Monday, February 4, 2013

A Mending Manifesto

I spent some of yesterday darning 3 holes in a machine-gauge cashmere sweater. You know what I mean by machine-gauge - that's "store bought" thickness, which is to say, very slim. Let me start by conceding that you're not going to see me on the cover of Vogue Mending anytime soon.

Part of me is horrified by my results. I don't mind telling you that the sweater cost a fortune. Well, I do mind telling you because, on the basis of my fixing skills, it is now worth fuck-all. Admittedly I "practiced" on the most expensive piece of cashmere I own - expensive because a) it's very good quality fiber and b) it's a long cardigan - like a jacket more than a sweater. How I allowed this poor garment to get hole-y is a travesty. 

(I've got an excuse for that, btw, I wore it constantly - till I tired of it - and then it languished in the closet for 3 years. During that time, we had a brief moth incident. Note: Said incident doesn't seem to have persisted and most of the affected sweaters were mended professionally quite a while ago. This one was overlooked, in addition to one other which is SO hideously affected, I think it's only good for pitching. What a terrible reflection of my (former) cavalier attitude.)

I've mentioned that I am taking a new attitude towards a) reviewing clothes regularly for signs of wear b) mending and c) caring for knits of all kinds. 

I no longer dry clean anything that can possibly be washed - or that will touch my skin - because those chemicals cannot be good for me and, in truth, they don't clean anything. Sweaters LOVE hand washing, peeps. They love your care. They love to be gently swished in a bowl of tepid water with high-quality liquid soap (that doesn't strip their oils). They love to get a drop or 2 of, nice-smelling and bug-repelling lavender or eucalyptus essential oil (the good stuff, not synthetic!). They love to be rinsed without agitation and then gently squeezed (not rung), to get rid of excess water. Then, simply roll them in a towel (shape briefly before doing this), dry them flat on another towel, blocked into the size and shape you prefer. A day or 2 later they're soft, lovely-scented, bug-repelling, chemical-free and clean. BTW, that process takes 10 times longer to write about than it does to actually accomplish. 

But back to darning...

I think it's important to observe the likelihood of developmental opportunity when you try something new. It's important to be happy that you're learning and trying. It's important that you achieve the desired outcome (if not perfectly). On those accounts, my darning has been successful.

However, if your idea of good darning is to create a fix that looks somewhat better than 100 times worse than the (admittedly weak-point) booboos then, in truth, I may have failed.

Why did I start with a fine sweater? Well, I only had 2 garments that needed mending. This one needed less mending than the other and I had better mending yarn to work with. Also, the sweater I started with has a much bigger gauge, relatively, than the other machine-knit sweater, tiny though its stitches may be. I know, from experience, I'm not going to practice on test fabric. (It's actually pretty hard to fake-mend if you don't have stuff on hand that's damaged. Everything really is its own beast.) I also know that this sweater was going to be hard to fix invisibly, for anyone. The holes were too well-developed. That's my rationale, anyway.

There are 2 ways to fix knits, so I've seen, and Sockupied (a ridiculously titled, online mag you can get here) describes them clearly both in words and with accompanying video. Seriously, the techniques provided apply to all knit garments and that mag is worth its price tag for this tutorial alone. 

In brief, Method 1 is "regular" darning - wherein you hand stitch a little frame around your hole (3 good stitches away from the hole on each side of it). Then weave into one leg of each undamaged stitch, laying the thread over the hole as you come to it and, once you've completed this in one direction (aka horizontal), do it in the opposite direction (aka vertical). As such, you weave over and under the threads previously laid atop the hole. This creates a little pot-holder-stitch. It's not invisible, it doesn't reconstruct the stitches, but it does produce a strong, stable mend that - in the same yarn - will look ok.

The second sort of mending is actually reconstructing the original fabric and, seriously, it's complicated. It's referred to in the magazine as "reknitting", Swiss darning and duplicate stitching and it looks something like this:
Swiss Darning pic via Chestofbooks.com
I won't even try to explain it, though Sockupied does, very well, but after creating the stabilizing thread frame around the hole (mentioned above but not shown in the illustration), you actually use a double strand of regular thread to create a kind of loom over the hole. Then you weave into and out of one strand of the "loom" thread, stitch-by-stitch re-knitting with a darning needle. If worked in the same yarn, it is utterly indistinguishable from the original garment and it has the same properties of stretch.

