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Most repair commissions I receive have an interesting back story, but some stand out more than others, making the repair even more meaningful.

Visible Mending of Gansey

A gansey repaired

One such story is behind the repair commission of a traditional gansey I worked on over a year ago. As Virginia has written so eloquently about the history and memories infused in her gansey, she’s given me permission to tell her story in her own words. After that, I will take you through the repairs I have performed on this gorgeous gansey.

Virginia’s story

This sweater and I go back to the end of May, 1971, when I was twenty-four years old, newly arrived in the UK from a two-year teaching appointment in Hong Kong. My mother had come from California to meet me, and together we went to stay with friends of my parents who had returned to their home in Guernsey following wartime evacuation. One of our first stops was, of course, the Guernsey knitwear factory.

That summer I made my way to Scotland, and in the West Highlands became fascinated by the lives of the remaining Gaelic-speaking people in the Outer Hebrides – people who still harvested their own peat for fuel, and gathered seaweed to fertilise their crops; who still milked their own cows, and made their own butter and crowdie cheese; who sheared their own blackface sheep, one of which they slaughtered every now then, producing not only the most fragrant mutton but also fabulous black- and white puddings; who gathered shellfish and carrageen moss (which makes a delightful blancmange pudding) on the shore. Some of them also made their own whisky, and fished at midnight for wild salmon in the rivers. When these people realised I was seriously interested in what they were doing and wasn’t the usual sort of tourist, I was welcomed as an extra pair of hands. I think it is safe to say that my background as a college-educated American suburbanite afforded me scant preparation for hauling hemp bags of peats across boggy moorland, or for pursuing unwilling ewes across the same terrain, or shearing the same sheep once we had them confined in the sheep-fank, or walking miles in the constant drizzle. Apart from a thin anorak and a pair of wellington boots, my blue guernsey sweater protected me during all of these adventures, and in its time has been covered in fish-scales, sea water, and sheep shit to the point that other people were inclined to leave the room when I came in.

This was an important summer for me, because it set me on a path I’ve followed ever since. I am now a research fellow in the department of Celtic and Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing interests that were ignited during that first summer forty-five years ago.

After years of mistreatment, the sweater eventually reached the state it was in when I consigned it to Tom. Having tried unsuccessfully to repair it myself, I had long since packed it away in a trunk. Every couple of years I would come across it, and the memories would come back, and I would put it away again. I am fully confident that he will restore it to wearability, and can’t wait to see the result!

Visible Mending Gansey Before Picture

Virginia’s gansey shows a lovely patina from years of wear and being out in the open, protecting her from wind and water

Gansey Repair Case Study

This gansey has aged beautifully. Having been outdoors many a time, in salty sea air and seeing plenty of action, the fabric has an almost shimmering quality in places. I was excited to see previous repairs, and I always prefer to leave those in as much as I can, to honour the life the garment has already seen. My repairs will add to the patina and history.

visible mending gansey - fraying cuff

both cuffs showed previous repairs where the seams had come undone, and the sun has bleached some areas more than others

Originally I wanted to use a traditional navy Guernsey 5-ply yarn, but when I saw Blacker Yarns Pure Romney worsted-spun Guernsey 5-ply in Oxblood, I changed my mind, as it seemed perfect: although a different colour, there wasn’t too much contrast. I felt it would show off the repairs, yet not scream for attention.

Virginia’s gansey presented a number of different issues I needed to address. Here is how I did it and why:

Small holes: there were a few small holes, which I repaired by Swiss darning (aka duplicate stitching.) Swiss darning retains the stretchy quality of the knit fabric, and after a while will become so integrated in the fabric that it looks as if it has always been there.

Visible mending gansey - patch detail

there was already one obvious repair in the form of a patch, which in turn developed a hole

visible mending gansey - patch patched

repairing the repair: meta-mending

Shoulder seam: the shoulder seams of traditional ganseys are often bound off together on the outside. Although this gansey was machine-knit, you can achieve the same result by using a three-needle bind-off on the outside. As with the small holes, I wanted to retain the same properties in the mend as in the original shoulder seam, so I used more duplicate stitching to emulate the bound-off row.

visible mending gansey - shoulder seam

the shoulder seam has been repaired with duplicate stitching, in order to retain the same properties as the original seam

