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One of my favourite techniques for repairing woven textiles is the hemmed patch. old tea towels with hemmed patches

Old tea towels with hemmed patches

There are many repair techniques, and in “the olden days” it was deemed important that a repair would be as inconspicuous as possible. However, the least visible techniques are generally also the weakest, and for every item in need of repair, one had to weigh up strength against invisibility. One technique that makes for invisible repairs is the oversewn patch.

oversewn patch front

an unassuming piece of fabric with scalloped edges…

oversewn patch back

…turns out to be a oversewn patch sampler, showing many different shaped patches

This vintage sampler shows the oversewn patch technique in all its glory; as you can see, it’s possible to make a repair nigh on invisible. Not only can you perfectly match a pattern, the sewing technique used makes for a very smooth transition from background fabric to patch. On a blouse or shirt this would be a good technique to use, but if you want to repair tea towels, which get washed frequently, you’d soon end up with fraying seams, and very likely, new holes where the stitching isn’t quite strong enough to withstand the washing process.

A hemmed patch, on the other hand, encases the raw edges of the hole and patch inserted, and the double line of stitching ensures a strong repair. Of course, it is still possible to match the pattern, but the hem will always show up. My favourite books on mending will discuss the pros and cons of each technique, taking these kind of things into account.

hemmed patch pattern match

Pattern-matched hemmed patch

When I first started using the hemmed patch, I was lucky to have a number of tea towels in different colourways of the same weave pattern. It allowed me to pattern match, yet make the repair stand out even more through the use of different colours. I was intrigued by this disruption of the pattern, and I wanted to explore this concept further.

tomofholland tea towel the new craftsmen process 1

Vintage tea towel with stripes

I sourced a pile of striped vintage linen tea towels, cut patches from the striped sections of one sacrificial tea towel, and started playing around with different ways of disrupting the stripes. The end result hints at other design possibilities for weaving the fabric used for these towels.

tom of holland the new craftsmen tea towel 3

Red and green stripes disrupted

multi colour tea towel

Bold stripes call for a bold approach to patching

Tom-of-holland-the-new-craftsmen-tea-towel-7-590x590

Vintage tea towels with hemmed patch, available at The New Craftsmen

It was hard to stop, so I made a whole pile of these towels, and the green and red striped ones are exclusively available through The New Craftsmen.

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Cobbled together: transitive verb. 1 chiefly British : to mend or patch coarsely. 2 : repair, make cobble shoes. 3 : to make or put together roughly or hastily —often used with together or up : cobble together an agreement, cobble up a temporary solution.

Canvas and leather shoe repair WIP

Shoes in need of some cobbling with a difference

My friend Sam absolutely loves these shoes, and she has worn them a lot. As a result, the canvas in the creases on the top of the toes had started to deteriorate, and I loved the repair challenge this posed to me. It’s not a job that I think a cobbler would ever take on, but in general I think that taking your shoes to the cobbler’s is probably one of the few acts of repair that people still do on a regular basis, and probably one of the few things I don’t do myself. It’s also one of the few mainstream shops still geared exclusively towards repairing, alongside mobile phone and computer repair shops.

Electrical Repair Agency, Newcastle

Electrical Repair Agency in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK. I happened upon it on a Sunday, so it’s hard to tell whether they were still in business

There used to be many repair shops, such as the one I photographed in Newcastle when I was visiting in 2012, but it seems there are not that many left now. Indeed, this is one of the reasons that Martine Postma founded the Repair Cafe Foundation, and why I volunteer at one. As explained on their website:

We throw away vast amounts of stuff. Even things with almost nothing wrong, and which could get a new lease on life after a simple repair. The trouble is, lots of people have forgotten that they can repair things themselves or they no longer know how. Knowing how to make repairs is a skill quickly lost. Society doesn’t always show much appreciation for the people who still have this practical knowledge, and against their will they are often left standing on the sidelines. Their experience is never used, or hardly ever.

The Repair Café changes all that! People who might otherwise be sidelined are getting involved again. Valuable practical knowledge is getting passed on. Things are being used for longer and don’t have to be thrown away. This reduces the volume of raw materials and energy needed to make new products. […] The Repair Café teaches people to see their possessions in a new light. And, once again, to appreciate their value. The Repair Café helps change people’s mindset. This is essential to kindle people’s enthusiasm for a sustainable society.

But most of all, the Repair Café just wants to show how much fun repairing things can be, and how easy it often is.

Canvas and leather shoe repair WIP closeup

Repair in progress

I definitely find fixing fun, and apart from giving me an opportunity to be creative, I find that when I’m absorbed in the task at hand, my mind frequently starts wandering and I have the freedom to roam wherever my mind wants to take me. Fixing Sam’s shoes made me thinking about cobblers and the meaning of the verb “to cobble together” — as you can see in the definition from Merriam-Webster posted in the opening paragraph of this post, it is mostly used to describe mending or patching in a rough or hasty manner: the complete opposite of the way I approached this repair.

