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Posts Tagged ‘mending’

During a paper I gave at In the Loop 4, I mentioned a blurring of boundaries: when does a garment start, and when does it end? Musings about Taking time, Woolly Comrade Felicity ‘Felix’ Ford’s Slow Wardrobe project, and having conversations with other friends who make clothes to last, have culminated into my own thoughts about a Slow Wardrobe.

Brioche Sweater and grafitti

My Brioche Sweater: a recently completed garment. Or is it?

Since I started repairing with purpose, I’m slowly but surely drifting away from the idea that once the last loose end has been woven in, a garment is finished. Over time, clothes start to develop signs of wear, of having been washed, of having been used. Inevitably, an edge starts to fray, a seat wears thin, or a hole appears, and the time comes I’ll be getting out my darning needle. By making my mends visible, I continue adding to the garment. A beautiful mend can be worn as a badge of honour, and in my view, augments and alters the garment repaired.

Flanelette Plaid shirt darning by tomofholland

Darning the threadbare yoke seam of a flannelette shirt

A shift of focus from trying to keep things looking new and perfect to favouring the old and imperfect, means I’ve stopped looking at repair as a chore, but as a creative challenge in its own right. Instead of fixing something that is broken, which implies the item was finished, I now continue working on something that wasn’t complete yet. This idea is perhaps easier to embrace where it concerns clothes I made myself, but I now extend it to the clothes I buy. I frequently purchase secondhand clothes, and they already show signs of wear, and the time to repair something usually comes along sooner.

Tom spinning a yarn

Spinning a yarn

Conversely, making my own clothes has made me question at what point a garment starts. When you buy something, you could be led to believe that your garment’s life starts when you’ve handed over your cash. But this, of course, isn’t true. Somebody somewhere has laid out cloth, cut it up, seamed it, pressed it. Most likely different people were involved in different stages and many things are now mechanised.

When making your own clothes, you get to choose the fabric or yarn, the pattern, the buttons, and put it all together into a garment. You could argue that the item starts its life when you clapped your eyes on that beautiful tweed, or when you dreamt up that Christmas jumper and you started looking for the right yarn. Now that I also spin, even if as yet I haven’t spun enough of one yarn to make a whole jumper, my boundary has shifted even further back: it is possible to make a garment-specific fibre, so really, its life starts there. In fact, we can take it back right to the beginning: wool, linen, silk, and cotton are all fibres that theoretically I could grow or farm myself.

Roger from Diamond Fibre Mill

Roger from Diamond Fibre Mill spinning a yarn or two

So even if I’m not personally involved in all the process steps from farming to harvesting to processing of fibres, and subsequently turning the resulting cloth or yarn into a garment, I’m aware that all these steps are part of the story. If you want to get an understanding of some of the issues around the fashion industry, then there’s no better way than trying to make something yourself. When you wash your raw fleece, you’ll notice how much water you use. When you spin a yarn, you understand how difficult it can be to get something just right. When you sew a shirt, you get a feel for how complicated sewing can be. Try and imagine any of these processes on an industrial scale, and soon all sorts of questions pop up: how can we grow/farm fibres in huge quantities? What happens with waste water from processing fibres and dyeing it? What happens to by-products and waste from the spinning process? How can somebody sew 50 shirts a day? How are prices of clothing set on the High Street?

These are just a few questions, and answering them is difficult, and fixing things that appear to be a problem is also very complicated. So what can I do about it myself? Talking to people such as Sarah Corbett from the Craftivist Collective, or reading John-Paul Flintoff’s book Sew Your Own, made me realise that there will be things I personally cannot influence, but there are other things I can do something about. I can run workshops, I can volunteer, I can decide what goes into my wardrobe, and I can share my experiences in this blog.

A follow-up post is in the making, in which I want to share with you my thoughts about my Slow Wardrobe: what does it mean to me? Sewing and knitting my own clothes, making things that last, repairing things, and thinking about long-term style, not short-term fashion.

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What is it I do?

In the past few months I have been thinking a lot about what I do as a maker. Throughout the coming months, I want to blog a bit more about what my creative practice means to me.