Cuffs: at one point the seams in the cuffs had busted, and they were visibly whip-stitched together. The main challenge, however, were the fraying cuffs. I repaired this by unravelling each cuff until I had a round of stitches in sound yarn. I particularly liked the cuff where the bust seam had been sewn back together not quite straight, so there’s now a step in the transition from the old to the new stitches. Using short rows allowed me to level up the rounds before binding off.

visible mending gansey - preparing the cuff

After unravelling, I put all the stitches on double-pointed needles, size 1.5mm (UK 15, US 000) and re-knitted the cuffs in the round

visible mending gansey - stepped cuff repair

one of the cuffs was not sewn together straight along the seam, which I resolved by using some short-rows to level up, before knitting in the round to complete the new cuff

Splits at hemline: on traditional ganseys, there is often a side-seam split between the front and back hem. This usually becomes a stress point, resulting in some damage, which is exactly what happened here. I didn’t want to sew it all back together, as then I would invite the same issues to occur. Instead, I used a buttonhole stitch to neaten the unravelling edges, and the resulting curve should prove to be much more resilient.

visible mending gansey - split seam repair

buttonhole stitch is not usually used in knitwear repair, but here it neatens the raw edges and gives additional strength to a common stress point in the garment

Thinning elbows: these are unavoidable over time, but on this gansey, the shape of the weak area didn’t quite conform to the usual thinning area from elbows. Who knows what happened there? I ended up using a traditional stocking darn to close up holes, and strengthen the surrounding weak areas with some Swiss darning. I really like the differences in texture within one area of repair.

visible mending gansey - elbow repair prep

as the gansey is such a dark colour, I temporarily marked the area the repair with some basting thread. This way I could ensure all of the thinning fabric would be reinforced with Swiss darning

visible mending gansey - elbow repair finished

the finished elbow repairs consist of a mixture of techniques, resulting in a mix of textures, adding more interest to this area

Finishing touches: every repair commission gets a serial number, stitched in by hand.

visible mending gansey - serial number VMP07

this gansey has serial number VMP07: the seventh item I repaired since I started logging my Visible Mending Programme repairs

Be Inspired!
I hope you enjoyed my gansey repair case study. Although I didn’t go explain my techniques step-by-step, I hope you have gained an appreciation of the things I look for when repairing a garment, from yarn choice to choosing techniques. All the techniques I used for this gansey repair can be found in older needlework and knitting books, and there are also plenty of tutorials to be found on the internet.

Repairing your beloved garments, whether they were bought in a shop or a precious hand-knit, is not only a way to extend the life of your garments, but it also allows you to be creative and put as much thought into the repair, as you may have done when first knitting that jumper. When the time comes that you will need to mend it, you can create a beautiful darn, and wear it as a badge of honour!

visible mending gansey - repairs finished

the finished gansey!

Note: this blog post is an adaptation of an article originally published in Rib Magazine, issue 2: knitting for men and for those who knit for them.

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Anybody who’s met me at a darning-related event will have seen a dark green sweater with numerous moth holes in it. It was given to me about six years ago to practice my visible mending on. It had sadly surfaced from a relative’s wardrobe with many moth holes. What better to repair it with than some gorgeous hand-spun, hand-dyed yarn. It was a very textural and variegated yarn, and made for a beautiful contrast to the fine machine-knit jumper. I enjoyed this challenge to make use of jumper and yarn.

MUM+DAD Sweater moth holes

A sweater riddled with moth holes…

MUM+DAD Sweater Repaired tomofholland visiblemending

A mere six years later, all holes repaired

One thing that always interests me is the motivation for repair: every mend I have done has a story behind it. When I take on a visible mending commission, I always want to know the story of the item under repair. This is no different for the things I repair for myself, and this green jumper is a prime example.

The gift of sweater and yarn was bigger than I could ever have imagined, and in those six years, a lot of things have happened. I met amazing people along the way, I have learnt so much about repairing textiles, and yet I feel I have only just scratched the surface of what is possible.

The first record of the sweater that I can find, is when I wrote about attending the MEND*RS Symposium as Mender in Residence. It was a meeting of like-minded people at an old farm, and I have fond memories of gathering in the barn, talking about the subversiveness of repair, and with wild plans to change the world.

MUM+DAD Sweater Repaired tomofholland visiblemending

Extreme slow stitching – I always say I like to do things that take forever, but a six-year project must be my record!

