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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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My vintage-obsessed knitting comrade Susan Crawford embarked on an exciting project about three years ago: she has taken 25 20th century knitted pieces from the textile collection of the Shetland Museum and Archive and turned them into 21st century knitting patterns.

Vintage Shetland Knitwear

In order to fund the costs of making the book, Susan started a Slushpub fundraiser, which has already well exceeded her initial target! The additional money will go to more of the photoshoot costs,  a second photographer to take ‘behind the scenes’ footage of the photoshoot to enhance the book further, additional research to make the book even better, and image licencing to increase the number of historical images included in the book.

As part of this blog tour to promote the book and raise funds, Susan has asked each contributor to share some of the bloggers’ favourite garments in the book. Originally I was going to knit one of the sample garments for the book so I’ve seen all the garments before as Susan gave me the choice, but unfortunately I had other priorities and in the end I didn’t get to knit a garment after all. So, here’s a shortlist of my favourite garments:

Short Sleeve Jumper

Short-sleeved jumper

This short-sleeved jumper appealed to me because of the unusual design, which combines a classic “all-over” with stripes and a border of diamonds. All the diagonal lines really pull the design together.

Casual Cardigan with Pockets

Casual cardigan with inset pockets

This is such a classic cardigan! It’s possibly one of the most typical Shetland knits in the collection, but I love the quiet elegance and the large collection of peerie patterns, punctuated by the recurring diamond pattern.

golf stockings

Golf stockings

How could I not like a pair of knee-high socks with some darning? Against better judgment I once knitted a pair of socks from woollen spun Shetland wool. I wore holes in them after only a few wears, and they’ve been in my mending basket for almost two years now. I wonder whether these golf stockings were knitted from a worsted-spun yarn instead.

But in the end, the garment I wanted to knit most, was the “Prisoner of War” jumper.

Prisoner of War Jumper

Prisoner of War jumper

When I attended Shetland Wool Week in 2013, this jumper was on display in the Shetland Museum. I had already seen pictures of it from Susan, but that didn’t quite prepare me for the impact of seeing the real deal. It’s knitted from fine wool, and as you can see, it’s been mended a lot, and being able to see it failry up-close was a humbling experience. This jumper was knitted for Ralph Paterson by his wife. He was wearing it when he was taken prisoner of war in Hong Kong. It brought him comfort, and reminded him of home. It must’ve been very precious to him, as it has been mended in many places, using odds and ends of yarn.

prisoner of war jumper darning detail

Darning to keep loved ones in mind

POW jumper Darned Detail Neckline

An unexpected pop of colour

POW jumper undarned detail

Not all holes were darned on this jumper; perhaps Ralph Paterson might’ve been on his way home again when he discovered this hole?

I’m looking forward to seeing Susan’s book, and you can probably guess which pattern I’m itching to cast on!

All pieces – each with their own unique story to tell – have been developed into comprehensive multi-sized knitting patterns, complete with instructions, technical advice and illustrated with colour photography shot in Shetland. With an introduction reflecting on the story of each hand-knit item this book is a treasury of Shetland knitting patterns and an insight into Shetland’s rich textile traditions.

The blog tour continues with Kate Atherley‘s blog on Wednesday, 29 July.

Please see the list below for all the stops along the tour past, present, and future:

Thursday 9th July
  
Saturday 12th July
  
Monday 13th July
    
Wednesday 15th July         
  
Friday 17th July
  
Saturday 18th July
  
Sunday 19th July
   
Monday 20th July
  
Tuesday 21st July
  
Wednesday 22nd July
  
Friday 24th July
  
Saturday 25th July
  
Sunday 26th July
   
Monday 27th July
  
Wednesday 29th July
  
Friday 31st July
  
Sunday 2nd August
  
Monday 3rd August
Tuesday 4th August
Wednesday 5th Aug
TBC
Thursday 6th August
   
Friday 7th August

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It has been a while since I last wrote a knitting blog post, but that doesn’t mean my knitting needles have been sitting idle. Inbetween the flurries of mending activity in the last few months, I have also managed to do a lot of knitting. Amongst others I made myself a v-neck jumper:

After reading Susan Crawford’s blog post about her new knitwear model, I decided that I should also model my own knitwear. I may look somewhat bleary-eyed, but that’s what happens when you need to help putting in the final touches of your partner’s Masters Dissertation (an oral history research about young women’s leisure, space and identity in 1960s Belfast, since you ask), at 1:30 in the morning.

After having knitted a few jumpers using Elisabeth Zimmermann’s seamless construction methods, it was time to investigate another construction technique. This v-neck saddle-shoulder sweater has been knitted from the top down, following Barbara Walker’s ‘recipe.’ Her book Knitting from the Top is a knitting cult classic, for all the right reasons. In twelve chapters, Walker talks you through knitting all the garments you can think of, starting from the top. She relies on taking good measurements, and a generous swatch, so you can work out how to get just the right size. Most items are knitted seamlessly, so once you’ve cast off, all that’s left to do, is sewing in the yarn tails and block the item. The real eye-opener here is the shaped shoulder knitted in the round. Yes, this is actually possible!

After taking all the necessary measurements and working out my gauge from my swatch, this jumper starts with knitting the shoulder straps for the saddle shoulders. Stitches are picked up from the long sides of the shoulder and then the back is knitted. I included short row shaping to make sloped shoulders. Once you have completed the armholes, you put all stitches on some waste yarn, and do the same for the front. when the armholes are completed on the front, everything is put on one large circular needle, and one can continue knitting the body in the round. After this, stitches are picked up for the sleeves, and the sleeve cap is shaped with short rows too. Once these are completed, the sleeve is knitted in the round to the cuff. Walker also gives you directions to knit in the round all the way from the shoulders, and instead of picking up stitches, you create the armhole/sleeve seams by increases. Genious!

