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Tomorrow is Fashion Revolution Day. This day asks people to think about who made the clothes you are wearing.

Who Made Your Clothes - Fashion Revolution Day

This question started to form in my head a few years ago, which is one of the reasons why I started The Visible Mending Programme and I’d like to explain a bit more about the philosophy behind it.

ShetlandWoolWeek Darning at Jamieson & Smith

Visible Mending Workshop at Shetland Wool Week 2013

The Visible Mending Programme seeks 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 attempts to reinforce the relationship between wearer and garment, hopefully leading to people wearing their existing clothes for longer, with the beautiful darn worn as a badge of honour. The development and crystallisation of these ideas are closely linked to the development of my hand-knitting skills.

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Zoe’s cardigan has gone through The Visible Mending Programme a number of times

Taking pride in my craftsmanship of hand-knitting has led to the realisation that I want to take good care of these items to extend their longevity. However, this urge is not quite so strong for clothes purchased on the High Street, even though they were probably produced by highly skilled makers. Although considerable constraints in time and materials can affect their quality they ought to deserve the same care as a hand-knit to honour the anonymous makers and their skills.

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A hand-knitted cardigan, designed by myself

Hand-knitting creates close ties with the object made; tracing its evolution and progress reminds one of where, when and how it was made. A good darn also requires craftsmanship, and I frequently employ knitting and crochet techniques for mending, or techniques traditionally used for repairing knitwear. The experience of this process allows one to create a similar connection with shop-bought clothes as with hand-knits. By thinking about how the garment was acquired, the occasions it was worn and the motivation of the repair can reinforce that relationship. Writing a Visible Mending Programme blog, running darning workshops and taking repair work commissions can provide inspiration, skills and services to people and hopefully persuade them that shop-bought clothes deserve care and attention too, just like that precious hand-knit.

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A scarf repaired by one of my students during a Visible Mending Workshop

You can read some more over at The Good Wardrobe, where John-Paul Flintoff interviewed me at one of their Sew It Forward events.

So ask yourself: do you know who made your clothes?

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Having just returned from a three-week holiday, I had plenty of time to look back to 2013, and look forward to 2014. Last year has been amazing, and I’m sure this will continue in the new year!

Looking back

Darning

Darning at Wool House, Somerset House

I was invited to darn at Wool House, Somerset House, as part of the very successful Campaign for Wool event. I had a great time, and Wool House put my darning sessions in the “best bits” list! It was super-busy, and I think I have enthused quite a few people about darning, and also explain why I like using 100% wool products.

Hope and Elvis Darning Workshop

2013 also saw the first of my day-long darning workshops. I went to Hope & Elvis, lovely Louise’s great studio. It’s stuffed to the gills with vintage fabrics, blankets, threads, scraps, books and any tool you would possibly need, so it was a lot of fun to explore various darning techniques. You’ll be pleased to hear I’m returning there in April.

ShetlandWoolWeek Darning at Jamieson & Smith

Last but not least, my darning skills took me to Shetland! Here’s a picture of my darning class at Jamieson & Smith. I had a great time, I met so many amazing people, with amazing skills. I left a few loose ends on purpose, so I have a good reason to return.

Knitting

Curiosity Cabinet of Knitting Stitches Lace

Early last year I exhibited at Prick Your Finger. My Curiosity Cabinet of Knitting Stitches explored many different knitting stitches and techniques, some old and rare, others common and much-used. It was a good way to learn about different techniques, and investigate them in detail.

Altered Kasha Cardigan for Wedding Outift

Rosemary had seen my Curiosity Cabinet, and thought I’d be the ideal person to take on a commission for her wedding outfit. I gladly took this on, and I knitted a Kasha Cardigan for her, with some alterations: a different collar, and three-quarter length sleeves. It was a great project to work on, and Rosemary has been wearing her cardigan many times since.