The Visible Mending Programme - Shoulder and Sleeve Detail

Using knitting to mend knitting: a private commission

Thinking about what I do means I have updated my ‘About‘ page, and I’ll use this as a guide to write these blog posts:

Tom is a self-taught textiles practitioner, with an emphasis on creating and repairing knitted objects, working mostly with wool. He is currently based in Brighton, UK. Tom’s craft practice is slow, allowing him to gain a deep understanding of material qualities and the traditional techniques that he uses for making and mending contemporary objects. Through his combined interest in sustainability and the rich textile history around wool in Britain he has started to question when the life of a woollen garment (and by extension any object) starts and ends. By exploring the motivations for repair Tom shifts the emphasis from the new and perfect to the old and imperfect, enabling him  to highlight the relationship between garment and wearer. His interest in using traditional techniques for creating and repairing (woollen) textiles mean that in Tom’s practice creating and mending textiles are in constant conversation with each other.

Self-taught Pocket Repair

A complex pocket repair, learnt from a book on clothes repairs

Many people assume I have a textiles background and studied textiles or fashion at college. As I firmly believe anybody can do what I do, it’s the first thing I wanted to say about myself: I’m a self-taught maker. I originally trained as a radiotherapy radiographer and have worked in a hospital to treat cancer patients. Nowadays I work for one of the companies that make radiotherapy treatment machines. All my making and repairing started out as a hobby and it’s been a very exciting journey so far, and one that is far from finished.

Ever from since I was a kid I have been creative and dabbled in all sorts of things such as drawing, caligraphy, crochet, origami, knitting, and whatnot. And I have always done minor repairs to my clothes, usually with very little thought behind it. Then, about eight or nine years ago I was inspired by a hugely expensive designer scarf to knit my own scarf, as I vaguely remembered knitting as a child. I got myself some needles and yarn and a learn-to-knit-in-ten-easy-steps book.

Cornish knitfrock - learnt from a book

A Cornish knit-frock: made according to the “recipe” in the Cornish Knit-frock book by Mary Wright

And from then on, I discovered the wealth of information contained in books and on the internet. I was encouraged by people around me to explore and try out things and not be afraid to fail; I feel knitting is really very suited to the inquisitive mind. It doesn’t have to cost much, and it’s easy to try something out and if it doesn’t go to your liking, you can simply rip back and try again.

And even if there is nobody around to discuss and learn from face-to-face, there is still so much help to be found around you: regular readers of my blog know I love old needlecraft books, and then, of course, there is the internet. I have learnt a lot from the forums on Ravelry (including, what books might be of interest to me.) It has opened my eyes to what knitting can be, and the potential that each knitter carries within in them.

Mary Walker Phillips Exploration Swatch Wall Hanging

An exploration of Mary Walker Phillips’s work; I would never have heard of Mary Walker Philips if it wasn’t for the internet

The above swatch would not have happened if I didn’t have access to the internet. It’s how I found out about Mary Walker Phillips’s work. It’s how I learnt about her book Creative Knitting, which has been very inspiring and revelatory. It’s how I learnt isn’t always necessary to start a new adventure with rigorous planning and calculating and worrying things won’t work out. Sometimes you just need to cast on and get going.

I truly believe that anybody can become a great knitter and I hope that sharing my knitting projects on this blog is testament to that. It’s great to get comments on my blog posts that show it has inspired you go on your own knitting adventure: may sticks and string lead you down unheard of avenues and be ready to be surprised. I have a lot of fun this way, and I hope you do, too!

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This is not a blog post about mending books, but a post about some of my favourite books about mending.

tomofholland collection of mending books

A small selection of my mending library

I frequently get questions about where I’ve learnt my mending skills, and what books I would recommend. Most of my skills come from old books, combined with a lot of practice. I favour old books as they tend to go more in-depth, and usually have many repair approaches depending on the fabric and what needs repairing. I’ll discuss a selection of my favourite books, in order of acquisition:

tomofholland's copy of Mend It! by Maureen Goldsworthy

Don’t just think about it, MEND IT!

A call to arms for all my mending comrades, I think Mend It! A Complete Guide to Clothes Repair is a great introduction into mending and repairing clothes. As it states on the cover, it is pretty much complete, and deals with many repair jobs. It has clear instructions with a mix of graphics and photographs. The introduction sets the scene for all of my mending books:

‘As invisible as possible…’

A cigarette burn on a good skirt – a tear in a new pair of pants […] Mend it! Not perhaps with an eye-catching darn or a thumping great patch, but with one of the many methods that will make a nearly or completely invisible repair[.]

