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A recent repair commission made me think about how a change in attitude can lead to a different response to repairs. It can be quite a challenge to be accepting of things not looking perfect and new, and I think that part of wanting to keep using things for longer, I had to accept that they will show signs of wear and tear.

Red Cardigan Before

A parcel from Estonia: small holes carefully marked with safety pins

This cardigan was sent to me all the way from Estonia to repair; it already had some visible mends, so it may not come as a surprise that it was a commission I really enjoyed taking on. The owner had carefully put in safety pins to mark all the small holes that weren’t so obvious, which showed me he really cared about this cardigan.

Red Cardigan VMP09 Front View

Response to repairs: the repairs I added reflect the shape of the original repairs

Here he is in his own words when I asked him about this cardigan:

I have liked all sorts of old things since I was a kid. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that when I was growing up, Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union – since most „old things“ were from the pre-war independence era, they were automatically cool and desirable as relics of better times. As most aspects of our independence were either strictly forbidden or at least discouraged by the Soviet authorities, it just contributed to the appeal. I started with collecting stamps, moved on to coins, and later to other objects like pins/badges, furniture, clothing etc.

I find American vintage clothing (vs European) interesting as it is somewhat more difficult for me to place in a specific era – European pre-war clothing is distinctly different from that of the 50/60s. America did not suffer such a rupture in their culture as Europe did due to the war, therefore US clothing from the pre-war era more naturally transitioned into the post-war pop culture and beyond. Americans wore college cardigans already back in the 20s, and, in a way, continue to do so nowadays. So in a way, American vintage is more „timeless“.

This particular cardigan reminds me of a really cool trip to California, fits me really well, and already has very nice hand darned repairs on it. The guy that I bought it from was really interesting to talk to, and had in my opinion the right attitude about vintage. For me, visible mending reminds me of the repairs that my grandmothers did on my clothes when I was a kid in the late 70s/early 80s. To be honest, I was not a huge fan of those back then – so it’s also a bit ironic that I find it appealing now. But then again, life seems to be full of ironies of that sort as one goes from youth to middle age

Red Cardigan VMP09 Detail of Back

Original repairs were executed in classic darning techniques, using cottom embroidery thread. I used Appleton’s Brothers crewel wool instead

It gave me a little bit of insight of what it was like to grow up in Estonia for somebody who is of a similar age to me. We can probably all think of things that were considered “cool and desirable” when we were younger, and how our ideas about what that means have changed as we grow older. For me, although I have always repaired my own clothes, I would only buy new items, never secondhand. They were often American brands (Levi’s, Converse, etc,) or European brands that had a similar look. This has changed dramatically, from going through a phase of buying designer clothes, favouring Belgian designers such as Martin Margiela, Dirk Bikkembergs, and Dries van Noten. Nowadays, I rarely buy new clothes. They are usualy secondhand, or more increasingly, I make them myself.

Red Cardigan VMP09 Detail of Neck Line

A particular challenge was the neckline, where the holes were right on the edge where the fabric folds to the back

My client’s response to clothes and repairs has changed a lot as well: he tells us how as a kid he didn’t particularly like the mending by his grandmothers. Now, he is happy to buy clothes that are already visibly mended, and I think this is an important shift. Caring to repair means accepting that you can continue using things for longer, instead of replacing them. It’s something I try to strive for in other areas of life as well, to varying degrees of success, but we have to start somewhere!

Red Cardigan VMP09 Detail of Back of Neck Line

Responding to previous repairs by echoeing the existing ones in shape and colour contrast

If you are feeling inspired to take a creative approach to repair, then I hope you don’t mind me unashamedly plugging my Creative Mending workshop at The New Craftsmen in London, on 22 July. There are still a few places available, so buy your ticket here before it sells out!

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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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Yesterday I launched my new pattern: Tom of da Peathill; a fitted men’s cardigan in three sizes, inspired by the natural shades of Foula Wool it was designed for. As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog post, Foula Wool is a sturdy DK weight yarn, so I used the knotted steek method to avoid any bulky edges resulting from folding over, or the very elegant steek sandwich devised by Kate Davies, which usually gives a very handsome finish.

