I really love vintage clothes and still wear pieces I bought 30 years ago when they were at least 30 years old at the time; keeping my old clothes alive and wearable has probably prompted my fixation with darning and mending. So I was very pleased recently to help Cleo Holyoak-Heatley, the owner of my favourite vintage clothes shop, Clifton Vintage Boutique, in Clifton Arcade in Bristol.
I was talking to her about the current Mending Exhibition while scouring round looking for something -anything fanciable; it’s not worth going to look for something specific in a vintage clothes shop – the eyes, mind and purse have to be open to anything and everything on display, in season or out…..
It was a freezing day and I was checking out a rack of Fair-isle sweaters and vests, when Cleo asked if I knew of anyone who could possibly mend a favourite Fair-isle sweater of hers with a hole in the elbow? I at once volunteered – it could be a bit of a challenge but as I am currently running mending classes at Heart Space Studios, I thought I could get some practice in.
When I called back the following week, the sweater she brought out looked pristine, with band after band of different patterns, it almost looked like a sampler with sleeves. The hole was in the elbow and very small. I thought that this looked easy to stitch, what was going to be tricky was getting the right darning yarns in the right colours. Luckily Cleo had some old stock of vintage mending yarns, including a card of “Chadwick’s Wool and Nylon for Reinforcing and Mending”, the Nylon is included for strength so that the darn will last longer. Amazingly we found 2 perfect colours, I had to find the others – the background and some blue to mix to get the heathery look of the original wools. although this is a chunky jumper the yarn used is very fine, 2 ply – this is called crewel wool is embroidery terms and I have a stash of it to work my stitching samples when designing canvas needle work kits for Ehrman’ s Tapestry,
The first thing I had to do was secure the knitting form un-ravelling any further, easy enough in a small hole but needs quite a bit of reinforcement in anything bigger, I decided to try to re-knit the loops left over, but the wool was very weak and kept fraying. I have to say that what follows is for mending nerds only….. but if you want to see the finished result just go to the end of the post.
The problem with any patterns, knitted or not, is that several colours have to be used to make an imperceptible mend , and here the damage extended through 2 colours, the pattern and the ground colours. so threading up 2 needle with the colours on each row, I started a few cms. away for the hole and using a type of French Darning , which is covering the knitting stitches along the row in a zig -zag pattern, this covers the hole and reinforces the surrounding fabric.
The back not so wonderful to look at but the extra stitching makes for reinforcement and elbows wear out first
The mending looks OK on the front, you can just see the different colour tones of the darned area –
When I returned the sweater, Cleo was really thrilled and was wearing another of her Fair Isle collection…