel’ in Dutch) is unpicked. This leaves you with a hole which has a row of live stitches at the leg side and at the foot side, and edges that were originally the picked up stitches for the gussets. The stitches at the leg side are picked up on one needle, and the edge of each gusset is also picked up on a needle each. The heel flap is knitted as normal, but at the end of each row the last stitch is worked together with a stitch from the gusset edge. Once the heel turn is worked the last row is grafted onto the live stitches at the foot end. Tadah! A new heel!

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 04a

More Swiss darning, or ‘mazen’ on this square sampler, with a variety of different stitch patterns

The most common Swiss darn is executed on thinning fabric. This is relatively simple, as you can use the original stitches as a guideline. However, it is also possible to Swiss darn a hole. I also used this technique on my Knitting & Crochet Guild commission. The sampler above was never finished, and this gives us a glimpse of the technical aspects of Swiss darning a hole. You can see that the hole is neatened, and then a foundation is layed with sewing thread. This foundation will make Swiss darning easier, as it holds the loops of the yarn in place as the rows are worked.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 04b

The back of the sampler shows that all Swiss darns filled in holes, rather than covering thinning areas. You can also see a piece of lino or floorcloth used as a temporary stabiliser

When the holes to be Swiss darned are on the larger side, then you can first baste a piece of lino or floorcloth at the back. This will prevent the hole from being stretched out of shape. At the same time the lino or floorcloth is flexible enough to allow for easier needle and fabric manipulation.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 05

A small undergarment used to practise knitwear repairs

Not all samplers take the shape of socks or squares. I particularly liked this small undergarment. It has beautiful underarm gussets, and a lovely sideseam stitch. Clearly no learning opportunity was wasted, as I’m quite sure the girls would first have to knit the sock, stocking, or other garment, before making holes in it to learn how to repair them. I think my darning workshop students get a good deal here, as I provide them with knitted squares to practise on!

The final sampler I want to share with you may not seem as a high point: at first glance it looks rather unassuming.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 07a

The most exciting darning sampler of all!

It has yellowed a lot, the top half seems rather lumpy-bumpy, and apart from the lace stitches, not much seems to be going on. Upon closer inspection, however, I discovered that the lumps are actually sock heels. Furthermore, most of this small sampler is covered in nigh-on invisible repairs.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 07b

The back is finished off very neatly

The repairs are exemplary on the front as well as the back. Very neatly finished, the repairs really are virtually invisible. I think this was a stocking sampler of sorts. Not only are there heels hiding, there’s also a seam stitch right through the middle, with calf decreases alongside it. Then there are the stitches often used in knitted stockings: two types of ribbing, and a number of fancy stitches that would work well on stockings. It’s like a deconstructed stocking, broken down in its essential elements. We will probably never know why the maker chose to do it this way, rather than by knitting an actual stocking.

I hope you enjoyed reading about my foray into darning samplers, and I would like to thank the Fries Museum and Gieneke Arnolli in particular for inviting me to see these textiles that are not on public display at the moment. I have learnt a lot from them, and their possibilities as sources of inspiration are like a map that will allow me to travel in many directions!

With many thanks to the Fries Museum and Gieneke Arnolli for allowing me to take pictures and giving me permission to share them on my blog.

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Today I would like to share some more from my visit to the Fries Museum. This was the first time I got to see darning samplers in real life; after reading about them, and seeing pictures of them on the internet and in books, it was a very exciting day for me!

As I’m still learning about darning samplers – I’m by no means an expert – I can share with you some of the things as I understand them at this point in time. And of course, loads of pictures!

Fries Museum stoplap darning sampler 1

‘Door myn gedaan / Maria Catrina Droowe’ with elaborate borders, and darning on each corner as well as the easier darns in the middle of the fabric

Many, if not most, girls were taught useful needlecrafts. This seemed to consist in the very least of sewing, knitting, and repairing woven and knitted fabrics. Other skills that were often taught were marking of linen with initials or little symbols in order to identify items during laundry day, and fine needlecrafts such as embroidery, needlepoint, crochet, netting, tatting, etc. The basic skills were needed for any girl seeking employment as a maid, or other household help. However, any lady would also have to learn these things as part of their education in becoming a useful wife. The fine needlecrafts were deemed essential for the ladies in a household, as it would allow them to be occupied, show off their elegant hands, and make things to sell at bazaars to other ladies, all in aid of any number of charitable causes.

Fries Museum stoplap darning sampler 2

‘Johanna Scholtens / anno 1778’ with the letters picked out in eyelet embroidery

In Dutch we have a number of different words for darning, being more descriptive of the technique used:

‘stoppen’ = repairing a hole in woven or knitted fabric by means darning, i.e. by weaving in a patch.

