Over the last few months I’m finding a routine, a pattern to my days. Paying work begins first thing in the morning and continues until my conscience is clear. Spinning and weaving (other than tapestry weaving, of which more anon) are also daytime occupations. In the evening I sit in my comfortable chair wearing two pairs of glasses (my bifocals plus reading magnifiers) with the floor-standing task lamp lighting the sewing in my lap as I stitch and think about the life cycle of fabrics.
The time and skill needed to make handspun yarn into handwoven cloth means that fabric and clothing was once precious, something that could be measured more accurately by the days, weeks and years of the makers’ lives than by the retailer’s arm length (the ell) or measuring tape. The increasing interest in boro/boromono, chikuchiku, and other visible mending techniques pays lip service to this, but I think fashion and the stitchers working with new fabrics, even buying fashionably-distressed new clothing in order to repair it are missing one of the points: their stitches are adding value by creating something beautiful, not by repairing something too precious to discard. I am genuinely looking forward to repairing something made from my own handmade fabrics, but in the interim I’m repairing things that are precious for other reasons.
I bought this (black!) sweatshirt as a souvenir at Flag Fen when it was still an active Bronze Age archaeology site in the early 1990s. I wore it regularly, until the ribbing was losing its structure and holes were appearing in the fabric. When I picked it out of the workclothes pile to wear in the garden about 6 months ago I realised it had become precious to me as a reminder of a past time and place, so I put it to one side for repair.
I chose a red handspun mulberry silk for the repairs to reflect its new-found value, to match the logo, and because the red looks wonderful against the faded charcoal greys.
An embroidery hoop holding the fabric straight under light tension made it easier to follow the lines of the knit fabric and maintain even stitching. Magnification is essential: I can’t see to stitch this with reading glasses alone!
With the fabric under tension it’s easier to darn the hole with sewing thread matching the fabric colour and the parallel lines of the knit fabric are clearly visible. Think of the lines of the knit fabric as the warp on a loom, with the red silk needle-woven as if it were weft. Plain weave weave is over one, under one. A 3/1 twill is over 3, under 1. The repair at top left was done freehand, without the embroidery hoop, as evidenced by the way I lost count of the overs and unders. I love the sense of movement, though.
With patience and good light it’s possible to needle weave complex patterns over the darn:
That’s a diamond twill somewhat flattened by the difference in ‘weight’ between the silk and the knit fabric rib.
I tried several methods to restore some elasticity to the flabby over-stretched ribbing, but none were successful so I resorted to reinforcement and decoration with a mix of running stitch and chain stitch.
I may add some of this to the sweatshirt neckline, but then again I may not. It doesn’t need repair.
My vintage (made between 1971 and 1984) denim jacket had some intrinsic value: I paid hard cash for it at a flea market. There are several posts about my stitched repairs to the yoke, starting here. A couple of weeks ago I added a skull-and-roses on the main back using my hand-cut stencil and Japanese Indigo leaves. Even a pass through the ‘delicate’ cycle of the washing machine to wash out the hydrogen peroxide neutralising the bleach (highlighting the skull) and washing out the leaf juice revealed more weak points in the fabric: more opportunities for repair!
The edges of the cuffs and facings range from ‘showing wear’ to ‘disintegrating’. I trialled an edging of Palestrina stitch in the same red silk I used for the sweatshirt; it works but is a little less even than I’d hoped on the disintegrating edge. It might have been better to encase the cuff in another fabric and stitch that, but for some reason I can’t explain I feel that would be the wrong thing to do on this jacket. I will try to come up with a better solution, though, because the facings are just as worn. I do know that I don’t want vertical scarlet lines down my front, so even if I use Palestrina or some other ‘blanket stitch’ it won’t be red silk.
The photo below shows the Palestrina stitch cuff with a different repair strengthening worn areas of the fabric body.
People on Facebook have asked how I do this. It looks impressive but is very simple provided you’ve got magnifying glasses and good light: I’m simply backstitching a single strand of embroidery floss down the ‘ditch’ in the twill. Just for fun here’s a X80 view of the stitches and the ‘ditch’, which on this – the good or blue side of the denim – is created by the weft revealed as it passes over one warp thread: on each side of the ditch it dives under three warp threads. The diagonal results from the shift one thread to the right (in this photo) in each successive weft pass. The weft is white, the warp (the long verticals) was once dyed blue with indigo, but the surface of the cotton and its embedded indigo wore away leaving only indigo dust embedded in the crevices of the fabric. The needle in the photo is only embedded in the backstitch position to give you the idea: I confess I usually stab-stitch the backstitch for more accuracy when I’m working it.
This is what it looks like over a larger area. I started working only with blue to maintain the sense of blue in the jacket fabric, but couldn’t resist the opportunity to change colour across a wider area. The white fuzz is in an area where the warp has been worn away to reveal the weft. In a small area like this I re-create the ditch lines with backstitch holding the weft threads together but if it’s any larger I add a backing fabric for strength, especially on the shoulders or other areas subject to stress. The visibility of that particular fuzz is annoying me, so I will probably go back and needle weave some darning structure under the backstitch to add structure before trimming some of that fuzz away.