visibly mended gloves

I first heard of visible mending years ago, online somewhere, but almost certainly in reference to Tom of Holland, who is its biggest proponent. Tom is mentioned in Mending Matters, but I fixed up these gloves before I bought the book and with just my dim memory to inspire me.

The project

Mend a pair of good woollen gloves that my partner had received as a gift from his mother. She’d bought them on a trip to Australia, if memory serves, and so an exact replacement wasn’t possible.

Why I chose to mend them when I did

It was winter and he didn’t have any proper gloves. He had also just gotten a job in a nearby city and I wanted to send him off a little more prepared, since I now wouldn’t be able to present the mended gloves to him just whenever I felt like it. (Which, if past experience is anything to go by, is possibly never.)

The process

This mend was visible of necessity. I have only two types of wool thread in weights that I thought might work: this blue, and a red. The red was too much. I like the blue with this grey, and despite the fairly high contrast he was OK with it too.

I bought these wool threads at a weaving shop in London, so it’s not like I can just pop round to pick up a better match. Of necessity I got creative with what I already had, which is kind of what mending is about anyway. While working on this project, I was reminded of the Christmas when these gloves were given, and the field trip with friends to the weaving shop out in a part of London I’d never been to before and haven’t returned to since.

I didn’t try to make the mended patches into any particular pattern. I just reinforced what was worn. The gloves are seamless (sorcery!) and I couldn’t quite figure out how the joints on the thumbs were achieved, but there wasn’t much wear there anyway so I just skipped those bits.

The blue thread was too thin on its own, but doubling it gave it just the right weight. I folded it and threaded the resulting loop through the needle so it was easier to unpick if necessary. (And it was necessary.)

I’ve learned that the technique I used is called Swiss darning or duplicate stitching. You follow existing stitches with a sewing/darning needle.

I didn’t keep track of how long this took me, but it was a long time and a labour of love. Six hours sticks in my mind but that might be for one rather than both. *shrug*

The stitches are small enough that my eyes were starting to cross, but I also did enough of it that I got into a state of flow, which kept me stitching longer than I would have predicted I’d have the patience for. I’m not a knitter, but I got a taste of the meditative nature of knitting, in addition to the satisfaction of providing for a loved one and keeping textiles out of landfill.

Visibly mending a mass-produced item is a way of asserting one’s personality over potentially dehumanizing mechanization, like an abandoned car becoming overgrown with weeds. It’s a small and cozy act of rebellion.

how not to use yarn

I am not a knitter but I’ve had a couple of projects using different sorts of yarn. My experience is very limited and quite sporadic, which is probably why I’ve made inappropriate choices and had more failures than successes.

Euroflax, 100% linen, sport weight, 4-ply

Exhibit A: some undyed, greyish linen yarn with a utilitarian, minimalist feeling. I’m a sucker for linen and bought this without a purpose in mind. I had a medieval clothing project and, thinking the yarn looked handspun, decided to separate the plies and use it as sewing thread.

The lesson: Don’t. Having never handspun thread, my idea of the appearance of handspun thread was not helpful, in the same way that some costume designer’s idea of the look of medieval clothing is not necessarily useful for building actual medieval clothing. The resulting thread was nowhere near strong enough and I had to restitch everything (I chose to use cotton quilting thread the second time around).

Briggs & Little Sport, 100% pure wool, 1-ply in "red heather" (orangey-red), "bleached white" (ivory) and "seafoam" (heathered slatey-green). Not quite so yellow in real life.

Exhibit B: some nicely coordinating sport-weight, 1-ply wool. I had tried my hand at tablet-weaving on a short length of crochet cotton, which worked well and inspired me to make another piece. I wanted a long woollen belt, which would be more appropriate for medieval Europe than cotton. I worked out a pattern, cut the yarn into 4m lengths, threaded it all up, and began to try to weave, at which point it fought back vigorously. (Actually, it probably started fighting back at the threading stage or earlier.) I left it for years, because what can you do with a pile of cut yarn? I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting it, and I wasn’t going to throw it out because waste like that drives me nuts. So it sat in the basement, quietly mocking me.

