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I spent a very enjoyable day at The Keep yesterday, making a casebound notebook at a one-day workshop led by their conservator, Melissa Williams. Being the conservator in an archive that holds many different documents and books, with some going back to the 12th century, Melissa really knows her “métier” and she freely shared her knowledge, making sure that the bookbinding techniques taught can be used at home, without specialist equipment, and only a few special tools.

bookbinding tools and notebook

All ready for the day: a paperweight, bone folder, bookbinder’s awl, glue brush, shoe knife, and empty pages to take plenty of notes

I have always enjoyed using nice stationery, and appreciate well-made books, in particular with “proper” linen covers, and I was very excited when my husband gave me this workshop as a present! I have always been curious about how books are made, and this workshop was a nice introduction. Of course, there are many ways of making books, and this workshop was very practical: we were taught one way of making a casebound book, and everybody left with their own by the end of it. Needless to say, Melissa showed us how to work to archival standards, and the materials used reflected this.

bookbinding workshop - book cloths

The stockroom in the conservator’s studio not only contains plenty of book cloth, but also greyboard, vellum, parchment, and other things I have no idea what they are for

I felt right at home in Melissa’s studio: specialist equipment everywhere, all the high-quality materials she uses, her in-depth knowledge of bookbinding, conservation, and preservation, always trying to achieve the best of her abilities, it all chimed with me.

bookbinding workshop - different sewing techniques

A different kind of sampler: a variety of ways to bind sections of a book together

We were taught how to make a casebound notebook, containing five sections. When you open a hardback book, you will probably notice that there are a number of sections, each of which has some thread in the middle. So we started with folding large sheets of paper that would become the sections (Melissa told us that she once went to a conference where she attended a 1.5 hour talk on how to fold paper!) After making holes in each section with a bookbinder’s awl, it was time to get stitching. I really enjoyed looking at the binding sampler shown above. The tape methods shown on the left are what we used, and if I remember correctly, the three methods with the cord are usually used when covering a book with leather – you may have seen antique books with a leather spine with thick ridges across it. This is what those ridges hide.

bookbinding workshop - sewing the folded sections

A professional bookbinder would probably use a “sewing frame,” but all techniques used in the workshop are achievable at home

After sewing the sections together, we moved on to gluing. Bookbinders tend to use PVA glue nowadays, but in the olden days the glue was usually made from bones. As a result, antique books often harbour whole colonies of bugs in the spine, as the bone glue can provide nutrients for literally centuries. Gluing happens in several stages, using thin layers that each need to dry out, otherwise the book will contain too much moisture when finished, and once assembled, would struggle to dry properly.

bookbinding workshop - mull and brown paper cover the spine

Mull and brown paper cover the spine. The big block is a brick covered in book cloth keeping the sections weighed down flat and in place

The spine is first covered in mull, a stiff open-weave fabric, and then some brown paper, and then everything is trimmed. That’s most of the inner workings finished, and it was time to move on to the most exciting bit: preparing the book cloth and covering the greyboard!

bookbinding workshop - making corners when covering the board

The bookbinders equivalent of “hospital corners”

bookbinding workshop - finished case

Boards covered in cloth, and a spine stiffener made from brown paper

Gluing in the sewn sections into the boards was the most difficult part, and despite my best efforts, the finished book isn’t quite true. However, this does in no way detract from the marvel of having managed to make my own notebook.

Bookbinding workshop - detail of finished book

A “proper” notebook, made by my own fair hands!

Since coming home, I must have picked up this notebook at least twenty times, caressing the linen cloth, looking at the end papers (even if plain) and admiring the nicely turned out corners.

bookbinding workshop - finished book

A slight imperfection in the cloth adds to the charm of this notebook

I can’t wait to have filled up my current notebook, so I can start using this one. I may have discovered a new hobby, as I’m already overflowing with ideas of playing around with scraps of bookcloth and combining them with my interest in mending. I can highly recommend this workshop, which not only gives you an insight into the art of bookbinding, but also a beautiful casebound book you made yourself!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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…

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Marks made on a blanket

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Pattern darning sampler

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Buttonhole filling stitch by Mister Finch

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Sock stitch sampler

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Sturdy sock embellished with damask darning

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Delicate darning by Dawn

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Patched up ripped underarm seam by Sarah

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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:

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Scotch darning explained

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Late last autumn I bought a jumper from a charity shop. It was a nice enough woollen jumper. But after wearing it a few times, I wasn’t feeling the love anymore. As I was keen to explore a technique I tried out on a cardigan last year, I indulged in ten skeins of Appleton’s crewel wool:

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Ten shades of Appleton’s crewel wool, and a boring jumper

It was time to say Bye Bye Boring Jumper, and Hello Amazing Jumper:

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Bye Bye Boring Jumper, Hello Amazing Jumper!