Aleatoric Fair Isle Swatch

Last year I also explored stranded colourwork, and in particular the Fair Isle tradition. Together with my comrade in wool, Felicity Ford, we devised a method to learn more about Fair Isle patterns, which took away some of the hurdles we often face when trying to knit Fair Isle. Using rules we made up and some dice, we left pattern and colour selection to chance, based on John Cage’s compositional concepts. We called this Aleatoric Fair Isle.

Spinning

Diamond Fibre Mill spinning

Other highlights include my visit to Diamond Fibre Mill, where I met Roger, who runs this small independent mill, specialising in worsted spinning, and who owns his own flock of Romney sheep.

timbertops chair spinning wheel

I also became the proud owner of an original Timbertops spinning wheel. A chair wheel no less. I haven’t had a chance to write about this yet, so keep your eyes peeled for a blog post in the near future.

Special mention

And if all that wasn’t quite enough, Kate Davies, Felicity and myself curated Wovember 2013 to celebrate wool in all its myriad forms. We posted features about growing, harvesting, processing, working, and wearing wool. I did many more things last year, so these were just some of my highlights.

Looking forward

Plans for 2014 are forming in my head, and amongst others, I’m looking forward to releasing my first cardigan pattern, using Foula wool. A bit later than expected, but it’s important to me to get everything right. I will continue working on the Aleatoric Fair Isle swatches. I’ve also taken on a very special visible mending commission to repair an upcycling attempt gone wrong. As previously mentioned, not only will I return to Hope & Elvis for a darning workshop, I will also run a Darning Master Class at Unravel at Farnham Maltings. More classes and workshops are in the pipe-line, so keep an eye out for them.

Scotch darn on sock

2014 will also be the year of exploring. I did some free-style knitting before Christmas, and I found it very liberating. I found some good books on the subject, and I have also been inspired by Rachael Matthews’s approach to making, and in particular what became her Explosion Jumper.

On the spinning front I want explore more lace-weight spinning, using wool from both classic breeds (Shetland), and unexpected breeds (Rough Fell.)

Last but not least I would like to explore more mending techniques, and in particular learn more about darning and repairing woven textiles. And I still have one or two jumpers to complete…

darned jumper

 

I don’t know about you, but I think I have plenty of things lined up, and it will be my pleasure to share them with you and write about them here.

Happy New Year!

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As regular readers of my blog know, I prefer my mending visible and decorative as well as functional, and I love to be challenged to create something beautiful. However, occasionally I have to concede reluctantly that an invisible mend is more appropriate. A few weeks ago, I had not one, but two of concessions to make in my quest for the visible mend when I got the following commissions:

The Side Seam Rip

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A ripped side seam on the right

Sometimes the invisible mend is called upon, because of the nature of the damage. In the above example the side seam on the right was ripped. To be more precise, for the machine knitters amongst us, the linking thread had snapped, or hadn’t been fastened off properly. Linking is a way of “sewing up” seams of knitwear, often used in production knitting. The linker produces a chain stitch, so a quick and easy way to fix this, is to emulate a linker by means of a crochet hook and buttonhole thread.

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Invisible mend using a crochet hook

Invisible Mend: As Requested

And sometimes, it’s just what the owner wants. Here’s a gorgeous cardigan combining cables and yarns, by Lark Rising, a Brighton knitwear studio.

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Cardigan by Lark Rising

It’s a severe case of elbow fatigue! Although I could think of a few nice ways of performing a visible mend, Zoë preferred to go the invisible route.

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A hole right in the middle of a lace pattern

As I really enjoy lace knitting, I was up for the challenge. In fact, the more difficult part of this fix was not necessarily to work out how the stitches and eyelets were formed, but to try and make it blend in. It’s difficult to find the exact matching colour, and as the cardigan had been worn lots, the surface had started to full a little.

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Near invisible mend

By virtue of tripling up some crewel wool, I managed to get a close enough match of the colour and yarn thickness; and with some judicious brushing with a tooth brush I managed to raise the nap just enough to emulate the surface texture. When viewed from a distance the invisible mend blends in completely.

