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A recent repair commission made me think about how a change in attitude can lead to a different response to repairs. It can be quite a challenge to be accepting of things not looking perfect and new, and I think that part of wanting to keep using things for longer, I had to accept that they will show signs of wear and tear.

Red Cardigan Before

A parcel from Estonia: small holes carefully marked with safety pins

This cardigan was sent to me all the way from Estonia to repair; it already had some visible mends, so it may not come as a surprise that it was a commission I really enjoyed taking on. The owner had carefully put in safety pins to mark all the small holes that weren’t so obvious, which showed me he really cared about this cardigan.

Red Cardigan VMP09 Front View

Response to repairs: the repairs I added reflect the shape of the original repairs

Here he is in his own words when I asked him about this cardigan:

I have liked all sorts of old things since I was a kid. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that when I was growing up, Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union – since most „old things“ were from the pre-war independence era, they were automatically cool and desirable as relics of better times. As most aspects of our independence were either strictly forbidden or at least discouraged by the Soviet authorities, it just contributed to the appeal. I started with collecting stamps, moved on to coins, and later to other objects like pins/badges, furniture, clothing etc.

I find American vintage clothing (vs European) interesting as it is somewhat more difficult for me to place in a specific era – European pre-war clothing is distinctly different from that of the 50/60s. America did not suffer such a rupture in their culture as Europe did due to the war, therefore US clothing from the pre-war era more naturally transitioned into the post-war pop culture and beyond. Americans wore college cardigans already back in the 20s, and, in a way, continue to do so nowadays. So in a way, American vintage is more „timeless“.

This particular cardigan reminds me of a really cool trip to California, fits me really well, and already has very nice hand darned repairs on it. The guy that I bought it from was really interesting to talk to, and had in my opinion the right attitude about vintage. For me, visible mending reminds me of the repairs that my grandmothers did on my clothes when I was a kid in the late 70s/early 80s. To be honest, I was not a huge fan of those back then – so it’s also a bit ironic that I find it appealing now. But then again, life seems to be full of ironies of that sort as one goes from youth to middle age

Red Cardigan VMP09 Detail of Back

Original repairs were executed in classic darning techniques, using cottom embroidery thread. I used Appleton’s Brothers crewel wool instead

It gave me a little bit of insight of what it was like to grow up in Estonia for somebody who is of a similar age to me. We can probably all think of things that were considered “cool and desirable” when we were younger, and how our ideas about what that means have changed as we grow older. For me, although I have always repaired my own clothes, I would only buy new items, never secondhand. They were often American brands (Levi’s, Converse, etc,) or European brands that had a similar look. This has changed dramatically, from going through a phase of buying designer clothes, favouring Belgian designers such as Martin Margiela, Dirk Bikkembergs, and Dries van Noten. Nowadays, I rarely buy new clothes. They are usualy secondhand, or more increasingly, I make them myself.

Red Cardigan VMP09 Detail of Neck Line

A particular challenge was the neckline, where the holes were right on the edge where the fabric folds to the back

My client’s response to clothes and repairs has changed a lot as well: he tells us how as a kid he didn’t particularly like the mending by his grandmothers. Now, he is happy to buy clothes that are already visibly mended, and I think this is an important shift. Caring to repair means accepting that you can continue using things for longer, instead of replacing them. It’s something I try to strive for in other areas of life as well, to varying degrees of success, but we have to start somewhere!

Red Cardigan VMP09 Detail of Back of Neck Line

Responding to previous repairs by echoeing the existing ones in shape and colour contrast

If you are feeling inspired to take a creative approach to repair, then I hope you don’t mind me unashamedly plugging my Creative Mending workshop at The New Craftsmen in London, on 22 July. There are still a few places available, so buy your ticket here before it sells out!

