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Earlier this year my friend and sound artist Dr Felicity Ford went on a month-long residency at the MoKS Center for Art and Social Practice in Tartu, Estonia. Dr Felicity Ford spent some time travelling, recording sounds, visiting sheep farmers, interviewing amazing makers, before staying at MoKS for her British-Estonian textile traditions swap-out, using native sheep breed fibres and traditional indigenous plant dyes. You can read all about it in this wonderful blog post here. She also visited a couple of local history museums, which showcased some of the amazing textile traditions in Estonia.

As it turns out, not only were the Estonian women (as traditionally it were women who did all the needlework), amazing knitters and weavers, they were also astonishingly good at darning. The following pictures were taken by Felicity Ford and she has kindly given me permission to share them with you in this blog post. So, without further ado, here’s a highlight of Astonishing Estonian Darns:

A beautiful knitted jumper, with darning in contrasting colours, how could I not like this mend?

 

There were also incredible socks. The knitting has a mind-bogglingly teeny-tiny gauge, and the colours have been carefully chosen to create rich patterns. The plain sock shows a beautiful pattern in travelling stitches.

But not only the knitting is beautiful, the darning and mending skills shown here are in a league of their own.

 

 

 

These were clearly very valuable items, a lot of time, effort and skill must’ve gone into creating them. All the evidence of mending makes me think that these garments were worn a lot and were not only for Sunday Best. If only these socks could tell their stories, from the moment the fibres were spun into wool, knitted up into the most beautiful things, down to all the hard work they will have seen and the necessity of repair – I would love to hear them.

Furthermore, Felicity also bought an Estonian book on needlecraft. She doesn’t read Estonian, but the book is so full of diagrams and pictures, that it is still a joy to browse through. It contains a whole section in fabric repair, with lovingly made illustrations.

Rebuilding a stocking web with supporting threads (you can make completely invisible mends in knitted fabrics this way):

 

Classic darn for rips in fabric. Look at the detail of the frayed edges:

 

After that close-up to show how to do the darn, here is an illustration of two finished darns, showing the little loops you should leave so that the darn has some give:

 

There is also a section on embroidery or damask darning, so that you can rebuild a particular weave in fabric. I would like to learn more about these techniques:

 

 

I really like this illustration of a fabric patch in a checked fabric, as the patch doesn’t quite line up with the fabric, even though clearly the same material was used for making the patch. A dotted line shows how the classic hedge tear has been covered:

 

I would like to thank Felicity once more for letting me share these pictures with you. I hope you enjoyed these pictures as much as I did, and marvelled at the astonishing Estonian craftsmanship showcased in these items.

Please note that the copyright of all pictures in this post belongs to Felicity Ford.

 

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The Sanquhar socks I knitted last year have seen a lot of wear this winter and even well into spring and when I washed them the other day suddenly loads of holes appeared. These socks are one of my favourites because they are so very comfortable and I managed to get the fit just right. The 2-ply yarn I used (a wool and mohair blend from Blacker Yarns, alas no longer available) is soft yet has a lot of spring and was quite hard-wearing, considering how much I wore them. I’m also still very pleased with how the Sanquhar-inspired design came out.

In other words, a good opportunity to reread those chapters on darning in one of my favourite mending books to ensure I’m going to do a really good job.

The darning tool I used for this job has a mushroom end for holes in the heel, and a toe-shaped end for holes in the, you guessed it, toes. I picked it up in a car-boot sale, and the toe-end is particularly well-designed.

A close-up of my darning tool reveals that somebody didn’t like it as much as I do! (click on the picture to see a larger version: GRRR!) I guess that in former times, when darning was seen as a necessity, and a skill every woman was supposed to possess, a little girl didn’t like it one bit. This is so different from my own views and feelings. In a society where it is easier to throw away and replace than repair (for whatever excuse), I often get the feeling that people think of darning as a hobby and a luxury. But I like my hand-knitted socks, if only because the fit is unsurpassed and it gives me pleasure to be able to make such an everyday item myself. As these socks took some time to knit (11 stitches to inch!) I want to be able to wear them for as long as I can possibly make them last.

Whilst I was examining the holes, I also noticed thin areas under the ball of the foot and on the side of the big toe. So not only did I need to fill in the holes with stocking darns, but I also wanted to reinforce the thin areas to prevent holes forming.

I tried out a couple of new things. First up is the biased stocking darn:

As you can see, these threads cross each other at the diagonal, and not in the more usual perpendicular fashion. This is supposed to give the darn more stretch. I shall report back in due time, although so far, I haven’t noticed any difference.

Secondly, as I like a Visible Mend, I decided to mix up the colours.

Solid patches in Swiss darning, and the stocking darn is speckled due to different colours for “warp” and “weft”. But as you can see in the following picture, it didn’t stop there. My cuff design was calling out to be re-used!