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Voila, an invisibly mended lace cardigan

However, this is not the only cardigan Zoë asked me to repair. Next week I’ll blog about the return of an old friend.

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Last Friday I made my way up to Retford, Nottinghamshire, to stay with Louise Presley, owner of Hope & Elvis. Louise and her husband Nigel were very welcoming and made me feel right at home, making sure I was fed and watered and had a good night’s sleep in preparation for the darning and mending workshop I ran at her beautiful studio on Saturday.

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Hope & Elvis studio, darning examples and reference books on display

By 10am everybody had turned up, and after an introduction to my Visible Mending Programme, I used some of my darned garments to discuss a variety of techniques. I explained why I had chosen them, and what the advantages and disadvantages of each technique was. Then, whilst having a cuppa and a biccie, each student showed what they had brought to repair and we discussed ideas together.

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Repair in progress at Hope & Elvis

Throughout the day I demonstrated stocking darning, Swiss darning, Scotch darning* and giving hints and tips on what materials to use, make people think about whether their darns would be practical or an embellishment. Needless to say, I also showed my Speedweve, and I was so pleased to see that Louise not only had one herself, but that she also had a Star darning machine!

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A darn in contrasting thread

Louise’s studio is crammed from floor to ceiling with vintage haberdashery, blankets, fabrics, needlework gadgets, threads, yarns, old and new books, and it was fantastic to have all of this to our disposal. Although we had a break for lunch, most people were keen to continue stitching, and I think that when you see the following pictures you’ll agree that everybody made something amazing on Saturday. With apologies in advance: I haven’t remembered everybody’s name – I must be getting on a bit…

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Marks made on a blanket

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Pattern darning sampler

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Buttonhole filling stitch by Mister Finch

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Sock stitch sampler

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Sturdy sock embellished with damask darning

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Delicate darning by Dawn

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Patched up ripped underarm seam by Sarah

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Meta-darning of a tear in a paisley scarf

It feels good to know that there are a few cardigans, tops and scarves back in the wardrobe, rather than lurking in the mending basket!

I hope my next darning class will be just as successful. It’s coming Friday, 10 May, and there are still a few places left if you’d like to sign up.

*) On Scotch darning: for months now I have been trying to find a copy of a particular edition of Weldon’s Encyclopaedia of Needlework, which explains the Scotch darning technique. I have discussed variations on it in this post, but Saturday was my lucky day. Louise had two copies of said edition, so she gifted one to me! Here is The Page:

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Scotch darning explained

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Late last autumn I bought a jumper from a charity shop. It was a nice enough woollen jumper. But after wearing it a few times, I wasn’t feeling the love anymore. As I was keen to explore a technique I tried out on a cardigan last year, I indulged in ten skeins of Appleton’s crewel wool:

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Ten shades of Appleton’s crewel wool, and a boring jumper

It was time to say Bye Bye Boring Jumper, and Hello Amazing Jumper:

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Bye Bye Boring Jumper, Hello Amazing Jumper!

In a way this is a darning sampler gone slightly out of hand. The bottom half consists of blocks of crewel wool woven in and out of the stitches of the knit fabric:

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Damask darning on knitted fabric

As you can see, there’s plenty of different patterns to make, and yet I think I’ll run out of jumper before running out of ideas! In some patterns I pick up a single “leg” of a knit stitch, in others I pick up a whole stitch, or even more. Some of these patterns are based on existing patterns from other sources. There are quite a number of herringbone variations, a Prince of Wales Sanquhar tweed pattern, and a simple houndstooth, too.

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The pattern in the middle is based on the Prince of Wales Sanquhar pattern

Unsurprisingly, weaving in and out of the fabric mutes the colours of the crewel wool when seen from a distance. And these colours do deserve to be seen in all their glory:

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Appleton Bros. Ltd. London, 100% Wool, made in England Crewel Wool

So I have just started adding a row of what I have called “Finnish” darning in the past, by want of a better word. This really shows off the colours:

HAJ_SingleCordedBrusslesStitch

As an aside, when I was browsing through a stumpwork book, it turns out that in this needle lace tradition it is called Corded Single Brussels Stitch, but, as a few people have pointed out, it also appears to be a variation of nålbinding. Whichever name you use for this stitch, I just love the way it looks.