In a way this is a darning sampler gone slightly out of hand. The bottom half consists of blocks of crewel wool woven in and out of the stitches of the knit fabric:

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Damask darning on knitted fabric

As you can see, there’s plenty of different patterns to make, and yet I think I’ll run out of jumper before running out of ideas! In some patterns I pick up a single “leg” of a knit stitch, in others I pick up a whole stitch, or even more. Some of these patterns are based on existing patterns from other sources. There are quite a number of herringbone variations, a Prince of Wales Sanquhar tweed pattern, and a simple houndstooth, too.

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The pattern in the middle is based on the Prince of Wales Sanquhar pattern

Unsurprisingly, weaving in and out of the fabric mutes the colours of the crewel wool when seen from a distance. And these colours do deserve to be seen in all their glory:

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Appleton Bros. Ltd. London, 100% Wool, made in England Crewel Wool

So I have just started adding a row of what I have called “Finnish” darning in the past, by want of a better word. This really shows off the colours:

HAJ_SingleCordedBrusslesStitch

As an aside, when I was browsing through a stumpwork book, it turns out that in this needle lace tradition it is called Corded Single Brussels Stitch, but, as a few people have pointed out, it also appears to be a variation of nålbinding. Whichever name you use for this stitch, I just love the way it looks.

It might take a little while yet to finish the Hello Amazing Jumper, but I will be taking it to my one-day darning workshop to share these techniques at Hope & Elvis on Saturday, 4 May (please note, this is now fully booked.) I will also run the same workshop in Glasgow, on Saturday, 18 May at The Stitchery Studio – for which there are still a few places available.

Last but not least, I’ll be running my usual darning class at Super+Super HQ on Friday evening, 10 May.

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“I wish I knew how to knit socks,” “I’d love to be able to knit my own socks,” “wow, did you really knit those socks yourself?” “do you teach sock knitting?” are comments and questions I frequently hear whenever I run one of my darning classes or workshops.

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I’m happy to announce that in April, I will start my first sock-knitting short course!

This sock knitting course is aimed at the intermediate knitter, who already knows how to cast on, knit, purl, increase, decrease, and cast off. You may have knitted a sweater, but haven’t tried knitting in the round yet. I will teach you how to knit basic, well-fitting socks on double-pointed needles from the cuff down.

During the first session (Sunday, 14 April, 11am-1pm), you will learn how to knit in the round on double-pointed needles (also known as DPNs); a suitable cast-on technique for socks; and taking the right measurements. Then, when you get home, you can be confident to cast on the right number of stitches to knit the cuff and the leg.

During the second session (Sunday, 21 April, 11am-1pm), you will learn how to turn the heel. Although I’ve knitted many socks, I still find turning the heel a small miracle. I will also show you how to decrease for the toe. Again, I’d expect you to do some home work, and knit all the way to the toe.

During the third session (Sunday, 28 April, 11am-1pm), you will learn how to graft the toe closed. This technique is sometimes known as Kitchener stitch. We’ll discuss some common sock knitting pitfalls and you’ll leave with the confidence and knowledge to knit sock number two, three, four, and more!

Sock wool and a set of double-pointed needles are included in the price, as is a handy cheat sheet to refer back to techniques and to help record all the necessary numbers to continue your sock knitting adventures. All this for a mere £65! the classes are held at Super+Super HQ, Brighton.

You can sign up by following this link.

Sanquhar Socks

Socks with a Sanquhar-inspired design.

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The first of February is approaching fast, which means I need to get ready for my first darning class of the year, taking place at Super+Super HQ in Brighton. There are still a few places available, so don’t hesitate to sign up! I’ll be teaching two classic darning techniques: Swiss darning, and stocking darning.

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Stocking darn on sock

And what with the cold weather, I’ve been wearing out my warm woollen socks like there’s no tomorrow. This, of course, is a no reason to have cold toes when you know how to darn; and indeed, is cause for a darn good celebration! My mending basket was stuffed to the brim with holes, and not one to sit idle, I took darning wool and mushroom to the holes:

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A collection of mended socks

For the sharp-eyed amongst you, you will have noticed these darns look different from the stocking darn above. Here’s a close-up:

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A darn old and a darn new

I have recently discovered a new darning technique! It was brought to my attention by the inimitable Dr Felicity Ford, who sent me a picture from a Finnish book on knitting and mending:

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Finnish darning diagram

I don’t speak Finnish, but I think the diagram speaks for itself. Once you start working it, you’ll see that it’s the good old-fashioned blanket stitch employed in a new way. It is closely related to Scottish darning, although with this Finnish darning technique you lay one foundation thread and then blanket stitch over it, whereas with Scottish darning you first lay down all foundation threads before filling it up with blanket stitch. I find the end result of the Finnish darn a bit neater, and it must be my favourite new darning stitch.

