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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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The first of February is approaching fast, which means I need to get ready for my first darning class of the year, taking place at Super+Super HQ in Brighton. There are still a few places available, so don’t hesitate to sign up! I’ll be teaching two classic darning techniques: Swiss darning, and stocking darning.

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Stocking darn on sock

And what with the cold weather, I’ve been wearing out my warm woollen socks like there’s no tomorrow. This, of course, is a no reason to have cold toes when you know how to darn; and indeed, is cause for a darn good celebration! My mending basket was stuffed to the brim with holes, and not one to sit idle, I took darning wool and mushroom to the holes:

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A collection of mended socks

For the sharp-eyed amongst you, you will have noticed these darns look different from the stocking darn above. Here’s a close-up:

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A darn old and a darn new

I have recently discovered a new darning technique! It was brought to my attention by the inimitable Dr Felicity Ford, who sent me a picture from a Finnish book on knitting and mending:

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Finnish darning diagram

I don’t speak Finnish, but I think the diagram speaks for itself. Once you start working it, you’ll see that it’s the good old-fashioned blanket stitch employed in a new way. It is closely related to Scottish darning, although with this Finnish darning technique you lay one foundation thread and then blanket stitch over it, whereas with Scottish darning you first lay down all foundation threads before filling it up with blanket stitch. I find the end result of the Finnish darn a bit neater, and it must be my favourite new darning stitch.

As I have only recently started using this stitch, I’m not sure yet how it will wear. The darn itself seems sturdier than a stocking darn, as there are more layers of thread. However, the area covered around the hole is not as big as with a traditional stocking darn. This may result in new holes developing around the darned area, as that usually has started to wear thin, too. I shall report back in due course, but I have made sure to extend the darned area beyond the hole .

To clarify the diagram, here’s how to do it:

You need a needle, darning wool, and a hole. I have used both sharp and blunt needles, without appreciable differences.

You start with laying down the first foundation thread at the top of the hole. Simply pick up one leg of each knitted stitch:

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Make sure to go well beyond the hole, as you need two or three knitted stitches worth to make the turn and simultaneously reinforcing the area around the hole. You need to pick up the other legs of the same knitted stitches:

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Pull the thread through, but not too tight, or the darn will pucker and cause unnecessary stress on the fabric. The it’s time to start blanket stitching. Try to lay the as close together as possible:

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When you have reached the other end of the hole, you need to start weaving in and out of the knitted stitches again:

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Turn as before, lay down the second foundation thread, weaving in and out of the knitted stitches again. After the next turn, start blanket stitching again. Make sure to insert the needle inbetween the blanket stitches on the row below, and bring the needle up from behind the new foundation thread:

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It’s important to work the blanket stitches close together. Extend the darn beyond the hole, and start weaving the foundation threads through the knitted stitches again.

Give this new technique a go, and let me know how you get on!

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Or to be more precise, I visited Gateshead, as I was invited by The Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead, which is just on the other side of the river Tyne from Newcastle. The Shipley has a new exhibition on, called ‘Collected Threads,’ celebrating 35 years of the Shipley Craft Collection. One of the events around this exhibition was the Shipley Late last Friday, where a number of artists and makers were asked to lead drop-in workshops. Amongst others, one could learn to make Suffock puffs, make jewellery out of bicycle inner tubes and felt collars. And, of course, how to darn!

The Shipley Art Gallery opened in 1917, bequested by Joseph Shipley, who was a local sollicitor. He had a large collection of paintings. Here’s one of them:

Unfortunately I did not manage to note any particulars of this painting, so I don’t know who painted it, or who’s portrait it is. Although I don’t think it’s a Vermeer, it does have a certain Dutch feel to it. If anybody knows, I’d love to hear from you!