It might take a little while yet to finish the Hello Amazing Jumper, but I will be taking it to my one-day darning workshop to share these techniques at Hope & Elvis on Saturday, 4 May (please note, this is now fully booked.) I will also run the same workshop in Glasgow, on Saturday, 18 May at The Stitchery Studio – for which there are still a few places available.

Last but not least, I’ll be running my usual darning class at Super+Super HQ on Friday evening, 10 May.

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Wool House, a showcase of the use of wool in many different guises at Somerset House, has now come to an end. Wool House was organised by the Campaign for Wool and I got to play a part in it, too. What’s more, my drop-in darning sessions were a great success and the Campaign for Wool added them to their highlights of the exhibition!

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Drop-in darning at Wool House. Photograph © Campaign for Wool and used with their kind permission

As you can see, it was really rather busy – and it was like that all weekend long. In the background you can see two felted wallhangings by Claudy Jongstra. I’d love to see some of her large site-specific installations. Some people knew I was going to be at Wool House, so they brought along holey jumpers and socks, but I also provided swatches to practise on.

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Concentration at Wool House. Photograph © Howard Sullivan, Your Studio and used with his kind permission

I also ran a darning master class. As this was more in-depth, I had to restrict this to six people only, but many people watched over our shoulders. For many, darning seems to be connected to memories of grandmothers or mothers regularly taking up darning mushroom and needle. These stories got shared with other visitors and me – somehow this simple act of repairing, either by doing or by observing, is very emotive.

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Master class in darning. Photograph © Sue Craig and used with her kind permission

We learnt how to do Swiss darning, or duplicate stitching: a good way to reinforce threadbare fabric which hasn’t developed into a hole yet.

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Swiss darning in action. Photograph © Sue Craig and used with her kind permission

And of course, we also wielded darning mushroom and needle. The darning mushroom in particular opened up conversations about mending, as many people have their nan’s or mum’s one, or remember somebody in their family using one frequently. Whilst darning, people start to reflect on repairing garments, what certain items of clothing mean to them, their motivation for repair, and how they get completely absorbed in the act and find it meditative and relaxing. I think this is probably in great contrast to the times when people had the necessity to darn and repair their clothes and it was viewed as a chore.

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Stocking darning, the finer points. Photograph © Sue Craig and used with her kind permission

Of course, I was very happy that darning was so popular, although it did mean I didn’t get a chance to look around as much as I would’ve liked to, or chat to other people showing their skills. Luckily some of my friends took pictures that they have let me use with their kind permission. As the beautifully curated rooms have been discussed at length in other places, I have picked here a very small selection of all the things I would’ve wanted to have learnt more about:

Savile Row tailoring: as I have tried to do some more sewing lately, I’m utterly in awe of all the work that goes into making a suit or a couture gown.

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Pattern blocks. Photograph © Howard Sullivan, Your Studio and used with his kind permission

I may have mentioned before that I have taken up spinning as well. One of the things I want to do soon, is use my handspun yarn for weaving. After all, darning is weaving on a really teeny-tiny scale! I’ll start with a simple home-made frame loom; it’ll be a while yet before I will be able to make something as beautiful as Jason Collingwood can, using a huge loom.

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Jason Collingwood weaving. Photograph © Howard Sullivan, Your Studio and used with his kind permission.

As somebody who really likes hand-stitching buttonholes – yes, really! – I could not finish this post with a perfect example of the art.

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A buttonhole, perfectly stitched by hand. Photograph © Howard Sullivan, Your Studio and used with his kind permission.

With many thanks to Campaign for Wool,  Howard Sullivan of Your Studio and Sue Craig, who runs Knitting the Map, for letting me use their pictures.

