Tagged: repairing

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? 


Sep 10




Micro-patching is my current obsession. I’ve made up the term – at least, I think I have. It could already be some kind of hack in the world of software engineering (is it?) but here it succinctly describes using the teeniest textile scraps, usually of Liberty Tana lawn, to cover holes and other faults in a garment etc. Sometimes I apply them as reinforcements: around pocket edges, for example (see my purple granny cardi below). And sometimes I apply them just for the heck of it. To be honest, I need very little excuse to use Liberty fabric, so sometimes I don’t wait for a repair.

This week, my patch of choice has been circular, and my mission has been to cover genuine holes. Moth holes, to be precise.




If you have a similar woollen garment to repair, be sure to treat it first for moths; I hand-wash with an appropriate wool wash, air-dry flat thoroughly, then freeze for a week or two inside a zip-lock plastic bag. That usually shows the little blighters what for.

To make the tiny round patches, I’ve applied scraps of the lightest iron-on interfacing to my lawn scraps first, just to ensure that my patches are stable. This is my preference and isn’t absolutely essential as lawn is such a closely woven fabric that it won’t fray much (if at all) nor stretch out of shape, though it will get softer and collapse with wash and wear. So, I use interfacing to make them just a little more robust and shape-holding. Then I’ve cut out circles, using whatever round thing happened to be close to hand for a template: cotton-reels, buttons, money, thimbles, etc.

I had a lot of holes to cover, so arranging the patches was my next task. I tried not to draw attention to certain areas by using fabrics which toned with my flamey orange Brora cashmere tank top – a charity shop buy, incidentally, and cheap as chips because of its parlous moth-holed state. Other areas could carry more of a punchy contrast. You might feel a bit like a tattoo artist doing this, trying to figure where best to position a patch to enhance the wearer’s physique. Or not. If you have a really awkward hole (right over a sensitive part of the bosom, for example) you need to think very carefully about your repair. This might not be the right place for a micro-patch.


Positioning patches


Once pinned into position, it’s a question of  tacking (even if you never usually baste or tack, I’d advise not skipping this stage for this type of work – it doesn’t take long and you can try on your garment more easily to decide if you’re happy with the result). Then it’s time for stitching over the patch by hand, getting decorative as the mood takes: spirals, concentric circles, radiating lines etc. I rather like a plain, simple back-stitch a few millimetres from the edge of the patch. Blanket stitch will cover the edges, if raw edges bug you, but it yields a slightly raised effect – fine, if that’s what you want. You could free-machine embroider, if you prefer; a few overlapping freehand circles would look really good. But this is hard (OK, impossible) to do on restricted areas such as sleeves etc.


Back-stitched micro-patch


How small can you go with these micro-patches? Well, if you’re just covering a mark or soiled area, you can go very itsy-bitsy as there’s no repair to effect; so as long as you can secure it well to the background fabric, you can go wild with your teenies. If you’re covering a hole, however, I’d ensure there’s at least a half-inch margin of sound fabric all around the edge of the repair. Now, if you stitch well over your patch, it should hold up well. To be extra secure, you could even try sandwiching it, with one patch on the outside, another of the same size on the inside; this could be done without any interfacing for a softer, more yielding repair. And then you’re spared seeing the raw edges of your repair on the wrong side of the garment. 



Radiating lines of split stitch


I get a real buzz from using up even the smallest jewel-like scraps of Liberty fabric. Do you? Seems almost criminal to throw them away. If you have a go, please show me how you get on. There’s a place to share your repairs, by the way, over here at The Big Mend group pool. Jump on in! The water’s lovely. 

I also love the satisfaction of working old-school tradition patching techniques which leave strong, finished edges; I will be teaching these (plus creative ways to repair jeans) in my half-day patching class, Patch-ologyPlease visit my classes page for details: forthcoming dates are Wednesday 18th September, Monday 7th October, and Friday 8th November. But I like to play it dangerously with my lawn, risking raw edges (which aren’t going to fray a whole lot anyway) and going smaller and smaller and smaller. Edgy stuff!


Send reinforcements!




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.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


Socialized through Gregarious 42
make PrestaShop themes