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Posts Tagged ‘Estonia’

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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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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