The following tutorial shows you how to create a knotted steek. You may want to use your gauge swatch to practise your knotted steek on so you become familiar with this technique.

Knotted Steek Tutorial

knitting and casting off the steek stitches

First of all, the pattern calls for six steek sts. In addition, you will also need some stitches to pick up from: these are called the edge stitches. So apart from the pattern stitches for the cardigan body, there are two edge stitches, and six steek stitches. The steek stitches are knitted with both colours held together as one. When it’s time to cast off, only cast off the edge stitches and the pattern stitches. The steek stitches will not be cast off.

tomofholland Knotted Steek Tutorial 1

pattern stitches, edge stitches, and steek stitches. Note that the steek stitches have not been cast off

unravelling the steek stitches and cutting

Now comes the fun part. The steek stitches are all dropped down to the cast-on edge, thus creating a whopping large ladder! As the Foula Wool is a bit sticky – the very reason it’s a good yarn for stranded colourwork – you might need to coax them a bit to unravel all the way down. You are now ready for the scary part: the strands forming the ladder are cut in half. Spread the cardigan out a bit so you can easily find the middle of each strand. Remember, knitted fabric doesn’t like unravelling sideways, so it will all be okay.

tomofholland Knotted Steek Tutorial 2

cutting the ladder strands to create the front opening or the armholes

knotting the strands

The name of this technique – knotted steek – will now become apparent. All the threads are knotted in pairs in an overhand knot. Make sure that you always use the two threads from one row of knitting. Also ensure you snuggle up the knot to the very edge of the fabric for a tidy finish.

KnottedSteekTutorial3

The strands are knotted into pairs using the overhand knot, shown above

tomofholland knotted steek tutorial 4

The knotted steek shown on the wrong side. Notice the tidy row of knots, all snuggled up to the edge of the fabric

picking up stitches

It’s now time to pick up your stitches. You pick up between the edge stitch and the first pattern stitch. Keep an eye out for the fringe, and try not to trap them with the yarn you are using for picking up. Now commence knitting the buttonbands or sleeves.

tomofholland knotted steek tutorial 5

Stitches are picked up between the edge stitch and the first pattern stitch

 darning in ends

This is the part that will take a bit of time. Perhaps because I love darning so much, I really enjoy it. Be prepared to set aside an afternoon, and make a cup of tea before beginning. You will soon find yourself getting into the rhythm and becoming absorbed by the task at hand. You will need a sharp wool needle with a large eye. Sometimes called yarn darners, they are basically a chunky version of a crewel needle. The ends are darned in on the wrong side by skimming the floats at the back. If you find the strands a bit on the short side, then employ a classic sewer’s hand-finishing technique: first darn in the needle, and only then thread the needle; I use the method explained in this blog post by Stitchers Needle. By threading the needle with the two yarn ends from one knot it will go quicker than you think. Once the fringe has been darned in, trim the loose ends close to the surface.

tomofholland knotted steek tutorial 6

darning in the ends. On the right the unfinished fringe. Then the needle skimmed into a float, ready to be threaded. In the middle darned in ends. At the left the loose ends have been trimmed close to the surface

tomofholland knotted steek tutorial 7

the finished knotted steek on the buttonband. Notice that the edge stitch has turned to the inside, and the neat row of knots

There you have it, a steek which is virtually without any bulk, and which doesn’t impact the stretch of knitted fabric. Over time, this finish will become neigh on invisible.

I hope this tutorial has been clear and instructive, and has demystified my favourite steek technique.

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Wovember is well underway now, and I’m thoroughly enjoying myself getting woolly content to all the Wovember readers, together with Kate Davies and Felicity Ford. Wovember celebrates the wool for what it is, and one of the ways we’re celebrating is with a WAL, or Wool-Along: start and finish a project made from 100% wool during the month of Wovember! Find out more on the Wovember blog.