Regular readers of my blog will know that I’m a big fan of the eye-catching darn or thumping great patch, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to do a shoddy job on the repairs! Not so in these books, where as invisible as possible is the holy grail of repair – clothes ought to end up looking as new again. For me this means they lose some of their character, and hide the fact that they have been with you for a while. They’re worth repairing because they mean something to you, so why not make it into a feature and let them tell their story?

Page from tomofholland's Mend It! book by Maureen Goldsworthy

The photographs, diagrams, and clear instructions in Mend It! guide you through many a repair job

The next book is a compilation of Make Do and Mend instruction leaflets, published by the Board of Trade during WWII.

tomofholland's copy of Make Do and Mend

Make Do and Mend; keeping family and home afloat on war rations

This book contains reproductions of the official Second World War instruction leaflets on how to run your household on war rations. So not only does it contains hints and tips on repairing, but also on how to be efficient with fuel, how to look after household linen, woollens, and shoes, and how to refashion worn out garments into something else – the idea of ‘upcycling’ is nothing new!

a page from tomofholland's Make Do and Mend book

Charming illustrations hide the hardship of living through the Second World War

The Make Do and Mend campaign was so successful we still use the phrase today. There are many things in this compilation that still make a lot of sense now. The charming illustrations in these instruction pamphlets issued by The Board of Trade do a good job of masking the hardships suffered in every day life during and after the Second World War, particularly when viewed from a distance of well over half a century. In those days, people really didn’t have any choice but to make do and mend, as there was not much new to be had. Therefore I struggle when people nowadays use the phrase ‘Make Do and Mend’ nilly-willy, when in fact what they have done is to chose to repair something rather than the throw it out and replace it – something that is often much cheaper in the 21st Century.

tomofholland's copy of Practical Home Mending Made Easy

Partical Home Mending Made Easy, printed in 1946

My other favourite mending book full of techniques for many situations, including temporary fixes when you’re on the go, was printed in 1946. Practical Home Mending Made Easy is probably also easily the most gendered of my needlework books. Many needlework books will always address the reader as being a woman, and assume that it’s only the woman who will undertake the mending and repair jobs lurking in the mending basket, but this one seems to go one step further. The preface starts with a list of the type of women who might make use of this book: a business girl with hardly time to repair that broken shoulder strap, a little girl just learning to handle needle and thread, a big girl with a new husband’s shirts to take care of, a favourite grandma with the responsibility for taking care of play clothes, a veteran housekeeper, etc. Yet there is hope for us men, too:

A mere man? Yes – the book is for you, too. You needn’t master all the information in it, but if you concentrate on a few essential pages and become  expert in button sewing, patching and darning – and you can – you will have the admiration of all your girl and women friends, and be as independent as you please.

page from tomofholland's Practical Home Mending Brooks Picken

Darning is a fine art – and not only practised by women!

The following book is in Dutch and I discussed it in the blog post about repairing a cardigan from the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection:

tomofholland's copy of Vrouwelijke Handwerken

 

The title translated from the Dutch: The Feminine Handicrafts for School and House; marking, Swiss darning and darning

 

De Vrouwelijke Handwerken voor School en Huis; Het Merken, Mazen en Stoppen (The Feminine Handicrafts for School and House; marking, Swiss darning and darning), was written in 1888 for teaching needlework, and is part of a small series – the other two volumes cover sewing and knitting. It shows how to teach marking (embroidering initials into clothes for identification purposes during laundry day,) repairing woven fabric by means of darning, and repairing knitwear by means of Swiss darning and other techniques. The illustrations in this book are absolutely stunning:

a page from tomofholland's copy of Vrouwelijke Handwerken

Beautiful and clear illustrations in a century-old book

Then there are the numerous Needlework Companions, Dictionaries and Compilations you can find in many a secondhand bookshop and carboot sale. They usually have a section on repairing, mending, and darning. I have chosen to show Weldons Encyclopedia of Needlework – they published a fair few of these, with ever changing content, so it’s always worth seeing if there is something new to learn.

tomofholland's copy of Weldons Encyclopedia of Needlework

An unassuming – even boring – cover hides a wealth of information: don’t judge a book by its covers!

a page from tomofholland's copy of Weldons Encyclopedia of Needlework

One of my favourites: Scotch darning!