I chose to work the simpler method on my sweater because a) after watching the reknitting video 12 times, I still couldn't wrap my brain around it and b) the gauge of my sweater's stitches were SO tiny - and the holes so small - that I didn't think I'd be able to finagle a loom. I still think that. (The videos show mending on chunky yarn that had been hand knit so, of course, it is relatively easy to make the fixes on that fabric.)

Alas, my technique is nascent and unsophisticated. In the day, I'd have learned this skill from childhood and, by now, I'd have darned hundreds of garments. As it is, I'm going to need to practice and some of the garments on which I need to practice will be sub-optimal for that activity because they are very dear. Oh well, that's how the cookie crumbles. I will choose to look at my darning as a work in progress. I will learn to love it for its pragmatism, despite its quirks. And, moreover, I will improve.

18 comments:

  1. My husband similarly let a beautiful cashmere pullover get chomped, and I've debated trying to mend it -- just wondering if you'd happened to save the little packet of matching thread that came with your sweater, because I'm damned if I can locate the cashmere for his. . . I'm really going to try to get my mending set-up better organized . . .

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    1. You know, if we were from the 40s, we would never have allowed this to happen to our precious sweaters. (Maybe I'm looking back with some rose-tinted glasses?) I emailed you about where you can find good mending yarn and I might have some that can work for you. Let me know.

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  2. that paragraph on handwashing sweaters was like porn. have you done a full post on that? do i remember that, or is that wishful thinking? cause i'm jonesing a handwash for ALL my sweaters now.

    if only to keep me from darning.

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    1. I'm SO glad you feel that way! And you should read my erotic fiction :-)

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  3. I got a badge for darning in Brownies. That was a loooong time ago!

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  4. What about practicing on some garments you don't care about? You could make holes and fix them until you're really good at it.

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    1. Can't bring myself to put holes in something on purpose!

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  5. Um, my brain hurts just looking at that pic of Swiss darning. But I'm determined to figure out some sort of darning for my handknitted socks, when the time comes!

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    1. I know! It's insane. But you can always do the simpler version to start with.

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  6. Any suggestions for where to send for professional mending? I live in San Francisco so any suggestions from readers also appreciated! This is my year to repair/tailor or toss for a large pile of lovelies. (Not however my year to swiss darn or any other darns) I handwash all my sweaters, using shampoo generally and they all smell heavenly! And are soft and appreciative.

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    1. Margaret: I don't! But I hope someone who can help you reads this comment...

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  7. I have to admit to enjoying the odd darning mission, though it's always socks so it never matters what cosmetic state they end up in!

    Why not use the hideously damaged garment - the one you're going to toss out - to practise on?

    Sam

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    1. The only one I have at the moment is that other slim sweater (mentioned in this post) - and I'm waiting to find some yarn in the right shade and weight. I don't want to totally give up on it.

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  8. I have had to darn ALL my wool socks for the last while before wearing, as my crazy orthotics are slicing holes in them! I have to say, I have looked at the 'swiss darning' method, and it looks fab...but I am just too lazy.

    I just end up doing a criscross thingy that looks like shit but does the job.

    I always get well freaked by having to darn good cashmere! Somehow I manage, but it always looks noticeable.

    Have you seen that new felting hole fad that has just come out? That looks promising (with same colour thread, mind you).

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    1. Really, who isn't too lazy to swiss darn?? I think that's a case in your favour :-)

      I have not seen the felting trend. Can you send me a link to it?

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  9. I have mended small holes in cashmere sweaters using silk sewing thread; not really darning, but some tiny stitches to pull the hole together. On one of them, I had tried previously with cotton thread, and it was horrible, so I bought matching Gutermann silk, and re-did it. Now I can't find the spots.

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    1. That's great info, Elke. Thank you.

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