The lessons: The texture of the wool is grabby, so it didn’t want to do anything but tangle. If one strand can tangle by itself by simply being dropped on the floor, imagine what mischief 100 or so strands can do. This suggests some kind of a “one-strand tangle test” before blithely cutting yarn for the entire project.

The wool is single ply, which I suspect makes it want to ply with (i.e. twist around) its neighbours. The different colours are all the same brand and type, but the off-white seemed to have a little more stretch than the other colours, which made it impossible to keep even tension.

The colours, although beautiful, are warm rather than cool and so they don’t even really suit me.

The other day, some of the folks from dance got together to discuss tassel belts and make some tassels. Aha! Tassels would be a good way to use pre-cut (i.e. otherwise useless) yarn, and if I don’t want to use what I make, someone else may be able to put the tassels to good use. I’ve finally disassemblemd the failed weaving project, which turns a UFO into materials, and that pleases me. It happens that I have another skein of the same yarn in a colour (mulberry) that works with a current project. My aversion to waste sometimes gets in the way of necessary experimentation, but I can use the pre-cut yarn to work out the kinks (so to speak) and still feel like I’m ahead of the game.

DMC Tapestry Wool, 100% pure virgin wool, 4-ply

Exhibit C: black tapestry wool. I was looking for some yarn to repair a thin spot on the elbow of a black sweater, so I went to the yarn shop and asked for advice. I wanted cotton because the sweater is cotton-like (secondhand, no label), but the cotton yarn available was rather thin. The clerk suggested wool because it was a better weight. My careful stitching on the elbow has become a felt patch. It’s not terrible, but it’s certainly not what I was going for!

The lesson: even a little bit of wool needs to be laundered in a wool-appropriate manner. Better yet, use the same fibre to patch – which is what I intended to do in the first place. In other words, trust my instincts.

wool hat

While in London, my husband and I noticed some people checking out my hat. I choose to believe that was because they liked it, as opposed to the alternatives.

The hat is simplicity itself. It’s basically a cylinder with an oval cross section, rather than completely round. The top is theoretically the shape of my head (around eyebrows, top of ears, and occipital bone). The front-sides-back is a rectangle that was long enough to fold up. The fabric has a little give to it, and I stay stitched but didn’t otherwise finish the raw edge

The fabric is a heavy, double-sided wool. I bought it with a different style of hat in mind, then never made what I had originally planned. Story of my life. I felted it up a little in the washing machine with the idea that it would block the cold air more effectively. I like to think that this worked, since I plugged the machine in the process, necessitating a plumber. Even so, it was probably still cheaper to make than buy 😉


a little history: medieval clothing

As I mentioned previously, much of the sewing I have done up to this point has been medieval. Please note that medieval doesn’t necessarily mean complicated – this ain’t no Tudor or Elizabethan wardrobe.

10th c Norse

This is a Norse (a.k.a. “Viking”) outfit. I think this can be remarkably modern looking, if you skip the jewelry. Actually, if you skip the undertunic, it’s practically a sundress.

I made all the textile items: lilac tunic with two apron dresses over top. All three pieces are linen. I bought the tortoise brooches (named for the shape, not the material) do up the straps. There’s a festoon of beads (with a couple metal pendants added on) suspended between the brooches. One friend of mine made the festoon in exchange for sewing; another friend made the metal pendants in exchange for money.

back view

Here’s a close-up of the festoon and pendants. All handmade, folks! (Just not by me.)

festoon and pendants
10th c Norse(ish)

I made my husband’s white linen undertunic, navy wool overtunic, linen trousers, and leg wraps (a.k.a. winingas, wickelbinder).

“Does this tunic make me look fat?” The overtunic is rather bigger than it needs to be: I copied the dimensions from an earlier tunic I had made, but this fabric drapes a lot more than the other. And I couldn’t be arsed to fix it.

back view

So, for those who were curious, this is the type of stuff I spent my time on before I decided that if I’m going to make something, I want to be able to wear it more than a few times a year.