Tagged: repair

Dec 02

Kintsugi at the Pitt Rivers Museum


I posted about kintsugi (literally ‘gold join’ or ‘golden joinery’) a couple of years back and wanted to share this lovely film made for the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford  – which, if you haven’t visited, is an absolute treasure house packed with the most extraordinary cultural artefacts. It’s well worth a special trip.

It’s wonderful to watch these beautiful repairs being worked by skilled Japanese craftsmen, seeing how they use processed tree sap and gold dust to create the join. In fact, while glitter is being applied by fractious toddlers (and likely their even more fractious parents) to a gazillion Christmas cards worldwide, it strikes me that this calm little film makes the perfect Advent antidote to the season’s relentless juggernaut. Maybe one of the Wise Men brought kintsugi know-how along along with his gold from the Orient for the Christ Child…? I know, that would be an anachronism, because kintsugi is only a few hundred years old, but it’s a very nice thought.

What if we considered giving the gift of repair this Christmas? We could offer to repair something treasured for someone, instead of buying something new…? Or give the gift of mending in another way? – a beautiful darning kit, for example. Or possibly by spending time with someone who is themselves a little broken. 

I’d love to have a go at this myself. Would epoxy glue and a little gold powder paint do the trick…? Have you attempted repairs on crockery or ceramics? If so, how did it go? 


Feb 02

Golden mending




Cardigan with golden mending


This is an experiment in golden joinery, a style of visible mending which I think I first heard about via Morwhenna Woolcock in Bristol – her film about it is over here on Vimeo. It’s a textile nod to the Japanese art of kintsugi, a repair technique practised on precious Chinese porcelain from the late 15th century. In kintsugi, the damaged object bears conspicuous repair seams of gold-coated lacquer. There is absolutely no attempt to hide the damage, and in the process of repair the artefact becomes not as-good-as-new but even better than. The golden scars are integral to the aesthetic, and repair becomes an alchemical process. What’s not to love? You can hear more about kintsugi in this wonderful BBC Radio 4 programme, Something Understood, which aired last September.

My mission here was to repair a couple of moth holes on the upper sleeve of a Hobbs cardigan. It’s a common place to find moth holes on a woollen garment. Maybe it’s the way we tend to store our knitwear? Tucking arms inside as we fold, thus making an irresistibly snug spot for the average egg-laying moth. I didn’t spot any damage when I bought this cardigan second-hand, but washing revealed the two holes. Damn and blast. On with the mending.

So here’s what I did:

  • I stabilised the area first, tacking a small piece of pre-washed cotton tape to the reverse of the repair – this was to stop the area puckering or distorting during the mending process
  • Then I created a matrix of vertical threads with regular sewing cotton, securing each unattached run-threatening loop and also creating a framework for my darning
  • Next I reworked the stitches with Swiss darning (a.k.a. replica stitch) in gold thread



One down, one to go


My verdict: this is a rather fine knit, making Swiss darning it quite eye-watering, and the gold thread I used wasn’t entirely co-operative: it wasn’t really flexible enough for the task. But I persisted. Here’s the thread I used, top right. It’s unfortunately lost its label but looks like pretty standard metallic thread designed for machine-embroidery use.


Golden threads

Golden threads


This isn’t the most accomplished repair I’ve ever worked, but it’s effective.  The area certainly didn’t pucker (which tends to make a repair look amateurish), and I love the impact of the gold – it reminds me of a square of gold leaf shimmering there. What do you think? And no, I don’t always wear orange knitwear, though I do like orange a lot; it reminds me of marmalade and warm afternoon sun, both much appreciated in dull old February.



Golden mend, complete


I hope you’ll feel inspired to have a go at some kind of golden mending of your own. You might want to try a modern version on your broken ceramics. Let me know how you get on by dropping me a line in the comments – it’s always good to know that someone is keeping me company here! Thanks.

And if you happen to be in the Bath area and you have something textile you’d like to try to repair using this technique, please bring it along to the next meet-up of the Big Mend on Wednesday 26th February 7-9pm at the Museum of Bath at Work. More details about the Big Mend over here. I also include Swiss darning in my bespoke Strictly Come Darning! workshop.


Jan 19

Worn Wear



I only just discovered this film released by outdoor clothing company Patagonia last November in time for Black Friday. It’s a nudge not to buy new but instead to celebrate and love what we already have and what it means to us: a refreshing homage to significant clothing, and the stories we wear. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.



Sep 07

Mending at Bath Artisan Market


The Big Mend will be bringing a pop-up mending workshop to Bath Artisan Market tomorrow, Sunday 8th September, at Green Park Station (the covered section, just down from Sainsbury’s) from 10am. So dig out those winter woollies nibbled by the moths and discover creative darning and patching.  Hope to see you then!


Come mend with us!

Come mend with us!


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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 04

Scrap of the week #28


Here’s a little pile of corduroy scraps, waiting for their moment in the spotlight.


Corduroy scraps


When my lovely neighbour took a tumble down her stairs (thanks to that pesky balance problem) and landed with her legs tangled up in the banister rail, she thankfully suffered nothing worse than a set of spectacular bruises. And her corduroy trousers were ripped across one knee.

My neighbour is a total sweetheart, so I happily took in a pile of mending from her (Warning: anyone else, please don’t ask!). Most of it I repaired inconspicuously, even invisibly, but when it came to the trousers I thought I’d give her a talking point; she’d already told me that she considered them rag, so anything I could do would be happily received.

Time to look through my scrap pile. That kingfisher blue jumped out at me screaming “STITCH ME!”. A little subtle overcasting and the repair was done.


Kingfisher patch


Yes, maybe it’s a little… obvious. Even a tad toddler.

Question: if you were the other side of seventy, would you be happy to wear such a conspicuous repair? I’d love to know. I’ll report back on how my neighbour is getting on – whether she is wearing her little flash of kingfisher blue beyond the confines of the house.




Nov 19

Scrap of the week #26


This is another little something I nabbed at the Selvedge Winter Fair.

Dyeworks scrap bundle

It set me back all of a fiver: not bad for Chelsea! But just feast your eyes on the scrumptious array of naturally dyed linen and hemp scraps. They really are textile treasure, the handiwork of Polly Lyster of Dyeworks, based almost in my neck of the woods in Gloucestershire. Polly is a dyer who also sells wonderful antique textiles. You may have seen her featured in the pages of Selvedge magazine. Her wares are impeccable; even her card is simply beautiful, painstakingly printed on an old-fashioned letterpress.

Dyeworks scraps

Polly went through all the scraps with me, kindly telling me what product had been used to dye each piece. Foolishly, I didn’t write it all down at the time and forgot some of what she said in all the Selvedge excitement. but I remember that the top one is madder, the yellow has some onion skin. Most have been dyed and then over-dyed, so colours achieved are endlessly, subtly variable.

What will I use them for? Well, I may combine them patchworkily with some indigos bought last year at the quilt show in Birmingham. I’d love to embroider on them. They are so tactile that they positively cry out to be handled, so I think they’d make lovely purses or tool wraps. I’m imagining these would come in handy should I ever be called on to visibly mend an antique shepherd’s smock. Yes, a little unlikely, but you never know. Don’t you think that the next time Monty Don snags an ugly hedge tear in his favourite Old Town gardening jacket, this type of fabric would make the ideal start to an artisanal patch repair? Nothing too perfect, mind. Do keep watching Gardeners’ World and just remember that you heard it suggested here first!


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