Tagged: darn

Mar 27

Darning 101



I’m really happy to be offering one-off introductions to darning called ‘Darning 101’ at A Yarn Story in Bath. We hope to make this workshop a regular fixture, so if you’ve been meaning to find out how to repair the holes in your socks (or elbows), one of these would be a very good place to start.

We have three dates set up so far, all Sunday afternoons, on 2nd April, 4th June and 2nd July. More details here.

If you’re not familiar with A Yarn Story, it’s based in Bath’s artisan quarter, Walcot, and sells the most beautiful selection of small-production fine yarns. It also offers a range of crochet and knitting classes for a range of abilities. Carmen, the owner, is incredibly knowledgeable, nice and helpful too. Well worth a visit.


Darning 101 Workshop, A Yarn Story

Darning 101 Workshop, A Yarn Story


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Nov 16

Support SecondhandFirst Week



SecondhandFirst Week

SecondhandFirst Week


Tomorrow (today if you’re reading this on the email feed) marks the first day of #SECONDHANDFIRST Week, 17-23 November 2014.

The week aims to encourage people to commit to sourcing more clothing and other resources second hand. It’s organised by TRAID, the charity doing tireless work to ensure sustainable and ethical practices in the clothing chain. It’s hoped that this will become an annual event.

Here in Bath, the Big Mend is delighted to be acting as a partner organisation, and we’ve arranged one of our Flash Mend events* in Bath Central Library on Monday 17th November. We’d love it if you’d join us any time from 1-4pm with some hand-held mending: darning would be ideal as we’ll be hoping to quietly impart mending skills to passing library users. If you’re in Bath and would like a quick darning lesson, come down and say hello, pick up a darning mushroom and try out some stitches with us.

Here are ways you can support the week:


Flash mend event

A Big Mend Flash Mend event


*Mass mending events in public places





Apr 10

Bath Artisan Market


This month’s Bath Artisan Market at Green Park Station on Sunday 14th April has a Make Do & Mend theme, and the Big Mend will be there all day with a pop-up mending workshop.

If you’re in Bath and happen to have something needing a new button attached, a seam fixed, or maybe a hole darned, come on down! We’ll show you how. And it’s FREE! More about the Big Mend mending socials over here.

This Sunday’s market also brings you the Big Bath Clothes Swap, screenprinting for the kids (c/o Happy Inkers), and plenty of local gourmet food. Now we just need the Great British spring weather to co-operate! If you aren’t coming by public transport, by bike or on foot, there’s free parking for an hour and a half in the Sainsbury’s and Homebase car parks.

Bath Artisan Market Make Do and Mend Day


If you’re on Twitter, follow Bath Artisan Market for latest news and updates. This market happens every second Sunday of the month. Hope to see you this Sunday!

PS I’d welcome some willing volunteers to help with the stall. If you can spare half an hour on Sunday, do get in touch. No previous darning experience necessary!



Mar 01

Sylvia’s marvelous darner

Sylvia Darning by Harold Gilman [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Sylvia Darning by Harold Gilman, 1917

I keep my eyes peeled for interesting images of darning. This painting by British impressionist Harold Gilman (1876-1919)  is currently my favourite. ‘Sylvia Darning’ is dated 1917. I love it’s palpable coolth (is that a word? It should be). I don’t know much at all about Gilman, other than what Wikipedia tells me, but would love to find out more. Doesn’t that vase really sing out from the middle of the table? If you’d like to see the original canvas and soak up the colours, I’m afraid you’ll have to schlep to the Yale Center for British Art. It’s a bit more of an effort for me than Rode in Somerset where Gilman was born; that’s just 21 miles away.

I’m also a partial to old darning implements (you would never have guessed!). Here is one I acquired recently: the “Marvel Darner”. Excuse the violent orange background but I got a little carried away.

Marvel Darner

Marvel Darner


The Marvel darner measures just a couple of inches across and is effectively a miniature velvet board with densely packed metal wires set into a small wooden frame. The idea is that it grips the holey sock, giving the mender a stable base on which to work. No stretching, gaping sock hole. How marvelous! At least, that’s the idea. I don’t know how well it works yet as I haven’t tested it. The instructions, on a small paper label glued to the top, read:



Push left hand into garment.

Place gripping surface direct on worn part.

Keeping exact size & shape, turn inside out and darn in usual way.

Never push darner into stocking or sleeve.

Pat. No. 159770.



Marvel Darner label

Marvel Darner label


I so wanted to imagine that Sylvia was using one of these when she sat for that painting, but the painting precedes the darner by three years, so it can’t be; Edwin List Cornell filed his patent entitled Improvements in and relating to darners on 29th March 1920. Here’s how he summed up his darning innovation:

‘A darning-block is provided with a surface made up of the ends 4′ of wires or the like. The wires may be mounted upon a backing and secured in a recess cut in the head of the block. In place of recessing the block, the wires may be surrounded with a ring secured to the block.’

The patent was finally published a year later on 10th March 1921. I’ve also seen aluminium versions of the Marvel, which I assume are later than the wooden one, but that’s my conjecture, judging by the typography. One of the boxes for the aluminium version quotes the manufacturer as:

 E Cornell & Sons, 54 Lower Thames Street, London, EC5.