My WAL project is my first ever machine-knit garment. A cardigan, knitted in Jamieson’s of Shetland Spindrift in the colourway Grouse. I picked up a 900g cone during my visit to their mill in Sandness. As I have a single-bed knitting machine, I cannot do ribbing on it. The usual way would be to first hand-knit the ribbing, and then transfer the stitches to the knitting machine. Then you can continue using the knitting machine and knit the panels for your garment.

GrouseCardiganPanels

Grouse Cardigan panel pieces, surrounded by loads of woolly items. And yes, that’s the Foula Cardigan in progress – to be revealed at the end of Wovember

I copied the pattern pieces’ measurements from an existing, shop-bought cardigan. As this had slightly shrunk in the wash, I had to add a margin to all the pieces in order to make it fit. As I wasn’t quite sure if this was going to work out, I decided to do things in a different order. I first knitted the pieces, so I could seam them together and try it on, before adding the ribbing. If reknitting would be necessary, then I would at least only have to reknit the machine-knit part of it, which would take much less time. To make it easier to pick up stitches for the ribbing, I started the pieces with some rows of waste yarn in a contrasting colour.

GrouseCardiganSeamed

Grouse Cardigan, seamed together, with waste yarn still in place

As the Spindrift yarn is rather delicate, I decided to seam these pieces together with a back stitch, rather than the more usual mattress stitch, as this results in a more elastic seam, and thus less chance of the seam breaking with wear. I used short pieces (about 15in long,) and it was easy enough to add on some more by spit-splicing.

I’m pleased to report that the cardigan fits, and all that’s left to do, is to unravel the waste yarn, pick up the stitches with a circular needle, and hand-knit the ribbing. After that I will pick up stitches on the front pieces and the collar to add a garter stitch button and collar band.

Keep an eye for my next progress post, and don’t forget to visit Wovember to embrace WOOL!

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Last week, I showed you two invisible mending commissions I took on. However, there was a third garment to be repaired. What’s more, it’s not the first time I have tackled it. Remember That Green Cardigan?

VMPZC

That Green Cardigan

I hadn’t seen it for a while, and as Zoë has been wearing it day in, day out since it was repaired first time around, it started showing some more fraying, elbow holes and snags. But it was also very nice to see how the old repairs had really settled in; they look like they were always there.

AmyCardi_old_repair

An old repair and fraying of the welts

This time, I used Foula wool for repairs. It’s a somewhat different shade of grey, but the texture is quite similar to the Jacob wool I used previously. Assuming the cardigan will keep returning for more repairs over the coming years, I’d like to continue using different shades of grey (although I doubt I’ll get up to fifty…), making each repair episode discrete, yet all together they form a coherent story.

I used a variety of techniques this time. I’m starting to appreciate crochet as a repair technique:

AmyCardi_new_old_cuff

Old repair in 1×1 ribbing, new repair in single crochet

AmyCardi_new_cuff_2

More crochet repairs

Then there was some thinning fabric to be found in an unexplainable-to-me area. This I reinforced with Swiss darning in Brioche stitch:

AmyCardi_swiss_Darn

Swiss darning in Brioche stitch

As my love for Scotch darning just does not diminish, I used it for the hole in the elbow. The texture is amazing when using a heavy DK weight knitting yarn:

AmyCardi_Scotch_darn

Scotch darning in Foula wool

Zoë’s cardigan is fit for another round of heavy-duty work, which is just as well, as she spends lots of time in the forest, working for Wilderness Wood.

AmyCardi_repaired

Zoë’s green cardigan, repaired once more

And if you feel inspired by these visible mends, but you’re not quite sure where to start, then sign up for my next darning class at Super+Super HQ in Brighton. You can sign up below:

Eventbrite - Darning Workshop

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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

Jumper_Dave

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.

Jumper_Dave_repaired

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.

AmyLaceCardiPre

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.

AmyLaceCardiPreCloseup

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.

AmyLaceCardiPostCloseup

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.

AmyLaceCardiPost

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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