Tagged: darning

Apr 15

Strictly Come Darning!


If you’ve been wanting to learn the basics of darning in a tidy and structured way, come along to my new class: Strictly Come Darning!

You’ll try your hand at stockinet darning, Swiss darning, and linen darning. This will be mostly a hand-work class, but we’ll take a look at how you’d go about darning by machine too.

Swiss darning

Swiss darning


The first scheduled Strictly Come Darning! class will be at Jumble Jelly, 10 Silver Street, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, BA15 1JY on Friday 3rd May, 10am to 1pm. To book your place, phone the shop on 01225 866033.


NB If I handed you a flyer yesterday (attached to a reel of vintage tacking cotton) at Bath Artisan Market, the date printed there was incorrect: please note that this class is on the 3rd May and not the 4th, as stated. Thank you! Do feast your eyes on this delicious write-up of yesterday’s Make-Do-and-Mend-themed Bath Artisan Market c/o Captured by Lucy.




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.




Oct 22

Scrap of the week #24


Gone so long and no excuse note. Sorry, the dog ate my blog posts.

I’ve been fully absorbed by a handful of projects, one of which is guiding my eldest son through the serpentine process of applying for university. If you’re doing likewise, my sympathies. I’d rather stick pins in my eyes.

I’m also having persistent difficulty getting Flickr and WordPress to communicate with each other via Safari. Anyone else had the same problem? And how did you solve it? At the moment I’m having to compose posts on other family members’ computers. Very meh.

Anyway, I finally have a Scrap of the Week to show you. It’s a piece of sweet floral barkcloth, part of a pair of curtains (complete with gathered pelmet) which a good friend spotted for me recently. Not being a textiles expert, I’m guessing 1950s, but please correct me if you are able. The set is half rotten and (one assumes) about to shred to ribbons. Therefore, I haven’t dared wash it yet, though it’s a little grotty and stained and deserves laundering. I may give it a gentle soak with something benign in the bathtub, in the same way that I washed this.

But just look at the darning! Not exactly expert but determined.

Darned barkcloth curtain

There are several areas of repair. The story they tell! Somebody really loved their floral curtains. Have made no plans for this lot yet. What would you do with it? About 4 metres in all. More pictures over on Flickr.


Jun 22

June mending


It was delightful that so many people turned up to May’s meeting of the Big Mend, especially considering that the weather was so sultry. This month’s session is Wednesday June 27th at the Museum of Bath at Work and (rain or shine) we’ll be making the most of the long midsummer evening light, kicking off at the slightly later time of 7.30 and wrapping up at 9.30pm. All welcome! Just drop in any time with your mending bag.

There will definitely be jeans patching this time (there’s a wonderful example of this over on Tom of Holland’s blog which I’d highly recommend perusing), and I’ve been experimenting with woven yarn patches (see below) as an applied alternative to darning knitted garments. I’ll bring those along for a bit of show-and-tell. But feel free to bring anything at all textile-related that you want to repair (popped seams, burst buttons, droopy hems) and we’ll help you to fix it. Some basic tools and materials are on hand but try to bring what you know you’ll need  (patch fabric or toning thread, for example).

Woven patch test

woven patch looking for an elbow


More details about the Big Mend over here. There’s now a Flickr group you can join and post images of your mending triumphs or disasters and find images to inspire. Do take a look.

Serious menders will probably already be aware that the UK’s first mending research symposium convenes towards the end of the month in the Lake District; Mend*rs kicks off with a call to arms, a first National Mending Day on Friday 29th June. Count me in! Alas, it looks like I won’t be able to make it to the physical conference but will certainly be mending with the assembled gathering in spirit next Friday. A big thank you to Tom for telling me about the event.






Apr 11

The big mend

You’ll have noticed that I’m a bit of a fan of mending – in theory, if not always in practice. Like everyone else, I seem to have an ever-growing pile of things with holes or without buttons, waiting to be rescued from the clothing version of limbo.

Well, I’m thrilled to announce a new project happening very close to home which will help to redress that problem. It’s called the Big Mend and it aims to get Bath (or the small corner of it in which I live) mending its ways. Imagine a great big sociable gaggle of people sewing on buttons, darning, nibbling snacks and gossiping. That should be it. There will be sewing tools on hand to use, free of charge, and other helpful items to purchase, should you wish. Or you are welcome to bring along your own bits and pieces. If your problem is carving out the time and space, hopefully we can give you that. If your problem is trepidation or insufficient skills, we aim to be able to help you with that too; if there isn’t someone there who will know how to fix your beloved vintage dress, we will know where to look to find out.

Our first meeting of the Big Mend will be on Wednesday 24th April at Crockadoodledo, Larkhall from 7-9pm. You’re very welcome to drop in any time you like (though it would be advisable not to arrive at quarter to 9 if you have a long hem to repair). Entry is free.

Huge thanks are due to Caroline Harris, local author on matters thrifty (amongst many other talents) who encouraged me to pursue this idea. Curiously enough, she provided the  inspirational spark for the project when she wrote an article for Bath Life back in May 2009.

Caroline 's Bath Life article


In her article, Caroline rued the parlous state of her three pairs of jeans, and wished for what she called a ‘mending amnesty… an occasion where you can bring along all that forlorn forgotten sewing and do it in company, with a chat and a drink’. I read that and thought: That’s me! I can do that! And here it is, three years later, after a few false starts;  I  actually conjured up the artwork way back then (see it propped against this antique sewing machine?) but have managed to sit on it ever since. I just hope that Caroline’s favourite jeans are still salvageable.

The Big Mend takes place on the last Wednesday of the month from 7-9pm. May’s event (30th May) takes place at the Museum of Bath at Work in Julian Road. Entry is free, so just turn up!



May 10

A spot of mending

I’ll be away for a couple of days, doing a spot of housekeeping, tidying, and mending some things that need fixing. Do excuse my absence but rest assured that I’ll be back soon. Meanwhile, here’s a sight for sore eyes: my version of the old TV test card. You can probably tell that I’m a little obsessed by old cards of mending thread. Some of my favourites are tucked in here: the Duldarn lady with her Marcel wave has to be right up there in my top three. Enjoy!

Vintage mending cards

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