This particular book brings back fond memories. I had seen it at a stall on Brighton’s Saturday street market and I never bought it as I thought they were asking a ludicrous price for it. But I always remembered seeing the Scotch darning section. As Weldons have published this encyclopdia many times, and kept changing the content, I never found it again. Until, that was, I was teaching at the Hope & Elvis Studio. Louise, owner of the studio, is a wonderful woman and I always enjoy going back there. It was languishing on her studio bookshelves and she generously gifted it to me. Every time I open this book I think about her, and Hope & Elvis.

The last book to share is a bit of an oddity. I haven’t had a chance to read any of it yet, but it seems to combine a personal repair journey with repair techniques for anything ranging from China to furniture, to clothes. There are very few pictures or diagrams, but the cover is a gem:

tomofholland's copy of Mending and Repairing

Vignettes on the cover of Mending and Repairing

Lastly, you may wonder what that flanelette plaid shirt is doing there, serving as a backdrop for my books?

Flanelette Plaid shirt darning by tomofholland

Labour of Love – repairing my partner’s comfy shirt

My partner often wears this XXL oversized nightshirt instead of a housecoat – I shall be talking about the repairs in another blog post soon, so keep an eye out!

——–

Bibliography:

Goldsworthy, M; Mend It! A Complete Guide to Clothes Repair; 1979, Book Blub Associates by arrangement with Mills & Boon Ltd, London

Norman, J (foreword); Make Do and Mend; Keeping Family and Home Afloat on War Rations; 2007, Michael O’Mara Books Limited, London

Brooks Picken, M; Practical Home Mending Made Easy; 1946, Odhams Press Ltd. London

Author unknown; Weldons Encyclopedia of Needlework; The Waverly Book Co. Ltd, London

Teunisse, A and Velden, van der, AM; De Vrouwelijke Handwerken voor School en Huis; Het Merken, Mazen en Stoppen; 1916 (12th revised edition) Versluys, Amsterdam

Leland, CG; Mending and Repairing; Chatto & Windus, London

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Having just returned from a three-week holiday, I had plenty of time to look back to 2013, and look forward to 2014. Last year has been amazing, and I’m sure this will continue in the new year!

Looking back

Darning

Darning at Wool House, Somerset House

I was invited to darn at Wool House, Somerset House, as part of the very successful Campaign for Wool event. I had a great time, and Wool House put my darning sessions in the “best bits” list! It was super-busy, and I think I have enthused quite a few people about darning, and also explain why I like using 100% wool products.

Hope and Elvis Darning Workshop

2013 also saw the first of my day-long darning workshops. I went to Hope & Elvis, lovely Louise’s great studio. It’s stuffed to the gills with vintage fabrics, blankets, threads, scraps, books and any tool you would possibly need, so it was a lot of fun to explore various darning techniques. You’ll be pleased to hear I’m returning there in April.

ShetlandWoolWeek Darning at Jamieson & Smith

Last but not least, my darning skills took me to Shetland! Here’s a picture of my darning class at Jamieson & Smith. I had a great time, I met so many amazing people, with amazing skills. I left a few loose ends on purpose, so I have a good reason to return.

Knitting

Curiosity Cabinet of Knitting Stitches Lace

Early last year I exhibited at Prick Your Finger. My Curiosity Cabinet of Knitting Stitches explored many different knitting stitches and techniques, some old and rare, others common and much-used. It was a good way to learn about different techniques, and investigate them in detail.

Altered Kasha Cardigan for Wedding Outift

Rosemary had seen my Curiosity Cabinet, and thought I’d be the ideal person to take on a commission for her wedding outfit. I gladly took this on, and I knitted a Kasha Cardigan for her, with some alterations: a different collar, and three-quarter length sleeves. It was a great project to work on, and Rosemary has been wearing her cardigan many times since.

Aleatoric Fair Isle Swatch

Last year I also explored stranded colourwork, and in particular the Fair Isle tradition. Together with my comrade in wool, Felicity Ford, we devised a method to learn more about Fair Isle patterns, which took away some of the hurdles we often face when trying to knit Fair Isle. Using rules we made up and some dice, we left pattern and colour selection to chance, based on John Cage’s compositional concepts. We called this Aleatoric Fair Isle.