In 1977, 35 years ago exactly, The Shipley started to collect contemporary craft made in Britain. It contains about 400 objects and some of the highlights are currently on display as part of the new exhibition. I particularly liked this tapestry by Sandra Milroy, titled Bleached Wall Under Thatch (1980-1982):

I love the contrasting textures and irregularities and the colours she used. It has a very warm feel about it through the use of wool and hessian. Another example of texture and wool, but this time entirely practical, where these three beautiful ganseys:

My hands are itching to knit one! But that was not what I was at The Shipley for. I set up my little stall with darned socks, a large and motley collection of threads and yarns and an abundance of swatches and needles:

Hiding under the table you can see the wheels of my trolley that helped me transport all these treasures to the gallery. The doors opened at 6pm and it didn’t take long before it was buzzing with people, drink in hand, walking around and soaking up the creative atmosphere. Here you can see yours truly, discussing yarns:

There was a wide range of darning skills to be found in Gateshead. Some people told me they darned all the time, whereas others had never darned in their lives. I was shocked, however, that one girl told me she THREW OUT HER HANDKNITTED SOCKS when they developed holes as she didn’t know how to mend them! I’m pleased to report that after last Friday, this shall not happen again, ever.

Many people knew that I would be teaching darning, and they brought with them cherished items in need of some Tender Love & Care. This ranged from a wild Italian knit from the 80s (colourful flowers on a ground of black and white checks, it looked much better than I could ever describe it – if only I had taken a picture), to these lovely Scandinavian hand-knitted gloves:

The left glove, confusingly displayed on the right, had been darned previously in a cream coloured yarn. The lady who brought them told me that she didn’t know who had knitted these gloves, as her husband has had them for years, and they are his absolute favourite gloves. I was not surprised to hear this, as they were nicely knitted, and had a classic Nordic Rose (or star) on the back. The right glove, as displayed on the left, had some big holes in the index finger and thumb, and the lady who brought them in was enthralled by my glove darner. She told me it made darning so much easier!

I also learnt some darning techniques from the visitors. One lady in particular showed me some invisible mending principles, which she had learnt from her grandmother. I wish I could have met her grandmother, and learn all the tricks!

With around 200 visitors the Shipley Late was a very successful and fun evening, and learning as well as teaching made it an even more worthwhile event. If you’re in the neighbourhood, I can heartily recommend a visit to The Shipley and who knows, you might bump into some darning!

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

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You’ll be pleased to hear that after a short hiatus the Tom Says Darn It! darning workshop is back at Super+Super HQ. Come along and learn to darn with me on Friday, 27 July, 18:30-21:00h.

In 2.5hrs I will teach you two classic techniques:

(1) Swiss darning, also known as duplicate stitching, which is a great way of reinforcing thin patches in knitted fabrics that are about to wear through; however, you can also use it to brighten up an otherwise dull garment. What I like about his technique is that once you have gained some experience, you can start using a variety of colours, like I did on the soles of these socks:

(2) the classic stocking web darn, using a darning mushroom. This technique is great for darning holes in knitted garments and regular readers of this blog will know I use this technique often, and that I like to use contrasting or complementary colours:

And that is not all! If there is any time left (and there usually is), I will give you a demo of Lancashire’s smallest loom: The Speedweve! This clever little contraption is frequently available on auction sites for under a tenner.

To book just send an email to supersuperhq@gmail.com or call them on 01273 – 773 910. The Tom Says Darn It! darning workshop costs £25 for 2.5 hrs, and this includes:

(1) all the tools and materials required for darning

(2) a comprehensive hand-out to take home

(3) two types of darning needles to take home

(4) tea and biscuits to keep you going

I will provide all required materials for darning, but I’d like to invite you to bring your own love-worn knitwear lurking in your mending basket.

As an aside, there was no darning class in June as I attended the Mend*RS Symposium, from which I came back totally inspired by all the people who have made mending and repairing an integral part of their life. A blog post will follow soon, as I think you’ll be amazed by our burgeoning Mending Movement!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Last Friday saw the inaugural Tom Says Darn It! Mending class at Brighton’s new creative hub: Super+Super HQ.

It was an intimate affair, which meant I could give my students all the attention they needed. We started off with Swiss darning, also known as duplicate stitching. I don’t know where the name “Swiss darning” originates from, but duplicate stitching makes perfect sense, as this is more like embroidery, where you copy the knitting stitches with needle and thread.

This method is particularly good to reinforce worn areas that have not, as yet, developed a hole, like thinning elbows. It is also a clever way to hide stains.

After tackling the Swiss darning, we moved on to the classic stocking darn. I had brought my collection of darning mushrooms and eggs, which is an essential aid, if you want to keep your darn looking neat and tidy, and not accidentally sew onto the other side of your sock!

