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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!

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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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As a knitter, I’m somebody who likes to plan ahead. I knit numerous swatches; I try out new techniques and compare them with firm favourites; I take gauge measurements; I sketch and calculate. I knit up accordingly. This doesn’t mean I always get it right, but that’s okay. I will have learnt something new, and I can use that knowledge when planning the next thing. But in the last couple of years or so, I have been exposed to other methods of working. A more carefree and let’s-see-what-happens approach. A good example, and great inspiration, is the work by Rachael Matthews who runs Prick Your Finger.

Rachael Matthews Shamanic Bed for Creatives

Rachael Matthews’s Shamanic Bed for Creatives

Rachael’s Shamanic Bed for Creatives contains a cornucopia of textile techniques. Hand knitting, machine knitting, crochet, darning, and who knows what else, all find their way into the shamanic bedspread. Ideas come into her head and these magically flow into her hands and make a fabric, as she comes up with them. Some of these will work, and others will not. Knitting and crocheting allows one to shape the fabric while making it, this in contrast to woven fabrics, where one has to cut and sew to shape it. In addition, knitting and crocheting can easily be undone without loss of material. It is possible to use the ripped out yarn and try again. So if an idea doesn’t work, then it’s a lesson learnt that can be put to use straightaway. It’s even possible to start something without knowing what the end result will be, like Rachael’s Explosion Jumper.

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Embroidered Cushion Cover, exploring Jamieson & Smith Heritage yarns

I find this way of working, when it comes to knitting, quite a challenge. With decorational techniques (for want of a better description) I struggle less with this approach. For instance, the embroidery on the cushion cover pictured above was done free-style, without any planning whatsoever. Those of you who follow me on Instagram (@tomofholland) will have seen the doodles I occasionally post. Embroidering this cushion was like doodling with needle and thread.

Slowly but surely, I’m opening up to allow my knitting also to be more free-style, and less planned. It’s a shift in thinking that wakes me up, and it allows me to use my knowledge of techniques in a different way. It started with a simple bath mat. Having worked with Sue Craig on the Knitting The Map project (more on that in a later blog post), I had developed an obsession with stripes in garterstitch. Rachael selected eight shades for me from Prick Your Finger’s carpet yarn range, reminiscent of Bauhaus colours.

knitted rug in garterstitch by tomofholland

Knitted bath mat in garterstitch

Although I had made a lot of doodles (none of them larger than approximately 4 x 7cm), I didn’t plan anything before casting on. Yes, I knitted a swatch to select the right needle size for the fabric I wanted, but after that I just started at one corner and came up with the patterns and colours as I went along. I only decided on the construction after knitting the bottom strip. It was a departure of the planned object, the self-imposed constrictions and the letting go of expectations.

inspirational craft books

Inspiration for creative knitting: C Nieuwhoff: Anders Breien en Haken; M McNeill: Pulled Thread; M Walker Phillips: Creative Knitting; M Stove: Creating Original Hand-knitted Lace; A Sutton: British Craft Textiles; S Read (editor): Wild Knitting; E Mairet: Hand-weaving Today

These are just some of my books in my craft library in which the author in some way or other speaks about, or shows, how to let go of the regimented way of working, but instead letting materials or techniques guide the way. The compendium by Ann Sutton is a showcase of British textile artists working with a huge variety of techniques. Wild Knitting shows that knitting doesn’t have to stop with jumpers and socks. Margaret Stove shows how to create your own lace patterns, after explaining how lace stitches work together. Moyra McNeill and Constance Nieuwhoff both use traditional techniques in new, sometimes unexpected, applications. Ethel Mairet talks about letting materials and colours speak for themselves, and she often used simple techniques to show these off.

It all seems to come together in Mary Walker Phillips’s Creative Knitting. A weaver by trade, she became a very accomplished knitter with a sound knowledge of knitting techniques; she also spins and dyes. She explains how she uses vastly different materials, from artificial straw to handspun linen, and how these have an influence on the techniques she uses. Mostly her art pieces are wallhangings, casement curtains or other lacy structures, incorporating pieces of mica, pebbles, or beads. I find these pieces particularly inspiring at the moment.

Lace sample in handspun Rough Fell 2ply yarn

Handspun Rough Fell 2ply yarn and lace sample

The lace sample above was a quick study in mixing and matching lace stitches, using handspun Rough Fell 2-ply yarn. I like the contrast between the kempy, hairy and wire-like yarn, and the lace stitches, which are more usually executed in, for instance, a fine and soft Shetland yarn. This is just a starting point, and I will be creating more samples of both yarn and stitches this year, and be guided by my newfound approach to creative knitting. And in true Rachael-style, I don’t quite know where this will lead me, but I’m excited to start this journey and will be reporting back on my blog.

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Post-script (added 1 March 2014): perhaps my view on how Rachael appears to create her work was somewhat romanticised and simplified in my head, so please check out the comments on this post below, where Rachael has responded to my writing.

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