And so, esteemed Ladies & Gentlemen, the meta-darn was born. This self-referential pattern took me a quite a bit longer than a plain darn, but I had so much fun doing it. Suddenly the slightest shadow of a hint of an inkling of a possibility of a thinning area required to be reinforced. I’m very interested in adding something, which is related to thing added to. Another good example of “meta-interventions” is Amy Twigger Holroyd’s stitch-hacking work. As she says about stitch-hacking: “The [technique is] used to adapt existing garments and patterns to include personalised content. On a conceptual level, these pieces explore authorship and ownership; on a personal level, they allow me to put something of myself into my wardrobe.” *) Although Amy is talking about shop-bought clothes, which sometimes lack a certain individuality, this principle can also apply to hand-made things (although admittedly, the authorship and ownership does not get questioned as much here). In these socks, the cuff pattern gets referenced, and so the darn not only reinforces the fabric, it also reinforces the design.

I limited myself to the areas that needed reinforcing, so the pattern isn’t complete. It looks like an ancient Roman mosaic, or half-stripped wall paper. I’m not sure how this mending yarn will wear, as some of the mending threads I’ve used tend to get fuzzy. However, to me that is going to be an exciting development to follow. Will this design still be legible after having worn these socks for another winter? And once this has worn out, will I be able to perform another Swiss darn, will I need to do a stocking darn, or will I eventually have to resort to refooting the sock? Perhaps for some, these socks are just temporarily stopped on their way out, but for me, the journey with these socks has only just begun.

*) http://keepandshare.wordpress.com/2011/10/06/stitch-hacking-and-pattern-blagging-at-prick-your-finger/

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When I taught my first darning class at Super+Super HQ, I noticed Amy’s cardigan, as it has some delicately embroidered details on shoulders and cuffs.

Amy has had the cardigan for about 18 months now, and at first, she wore it everywhere she went – she was that excited about this beautiful merino fine knit garment. But as often happens when the candle burns too brightly, the novelty soon wore off and the cardigan suffered from Familiarity Fatigue and ended up in the back of the wardrobe.

She was in dire need of a Fashion Intervention, but it took a while before inspiration struck. However, when she found out about Karen Barbé’s embroidery style, it was not long before the Eureka! moment happened.

Mainly whilst sat in bed watching Mad Men Series 4, nimble-fingered Amy embroidered and embroidered and embroidered. She claims the colours used ‘were just lying around’ – she’s done a great job putting them together using running stitch, cross stitch and straight satin stitch. They remind me of Italian ice cream, the ones that are put into a cone with a spatula as it’s too soft to scoop.

The sleeves were a little bit too long, and Amy always wears the cardigan with the cuffs turned up. She decided to turn that into a permanent feature and embroidered them in place; a job she found particularly satisfying.

As you can imagine, after putting in all that work, this cardigan has turned into a firm favourite once more, and it’s shows how with a little bit of embroidery in the right places you can put your own mark on what used to be a perfectly nice, if somewhat unremarkable cardigan.

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Today I did my very first ever INvisible mend. Technically not for the Visible Mending Programme, but hey, exceptions make the rule. During my last visit to Belfast, I ended up in a secondhand clothes shop, despite having implored upon my partner earlier that we were not to buy any clothes during our visit on account of overflowing suitcases. So when I tried on this gorgeous herringbone tweed jacket, I conscientiously put it back on the rail. Even if it was a Donegal Mist tweed jacket. Handwoven. By a J.F Maguire.

As the fibre content contains mohair and cashmere it will not surprise you to hear this tweed is soft and has a great handle. The fact that it not only tells you about the fibres making up the fabric, but even tells you who wove it, is something that makes my heart sing. And I think anybody who supported Wovember last year will agree with me that this is a jacket with provenance and honest cachet.

Another label inside the jacket shows it was tailored by Magee expressly for Shannon [airport?] duty free shop. Browsing Magee’s website shows the history of the company and how they have been producing tweed since 1866.

I think you will have worked out by now that the above pictures were not taken in a secondhand shop. Indeed, I managed to squeeze it into a suitcase and brought it home. However, when I tried it on again, I discovered a small hole on the back.

I’m not sure how that came about. It doesn’t – or rather, didn’t – look like a moth hole and after careful inspection I did not find any other holes. But what to do with it? Somehow it didn’t feel right to do a Visible Mend on this tiny hole. After trawling the internet, I found some references to reweaving, usually on tailors’ websites. So, I knew it was possible to fix this INvisibly. Fortunately I found a reference to reweaving in a Threads Magazine back issue (no. 144) from September 2009, and today it finally fell on my doormat. Without further ado, here is my first INVISIBLE MEND:

As you can see, you don’t need many tools for this: scissors, darning needle, and an unpicker thingie. With these tools, one harvests some threads from an inside seam and uses these to reweave the hole closed. I started with unpicking the lining in a corner, so I could unpick some warps and wefts from the tweed fabric edges.