Spinning

Diamond Fibre Mill spinning

Other highlights include my visit to Diamond Fibre Mill, where I met Roger, who runs this small independent mill, specialising in worsted spinning, and who owns his own flock of Romney sheep.

timbertops chair spinning wheel

I also became the proud owner of an original Timbertops spinning wheel. A chair wheel no less. I haven’t had a chance to write about this yet, so keep your eyes peeled for a blog post in the near future.

Special mention

And if all that wasn’t quite enough, Kate Davies, Felicity and myself curated Wovember 2013 to celebrate wool in all its myriad forms. We posted features about growing, harvesting, processing, working, and wearing wool. I did many more things last year, so these were just some of my highlights.

Looking forward

Plans for 2014 are forming in my head, and amongst others, I’m looking forward to releasing my first cardigan pattern, using Foula wool. A bit later than expected, but it’s important to me to get everything right. I will continue working on the Aleatoric Fair Isle swatches. I’ve also taken on a very special visible mending commission to repair an upcycling attempt gone wrong. As previously mentioned, not only will I return to Hope & Elvis for a darning workshop, I will also run a Darning Master Class at Unravel at Farnham Maltings. More classes and workshops are in the pipe-line, so keep an eye out for them.

Scotch darn on sock

2014 will also be the year of exploring. I did some free-style knitting before Christmas, and I found it very liberating. I found some good books on the subject, and I have also been inspired by Rachael Matthews’s approach to making, and in particular what became her Explosion Jumper.

On the spinning front I want explore more lace-weight spinning, using wool from both classic breeds (Shetland), and unexpected breeds (Rough Fell.)

Last but not least I would like to explore more mending techniques, and in particular learn more about darning and repairing woven textiles. And I still have one or two jumpers to complete…

darned jumper

 

I don’t know about you, but I think I have plenty of things lined up, and it will be my pleasure to share them with you and write about them here.

Happy New Year!

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Last Friday I made my way up to Retford, Nottinghamshire, to stay with Louise Presley, owner of Hope & Elvis. Louise and her husband Nigel were very welcoming and made me feel right at home, making sure I was fed and watered and had a good night’s sleep in preparation for the darning and mending workshop I ran at her beautiful studio on Saturday.

HE_display

Hope & Elvis studio, darning examples and reference books on display

By 10am everybody had turned up, and after an introduction to my Visible Mending Programme, I used some of my darned garments to discuss a variety of techniques. I explained why I had chosen them, and what the advantages and disadvantages of each technique was. Then, whilst having a cuppa and a biccie, each student showed what they had brought to repair and we discussed ideas together.

HE_group

Repair in progress at Hope & Elvis

Throughout the day I demonstrated stocking darning, Swiss darning, Scotch darning* and giving hints and tips on what materials to use, make people think about whether their darns would be practical or an embellishment. Needless to say, I also showed my Speedweve, and I was so pleased to see that Louise not only had one herself, but that she also had a Star darning machine!

HE_Cardi1

A darn in contrasting thread

Louise’s studio is crammed from floor to ceiling with vintage haberdashery, blankets, fabrics, needlework gadgets, threads, yarns, old and new books, and it was fantastic to have all of this to our disposal. Although we had a break for lunch, most people were keen to continue stitching, and I think that when you see the following pictures you’ll agree that everybody made something amazing on Saturday. With apologies in advance: I haven’t remembered everybody’s name – I must be getting on a bit…

HE_BlanketMarks

Marks made on a blanket

HE_BlanketSampler

Pattern darning sampler

HE_buttonholefilling

Buttonhole filling stitch by Mister Finch

HE_sock_sampler

Sock stitch sampler

HE_DamaskSock

Sturdy sock embellished with damask darning

HE_swatches

Delicate darning by Dawn

HE_gusset

Patched up ripped underarm seam by Sarah

HE_GhostPaisley

Meta-darning of a tear in a paisley scarf

It feels good to know that there are a few cardigans, tops and scarves back in the wardrobe, rather than lurking in the mending basket!

I hope my next darning class will be just as successful. It’s coming Friday, 10 May, and there are still a few places left if you’d like to sign up.