Canvas leather brogues repaired topview

Shoe repair finished. I thought a quick polish wouldn’t go amiss either

For this repair I used some linen thread supplied by Namolio and I “simply” darned the thread in. In principle this is a very simple technique. The threads of the original canvas running from side to side were mostly still intact, so I viewed those as the warp threads, and the repair thread as the weft. I wove in and out of the warp, and extended this into the still sound fabric. Once that was completed, I reinforced the weakest warp threads by darning alongside them. As the damage was right in the middle of a concave surface it was a challenge to get the needle in right where I wanted it, putting my patience to the test. I’m glad I persevered, as I’m very happy with the end result. As is Sam; I hope she’ll walk many more miles in these.

Canvas leather brogues repaired

What a beautiful pair of shoes; as you can see, I did leave some work for an actual cobbler

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Today I would like to share some more from my visit to the Fries Museum. This was the first time I got to see darning samplers in real life; after reading about them, and seeing pictures of them on the internet and in books, it was a very exciting day for me!

As I’m still learning about darning samplers – I’m by no means an expert – I can share with you some of the things as I understand them at this point in time. And of course, loads of pictures!

Fries Museum stoplap darning sampler 1

‘Door myn gedaan / Maria Catrina Droowe’ with elaborate borders, and darning on each corner as well as the easier darns in the middle of the fabric

Many, if not most, girls were taught useful needlecrafts. This seemed to consist in the very least of sewing, knitting, and repairing woven and knitted fabrics. Other skills that were often taught were marking of linen with initials or little symbols in order to identify items during laundry day, and fine needlecrafts such as embroidery, needlepoint, crochet, netting, tatting, etc. The basic skills were needed for any girl seeking employment as a maid, or other household help. However, any lady would also have to learn these things as part of their education in becoming a useful wife. The fine needlecrafts were deemed essential for the ladies in a household, as it would allow them to be occupied, show off their elegant hands, and make things to sell at bazaars to other ladies, all in aid of any number of charitable causes.

Fries Museum stoplap darning sampler 2

‘Johanna Scholtens / anno 1778’ with the letters picked out in eyelet embroidery

In Dutch we have a number of different words for darning, being more descriptive of the technique used:

‘stoppen’ = repairing a hole in woven or knitted fabric by means darning, i.e. by weaving in a patch.

‘doorstoppen’ = repairing a thin patch in a woven fabric by reweaving the thin area in the weave pattern of the original fabric. This is sometimes called ‘damask darning’ in English, although that term is also used for a similar technique for decorative purposes.

‘mazen’ = repairing knitted fabric, by means of Swiss darning or duplicate stitching techniques, which emulates the knit stitches.

And for completeness: a ‘stoplap’ is a darning sampler.

Fries Museum stoplap darning sampler 9

Darning sampler close-up, showing an emulated knitted patch in the top right corner

A number of the darning samplers in the Fries Museum contain a woven patch that emulates knitting, like the one in the top-right in the close-up picture above. Gieneke Arnolli, the textile conservator of the museum was most intrigued by these, and has examined them up close. It turns out that these are made by first spanning threads across from left to right, and then this ground was filled in with a stem stitch, one column slanting to the left, the next slanting to the right, etc. Like the example above, some even have a ‘seam stitch’ column in them. The seam stitch in sock knitting refers to a column of purl stitches at the back of the leg.

Fries Museum stoplap darning sampler 4

A darning star

Some of the samplers have a beautiful darn in the middle, with points radiating out as a star. I don’t know if this was purely decorative, or had a practical purpose as well. The sampler above also shows a number of darns to be used on a variety of checked fabrics used for tea towels etc. I know these patterned textiles as ‘Brabants bont’ (‘Brabantian multi-colour’) – another province of The Netherlands known for their textiles; in fact, the Textile Museum in Tilburg is in the province of Brabant.

Fries Museum stoplap darning sampler 7

Henrica Deutelius 1773 – front; notice the mistake in the letter N

Fries Museum stoplap darning sampler 7b

Henrica Deutelius – 1773 – back

Having the darning samplers right in front of me meant I could inspect the back as well as the front. It’s an urge that I’m sure many an embroiderer will recognise! What’s immediately obvious are the little looped fringes on the edge of each darn. These loops are created when turning around to work your way back. As the fabric being repaired usually has been washed a number of times, it will have shrunk in the process. However, the darns are made with new threads, probably never washed, so the loops will allow for the darned patch to shrink when eventually it is washed, without pulling the fabric around it together. I could also see (and confirmed this in some of the old needlecraft books) that the edges of a hole would be trimmed to have straight edges, cut right along one thread. Once the darning is complete, the fabric threads will have nowhere to go, and thus the edges require no further finishing off.