Nowadays many people choose to throw out worn clothes, but I prefer to repair my clothes. From attending the MEND*RS Symposium it was clear I was not the only one. A few speakers had a background in fashion, and we talked about the issues around fast fashion. Clothes made in the fast fashion system are often of poor quality. Not because they are made by low-skilled people, but because highly-skilled people have to work with inferior materials and are under huge time pressure to meet deadlines. For me, repairing clothes is a way of honouring those anonymous makers. Speaking about my concerns with fast fashion at that symposium, and others such as John-Paul Flintoff and Sarah Corbett, I have come to realise that being informed about issues your concerned about is very important. It will help with focussing your attention to things you can do something about. This is something I spoke about with Sarah at length as part of her School of Gentle Protest.

MUM+DAD Sweater Repaired tomofholland visiblemending

The ribbing at cuffs and welts were the trickiest

Concerns around fast fashion is only one of many different motivations of repair, and I’m also very much interested in emotional connections to the item repaired. Mending an item, even through commissioning someone like me, allows you to highlight the story behind it, and one of my most favourite commissions was rather poignant. Mending a jumper knitted by a mother repaired a somewhat fraught relationship, and it was very special to work on.

MUM+DAD Sweater Repaired tomofholland visiblemending

Reminiscing about repairs

Likewise my green jumper has obtained a lot of memories and stories through the six years I’ve been working on it. Looking at the darns up close shows me how I have improved my technique over time. It has accompanied me to every single workshop, talk, and darning event. It started many a conversation about the meaning of repair, and I’ve made many friends as a result.

The sweater is now back on rotation in me and my husband’s wardrobe, and I’m looking forward to many more adventures together!

MUM+DAD Sweater Repaired silly pose tomofholland visiblemending

With many thanks to Anna “Sweaterspotter” Maltz for the impromptu photoshoot!

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Cobbled together: transitive verb. 1 chiefly British : to mend or patch coarsely. 2 : repair, make cobble shoes. 3 : to make or put together roughly or hastily —often used with together or up : cobble together an agreement, cobble up a temporary solution.

Canvas and leather shoe repair WIP

Shoes in need of some cobbling with a difference

My friend Sam absolutely loves these shoes, and she has worn them a lot. As a result, the canvas in the creases on the top of the toes had started to deteriorate, and I loved the repair challenge this posed to me. It’s not a job that I think a cobbler would ever take on, but in general I think that taking your shoes to the cobbler’s is probably one of the few acts of repair that people still do on a regular basis, and probably one of the few things I don’t do myself. It’s also one of the few mainstream shops still geared exclusively towards repairing, alongside mobile phone and computer repair shops.

Electrical Repair Agency, Newcastle

Electrical Repair Agency in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK. I happened upon it on a Sunday, so it’s hard to tell whether they were still in business

There used to be many repair shops, such as the one I photographed in Newcastle when I was visiting in 2012, but it seems there are not that many left now. Indeed, this is one of the reasons that Martine Postma founded the Repair Cafe Foundation, and why I volunteer at one. As explained on their website:

We throw away vast amounts of stuff. Even things with almost nothing wrong, and which could get a new lease on life after a simple repair. The trouble is, lots of people have forgotten that they can repair things themselves or they no longer know how. Knowing how to make repairs is a skill quickly lost. Society doesn’t always show much appreciation for the people who still have this practical knowledge, and against their will they are often left standing on the sidelines. Their experience is never used, or hardly ever.

The Repair Café changes all that! People who might otherwise be sidelined are getting involved again. Valuable practical knowledge is getting passed on. Things are being used for longer and don’t have to be thrown away. This reduces the volume of raw materials and energy needed to make new products. […] The Repair Café teaches people to see their possessions in a new light. And, once again, to appreciate their value. The Repair Café helps change people’s mindset. This is essential to kindle people’s enthusiasm for a sustainable society.

But most of all, the Repair Café just wants to show how much fun repairing things can be, and how easy it often is.

Canvas and leather shoe repair WIP closeup

Repair in progress

I definitely find fixing fun, and apart from giving me an opportunity to be creative, I find that when I’m absorbed in the task at hand, my mind frequently starts wandering and I have the freedom to roam wherever my mind wants to take me. Fixing Sam’s shoes made me thinking about cobblers and the meaning of the verb “to cobble together” — as you can see in the definition from Merriam-Webster posted in the opening paragraph of this post, it is mostly used to describe mending or patching in a rough or hasty manner: the complete opposite of the way I approached this repair.