*) On Scotch darning: for months now I have been trying to find a copy of a particular edition of Weldon’s Encyclopaedia of Needlework, which explains the Scotch darning technique. I have discussed variations on it in this post, but Saturday was my lucky day. Louise had two copies of said edition, so she gifted one to me! Here is The Page:

HE_ScotchDarning

Scotch darning explained

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Wool House, a showcase of the use of wool in many different guises at Somerset House, has now come to an end. Wool House was organised by the Campaign for Wool and I got to play a part in it, too. What’s more, my drop-in darning sessions were a great success and the Campaign for Wool added them to their highlights of the exhibition!

WHDropInGroupCFW

Drop-in darning at Wool House. Photograph © Campaign for Wool and used with their kind permission

As you can see, it was really rather busy – and it was like that all weekend long. In the background you can see two felted wallhangings by Claudy Jongstra. I’d love to see some of her large site-specific installations. Some people knew I was going to be at Wool House, so they brought along holey jumpers and socks, but I also provided swatches to practise on.

WHDropInConcentrationHS

Concentration at Wool House. Photograph © Howard Sullivan, Your Studio and used with his kind permission

I also ran a darning master class. As this was more in-depth, I had to restrict this to six people only, but many people watched over our shoulders. For many, darning seems to be connected to memories of grandmothers or mothers regularly taking up darning mushroom and needle. These stories got shared with other visitors and me – somehow this simple act of repairing, either by doing or by observing, is very emotive.

WHMasterClassGroupSC

Master class in darning. Photograph © Sue Craig and used with her kind permission

We learnt how to do Swiss darning, or duplicate stitching: a good way to reinforce threadbare fabric which hasn’t developed into a hole yet.

WHMasterClassSwissDarnSC

Swiss darning in action. Photograph © Sue Craig and used with her kind permission

And of course, we also wielded darning mushroom and needle. The darning mushroom in particular opened up conversations about mending, as many people have their nan’s or mum’s one, or remember somebody in their family using one frequently. Whilst darning, people start to reflect on repairing garments, what certain items of clothing mean to them, their motivation for repair, and how they get completely absorbed in the act and find it meditative and relaxing. I think this is probably in great contrast to the times when people had the necessity to darn and repair their clothes and it was viewed as a chore.

WHMasterClassStockingDarnSC

Stocking darning, the finer points. Photograph © Sue Craig and used with her kind permission

Of course, I was very happy that darning was so popular, although it did mean I didn’t get a chance to look around as much as I would’ve liked to, or chat to other people showing their skills. Luckily some of my friends took pictures that they have let me use with their kind permission. As the beautifully curated rooms have been discussed at length in other places, I have picked here a very small selection of all the things I would’ve wanted to have learnt more about:

Savile Row tailoring: as I have tried to do some more sewing lately, I’m utterly in awe of all the work that goes into making a suit or a couture gown.

WHBlocksHS

Pattern blocks. Photograph © Howard Sullivan, Your Studio and used with his kind permission

I may have mentioned before that I have taken up spinning as well. One of the things I want to do soon, is use my handspun yarn for weaving. After all, darning is weaving on a really teeny-tiny scale! I’ll start with a simple home-made frame loom; it’ll be a while yet before I will be able to make something as beautiful as Jason Collingwood can, using a huge loom.

WHWeavingHS

Jason Collingwood weaving. Photograph © Howard Sullivan, Your Studio and used with his kind permission.

As somebody who really likes hand-stitching buttonholes – yes, really! – I could not finish this post with a perfect example of the art.

WHButtonholeHS

A buttonhole, perfectly stitched by hand. Photograph © Howard Sullivan, Your Studio and used with his kind permission.

With many thanks to Campaign for Wool,  Howard Sullivan of Your Studio and Sue Craig, who runs Knitting the Map, for letting me use their pictures.

One final post-script: you can still sign up for my sock-knitting three-week course; taking place 14, 21 and 28 April. More details here.

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I own a pair of shoes that were in dire need of a Visible Mend. They were once very smart, yet comfortable to wear, and clearly made by highly skilled shoe makers. But now they are more than love-worn, as I haven’t always taken care of them as well as I could and I neglected using a shoe horn:

I remember very well the day I bought them. It was in the autumn of 1999 and I was visiting London with a friend. I would normally not have enough money to justify buying something by Vivienne Westwood, but I knew the sales were on and so I dragged my friend to her shop on Conduit Street. I fell in love with these shoes straight-away, but when I tried them on, I could not get my feet in. With a sad face I put them back on the shelf and looked at other things. However, nothing really appealed to me and I was drawn back to the shoes. I tried them on again. And I could not get my feet into them. So with a sad face I put them back on the shelf, again. After another trawl through all the racks and shelves, clearly nothing would do but those shoes. So I tried them on one last time. The helpful shop assistant started chatting to us and said that after nothing much had happened in the shop, I was her “amusement of the day.” And as if by magic, at that moment my feet just slipped in. I laced up, paid up and walked away with the most gorgeous shoes.