One final post-script: you can still sign up for my sock-knitting three-week course; taking place 14, 21 and 28 April. More details here.

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Dear readers, I can’t believe it’s already mid March! I have so much to share with you, that I’m not sure where to start. So, in no particular order I shall mention some of the highlights of the last few weeks and the coming few months.

First of all, a few announcements on upcoming classes and workshops:

Sock Knitting

Whenever I run a darning class I show my hand-knitted socks that I have darned. For all of you who have asked if I will teach sock knitting, I can now say: yes I do!

KnitSocks

My first sock knitting class is in April, run over three consecutive Sundays (14, 21, 28 April). I will expect participants to do some “homework,” but as this involves knitting, I think it could be worse. You can book here and find more details. This class is aimed at the confident beginner, who already knows how to cast on, cast off, increase and decrease. Learn to knit in the round, turn heels and graft toes.

Darning

Darning is really taking off, and I will be doing quite a few events in the next few months, spreading my love for darning and mending.

First of all, I will be at Wool House at Somerset House, London, for some drop-in darning this weekend (16, 17 March) and a darning class on Friday, 22 March. All for free! Wool House showcases some different uses for wool, and promises to be spectacular.  Check all Wool House events here, including my darning activities.

Secondly, I will be doing my regular Super+Super HQ darning class on Friday, 10 May.

TOM SAYS DARN IT

You can book for this event here. And for those of you who wonder: although these techniques are used for knitwear repair, no previous knitting experience is necessary.

Still there is more! Third and fourth mention go to two one-day darning workshops. These run from 10am-4pm and are a more informal affair. I will introduce the concept of Visible Mending, show examples of various techniques, and then we’ll discuss everybody’s repair needs. Then we will all just pick up needle and thread and start mending!

I will be at Hope & Elvis, in Worksop, Nottinghamshire on Saturday, 4 May. This event is now sold out.

I will be at The Stitchery Studio, Glasgow on Saturday, 18 May. Find details here to sign up.

And more…

Yes, there is still more to share! I will just give you some glimpses of what has kept me so busy in the last four weeks or so. I will expand on all of this in my next few blog posts:

The Curiosity Cabinet of Knitting Stitches was exhibited at Prick Your Finger, London:

cabinet

Crafty Magazine interviewed me about The Curiosity Cabinet of Knitting Stitches. It’s a new magazine and it will also feature male crafters, because we do exist!

I have been bitten by the spinning bug. I went to the spinners meet-up at The Green Centre last Friday, where Sue Craig is leading the Knitting The Map project. The aim is to prepare, spin, dye and knit a 1792 map of Brighton; known as Brighthelmstone at the time. I spun up some Lincoln longwool, which I combed myself:

LashedOn

When I went to Prick Your Finger last weekend to collect my Curiosity Cabinet, we had a right spin-off, as Cecilia Hewett was visiting, and so was Felicity Ford. You may have read her three-part spinning story over on the Wovember blog. She gave me some invaluable advice on how to spin Wensleydale wool into a lace weight yarn:

spinning

I have also been knitting a jumper, mixing some amazing deepest, darkest Romney from Prick Your Finger with some of my first handspun:

photo

And I haven’t even started taking pictures of my machine knitted swatches. My friend Amy Twigger Holroyd, who runs the fashion label Keep & Share, and who is working on amazing PhD research, invited me round to her studio for an introduction to machine knitting. Despite my initial prejudices, I really enjoyed it! I hope to do more in the near future.

And more darning. Yes indeed! If all this wasn’t enough, I went to the first Brighton Repair Café a few weeks ago. The Repair Café Foundation was originally founded in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, but has gained huge momentum and has gone global now. I first heard about it at the MendRS Symposium and I was so glad to see that we now have one in Brighton, too.

I think I’m done sharing for now. I hope to see you at one of my sock knitting or darning classes or at Wool House. I hope you have all been creatively occupied, too, with exciting new projects!

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