Canvas leather brogues repaired topview

Shoe repair finished. I thought a quick polish wouldn’t go amiss either

For this repair I used some linen thread supplied by Namolio and I “simply” darned the thread in. In principle this is a very simple technique. The threads of the original canvas running from side to side were mostly still intact, so I viewed those as the warp threads, and the repair thread as the weft. I wove in and out of the warp, and extended this into the still sound fabric. Once that was completed, I reinforced the weakest warp threads by darning alongside them. As the damage was right in the middle of a concave surface it was a challenge to get the needle in right where I wanted it, putting my patience to the test. I’m glad I persevered, as I’m very happy with the end result. As is Sam; I hope she’ll walk many more miles in these.

Canvas leather brogues repaired

What a beautiful pair of shoes; as you can see, I did leave some work for an actual cobbler

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Between Christmas and New Year, I always reflect on the year gone by, and the year ahead. 2016 has been a really good year for me personally, and I have plenty of exciting things to look forward to in 2017. Looking back at 2016, I noticed some themes running through the last year: conversing, making, and collaborating.

Detail of sampler made by Witteridge, Whitelands College Collection

A darn made to emulate a jersey (machine knitted) fabric, which is made by stem stitching over foundation threads that go across the hole, from the Whitelands College Collection

Conversing: throughout the year I’ve been given opportunities to talk about my practice, sharing my ideas and views on the importance of mending. I was honoured to have been asked to give the keynote speech at Cultures of Repair: Past and Present, a one-day conference to conclude A Remedy for Rents, an exhibition of darning samplers from the Whitelands College Collection.

img_6331

Chatting about stitching, with Luke Deverall, Stewart Easton, and Trevor Pitt, the BOY STITCHERS (picture by Stewart Easton)

A completely different setting was At Home, A 21st Century Salon, which included BOY STITCHERS: “Until quite recently in human history, a lady’s needlework was a sign of being a good and virtuous woman. BOY STITCHERS reverses this stereotypical image and shines light on a new breed of male stitchers, exploring the work of Trevor Pitt, Stewart Easton, Luke Deverall and myself, who together talk about and demonstrate their artistic approaches to working with textiles.”

Makers House Leather Trench Coat Repair

Hiding a penmark on a leather trench coat by sewing on a silk patch, using one of the new Burberry SS17 fabrics

A completely different setting again: in September I was invited by The New Craftsmen and Burberry to take part in Makers House, as part of Burberry’s September Collection presentation. The September collection was in part inspired by craft and making, and Makers House celebrated this by inviting a number of makers to show and share their skills to the public in an enchanting pop-up venue.

Making: apart from talking about my visible mending work, I’ve also been making things. Some of it knitting, some of it mending, and some of it inbetween.

Hexa Hap Shawl

Hexa Hap in Kate Davies’s Buachaille yarn, published her Book of Haps (picture by Tom Barr, Kate Davies Designs)

Although strictly speaking I knitted the Hexa Hap in 2015, the pattern for it was written and published in Kate Davies’s Book of Haps in 2016. I thoroughly enjoyed working on my contribution to this book, as it gave me a good insight in professional pattern writing and publishing.

Boxpleat Jumper in Daughter of a Shepherd Hebridean Yarn

Boxpleat Jumper in Daughter of a Shepherd Hebridean yarn, with accents in madder-dyed Shetland yarn (picture by Jeni Reid/Small Window)

Sequence Sweater Arms Wide Open

Sequence Sweater, using The Uncommon Thread’s Blue-faced Leicester

I remain inspired by Cecelia Campochiaro’s Sequence Kniting, and I made two jumpers using stitch patterns from this book. The first one was the Sequence Sweater for my then husband-to-be. The second one the Boxpleat Jumper for myself. There will be more where that came from, but I will not be able to share this with you until some time next year!

Me and My Husband, handmade tie and pocket squares

Signing the register in style

When I got married in November, I was keen for us to wear something I had made myself. My sewing skills as they are, would not allow me to make a suit, so I made things that were within my skills: matching pocket squares for both of us, and a tie for me. The pocket squares were made from a very light linen fabric, which I finished with hand-rolled edges, and embellished with stripes in feather stitch, using silk. I also knitted myself a tie, using a custom-dyed skein of British Stein Fine Wool by The Little Grey Sheep, and lined it with some vintage Italian silk.

Collaborating: something I haven’t spoken about much as yet, but which, I’m sure, will be a very fruitful collaboration, is that I have recently joined The New Craftsmen makers. They work with a selection of Britain’s finest craft makers to showcase the skills and craft products of the British Isles. The New Craftsmen present objects that are deeply connected to culture and place, while representing a vision of sustainable, real luxury, expressed through dedication to makers, materials, method and design.