‘doorstoppen’ = repairing a thin patch in a woven fabric by reweaving the thin area in the weave pattern of the original fabric. This is sometimes called ‘damask darning’ in English, although that term is also used for a similar technique for decorative purposes.

‘mazen’ = repairing knitted fabric, by means of Swiss darning or duplicate stitching techniques, which emulates the knit stitches.

And for completeness: a ‘stoplap’ is a darning sampler.

Fries Museum stoplap darning sampler 9

Darning sampler close-up, showing an emulated knitted patch in the top right corner

A number of the darning samplers in the Fries Museum contain a woven patch that emulates knitting, like the one in the top-right in the close-up picture above. Gieneke Arnolli, the textile conservator of the museum was most intrigued by these, and has examined them up close. It turns out that these are made by first spanning threads across from left to right, and then this ground was filled in with a stem stitch, one column slanting to the left, the next slanting to the right, etc. Like the example above, some even have a ‘seam stitch’ column in them. The seam stitch in sock knitting refers to a column of purl stitches at the back of the leg.

Fries Museum stoplap darning sampler 4

A darning star

Some of the samplers have a beautiful darn in the middle, with points radiating out as a star. I don’t know if this was purely decorative, or had a practical purpose as well. The sampler above also shows a number of darns to be used on a variety of checked fabrics used for tea towels etc. I know these patterned textiles as ‘Brabants bont’ (‘Brabantian multi-colour’) – another province of The Netherlands known for their textiles; in fact, the Textile Museum in Tilburg is in the province of Brabant.

Fries Museum stoplap darning sampler 7

Henrica Deutelius 1773 – front; notice the mistake in the letter N

Fries Museum stoplap darning sampler 7b

Henrica Deutelius – 1773 – back

Having the darning samplers right in front of me meant I could inspect the back as well as the front. It’s an urge that I’m sure many an embroiderer will recognise! What’s immediately obvious are the little looped fringes on the edge of each darn. These loops are created when turning around to work your way back. As the fabric being repaired usually has been washed a number of times, it will have shrunk in the process. However, the darns are made with new threads, probably never washed, so the loops will allow for the darned patch to shrink when eventually it is washed, without pulling the fabric around it together. I could also see (and confirmed this in some of the old needlecraft books) that the edges of a hole would be trimmed to have straight edges, cut right along one thread. Once the darning is complete, the fabric threads will have nowhere to go, and thus the edges require no further finishing off.

Fries Museum stoplap darning sampler 10

Catharina Alida Kiers – 1782

There are two interesting things about the darning sampler by Catharina Alida Kiers. First of all, you can see that one of the darns has developed a hole. This is most likely due to the dye used to make the black thread. Synthetic dyes didn’t come into existence for another seventy years or so, and therefore the black was probably achieved by using black walnut. This dye actually slowly damages the fibre over time, and you will often see that old textiles are more fragile, or have started to disintegrate, in the areas of black or dark brown colour.

The other thing to note about this sampler, is that it uses some of the same darning patterns, and has the same crest above and border around the name as the sampler made by Henrica Deutelius above. These kind of features allow textile historians to trace samplers back to a specific area and learn more about their provenance. In all likelihood these girls went to the same school, or at least had the same ‘useful needlecraft’ teacher.

Fries Museum stoplap darning sampler 11

 

Darning sampler with challenging darns at the edges and corners

Many darning samplers not only have darns in the middle of the fabric, but also at the edges or even corners. This is a more challenging darn, and they were achieved by temporarily sewing some card or stiff paper on the back of the hole, which will help as an aid to span the threads across. As you can see in the examples here, getting the tension right is really difficult, and I think if this sampler were ever to be washed, they would pull together even more.

I hope you enjoyed seeing some of these samplers as much as I did, and I’d like to finish this post with an observation that Gieneke made: although many girls were taught how to make beautifully inconspicuous darns, the many items of clothing in the Fries Museum collection show that once they had finished school, these girls either didn’t have the time or inclination to apply their skills: many skirts and shirts show hastily executed darns, only there to fill in a gap in any old way possible.

Also keep an eye out to my third blog post, in which I will share some of the knitted darning samplers – all I can say is: you’re in for a treat!

With many thanks to the Fries Museum and Gieneke Arnolli for allowing me to take pictures and giving me permission to share them on my blog.

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When the textile conservator of the Fries Museum in The Netherlands, Gieneke Arnolli, invited me earlier this year to visit their archives, I just couldn’t wait for my next trip to my home country. Her description of their textile collection made my mouth water and my fingers itch, as it contained many knitted items and darning samplers; what’s more, there were even knitted darning samplers!