As you can see in the following picture, the v-neck has been shaped by increases and this looks really neat:

All the welts have been knitted in a 2×1 rib, with the knit stitch knitted through the backloop. I like the graphic quality this gives, although I’m not sure if I would use this again, as I find that at the cuffs and the hem tend to curl up a bit. Perhaps next time I either do a 1×1 rib, or a 2×2 rib, so that the amounts of knits and purls are completely balanced.

However, I do particularly like the shaping of the V with a centred double decrease:

 

The cast-off looks so neat and sharply cornered, because on the cast-off row, I also did a centred double decrease at the corner, before taking the previous stitch over the new stitch and off the needle.

For the side seams I employed Elisabeth Zimmermann’s ‘phoney seam’. Before starting the ribbing, I dropped down the seam stitch all the way to the armpit, and hooked it back up with a crochet hook, alternating picking up one, and two strands. I mainly used this as it makes blocking much easier, as this way I don’t have to guess where the side seams would be. You can see the phoney seam as one column of slightly larger stitches.

 

There are a few niggles in this jumper that I’m happy to live with, but which I want to avoid in the future. These mainly concern the shoulders and armholes. I think I could have made the shoulder saddles a little bit shorter, and the armholes a little bit deeper.I think this will make the sweater sit better on my shoulders. I already mentioned my doubts about the pattern I used for ribbing. The sweater could’ve been little bit longer, and lastly, the sleeves could be a little bit wider. Evenso, I’m really pleased with this jumper; it’s a great addition to my wardrobe.

My v-neck jumper was knitted in Excelana 4ply, in the Persian Grey colourway. Excelana is Susan Crawford’s range of knitting yarn, especially developed to recreate the look and feel of vintage yarns, which complements her vintage style patterns. I still have a couple of balls left, so don’t be surprised if I make a hat to match!

Have you ever knitted a garment from the top down? What did and didn’t you like about this approach?

 

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In an earlier post I mentioned Susan Crawford had asked me to help her out with knitting for her new book, A Stitch In Time 2. I guess it would’ve been a leap of faith for her, as she had only seen some of my project pictures on Ravelry after Louise from Prick Your Finger had said that I might be up for it.

When Susan emailed me the original pattern I was thrilled:

I recognised the pattern as “Frost Flowers” from Barbara Walker’s A Treasury of Knitting Patterns. It features on its cover! Despite appearances, it is a very easy lace pattern. It consists of only two rows (granted, there is shaping on both rows, no rest rows here!). These get repeated three times, and then the pattern shifts by a half-drop for another three repeats of the two rows.

I ended up in an email conversation with Susan (I hope to meet her in person this Saturday at last) and she explained to me how she approaches rewriting vintage patterns:

“With the vintage patterns I tend not to add specific techniques that weren’t in the original pattern to the instructions that I provide. However, I would encourage any knitter to improve where they think it can be improved upon, but for historical integrity I remain as true to the original pattern as I can whilst trying to make the pattern easier for the knitter to use.”

This is no mean feat, as nowadays, we expect most patterns to be written in multiple sizes. This can be difficult, especially if you have a large pattern repeat like this one. You cannot just add a few stitches here and there, as this would mess up your pattern repeats. In some cases, changing size can be done by choosing different weight yarns and/or playing with needle size (the Kasha cardigan linked above is a good example of this). Luckily Susan is an excellent designer, and she is an expert in grading designs. This meant however, I didn’t get to sew up, as Susan needed the unblocked separate pieces to work out sizes. If I have to believe the many blog posts on Ravelry, I’m in the minority of actually enjoying the sewing up process; posting the pieces back as they were was somewhat unsatisfactory, so I’m doubly pleased to see the end result:

I want all my knitwear to be photographed professionally from now on!

The Lady’s Evening Jumper’s original instructions left a lot to be desired. One shoulder would’ve been lopsided and more than one pattern repeat would’ve been messed up. Luckily I have an eye for detail (although my partner would probably call me overly fussy) and I think I managed to catch them all out.

Apart from the gorgeous lace pattern, this jumper has a unique solution for shaping darts. The darts are all horizontal: you cast off in the middle of a row and on the return row you cast on a larger amount of stitches than you cast off (adding up to an additional pattern repeat). As part of the finishing, you gather the cast-on row and sew it on the cast-off row. As you can see in the pictures above, this makes for an neatly integrated and almost invisible increase, as the darts are judiciously placed (two under the bust, one on the back and one in each sleeve).

The jumper is knitted in Fyberspates Scrumptious laceweight, and this makes the jumper very glamorous. However, I did knit a little practice swatch in white Jamieson’s shetland cobweb, and that also came out looking very beautiful, and I found that the decrease lines appeared accentuated a bit more due to the light colour, so I would love to see somebody knitting this up in a lighter colour, just to see the difference.

I also asked Susan how this jumper would originally been worn, and she replied: “…in the 40s women usually wore a slip or vest under their outer clothes so would have probably sewn one to coordinate with the sweater. As it is an evening sweater I would imagine a silk slip would have been made. [It] May even have been worn over a dress on occasion.”

It is definitely a jumper for Occasions!

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My friend has a lovely red cashmere jumper. But MOTHS have had a feast on it! As you can see, I have carefully gone over the jumper to find out where they had their starter, main course and pudding. I think they may have had a cheeseboard too. I marked all the holes with coilless safety pins, as I think this is a perfect candidate for the Visible Mending Programme.

I’m planning to use some Jamieson’s Ultra 2ply shetland laceweight to connect all the holes with a fine ruffle. Let’s hope the MOTHS won’t find out.

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