Vintage Repaired Blanket for The New Craftsmen

Blanket B02: a vintage Welsh narrow loom blanket, repaired with a variety of techniques

So far I’ve made a small collection of repaired vintage blankets, patched French linen tea towels, and Sanuqhar pencil cases (note: not all my products are in the webshop at the moment.) As mentioned before, when The New Craftsmen were asked by Burberry to celebrate the craftsmanship that inspired their SS17 collection, I was invited along to repair items of clothing brought in by visitors to Makers House, using fabrics from the new collection. We are already chatting about a new project, which I will share in due time.

Merken, Stoppen en Mazen (marking and darning) lesson plan from the 1880s

A Dutch lesson plan on darning fabrics

This brings me neatly to what I’m looking forward to in 2017. Not only will I be working more with and for The New Craftsmen, I also have some other projects under wraps. Frustratingly, I cannot talk about any of those right now. Patience is a virtue! Meanwhile, I what I can talk about is my personal projects, and I’m keen to share progress about these here on my blog. First and foremost, I’ve bought some scrim (a loosely woven coarse linen fabric, nowadays really only used for cleaning windows) to start working my way through some old Dutch lesson plans for needlework, and in particular repairing and darning. Going back to basics will ground my understanding of techniques, and it’s also a good time to start getting to grips with using a tailor’s thimble.thimbles at The Lace Factory Museum

A selection of thimbles from the collection at The Lace Factory Museum, Horst, The Netherlands

I’ve received many comments on my thimbles blog post, both here, on my Facebook page, and on Instagram about how others got on with thimbles, and alternatives to the traditional metal thimble. It would seem that many people dislike the traditional thimble, and have sought alternatives that suited them better; particularly the leather thimble got mentioned frequently. For now, however, I will persevere with the tailor’s thimble. Yes, it will take time to unlearn my old sewing technique, but I’m attracted to the speed that tailors can stitch very neatly, using methods that have stood the test of time, and which will also be a way of learning more about hand-stitching and tailoring. I doubt I will ever become as good as a tailor on Savile Row, but I can learn from them and apply those things that will take my textile practice to the next level.

Make Do and Mend notebook with Patch

Notes from a Make Do and Mend class, from the Mass Observation collection, where I taught a workshop earlier this year

I’m looking forward to sharing my projects and thoughts on my blog, and I hope you will feel inspired to try out new things, start stitching, knitting, or visibly mending your own clothes.

Happy New Year!

 

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Recently, I was invited to deliver the keynote speech at Cultures of Repair: Past and Present, a one-day conference to conclude A Remedy for Rents, an exhibition of darning samplers from the Whitelands College Collection.

Curated by Vivienne Richmond, head of Goldsmiths History Department, A Remedy for Rents showcased a rare collection of exceptionally fine needlework by working-class women in the last quarter of the 19th century. As students at Whitelands College, the first all-female teacher training college, now part of the University of Roehampton, the women were training to teach in elementary schools for working-class children and their needlework focused on the production and repair of simple garments and household textiles.

Remedy for Rents offered a rare opportunity to see needlework by non-elite Victorian women, but illuminates also the history of working-class dress, female education and gendered roles, experiences and expectations in 19th-century Britain and beyond. If you missed this exhibition, then you will have a second chance to catch it again, see details at the end of this post.

Photography credit: all the images I’m showing here were taken by David Ramkalawon, and all items belong to the Whitelands College Collection, University of Roehampton, and are used with kind permission.

Note: simply click on an image to get a closer view of the exquisite needlework

Specimens of Needlework Whitelands College

Specimens of Needle Work, Whitelands College K.S. 1902. This unassuming leatherbound book contains a stunning collection of extraordinary needlework

The items on display are of an an amazingly high quality, and provide me with a lot of inspiration, and something to aspire to. The book shown above holds page after page of darning samplers and plain sewing samplers, each and every one of them showing the very best needlework.

Sampler by Annie Hewins 1879

Sampler made by Annie Hewins, 1879. It shows a combination of darns, damask darns, patching, decorative borders and buttonholes. All made by hand

Tailored buttonhole by Annie Hewins 1879, Whitelands College Collection

Close-up of one of the buttonholes from the sampler shown above

Whereas most of the darning and embroidery samplers I’ve seen from the late 19th century are no longer of the finest quality displayed in work from earlier centuries, the work displayed by the teachers in training at Whitelands College is an exception, and it’s almost inconceivable that they were all made by hand. I’m particularly fond of the many fancy handworked buttonholes; I’ll be giving them a go when the opportunity arises.