Last week I finally got to visit Gieneke. There was so much to see and talk about with her, that I don’t quite know where to start with sharing it all, so today I’ll give you a general impression, and will write some more about particularly interesting items in two follow-up posts.

Fries Museum Mystery Gloves 1783

Mystery Gloves from 1783 – the initials read AI. The A is typical from Friesland, with the cross bar on top, but this is also seen in Scottish cross stitch samplers

These gloves are very special in many ways, as they were the reason Gieneke and I got in touch to start with. They arrived in the Fries Museum collection by way of a collector of curiosities. He probably bought them in some antique shop, and that’s all we know about them for certain. They have elements of a number of knitting traditions from a number of countries: the seeded stitch pattern and initials are like gloves from Sanquhar and The Dales from the UK, the Nordic star or rose could be from a Scandinavian country, the shape of the letter A is particular to Friesland and Scotland, and the embroidered loops are reminiscent of the elaborate decoration found in textiles from the Baltic states.

Fries Museum Floddermuts Fries folk costume

The Frisian ‘floddermuts’ – part of the traditional folk costume for women

The Fries Museum has a large collection of traditional Frisian folk costumes. One part of the women’s outfit was this skullcap, which would be worn over a bronze, silver, or gold head ornament, which sometimes covered almost the whole skull. Traditionally they were made from bobbin lace, procured from Belgium or France. At the beginning of the 20th century it became difficult to source the amounts of lace needed for the floddermuts (the ruffled neck part can contain well over a meter of lace) and knitted lace was a good substitute. In other words, there was no knitting tradition for these mutsen in Friesland, and they were made to emulate the bobbin lace. Many of them show patterns I recognise from Shetland lace knitting. This floddermuts was knitted with sewing cotton, using knitting needles probably smaller than 1mm! I particularly like the little bobbles in the diamonds on the back of this floddermuts. They are so round and full, they look like the muts is studded with pearls.

Fries Museum boys night caps

knitting is for boys – knitted boys night caps

In order to keep warm during the cold winter nights, everybody wore night caps. Traditionally, girls wore night caps made from woven fabric with delicate lace trimmings, and boys wore knitted night caps. Here’s a selection of them, mostly knitted by hand, but the Fries Museum also has some crocheted and machine-knitted examples.

Fries Museum doll's gloves

Miniature mittens for a doll

The Fries Museum also has a large collection of dolls. Most of the dolls were not to play with, but for girls to learn to knit and sew. Most of them have all the garments that make up a typical outfit of the period the doll is from. It allowed girls to practise the various needlecrafts and the construction of garments, from socks, underwear, petticoats, to shirts, jackets and coats. I loved these miniature mittens for a doll, in a jolly orange colour, and the loopy trimming at the edge.

Fries Museum knitting samplers

Yards and yards and yards of knitting samplers, some measuring more than 5 meters

There were drawers full of knitting samplers. They were used to learn stitches, and as an aide-memoire to remember their construction – in a way they’re personal stitch dictionaries. Susanna Lewis’s Lace Knitting Workshop on a knitting sampler held in an American museum was part of the inspiration for my Curiosity Cabinet of Knitting Stitches, so it was very nice to see some of these objects for real.

Fries Museum Knitted Mitaines

Mitaines kept your lower arms warm

Gieneke is particularly fond of the knitted mitaines. The fashion of the time (we’re talking very roughly 1750-1850 – I’m not a fashion historian and I didn’t manage to take notes of every single item I saw) dictated dresses with sleeves to the elbow, so to keep your arms and hands warm in a house without central heating, women usually wore mitaines, wrist warmers, or muffs. The pair on the right is particularly beautiful, with the pointed shape to cover the back of the hand, and this shaping is repeated on the thumbs.

Fries Museum Woven Darning Sampler

A woven darning sampler, although the second darn on the top-row emulates a knitted fabric – klick on the image to see it enlarged

When Gieneke opened the drawers with the darning samplers I got very excited! So far I’ve only seen these on-line and in books. It was a very special moment to be able to examine these up close, and see the back as well as the front. The darning samplers were part of most girls education. They taught them how to mend household linen in a large variety of weaves. These were executed in coloured threads (often silk or cotton) on a fine linen fabric. The colours would help see the beginning darner what was going on, and get a better understanding of the construction of each darn. Ultimately, the aim would be for these darns to be made in the same colour thread as the item to be fixed, so the repair would be nigh on invisible. However, I find these samplers in their many colours very beautiful, and I can only imagine the patience required, and undoubtedly the frustration felt by the girls who had to make these samplers. Interestingly, Gieneke pointed out that although most girls were taught these skills, leading to beautiful samplers, most real-life darning on the clothes in the collection was never executed with the same attention to detail. Clearly these women had better things to do than spend hours and hours darning a hole on a skirt.

