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A few weeks ago I visited the Fries Museum archives, and their textile conservator Gieneke Arnolli shared with me many beautiful textiles related to mending and repairing. It was the first time I saw darning samplers in real life. These samplers were educational tools for young girls, teaching them how to repair woven fabrics. However, the Fries Museum also holds many samplers for learning how to repair knitted fabrics. Needless to say that as I particularly enjoy repairing knitwear, these were possibly even more exciting than the darning samplers I shared in my previous post!

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 01a

One of many knitted darning samplers. This one stands out as it was knitted from and repaired with wool

The above knitted darning sampler is different from most of the samplers in the collection, as it was knitted from and repaired with wool. Most other samplers used cotton. Incidentally, it is also similar to the technique I used for repairing the Knitting & Crochet Guild Cardigan commission. As with most of these samplers, the back of the fabric is just as beautiful and interesting as the front.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 01b

The back shows how the sides of the hole were folded back and edges neatly trimmed

The knitted darning samplers can be split into two main categories: the first is the sampler in the shape of a sock or stocking, knitted in the round; the second is the sampler in the shape of a rectangle, knitted flat. Often, the sampler is divided into squares, using red yarn, each containing a repair. Some girls practised the same technique over and over again, whereas others show a great range of techniques.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 02a

Darning samplers in shape of stockings, one the left stocking even the cast-on edge has been repaired

Most often the repairs were executed in red yarn, although most samplers also have at least a couple of repairs in white yarn, too. The left stocking above mostly shows woven darns. In Dutch this technique has two names, depending on what is being repaired: if a hole is repaired by weaving, then it is called ‘stoppen;’ if a thin area is reinforced by weaving, then this is called ‘doorstoppen.’

The right stocking above shows mostly Swiss darning or duplicate stitching. This technique of emulating knitted stitches is called ‘mazen’ in Dutch. It also shows grafting, like the two single rows of red stitches in the right stocking above. It is a way of replacing a missing single row of stitches with a new row, using a blunt darning needle. Incidentally, you might also know grafting as a way of closing the toe on a sock, instead of binding off.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 02b

 

The other side of the same stockings, showing more woven darns on the left, and duplicate stitching on the right, including in ribbing pattern at the cuff

Another technique that was part of sock repair, was reknitting the heel. You can see this in the picture above in the right stocking. For this, the heel flap and heel turn (respectively called ‘big heel’ and ‘small heel’ in Dutch) is unpicked. This leaves you with a hole which has a row of live stitches at the leg side and at the foot side, and edges that were originally the picked up stitches for the gussets. The stitches at the leg side are picked up on one needle, and the edge of each gusset is also picked up on a needle each. The heel flap is knitted as normal, but at the end of each row the last stitch is worked together with a stitch from the gusset edge. Once the heel turn is worked the last row is grafted onto the live stitches at the foot end. Tadah! A new heel!

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 04a

More Swiss darning, or ‘mazen’ on this square sampler, with a variety of different stitch patterns

The most common Swiss darn is executed on thinning fabric. This is relatively simple, as you can use the original stitches as a guideline. However, it is also possible to Swiss darn a hole. I also used this technique on my Knitting & Crochet Guild commission. The sampler above was never finished, and this gives us a glimpse of the technical aspects of Swiss darning a hole. You can see that the hole is neatened, and then a foundation is layed with sewing thread. This foundation will make Swiss darning easier, as it holds the loops of the yarn in place as the rows are worked.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 04b

The back of the sampler shows that all Swiss darns filled in holes, rather than covering thinning areas. You can also see a piece of lino or floorcloth used as a temporary stabiliser

When the holes to be Swiss darned are on the larger side, then you can first baste a piece of lino or floorcloth at the back. This will prevent the hole from being stretched out of shape. At the same time the lino or floorcloth is flexible enough to allow for easier needle and fabric manipulation.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 05

A small undergarment used to practise knitwear repairs

Not all samplers take the shape of socks or squares. I particularly liked this small undergarment. It has beautiful underarm gussets, and a lovely sideseam stitch. Clearly no learning opportunity was wasted, as I’m quite sure the girls would first have to knit the sock, stocking, or other garment, before making holes in it to learn how to repair them. I think my darning workshop students get a good deal here, as I provide them with knitted squares to practise on!

The final sampler I want to share with you may not seem as a high point: at first glance it looks rather unassuming.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 07a

The most exciting darning sampler of all!

It has yellowed a lot, the top half seems rather lumpy-bumpy, and apart from the lace stitches, not much seems to be going on. Upon closer inspection, however, I discovered that the lumps are actually sock heels. Furthermore, most of this small sampler is covered in nigh-on invisible repairs.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 07b

The back is finished off very neatly

The repairs are exemplary on the front as well as the back. Very neatly finished, the repairs really are virtually invisible. I think this was a stocking sampler of sorts. Not only are there heels hiding, there’s also a seam stitch right through the middle, with calf decreases alongside it. Then there are the stitches often used in knitted stockings: two types of ribbing, and a number of fancy stitches that would work well on stockings. It’s like a deconstructed stocking, broken down in its essential elements. We will probably never know why the maker chose to do it this way, rather than by knitting an actual stocking.

I hope you enjoyed reading about my foray into darning samplers, and I would like to thank the Fries Museum and Gieneke Arnolli in particular for inviting me to see these textiles that are not on public display at the moment. I have learnt a lot from them, and their possibilities as sources of inspiration are like a map that will allow me to travel in many directions!

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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It has taken me over a year to complete, but I am now the proud owner of a traditional Cornish Knit-Frock.

This traditional fisherman’s jumper is also known as a gansey or guernsey. I based my design on a picture I found in Mary Wright’s Cornish Guernseys & Knit-frocks:

Mary Wright’s book is full of interesting facts and history of the traditional frocks and guernseys and good instructions on how to knit one yourself. I would encourage you to read it. The shape of a knit-frock (this appears to be the Cornish name for a guernsey or gansey), is very simple, which makes for easy knitting, but it also does not distract from the beautiful patterning. The bottom half of the jumper was frequently tucked into (high-waisted) trousers, so they usually have no patterns: it’s less bulky. The exposed part of the sweater is textured for extra warmth.

During the eighteenth and nineteenth century, many women knitted these jumpers inbetween their daily tasks to earn money, while their husbands were away at sea. To make this worthwhile speed was essential. Several things aided in making the knitting quicker: the jumper was mainly constructed in the round and knitted on very long double-pointed needles. They often used a knitting stick, which could be tucked into a waistband. The stick would support the working needle, making for very speedy knitting. You can read more about them on Kate Davies’s blog.

I knitted mine on circular needles, and manage to break two in the process… The cable broke on one pair, and I managed to bend the needles on the other. But, the effort was worthwhile:

I’m in love with the garter stitch arm strap. It also made for easy picking up stitches for the sleeves. The design feels like a coherent entity: the bars and seeds bands are like opening and closing brackets on the sleeves and chest. And the diamond motif is repeated in three different guises.

Some things in my knit-frock are not traditional: original knit-frocks were usually black or navy. The body was usually a bit longer and the sleeves shorter. I guess the longer body was to make sure they would stay tucked in. The shorter sleeves would keep them from getting wet and mucky during hard work on a fishing boat.

During the course of knitting this jumper I had to perform some delicate sweater surgery AND I found a new way of keeping track of counting rows. All to be revealed in another post!

PS can I draw your attention to the blanket I used as a background? It’s a Shetland blanket, woven by Crofter knitters in, you guessed it, shetland wool. I found it at Snoopers Paradise in Brighton for a mere £20.

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