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I’m very excited to announce a extraordinary Visible Mending Programme collaboration with one of Brighton’s finest vintage clothes shops: Wolf & Gypsy Vintage. I have been shopping at Wolf & Gypsy since they first opened their doors many a moon ago, so it was only a matter of time I’d walk in with some visibly mended clothes. Laura, the owner of Wolf & Gypsy, loved the look of my repaired French workwear so much, that she asked me to create a micro-collection for her. And that’s exactly what I did.

Wolf and Gypsy Window Display

May All Your Dreams Be Indigo, at Wolf & Gypsy Vintage Boutique, Brighton

All four pieces I repaired are of an indigo blue, and I think they were all dyed with a chemical dye rather than actual plant-based indigo. I decided to provide a contrast by using vintage Japanese natural indigo-dyed fabrics; by only using yellow sewing and embroidery threads I highlighted all the hand stitching.

Wolf and Gypsy Trousers VMP Detail

All garments have been repaired visibly, and the Visible Mending Programme logo is handstitched into each garment

Laura carefully hand picks all the garments for her shop, and I have used the same attention to detail in making the repairs. Although the fabric I used for patching is Japanese, I steered clear of employing Japanese embroidery techniques, such as sashiko and boro. Instead, I found my inspiration from my old, and very Western, needlework books.

I’d love to share some before-and-after pictures:

KLM Overalls

Being from The Netherlands, I could only ever repair some overalls originating from my home country. KLM (Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij) is the Royal Dutch Airlines.

Wolf and Gypsy Visible Mending Programme Overalls Before

A crumpled KLM overalls in dire need of some TLC

Wolf and Gypsy Visible Mending Programme Overalls After

Rejuvinated overalls: new button, fraying cuffs dealt with, small holes turned into eyelets

Overalls repairs: fraying cuffs rebound with fabric, small holes highlighted with eyelet embroidery.

Friendship Sweatshirt

Although there wasn’t any actual damage on this sweatshirt, it did look a bit dull. To remedy this, I added a colourful darn to be worn as a badge of honour. “Friendship” is the unknown-to-me label of this sweatshirt

Wolf and Gypsy Visible Mending Programme Sweatshirt Before

The Friendship sweatshirt is looking for some pizzazz

Wolf and Gypsy Visible Mending Programme Sweatshirt After

A beautiful darn to be worn as a badge of honour

Sweatshirt repair: darn in multiple colours, created with my Speedweve.

French Workwear Trousers

These are very similar to the trousers I walked into the shop with and which led to this gig to start with. I’m happy with the look of the binding around the pockets (see picture above), and a fabric patch which shows fading. Most of all though, I love the tailor’s buttonholes, handstitched in a perlé cotton to make them stand out.

Wolf and Gypsy Visible Mending Programme Trousers Before

These French workwear trousers needed a fair bit of attention

Wolf and Gypsy Visible Mending Programme Trousers After Patch Detail

I love the fading on the patch, which I’ve sewn in using the flannel patch method, more commonly used for, you guessed it, flannel!

Wolf and Gypsy Visible Mending Programme Trousers After Buttonhole Detail

I love working proper tailored buttonholes, and this commission was a good excuse to really make ’em stand out!

Trousers repairs: fraying pockets rebound with fabric, fraying buttonholes restitched, hems re-sewn, patches, waistband cord ends replaced.

French Workwear Jacket

Possibly my favourite of the series: the pockets had a lot of tiny holes in them, so these got covered up by pocket-sized patches. One sleeve had a very ugly and stiff iron-on patch. This peeled off easily, and I replaced it with a classic felled patch.

Wolf and Gypsy Visible Mending Programme Jacket Before

The jacket sported a really rather ugly iron-on patch and some holes were crudely sewn together

Wolf and Gypsy Visible Mending Programme Jacket After

Luckily the patch came off easily, and a new patch was inserted with felled seams

Wolf and Gypsy Visible Mending Programme Jacket After Detail

Patches on the pockets, and the patches behind holes, which have been delicately outlined with a half-back stitch

Jacket repairs: buttons replaced, various patches, fraying cuffs rebound.

