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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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I’m pleased to let you all know that I will be running a Creative Mending workshop at The New Craftsmen, on 22 July, as part of their summer exhibition Animal, Vegetable, Mineral – a joyful celebration of new talents and new pieces.

Workshop at Wool House

A Tom of Holland workshop in full swing

I started working with The New Craftsmen last year, and as a result I’ve been involved in some pretty exciting things, such as Makers House, in collaboration with Burberry, and A Home For All, in collaboration with Selfridges.

The New Craftsmen curates, commissions and sells unique contemporary objects that are rooted in craftsmanship and narrative. Spanning furniture, lighting, textiles, gifts, ceramics and decorative accessories, our range is made by a growing network of over 100 makers across the British Isles.

The Creative Mending workshop at The New Craftsmen will be informed by some of the pieces I made for the summer exhibition; Sue Parker, the stylist behind the exhibition, asked me to visibly mend three boilersuits, which will be for sale:

Tom of Holland boilersuit for The New Craftsmen, with braided belt

Boilersuit with braided belt (VMP09)

Besides a few holes, which I repaired with classic darns, he first boilersuit also had a broken zipper, which presented me with an exciting challenge: how do I visibly mend a broken closure? After removing the zipper I tried out a few things, but ended up using a braid as a belt. The seam allowance that was exposed after removing the zipper has been stitched down with small stitches, echoing the zipper teeth.

Tom of Holland boilersuit for The New Craftsmen, with braided belt, detail

Detail showing the stitches, reminiscent of the zipper teeth. Each boilersuit has a serial number stitched in

Tom of Holland boilersuit for The New Craftsmen, with oversewn patches

Boilersuit with oversewn patches (VMP10)

The second boilersuit had some paint stains, rather than holes, and here I used hand-dyed fabrics that were stained during the dyeing process. Instead of stitching them over the paint stains, I placed them in each others’ vicinity, thus reinforcing the presence of stains on the various fabrics.

Tom of Holland boilersuit for The New Craftsmen, with oversewn patches, detail

Stains of various kinds reinforce each other’s presence; the patches are inserted using the oversewn patching technique

The third boilersuit had paint stains, missing buttons, a fraying cuff, and some busted armhole seams.

Tom of Holland boilersuit for The New Craftsmen, with textured layers

Backview of boilersuit with patched cuff, boro-inspired decorations, and replaced buttons (VMP11)

All the stitching and repairing on this boilersuit used a hand-dyed silk thread, which was a dream to sew with. In addition to repairing the busted seams and sewing on new buttons, I really wanted to try out some boro-inspired techniques, where the simple running stitches create a ripple effect in the fabric.

Tom of Holland boilersuit for The New Craftsmen, with textured layers, detail

Boro-inspired patches; the silk patch in particular shimmers as a result of the ripple effect of the simple running stitches

I turned accidental paint stains into acts of intention by outlining them with small back stitches.

Tom of Holland boilersuit for The New Craftsmen, with textured layers, detail of stain

Turning accidental paint stains into intentional decorations by outlining them in back stitch

As you can see, the three boilersuits each have a different focus in their repairs, and highlight in one way or another what needed repairing. Another thing it highlights is the question: when does something require a repair? One of the boilersuits had merely some paint stains, and in this case, the repair wasn’t something that was broken, but more about how you would be able to wear this garment.

This Creative Mending workshop at The New Craftsmen will not purely focus on technique: not only will I teach you some simple repair techniques through making a small repair sampler, but I also look much forward to having a conversation around visible and creative mending with everybody.

If you would like to come along, then you can buy a ticket, and find out some more information about the workshop here.

All images by The New Craftsmen, and used with their kind permission

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The last couple of months has been a very productive one. I can’t reveal everything just yet, but it did involve a lot of hand-stitching of fabrics, and re-reading some of my old books on mending and repairing, such as old Dutch lesson plans to teach girls the art of marking and darning.

Merken Stoppen en Mazen, Nuttige Handwerken

The Female Handicrafts for School and Home, and Useful Needlework. Both are lesson plans to teach girls the art of marking and darning

I have written about these books before, but I looked through them again when I was preparing for one of my workshops a little while ago at Hope & Elvis. In particular The Female Handicrafts contains a lot of detail, starting with the very basics.

How to mark household linen

A page from The Female Handicrafts. showing some letters of the alphabet

For instance, the first chapter on marking household linen, starts with the easy letters with lots of vertical elements, such as the letter “I”. It then moves on to those with strong diagonal lines, and finishes on those which have curves. To learn this, it advocates starting with an open-weave plain fabric, such as scrim. Marking your household linen was important, as many people took their washing to the laundry house, and this way you could check whether nothing was missing and that you actually got your own things back.

Darning fabric technique

A page from Useful Needlework

Likewise, Useful Needlework starts with the simple re-inforcing technique of weaving thread through the fabric, again using something like scrim to get a feel for the technique, before moving on to finer work. Needless to say, I’ve stocked up on scrim, and I have my darning threads at the ready!

msm-stoppen-2

Easy start with darning…

darning in pattern, damask darning

…followed by an intermediate step of adding stripes and checks…

msm-stoppen-3

finishing with something altogether more complex

For the aforementioned workshop at Hope & Elvis I got everybody to make a sewing sampler, based on the samplers I’d seen at Goldsmiths earlier this year, as part of  the A Remedy for Rents exhibition.

20151215CHG_3238

Plain sewing samplers from the Whiteland College College

It was my first foray into teaching something sewing-based, and we all made a small sampler using old textiles. The edges were hemmed using four different hemming techniques, then we made three different types of patches. I had selected the different techniques based on practicality, still useful today. They included amongst others: slip stitch hem, herringbone hem, hemming stitch, napery hem stitch, calico or oversewn patch, tailored patch, and flannel patch. For those who wanted more, I also taught how to hand-work a buttonhole. I don’t believe hand-worked buttonholes are any better or stronger than machine-made ones, but I do think they look very nice.

Tailored buttonhole by Annie Hewins 1879, Whitelands College Collection

Hand-worked buttonhole, found on a sampler in the Whitelands College collection

I’ve also spent a lot of time sewing patches onto sturdy linen tea towels (I will share this project in a couple of weeks) and it became apparent pretty soon that I will have to start using a thimble. I enjoy hand-sewing, and whenever I sew, I tend to do a lot of finishing by hand. When sewing woollen trousers, this is quite easily done without a thimble, but it’s a different story with those tea towels. The needles I use are rather fine, so the eye of the needle is almost as sharp as the point! Teaching myself to use a thimble might take some practice and perseverance, but I’ve found an old tailor’s apprentice trick to get me started.

All-in-all, this means I have a lesson plan of sorts for myself. I’m going to take it all back to the beginning: teach myself how to use a thimble, and then start marking, darning, and patching according to my Dutch books. I hope that this will lead to new inspiration and new off-shoot projects. I will be sharing my pursuits here, and perhaps you’d like to join in! Therefore I will post not only completed work, but also a heads-up post with what I’m planning to concentrate on next. Keep an eye out for the first post in the next one or two weeks.

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