Fries Museum knitted darning samplers

Can it get any better? Knitted darning samplers!

And after the drawers of woven darning samplers, Gieneke opened the drawers with the knitted darning samplers! What I really like about these, is that many of them were done on actual socks and stockings. Undoubtedly the girls first had to knit the stockings, then divide them into squares with the red thread; each square would then give them an area to practice a particular darning technique. It’s worth zooming in on this image (you can do this by clicking on it) as you will see that every sampler here not only has darns and repairs in red thread, but also in white or cream, rendering them almost invisible.

There are some interesting things to observe about the darning samplers, so keep an eye out for my follow-up blog posts, where I will discuss the woven and knitted darning samplers in a bit more detail.

With many thanks to the Fries Museum and Gieneke Arnolli for allowing me to take pictures and giving me permission to share them on my blog.

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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!

——–

Bibliography:

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

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A few weeks ago I started working on a Visible Mending commission from the Knitting & Crochet Guild. Avid readers of my blog might remember the horror of this sleeve:

Knitting & Crochet Guild cardigan close-up of damaged sleeve

A sorry sleeve in desperate need of some Visible Mending love

The lovely people at the Knitting & Crochet Guild believe that this damage may have been caused by some corrosive fluid that might have spilt onto it during a flooding at their archives. And indeed, when I was trying to tidy up the holes before starting the repairs, the stained wool was so brittle it almost crumbled in my hands. I have collected this as the Guild might be able to get it analysed at a forensics lab. There were four small holes and one large whopper. What follows is not a repair tutorial; instead I wanted to give you an insight in the technicalities of this repair.

I first tackled the small holes with an advanced method of Swiss darning; or duplicate stitching as it’s also known. Usually you can simply embroider over the existing stitches, but to do this on a hole, you’ll first need to provide some support for the stitches you’re making with your tapestry needle. After that it’s simply a case of keeping track of the colours, just as if you were knitting the pattern.

Knitting and Crochet Guild Commission Swiss Darning pt 1

A framework made with sewing thread to support the new stitches as they are worked

Knitting and Crochet Guild Commission Swiss Darning pt 2

Then the Swiss darning proper can commence, staying strictly in pattern of the original Fair Isle pattern

Knitting and Crochet Guild Commission Swiss Darning pt 3

The completed Swiss darn. The top row grafts the new stitches to the old

Once this was completed on four small holes I could start with the large hole. I wanted to employ a technique I had found in a very old Dutch booklet on teaching darning and repair skills to girls (seeing this book was originally published in 1888, of course it would only be girls that would need to learn these skills at the time; the authors would probably be mystified why I would want to use this book in earnest!) For this mending technique you knit every row with a new strand or strands of yarn for each row. The beginning of the strands of yarn are Swiss darned in over the stitches of the original fabric, and after knitting the row, the ends are darned in, too. The last row which will close the hole up, is grafted in place.

Knitting and Crochet Guild Commission Dutch darning Pt 1

the first few rows completed; you can see the beginning of a new strand of yarn being darned into place

Knitting and Crochet Guild Commission Dutch darning Pt 2

Grafting of the last row was also a patterned row. I used the Sock Toe Chimney grafting method, hence the bits of white cotton knitting that suddenly appeared

After finishing off all the ends it was time for a wash ‘n’ block and the excitement of seeing the finished Visible Mend was almost too much to bear for me – this surely must be the technically most demanding repair I’ve done to date.

Knitting and Crochet Guild Commission Completed Close-up

The repaired areas blend in beautifully with the original Fair Isle fabric and colours

For this original Fair Isle hand-knit cardigan I wanted to stay close to its provenance. Therefore I wanted to use a Shetland wool for this repair. I settled on Jamieson & Smith’s Supreme jumper weight, as it comes in so many natural undyed shades. I set the camera on my mobile phone to take black-and-white pictures, and that way I chose the natural shades that came closest to the original colours, as seen in black-and-white. It turns out that the black-and-white filter on my phone gives different results than the one on my proper camera, as you will have to agree that in the following picture the Shetland Supreme shades look a bit lighter on the whole. Perhaps the light was different, too. Who knows.