I’ll share more images from the needlework on display throughout this post, but I’d also like to share with you the one-day conference. Vivienne Richmond talked about past cultures of repair. Needlework was a respectable way for a woman to earn some money, both teaching it, or providing needlework as a service to other households. Obviously, learning needlework is a very hands-on approach, and the Whitelands College Collection is a prime example of the students’ work. If you want to know a bit more about this, then I can recommend the blog posts I wrote about darning samplers from the Fries Museum (parts 1, 2, and 3). She also touched on the Make Do and Mend campaign of World War 2, and all those middle-class women who, with the very best intentions, wanted to teach working class women on how to mend their clothes and to be careful with resources. Needless to say their reception was rather mixed, as for working class women making do and mending was already part and parcel of their lives.

Sleeve with darning detail, Whitelands College Collection

One of the many practice pieces: a sleeve with cuff, ruffle, patching, darning, and stitching

After learning about repair in the past, we moved on to a number of artists and makers who use repair as part of their practice:

Lizzie Cannon has a background in geography and as a result her artwork reflects her keen sense of space and place. She gathers discarded items which get augmented by adding other elements, often using embroidery techniques. Her ongoing project Mended Leaves investigates how mending reflects, and sometimes accelerates, decay of delicate structures. The threads used to mend the holes in the leaves are carefully matched with the leaf is still fresh, but later contrasts with the changed colour once the leaf has dried.

Katherine May works as a designer, researcher and facilitator tracing the threads that weave together textiles and society. Through research and making she explores the origins of materials and the story of techniques. Her projects often reflect specific social contexts and emphasise participation through the dressing or inhabiting of these spaces, that she uses as a platform to engage people in an imaginative and sensory relationship with cloth. This was seen in Water – Colour a site specific installation where a ritual of practice evolved through indigo dyeing on site over 2 months. With her work she aims to expose the relational aspects of textiles and subvert prevailing processes of value production.

Ruby Hoette  works independently as a designer/curator/researcher exploring fashion in context through the intersection of theory and practice. Her projects reveal patterns of use and often investigate the construction of value and meaning in fashion. The WORN_RELICS project was launched in 2008. It is an interactive online archive in which the stories and memories attached to garments can be collected and shared. The project explores the idea that clothing acquires value over time through being worn. It is a platform for the communication of the creativity and innovation that can be found in the diverse ways we interact with clothing in everyday life.

Miniature Knitted Sock, Whitelands College Collection

Many items were made on a miniature scale. They’re easily confused with dolls clothes, but their main purpose was to learn all the different sewing techniques and construction of all manner of garments. This lace sock measures no more than 4.5cm (less than 2in) in height. I guesstimate it has about 60 stitches in the round.

Those of you who have been following my blog, may have noticed that many of the other artists and makers’ themes and interests are reflected in my own practice, so my keynote speech tied it all nicely together. I spoke about my love of old sewing and needlework books; my issues with using the phrase ‘make do and mend’ in the 21st century, when many people make the choice between replacing or repairing; aspects of Japanese crafts such as boro and sashiko, but at the same time trying to bring things back to local culture; learning from studying samplers (see links to Fries Museum above); and my bottomless mending basket at home.

Detail of sampler made by Witteridge, Whitelands College Collection

A darn made to emulate a jersey (machine knitted) fabric, which is made by stem stitching over foundation threads that go across the hole

I also discussed my shift in focus, or end point, of a garment. If I aim to wear clothes for a long time, than I will have to acknowledge that they will need some repairs at some point. With that in mind, when I make my own clothes, a garment isn’t really finished when I cast off that last stitch, or sew in some ends. I know there is more work to be done down the line. So those finishing touches are not final, but merely one of the stops on the journey of the garment’s life. To me, making and repairing are no longer discrete activities, they belong together, and the boundaries between the two are blurred: repairing is making.

Whitelands College Collection Sample Garment

A miniature undershirt as a way of learning all aspects of technique and construction of undershirts

If you want to catch Remedy for Rents at Roehampton, then please know that they don’t have a webpage for the exhibition yet, but in the meantime people are welcome to contact Gilly King: Gilly.King@roehampton.ac.uk for further information. The exhibition is opening there on 14 May, 2016 and running to July (actual closing date tbc).

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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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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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