So what is this ominous notice from the The London Gazette of 19th May 1925?


NOTICE is hereby given, pursuant to section
188 of the Companies (Consolidation) Act,
1908, that a Meeting of the creditors of the above
named Company will be held at Chancery-lane
Station Chambers, High Holborn. London, W.C. 1,
on Thursday, the 21st day of May, 1925, at
2 o’clock.
(094) J. L. GOODWIN, Liquidator.

Presumably this isn’t Cornell‘s company? Surely he was trading as ‘E Cornell & Sons’? His product explicitly includes ‘Cornell’ in the name. Could the Marvel Darner Company Ltd have been making this  ‘Marvel’ darning product, a sewing machine attachment which crops up in an Australian newspaper advertisement in October of the same year? Or did Edwin have a darning company which ran into insolvency and then resumed production under another company later? Mysterious. What do you think?

I haven’t been able to discover much more about inventor Cornell, beyond the clue in that company name that he had a family. He continued to tinker with domestic equipment after he developed his darner, filing the patent Improved device for separating cream from milk (January 1932), and Improvements appertaining to domestic pans and the like (April 1935). Other than those patents, I can find no further information about him. Harold Gilman had died of Spanish flu way back in 1919, and heaven knows who Sylvia was or what ever became of her. Some days you really wish you had a time machine. Improved, of course.


Feb 11

Swiss darning


I have to confess a new addiction. Without a couple of lines a day I start to feel cranky.

Don’t worry. It’s only Swiss darning! Yes, this mending technique is very more-ish indeed. It’s perfect for thinning areas that haven’t become properly holey yet: the sole of a sock or the elbow of a sweater. It can also be used to reinforce areas in anticipation of heavy wear. There are really wonderful decorative possibilities (Tom is the master!) but I am currently plodding along with the very basic version.

First, a few practicalities. Unlike regular darning, this can be worked from the front of the garment, which I really like as you can see exactly what you’re doing and it feels much more controlled. A darning mushroom is useful to keep your work well supported, though don’t over-stretch it. The yarn you choose should be the same weight and type of fibre as the rest of the garment; if wool, you want to aim for roughly 15-25% nylon content for improved wear. Bespoke darning yarns are ideal as they tend to have that proportion of nylon, but it’s also fun to experiment with odds and ends so it’s worth testing whatever leftover yarn you happen to have lying around  (tapestry, for example). Make sure you’re using about an arm’s length of yarn: more and it will be prone to tangle, less and you’ll be forever finishing off and restarting. Use a yarn-darning needle, meaning a blunt one; a pointed one will tend to split the fibres.

I invested in three pairs of John Arbon Textiles‘ Shetland wool socks a couple of years ago, and they were so comfy I wore them to death. They all became very thin across the ball of my foot; I think this indicates the high wool (or low nylon) content of the body of the sock; the contrast toe caps and heels appear to be made of something more robust. This pattern of wear might also indicate my lack of slippers, a situation which has now been rectified.

Swiss darning completed

You can see the thinning here.

Swiss darning in progress

The method for Swiss darning is to follow the line of the knitted stitches. With stocking stitch this means going in and out two holes above, in and out two holes below. And repeat. And repeat. And repeat. You quickly get into a rhythm and learn to identify the right holes. Keeping the tension even takes a little getting used to.

Swiss darning

Shh! Darning in progress.

Swiss darning in progress

I was using up odds and ends of darning yarn, so repaired the other sock in navy blue (and it didn’t look quite so good).

And here’s my second pair, one sock down. I’ve experimented with different ways of working in the ends, and I think I’m getting generally better at it.

By the way, that green stuff is a vintage skein of Botany mending yarn. As Swiss darning consumes a lot of yarn, you do need quite a bit to complete two socks. These skeins are ideal for the job, but I haven’t found any new darning yarn available in any quantity. Just smallish cards. If you happen to know where to buy the stuff in bulk, please let me know.


Next I plan to unpick the inferior darning job I did on my blue socks and rework those, still in a similarly bright colour. And then I’m looking forward to reinforcing some elbow patches. I find this such a soothing, satisfying way of mending a knitted garment; it really does feel like an authentic, robust way of rebuilding a fabric. Here’s a page from the vintage needlework book I was following: Dressmaking and Needlework by Catherine A. Place, published in 1953. I hope you’ll have a go too.




Jan 07

The Big Mend in Bradford-on-Avon


Mrs. Sew-and-Sew darns

I’m delighted to announce that 2013 brings with it a new monthly incarnation of the Big Mend, now in Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire.

The Bradford-on-Avon mending social meets the first Tuesday of the month at Jumble Jelly in Silver Street. First meeting: Tuesday 8th January. Drop in any time from 10am till noon. As is usual for the Big Mend sessions, there’s no charge to attend – just grab your mending and turn up. The Big Mend is really about sharing skills, finding new ways to repair clothing, and having a good old natter. Mending materials will be available to purchase, if needed, but there’s no obligation to buy anything at all.

If you’re closer to Bath, our original mending social still meets at the Museum of Bath at Work in Camden Works, Julian Road, on the last Wednesday of the month, 7-9pm. Next meet-up: 30th January.

Would you be interested in setting up a mending social in your area? If so, please contact eirlysATscrapianaDOTcom for further details.



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