There was plenty of different yarns to mend with, and we discussed which yarns are suitable for which purposes. The students got to keep the needles needed for darning: a blunt tapestry needle for Swiss darning, and a long sharp darning needle for the stocking darn.

As you can see, we had pots of tea, and a home-made banana bread to fortify the budding darners. I think we all had a slice more than we strictly should have! If you take a closer look at Amy’s cardigan, you will see she has engaged in a fashion intervention. I will tell you more about it in the near future, as I think she has done a great job of it.

I will be running darning classes every month at Super+Super HQ: keep an eye out on my ‘What’s Happening’ page, and the Super+Super HQ website, where you will also find booking information.

The next class will be on Friday, 27 May, 19:00-21:30h. I’ll be looking forward to share the darning love with you!

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After all the glove knitting, carboot sale looting and Christmas decorations, it was time I returned to some Visible Mending. Here are three new items I entered for the Visible Mending Programme. May I present to you the classic darn: socks!

From left to right: my partner’s house socks, a shop-bought sock, my house socks.

First up are my partner’s house socks. I knitted this from left-overs of my Elizabeth Zimmermann Bog Jacket and I had only just enough left for making these. Hence the contrasting cuffs, heels and toes. For the lanaphiles amongst us: the brown yarn is Manx Loghtan wool, the grey is Jacob – I bought both from Garthenor Organic Pure Wool. The darns are made with Lang Jawoll sock wool.

As you can see, I employed two different methods of darning. On the left heel you see the classic stocking darn. This method is good for fixing holes. However, I noticed some thin patches too, so I decided to reinforce those with Swiss darning (also known as duplicate stitch), shown on the right heel and the sole top left. If you look closely, you can see I even managed to duplicate the decreases used for turning the heel.

The second sock I repaired, was a sock I bought before I knew how to knit socks myself – all those needles sticking out in all directions, I thought I’d never be able to cope with all that! They’re made by Hirsch Natur. I counted the gauge once, and I make socks of a similar weight myself now.

I used some mending wool I picked up in a sale somewhere. It turned out a bit thinner than anticipated once I got going, so I decided to add some extra warps and wefts. Some mending wools tend to felt a bit (despite their high nylon content), so I don’t think you will see this pretty ‘basket weave’ for long.

I wasn’t quite sure what to do with the last pair of socks. They’re Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Moccasin Socks. As ever with EZ, the design is out of the ordinary – here, she designed a sock pattern with a completely reknittable heel and sole. And therein lies the rub: however much I like the look of them, unusually, I did not enjoy knitting the heel and sole. At all. But I used 100% Shetland wool for the sole and that isn’t particularly hardwearing, so I needed to do something about those thin patches and the tiny hole that started developing. In the end I opted for Swiss darning. It makes good practice and I like the colour combination with the black and navy (which, incidentally, is warm and woolly lustrous Wensleydale longwool).

A parting note: the keen observer may have noticed something in herringbone-weave lurking in the background of some pictures. I hope this will lead soon to my very first INvisibly mended item!

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As regular readers of this blog know, I love mending clothes. I used to get upset whenever I stained or tore a favourite garment, but no longer! Instead I get excited at the latest item to add to The Visible Mending Programme. By darning, mending or “camouflage embellishment” I transform those stains and tears into features that turn my clothes into something uniquely mine. When I make my own things, I already put a lot of myself in them and they instantly feel like a tomofholland thing, having spent time and energy on the creation process. Not so with shop-bought clothes. Even if you are a discerning buyer and manage to find some unusual things, it is still just another jumper, t-shirt or whatever. And although shop-bought clothes can also become favourites, I find that I like them even more when I have had to fix them – they have suddenly turned into another tomofholland item.

So, on Saturday 29 October 1-3pm, I will run a darning workshop at Prick Your Finger, where I will show you some of the techniques I use.

Topics covered: Swiss darning (a.k.a. duplicate stitching), ideal for thin patches; regular darning with a darning mushroom, useful for repairing holes; demonstration of my vintage Speedweve.

Costs: £35. You get to keep your darning needles and a card of mending wool.

Book on-line in the Prick Your Finger webshop, or ring the shop on 020 8981 2560.

Bringing your own holy socks and thin elbows encouraged!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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