Knitting and Crochet Guild Commission in black and white

The finished cardigan in black-and-white

Knitting and Crochet Guild Commission in colour

 

And the cardigan “in glorious technicolor”

This weekend the Guild will have their annual convention and I’m pleased that this cardigan was ready in time to be shared with all Guild members. Angharad, volunteer Textile Archivist of the Knitting & Crochet Guild, emailed me to say she and her colleagues were very pleased with the end result, as they feel “it has made the garment into something very special whereas before it was very sad and folorn.” What a great result of such a lovely commission!

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I’ve known fellow glove knitting enthusiast Angharad Thomas for a few years now. Apart from knitting beautiful gloves she also volunteers for the Knitting & Crochet Guild as their Textiles Archivist. If you don’t know the guild, it was founded in Preston on 27 April 1978 for practitioners in the crafts of hand knitting, machine knitting and crochet. It’s a charity that aims to tackle the subjects of hand knitting, machine knitting and crochet at a higher technical level, encouraging critical approaches to technique and historical study and also recording contemporary developments.

Angharad approached me for a commission to visibly mend a beautiful hand-knitted Fair Isle cardigan they hold in their collections.

Knitting and Crochet Guild Fair Isle Cardigan Label

This Fair Isle cardigan bears a “Shetland Hand Knit” label, and a catalogue number from the Knitting & Crochet Guild archives.

The cardigan arrived last week and it’s given me an opportunity to explore the construction up close. The cardigan is a bit felted, possibly from having been washed in Fair Isle or Shetland after being knitted. Angharad doesn’t think it was ever worn as it was part of a donation that formed the earliest part of the collection (1991) from a person who bought knitwear as she visited places where it could be found, like Shetland; this was Audrie Stratford, who also wrote “Introducing Knitting.”

Knitting & Crochet Guild Fair Isle Cardigan construction

The inside shows the sewn-down edges after cutting open the front opening and armholes

The cardigan has clearly been knitted in the round, as there are steek stitches that have been folded down. Both the neck and the armholes have been shaped, and there is no underarm gusset. The lack of an underarm gusset doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an uncomfortable garment to wear; Kate Davies has written about this in a blog post about a vintage Fair Isle cardigan she owes. The sleeves have been knitted in the round, too, after picking up stitches up from armhole; there are decreases along the underarm seam.

Knitting & Crochet Guild Fair Isle Cardigan buttonband detail

A close-up of the buttonband; what appears to be the folded-over edge stitches overlap the buttonband, not the main fabric

Examining the buttonband up close, reveals that it has been sewn on afterwards. That the steek was knitted in garter stitch, but only for the part of the neck-shaping. I was so impressed by the neat finish of sewing down the folded over edge, that I ended up looking really closely, and then realised that the edge was not folded inward, but outwards. The steek stitches were purled, not knitted, using the background colour only, and then folded outwards. The buttonband hides this as by sewing down the very edge of it, the cut edge has been hidden. Then the edge of the fold is sewn down against the buttonband. However, it’s extremely difficult to be certain about this, as by using the same grey yarn and very neat sewing, it’s almost completely camouflaged. The pattern colour yarn is mostly hidden inside this fold. A new technique to be tried out!

Knitting & Crochet Guild Fair Isle Cardigan deatil

A close-up of the underarm seam

The underarm seam also shows a very neat approach to the working in of yarn ends. The colours are carried up along the rounds until a whole motif has been knitted, leaving very few strands to work in at the end.

So far, so good, but perhaps you have started to wonder why the Knitting & Crochet Guild contacted me for a repair commission? There is a big hole in one of the sleeves. Angharad and her colleagues at the Guild think that the damage may possible be caused by caustic or corrosive liquids, perhaps in the flood that occurred at their Lee Mills archive some while ago.

Knitting & Crochet Guild cardigan close-up of damaged sleeve

The horror of a damaged sleeve!

Luckily I like a challenge and I’m really excited that the Guild has asked me to repair this beautiful cardigan. I’ll keep my repair strategy a secret until I’ve returned the mended cardigan to the Guild, but if anybody is familiar with the following old Dutch book on marking, darning and damask darning, I’ll be using one of the techniques it discusses.

De Vrouwelijke Handwerken - merken, stoppen en mazen - The Feminine handicrafts: marking and darning

The title translated from the Dutch: The Feminine Handicrafts for School and House; marking, darning and Swiss darning.

De Vrouwelijke Handwerken voor School en Huis; Het Merken, Mazen en Stoppen (The Feminine Handicrafts for School and House; marking, darning and Swiss darning), written by A Theunisse and AM van der Velden in 1888, was written 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.

Keep an eye out for the follow-up post where I will show you how this book has helped me repair this beautiful Fair Isle cardigan!

Knitting and Crochet Guild Fair Isle Cardigan

 

A Visible Mending challenge given to me by the Knitting & Crochet Guild

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