As I have only recently started using this stitch, I’m not sure yet how it will wear. The darn itself seems sturdier than a stocking darn, as there are more layers of thread. However, the area covered around the hole is not as big as with a traditional stocking darn. This may result in new holes developing around the darned area, as that usually has started to wear thin, too. I shall report back in due course, but I have made sure to extend the darned area beyond the hole .

To clarify the diagram, here’s how to do it:

You need a needle, darning wool, and a hole. I have used both sharp and blunt needles, without appreciable differences.

You start with laying down the first foundation thread at the top of the hole. Simply pick up one leg of each knitted stitch:

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Make sure to go well beyond the hole, as you need two or three knitted stitches worth to make the turn and simultaneously reinforcing the area around the hole. You need to pick up the other legs of the same knitted stitches:

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Pull the thread through, but not too tight, or the darn will pucker and cause unnecessary stress on the fabric. The it’s time to start blanket stitching. Try to lay the as close together as possible:

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When you have reached the other end of the hole, you need to start weaving in and out of the knitted stitches again:

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Turn as before, lay down the second foundation thread, weaving in and out of the knitted stitches again. After the next turn, start blanket stitching again. Make sure to insert the needle inbetween the blanket stitches on the row below, and bring the needle up from behind the new foundation thread:

FinDarn6

It’s important to work the blanket stitches close together. Extend the darn beyond the hole, and start weaving the foundation threads through the knitted stitches again.

Give this new technique a go, and let me know how you get on!

FDGreen1

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You’ll be pleased to hear that after a short hiatus the Tom Says Darn It! darning workshop is back at Super+Super HQ. Come along and learn to darn with me on Friday, 27 July, 18:30-21:00h.

In 2.5hrs I will teach you two classic techniques:

(1) Swiss darning, also known as duplicate stitching, which is a great way of reinforcing thin patches in knitted fabrics that are about to wear through; however, you can also use it to brighten up an otherwise dull garment. What I like about his technique is that once you have gained some experience, you can start using a variety of colours, like I did on the soles of these socks:

(2) the classic stocking web darn, using a darning mushroom. This technique is great for darning holes in knitted garments and regular readers of this blog will know I use this technique often, and that I like to use contrasting or complementary colours:

And that is not all! If there is any time left (and there usually is), I will give you a demo of Lancashire’s smallest loom: The Speedweve! This clever little contraption is frequently available on auction sites for under a tenner.

To book just send an email to supersuperhq@gmail.com or call them on 01273 – 773 910. The Tom Says Darn It! darning workshop costs £25 for 2.5 hrs, and this includes:

(1) all the tools and materials required for darning

(2) a comprehensive hand-out to take home

(3) two types of darning needles to take home

(4) tea and biscuits to keep you going

I will provide all required materials for darning, but I’d like to invite you to bring your own love-worn knitwear lurking in your mending basket.

As an aside, there was no darning class in June as I attended the Mend*RS Symposium, from which I came back totally inspired by all the people who have made mending and repairing an integral part of their life. A blog post will follow soon, as I think you’ll be amazed by our burgeoning Mending Movement!

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Last Friday saw the inaugural Tom Says Darn It! Mending class at Brighton’s new creative hub: Super+Super HQ.

It was an intimate affair, which meant I could give my students all the attention they needed. We started off with Swiss darning, also known as duplicate stitching. I don’t know where the name “Swiss darning” originates from, but duplicate stitching makes perfect sense, as this is more like embroidery, where you copy the knitting stitches with needle and thread.

This method is particularly good to reinforce worn areas that have not, as yet, developed a hole, like thinning elbows. It is also a clever way to hide stains.

After tackling the Swiss darning, we moved on to the classic stocking darn. I had brought my collection of darning mushrooms and eggs, which is an essential aid, if you want to keep your darn looking neat and tidy, and not accidentally sew onto the other side of your sock!

There was plenty of different yarns to mend with, and we discussed which yarns are suitable for which purposes. The students got to keep the needles needed for darning: a blunt tapestry needle for Swiss darning, and a long sharp darning needle for the stocking darn.

As you can see, we had pots of tea, and a home-made banana bread to fortify the budding darners. I think we all had a slice more than we strictly should have! If you take a closer look at Amy’s cardigan, you will see she has engaged in a fashion intervention. I will tell you more about it in the near future, as I think she has done a great job of it.

I will be running darning classes every month at Super+Super HQ: keep an eye out on my ‘What’s Happening’ page, and the Super+Super HQ website, where you will also find booking information.

The next class will be on Friday, 27 May, 19:00-21:30h. I’ll be looking forward to share the darning love with you!

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