Tagged: Swiss darning

Mar 08

Briswool

 

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Briswool’s version of Totterdown

 

The City of Briswool Project‘s improbable aim is to produce a giant model of the city of Bristol – in yarn. As a concept, it’s about as mad as a bag of chickens. Which is why I had to get involved.

For me, the lunacy-infused ingenuity of this project typifies Bristol at its very best. I have to declare an interest here as Bristol is my home city: I lived there from the late ’60s to the late ’80s. The place has a distinctive non-conformist confidence which I still find refreshing when I go back home for a visit. Somehow this attitude crystallises around an unconventional approach to materials. Back in the era of wooden sailing ships, Brunel launched the SS Great Britain, his crazy iron steam ship, from Bristol. Aardman founded its animated plastic empire there in the 1970s. And Banksy used the very fabric of the city’s buildings as his canvas in the ’90s and noughties. Given such a heritage, maybe it was inevitable that Bristol would eventually be recreated from leftover balls of yarn.

Over the last few months Bristol’s landmarks, large and small, have been materialising in knitted, crocheted and needle-felted forms, created by an army of volunteers. The vast majority of materials have been donated: all has been done on an absolute shoe-string budget, fuelled largely (as so many of the very best things are) by the unquenchable enthusiasm of its originator.

That originator is Vicky Harrison, of Paper Village Arts in Bedminster on the south side of the city. True to her positioning of Paper Village as a creative community hub, she wanted Briswool to be a genuine grass-roots project, with people offering to recreate landmarks that have held some personal resonance for them. And Bristolians have been coming forward in droves to do just that. Someone’s made a model of the Matthew, the ’90s replica of the craft in which John Cabot sailed from Bristol to ‘discover’ Newfoundland in the fifteenth century. There’s a Concorde, the supersonic plane which was famously developed in Bristol. And, of course, there’s an SS Great Britain. There are harbour boats, and bikes, and zoo animals. Remarkably, there have been little or no duplicates. The scale is a little elastic, but that gives the project even more charm.

I joined Vicky in late January at the M-Shed with a group of volunteers intent on knitting a landmark section of the city called Totterdown where rows of brightly painted terraces line a ridge on the city’s skyline. I didn’t have a direct connection to those houses, but everyone from Bristol knows them by sight. Brilliantly, one of the people attending had lived in one. We were given a knitting pattern, some yarn, and quickly set about casting on, fuelled by chocolate fingers. I’m not a natural knitter, but soon got to grips with the simple pattern devised by Paper Village’s knitting tutor, Elise Fraser.

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My purple house takes shape

 

I love creating in a group environment, whether I’m the teacher or a teach-ee. In fact, I think it’s one of life’s profound pleasures. I’m sure we have always gathered to share the process of making (or mending), from our very earliest social days when we huddled around the cave fire joining pelts with gut-threaded thorn needles. The conversations (which are approached obliquely because you’re doing something else, after all) are often surprising frank and illuminating. And, whatever your level of skill, you always learn something new technically, if not from the teacher then from someone else in the group – for me this was was casting on in cable, which the knitter across from me demonstrated (though too late for my first house as I’d already cast on in my old way). I also got to grips with mattress stitch, at long last. I’d like to thank Vicky, Elise and my fellow house-knitters for all their helpfulness, generosity and sociability, and for creating a really enjoyable afternoon.

 

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Ridged roof

 

Alas, the two hours of the workshop weren’t long enough for me to finish my house so I had to complete it at home. Here it is. Now I just have to mail it back to Vicky, along with a pink house I’ve made since, plus a little greenery.

 

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Finished house

 

The pattern ended at the basic house structure, so it was up to us to complete the smaller features of the house as we saw fit. As a nod to my enthusiasm for mending, I worked mine in darning wool in Swiss darning (replica stitch). The thin black yarn didn’t cover the DK stitches fully on the windows, but I think that gives the impression of them glinting in the daylight. Maybe.

 

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Still plenty of yarn left for a newbuild next door

 

If you’d like to contribute your own little woolly piece of Bristol to Briswool, there’s still time  to get involved. But hurry! Everything has to be complete and ready to assemble by the end of month. I gather that 6 cm green squares will come in handy at this point. There are making events through the rest of March. Or you can contact Vicky at Paper Village Arts (the number’s below) who’ll be very happy to hear from you. I wonder if anyone’s made  a little version of Bristol’s Olympic champion Jen Jones yet, complete with snowboard and bronze medal…?

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Briswool’s Totterdown – WIP

 

Briswool will be on display at Paper Village Arts from April, and then at the M-Shed later in the year. 

Paper Village Arts is at 200 North Street, Bedminster, BS3 1JF, telephone 0117 963 9452. They hold a drop-in knitting session every Wednesday afternoon, 2-5pm. You can keep track of workshops, classes and community activities via Paper Village’s Facebook page

 

 

 

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Feb 02

Golden mending

 

 

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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

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

 

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Mar 23

Green Living Fair

 

I’ll be taking a pop-up mending workshop to the Green Living Fair in Bath tomorrow, Sunday 24th March, 10am to 4pm. If you’re within striking distance and fancy trying your hand at Swiss darning or adding some really beautiful patches to your favourite jacket or cardi, drop by the Big Mend stall any time between 10am and 4pm. You’re very welcome to bring items that need mending to get free advice on how best to repair them. 

Green Living Fair: 24th March in Green Park Station, Bath

Green Living Fair: 24th March in Green Park Station, Bath

 

You’ll also find 40 other green community organisations, local businesses and installers running activities, selling their produce and products, and sharing their expertise.

You can make your own pedal powered fruit smoothie, pet the pygmy goat (12pm-2pm), bring your bike and get it checked out for free at the Dr Bike clinic, have a go at eco arts and crafts, and much more.

There will be a marquee of topical talks running throughout the day covering home, energy and environmental themes.

You can book a 30 minute appointment to talk to an architect in the Ask the Architect Zone to discuss plans, schemes and dreams for large or small projects and The Royal Institute of British Architects’ 21st Century Living Exhibition, featuring images of fantastic local architectural achievements, will also be on show.

It’s all under cover so no need to worry about the weather!

The Green Living Fair is part of the Bath Green Homes project which features over 20 events throughout March & April including talks, activities and workshops which aim to help people make their homes warmer, greener and cheaper to run. There will be an Open Homes Weekend on 13th & 14th April showcasing inspiring examples of energy efficient homes across Bath.

To find out more you can:

Hope to see you there!

 

 

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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.

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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.

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