But twelve years later, I realised that if I wanted to continue wearing these shoes for another few years, something had to be done. So I bought a box of macarons, and paid a visit to my friend Alex, who runs Laste Shoehop in Brighton:

As you can see, not only were the heels run down, the insoles were also in need of replacement. Note that the box of macarons was still full at this point:

We decided to make a new heel piece, which would line the inside of the heel and a flap that would fold over to cover up the ugly mess. To put this into place and keep the shoes comfortable, we also had to take out the insoles. Or socks, as they are called by shoe makers! They clearly needed replacement, too. There was some shoe maker evidence about the size of the shoes hiding under the sock of the right shoe, if you look closely:

First, we made a pattern out of paper, which had a curved seam in the middle to create the heel shaping. The macarons were proving to be very tasty indeed:

I also traced the socks, so I could use that as a pattern for the new ones. Once we were happy with the pattern pieces, I cut them out from card. In the shoe maker trade, seams are indicated on the pattern by a few cut-outs, instead of cutting the wedge out completely. This makes the pattern more sturdy, as they are usually re-used a lot. One cut-out has a squiggly side, so you can tell left and right side apart. In this picture you can also see the so-called click knife. In shoe making, cutting the leather pieces from the pattern is called clicking – and using scissors is frowned upon at all times!

Alex explained how leather stretches in only one direction (across the belly), and when you click the pattern pieces, this is taken into account, so you can give the shoes stretch where they need it, for example across the foot. Once I had clicked the pattern pieces, it was time to sew the seams. Leather is a wonderful material, as you can use a very small seam allowance, without it ripping it. Alex has an old but sturdy domestic sewing machine for this:

Here are the heel pieces just after sewing up. They somehow remind me of moths in this picture:

In order to keep the seams open, and to make sure they don’t give you blisters by rubbing against your heels, they are flattened out with a hammer. This shoe makers hammer has a special head, one side of which is made from raw hide, which won’t damage the leather when you give it a good bash:

On the inside the heel pieces will fold under the sock, so here is Alex using the naughty scissors, cutting out small wedges to make shaping easier and avoid buckled up leather under your foot. Tut tut tut Alex, scissors!

Next stage is to put contact glue on all surfaces to be glued together. The smell of it made me feel a bit giddy:

Once the glue had dried, it was time to stick the pieces in place. This was a bit tricky to do, as the two glued surfaces should not get in contact with each other where you don’t want to:

When the pieces were in place, I had to let the glue dry properly, so the finishing touch: a nice contrasting seam in bright yellow strong top stitch thread, had to be done at home. It would be difficult to sew through layers of leather with a leather needle and at the same time making sure the stitch lines would be neat and tidy, so I used a little trick. I borrowed Alex’s awl, which is also known as a bradawl (pronounced as |ˈbradɔːl|), to pierce holes through the leather. To keep the holes equidistant, I marked them on the leather with a pair of contractors:

One heel done, one left to go! If you look carefully, you will see I also made a small piece on the right shoe where another seam ripped. I’m a bit obsessed with using yellow as a contrast colour:

I made new socks from this lovely thin blue leather:

I thoroughly enjoyed visibly mending my very favourite pair of shoes. I learnt a lot from Alex about making shoes, and I got to use some great tools:

Clockwise from top left: cup of coffee, bradawl hiding under shoe, left shoe, right shoe, upholstery hammer (there was one pesky nail poking through), contractors, click knive, lighter to burn ends of nylon sewing thread, ballpoint refill with silver ink (this rubs off easily), a rubber made from a piece of crepe sole in the shape of a shoe, heel piece pattern, sock pattern, right sock, left sock.

Although using special tools was nice and made certain things go a bit easier, I truly believe it is possible to do this repair at home with tools you have just lying around; you just need some courage and patience. Thank you Alex, for a wonderful day!

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