Fries Museum stoplap darning sampler 10

Catharina Alida Kiers – 1782

There are two interesting things about the darning sampler by Catharina Alida Kiers. First of all, you can see that one of the darns has developed a hole. This is most likely due to the dye used to make the black thread. Synthetic dyes didn’t come into existence for another seventy years or so, and therefore the black was probably achieved by using black walnut. This dye actually slowly damages the fibre over time, and you will often see that old textiles are more fragile, or have started to disintegrate, in the areas of black or dark brown colour.

The other thing to note about this sampler, is that it uses some of the same darning patterns, and has the same crest above and border around the name as the sampler made by Henrica Deutelius above. These kind of features allow textile historians to trace samplers back to a specific area and learn more about their provenance. In all likelihood these girls went to the same school, or at least had the same ‘useful needlecraft’ teacher.

Fries Museum stoplap darning sampler 11

 

Darning sampler with challenging darns at the edges and corners

Many darning samplers not only have darns in the middle of the fabric, but also at the edges or even corners. This is a more challenging darn, and they were achieved by temporarily sewing some card or stiff paper on the back of the hole, which will help as an aid to span the threads across. As you can see in the examples here, getting the tension right is really difficult, and I think if this sampler were ever to be washed, they would pull together even more.

I hope you enjoyed seeing some of these samplers as much as I did, and I’d like to finish this post with an observation that Gieneke made: although many girls were taught how to make beautifully inconspicuous darns, the many items of clothing in the Fries Museum collection show that once they had finished school, these girls either didn’t have the time or inclination to apply their skills: many skirts and shirts show hastily executed darns, only there to fill in a gap in any old way possible.

Also keep an eye out to my third blog post, in which I will share some of the knitted darning samplers – all I can say is: you’re in for a treat!

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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Reading a book on creative knitting is one thing, but exploring it by knitting is something else altogether. In my previous post I spoke about Creative Knitting by Mary Walker Phillips. Since then, I have been itching to get my hands on some linen and try it out for myself.

Mary Walker Phillips Exploration Swatch Wall Hanging

A linen swatch, exploring Mary Walker Phillips’s book Creative Knitting

I had not worked seriously with linen before, so this swatch is also about exploring a new material. Linen has cropped up quite a lot recently as various friends have been working with it. It’s very different from working with wool, it has no stretch at all and is very strong, which makes it ideal for wall hangings and other art pieces. But it also has its challenges, as any irregularities in your knitting will stand out.

Mary Walker Phillips Exploration Swatch Closeup 3

Fancy crossed throws combined with stocking stitch, and some lace stitches shown on top

First and foremost I was intrigued by Phillips’s use of a stitch called ‘fancy crossed throw.’ At first sight they appear to be made by throwing the yarn twice around the needle, and then dropping the second yarn-over on the return row. However, if you study them closely you can see that these stitches are twisted around themselves. They are made with a complex throw around both needle tips and are laborious to execute.

Mary Walker Phillips Exploration Swatch Closeup 2

Texture is added by wrapping stitches and bobbles; lace stitches create spaces

The linen emphasises stitch texture and its crips lines make lace stitches with their open spaces shine, creating beautiful contrasts. Phillips manages to play with this to great effect, and I admire her wall hangings. You can see one of them in an accompagnying picture in her obituary in the New York Times, from which I want to share this great quote with you: ‘What Miss Phillips did, starting in the early 1960s, was to liberate knitting from the yoke of the sweater. Where traditional knitters were classical artists, faithfully reproducing a score, Miss Phillips knit jazz. In her hands, knitting became a free-form, improvisational art, with no rules, no patterns and no utilitarian end in sight.’

By knitting this swatch – and more will follow – I know I’m simply reproducing Phillips’s ‘score,’ but that’s not the point of making them. She says in Creative Knitting: “Personal expression in knitting, as in any other creative medium, is not achieved by copying exactly what someone else has done. Rather, the aim is to translate with yarn the atmosphere of the inspiration.” They challenge me in different ways, making me approach techniques in a new light, and continue my journey of a more free-flowing form of knitting.

Mary Walker Phillips Exploration Swatch Closeup 1

Bell pattern and ladder stitch

The bell pattern and ladder stitch shown above is a good example of what Phillips means by translating with yarn the atmosphere of the inspiration. She was inspired by that Master Knitter, whose indispensible books should be mandatory reading for any knitter, Mary Thomas: “It was with the purchase of Mary Thomas’s Book of Knitting Patterns, discovered while rummaging through a secondhand book store, that I really became involved in creative knitting.” Thomas’s Book of Knitting Patterns contains quite a few variations on the bell pattern, and I can imagine how trying out some of Thomas’s stitches and patterns in swatches eventually transformed into the knitted art that Phillips is known for.

I’d like to finish my first steps on my new journey with Rachael Matthews’s comment on my Creative Knitting blog post: “It’s like the journey is to find the place, and you know where you are going but of course you never know what it looks like until you get there.”

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