If you find yourself in Brighton during the month of November, then you can avail yourself of one of these fine Visible Mending Programme garments. Each one comes with a special card that details the repair materials and techniques used. I hope four lucky people will enjoy wearing these as much as I enjoyed repairing them!

Wolf and Gypsy May All Your Dreams Be Indigo Banner

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Just before 2013 ends I want to share with you a special commission I took on earlier this year. It must’ve been early summer when Rosemary contacted me about knitting her a little lace jacket for her wedding outfit.

unwrapping of knitted Kasha jacket commission

Rosemary unwrapping her lace jacket on the big day

Rosemary had seen my work at Prick Your Finger, and she loved my attention to detail and technical approach to knitting. She had already chosen a beautiful dress for her wedding day, but a little lace jacket would complete the outfit. She had seen the Kasha cardigan I had knitted for Susan Crawford, and this was just what she wanted. Well, almost. Instead of the short sleeves, she wanted three-quarter length ones, and as her dress already had a lace collar, she didn’t want one on Kasha.

Kasha Alteration three-quarter sleeves

A gorgeous wedding bouquet and three-quarter sleeves

I had to search around a bit for a suitable yarn, but after consulting with Susan, Rosemary and I settled on Alice sock-weight yarn from Juno Fibre Arts. This luxurious blend of alpaca, silk, and cashmere is very soft, has a nice drape and great stitch definition. The colourway is called Oyster, which is very appropriate considering I found some 1920s mother-of-pearl buttons for the jacket.

Kasha cardigan with mother of pearl buttons

1920s mother-of-pearl buttons for the perfect finish

In the above picture you can also see I used a tubular cast-on. I played around a little bit with the right needle-size for the cast-on, to make sure it wouldn’t flare or draw in too much, bearing in mind that the yarn was quite drapey, and therefore might not snap back into shape as easily as a 100% wool yarn would.

Kasha cardigan alternative collar

An alternative collar for Kasha in reverse stocking stitch

Leaving off the collar was easy, as in the original pattern the collar is knitted separately. I replaced it with a few rows of reverse stocking stitch, and left it to curl up naturally. The original pattern asks for large sleeve pads, which Rosemary felt were too big, so in the end I knitted small sausage shapes, and these can be put in with teeny-tiny snap buttons. The sleeve pads give a little bit more structure to the jacket for a more formal look, but can be taken out for less formal occasions.

shoulder pads with snap buttons

teeny-tiny snap buttons for the shoulder pads

Instead of knitting the front and back pieces separately, which would then need to be seamed together, I knitted them all in one piece. Although knitting seemed to progress slowly in the beginning, it saved me a lot of time at the end. Sometimes I think a sewn side seam can give more structure to a garment, but in this particular pattern the side seam would zig-zag anyway, so there was no structural advantage to keep them.

After teasing you with all these close-ups, I will now present to you Rosemary’s Kasha cardigan in its full glory:

Kasha Cardigan with modified sleeves and collar

 

Kasha just before wrapping up in tissue paper

Rosemary in her Kasha cardigan and her husband

Rosemary and her husband; what a handsome couple!

As an aside, Rosemary and her husband are great appreciators of art and crafts, and for their wedding day they also got a corn dolly made by Elaine Lindsay, which is absolutely stunning. A corn dolly was traditionally made for the spirit that lives in the wheat or corn fields, and which would be without a house after harvesting the last sheaf. The corn dolly would be taken home and in spring it would be plowed back into the land when the new wheat was sown. Corn dollies come in many different shapes and many villages and towns had their own design; Rosemary and Richard was based on the Mordiford heart.

Mordiford Corn Dolly

Rosemary and Richard’s Mordiford corn dolly with their initials worked in

More knitterly details on this commission can be found on my Ravelry project page.

Being a great believer in sustainable fashion and appreciating the clothes you have, I was so pleased to hear is that Rosemary has been wearing her cardigan many times since the wedding. What a great way to be reminded of a beautiful day.

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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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