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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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Last week I attended the In the Loop 3 conference, organised by the Knitting Reference Library, part of the Winchester School of Art. From the individual to the industrial and from the technical to the intellectual, I had no idea that a conference on knitting could generate such a diversity of topics; there were 28 presentations in all.

Strangely, I did not take any pictures during the conference, as I was too geekily absorbed by the World of Knitting –  I hope you can forgive me. Here’s a selection of personal highlights from the conference, presented to you in chronological order:

(1) Dr Martin Polley, Senior lecturer in Sport (he’s a sport historian) spoke engagingly about Knitting and the Olympic Games. Not only was knitting part of the predecessor of the Olympic Games, The Much Wenlock Olympian Games, where women and girls were judged on the fastest and neatest knits; knitwear has also caused controversy at more than one Olympic event. Most recently the LZR Racer swimsuits developed by Speedo to emulate sharkskin, gave swimmers an unusual advantage. These suits have been banned since the 2008 Games saw an incredible amount of new records.

(2) Sharon Evans-Mikellis, senior lecturer in Fashion and Textile Design at AUT University, New Zealand discussed garment shape innovation in knitwear design. I don’t know a single thing about knitting machines, let alone the high-tech ones that Sharon works with, but I was struck by the fact that even with the latest technology, knitting machines are usually used to emulate flat knitting, even if they can knit in 3D. Sharon explored some new ways of shaping knitwear using these capabilities, which is much more easily done in hand-knitting. Her talk has inspired me to try some new sweater designs, on which I will report in due course!

(3) Hazel Tindall, knitter, spoke about her mother’s diary she wrote in the 1960s. It gave a personal voice on how knitting pervaded this woman’s live, who much preferred reading and writing. Before the discovery of oil, knitting was about the only way to earn extra cash for housewives in rural Shetland, so apart from making garments for her family, she knitted goods for local knitwear buyers. Hazel read out snippets of the diaries, showed some of the garments mentioned by her mother, and gave an insight in how live must have been for many a housewive in Shetland at the time.

(4) Juliette, knitter. I only spoke to Juliette during dessert at the conference dinner, but I so admire her. 78 years of age, she was so lovely to talk to, and she knew so much about knitting. She was not only wearing a perfectly fitting cardigan, but on her shoulders was draped a beautiful Shetland lace shawl (in Jamieson’s cobweb, of course). Then she pulled out of her bag some miniature knitting she was working on. Jumpers knitted to a 1:12 scale, using needles made from piano wires and knitted in polyester sewing thread. And not just any old stocking stitch. Oh no, one was knitted in entrelac and another in a Sanquhar pattern.

(5) Helen Whitham, recently graduated with a first class honours from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design showed some of her graduation collection and spoke about her research, in which she concluded that knitted textiles from Shetland are authentic products expressing a time, place and culture and offer a basis for emotional attachment. This then, will encourage owners to hang on to these garments for longer. In her graduation collection Helen managed to create a whole new and more intellectual approach to Shetland knitwear, creating her very own personal ‘tradition’ informed by colours and shapes of things she found, amongst others, on the beach. Amazing.

(6) Roslyn Chapman, researched the history of the fine lace knitting industry in the nineteenth and early twentieth century Shetland for her PhD, with a focus on the social and economic relationships between the production and consumption of the fine knitted items. During her research, Roslyn became more aware of things that she had never seen, descriptions of the sale of articles that seem to have vanished without a trace. Where are the Shetland knitted opera cloaks? The Shetland lace clouds, lappets and hoods? And what of the scarlet, crimson, purple and blue shawls and the lesser known spotted hap? Where are all the Shetland fringes, tassels and ‘balls’? Were they loved so much that they have been worn to death, or hated so much they have been relegated to the backs of wardrobes? Roslyn showed photocopies of photographs of photographs (yes, really!) of intricate gossamer lace blouses, contemporary adverts selling burnouses, and payment receipts to Shetlands fringers (who’s sole task was to add fringes to knitted items.)

(7) Sandy Black, professor of Fashion & Textile Design & Technology at London College of Fashion, University of the Arts. Sandy discussed couture handknitting in the postwar period, and especially the work of Maria Luck-Szanto. Hungarian by birth, she came to London in 1939 to establish her hand knitted fashion business, using the skills of British knitters to produce her unique creations which adorned the elite society of London and beyond. Her designs contained many innovations, including the minimizing of seams, and influenced the patents for new machine knitting techniques which are only now possible to execute, with the current advanced knitting machines. Looking at the incredible detail of these handknitted garments, I feel all the more inspired to attempt a high finish on my own knitted garments.

Last but not least I, too, presented at In the Loop 3. I spoke about my Curiosity Cabinet of Knitting Stitches. An installation that had to be put on hold due to personal circumstances. However, when I have confirmed new dates for the exhibition, I will write a detailed post about it. The Curiosity Cabinet of Knitting Stitches gives a voice to some of the more esoteric knitting stitches, by presenting them as the rarities they are, by displaying swatches as a natural history collection of yore. It will be accompanied by a series of short workshops, to show others some of these techniques. I got so much good feedback from the audience, that I can’t wait to have it all sorted out and share these cabinets with all of you!

There, I managed to squeeze in a picture after all! I hope this post has given you a flavour of the conference. Personally, I cannot wait till In The Loop 4!

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Post updated on 11 September to correct spelling mistake in Helen Whitham’s name, and put a link in to her blog.

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