You then painstakingly weave these strands into the fabric, following its weave and replicating it over the hole, working on the right side of the fabric. I was too excited to take a picture halfway through, so the following picture shows all threads already in place, but I have woven in the needle so you can get an idea of how it’s done.

After all this work, you slightly pull on the ends and snip them off really close to the fabric. The yarn ends nestle themselves into the fabric and all that’s left to do, is press the treated area from the wrong side in order to set the weave. As you can see, the end result is perhaps not entirely invisible, but practice makes perfect. I now really understand why this repair is so expensive. However, next time I see a nice jacket in a secondhand shop I shall inspect it carefully, hope to find a hole, haggle on the price and buy it with the knowledge that each invisible mend I do will give better results.

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Two months ago, one of my sheets ripped due to old age. And a month later, another sheet ripped. Pants! I had bought them at the same time, so they grew old together.

But my woes were not over yet, as a few of my older boxer shorts also ripped during this period! But, as the saying goes: if life deals you lemons, make lemonade. So I decided to make myself some new boxer shorts. I used an old pair of boxer shorts to make a pattern.

I made a front piece and a back piece. These is a very simple pattern, so I just used one piece for both left and right sides.

I then cut squares out of the sheets, making sure they would be large enough for the pieces plus a margin for the seams and a casing for an elastic band. I made sure to cut these from the edge of the sheets, where the fabric hadn’t worn yet. Then I could cut the pieces. Luckily the fabric was woven, not printed, and right side and wrong side were identical.

I sewed the boxer shorts on my gorgeous Singer 201K treadle sewing machine (on which I shall write another post in the near future). I started with sewing the short inside leg seams of the back pieces and the front pieces. Then I made the hem at the bottom of the legs. Next was the side seam, with my attempt at a small split. Or at least, that’s how I call them – after trying to find instructions on t’interweb I only found references to splits in seams due to wear and tear and how to fix those, so perhaps they are called something different in the sewing world? My two sewing reference books don’t have anything on that either!

Then I had to employ some fabric origami to make the fly. I just fiddled around a bit until it looked like a boxer short fly, referring to the old pair of shorts. First I sewed the long seam from the back to the crotch and then up to the fly, then graded the seam allowance and made a flat-felled seam. I sewed up the fly along with the flat-felled seam. Last but not least, I made a casing for the elastic band. I hadn’t taken the correct measurements, so the elastic was two inches too short for each boxer short, so I had to sew down the ends in the casing, two inches apart. I cunningly did this on either side of the fly, so it looks intentional.

I now have five new pairs of boxer shorts. Perhaps not entirely made according to the text book, but that’s okay. I think they look good at first glance, and only my partner will get to see them in close-up…

PS, if anybody knows where I can find instructions on how to make those split seams, I’d be ever so grateful!

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I recently bid on a Speedweve on an auction website. This being Lancashire’s Smallest Loom, I got very excited when I won the bid. It is a nifty devise to speed up all your darning tasks. I was lucky to get one with the original instruction leaflet, but a quick search on the internet showed that many people have one lingering in the sewing box left by Gran without one, so here’s a picture heavy post on how to use the speedweve:

Tools required: Speedweve, two rubber bands, darning needle, thread (I used embroidery floss from said sewing box), a snipping implement, a HOLE.

Here’s a close-up of the darning plate and the actual loom. Mine came with two: a coarse one for wool yarn and a fine one for linen and silk. The darning plate has a groove.

Place the hole over the darning plate and fix with the first rubber band.

Then fix the loom in place with the second rubber band.

Now set up the warp yarn: fasten the yarn at the bottom of the hole, wind yarn onto the hook above and fasten with a stitch at the bottom. Repeat until the hole is covered. How many hooks you use depends on the size of the hole.

To weave, hold the point of the needle and run the eye of the needle BETWEEN the two rows of yarn, close to the hooks. By going eye first, you won’t catch the needle on the warp yarn.

Reverse the warp yarns by sliding your finger along the top of the hooks.

Don’t forget to fasten the weft thread at the side with a stitch!

When you put the needle through the warp yarn, push it down before pulling the weft yarn through. This ensures an even weave.

Once you are as close to the hooks as you can get, disengage the loom—this can be a bit fiddly. You are left with a row of loops.

Sew down the loops, et voila, a darned tea towel!

I also tidied up the back and sewed down the edge of the hole.

As you can see, this tea towel is in herringbone weave, so my next adventure will be a hand darn, but in pattern… Wish me luck!

Added 25 April 2019: please note that I’m not able to advise on where you can buy a Speedweve and I will delete any comments asking about it. I was lucky enough to find one on an on-line auction site, so all I can say is: keep an eye out and fingers crossed you get lucky!

In addition, I have had to make the decision to delete any comments linking to speedweves for sale, as they expire as soon as the item is sold.

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