Thursday, 11 June 2015

When mending is a work of art

A tote bag made from scraps of early 19thC .hand-woven linen feather bed covers.

   When I first starting dealing in linen and bought large quantities as 'job lots' for very few francs and sorted through the piles when I got home from France, I often found the most beautiful small darns on the best sheets and pillow cases, which I admired.  They copied the lines of the threads and were done in the finest little stitches so they blended perfectly.  Others had the cleverest little circular darns which were done on the basis of a wheel to fill the round hole and the spokes were sewn first and then further threads were woven  till all was filled in..  I kept these, thinking that young girls had been taught to do these intricate repairs by their thrifty mothers or the 'bonnes soeurs' in the convents.   I put them on one side and was then so pleased to meet a textile student who was  taking darns and repairs as her thesis subject and she was delighted to add my examples to her collection, and even she was amazed by the accuracy and skill of the French repairs!  She obviously got most of her models from old samplers but had not yet looked at French linen cupboards!
      I have always repaired and patched all my own linen sheets, using the faulty ones up, from my buying expeditions,  sometimes saving the elaborate borders, if in good condition, and adding them to plainer ones!  A lot of French sheets, though often very narrow,  are extra long, to fold over the huge bolsters that are common , so there is spare material.
   Every year I have a visit from a delightful Japanese craft worker - she travels round England with the lightest of luggage, hitch-hiking when possible and staying with old friends who welcome her.  She loves indigo-dyed cottons and linens from France and I have now learned to save every scrap for her when I make my bags and aprons, all from 18th,19thC indigo printed and dyed bedding remnants. I am quite economical but she is a fanatic!
  She falls on them with the greatest delight and takes them back to a smart shop in Japan where they love her hand-sewn re-creations.  The clever thing she does is to repair holes and damaged areas with obvious patches and masses of hand stitching;  every one is different and it's really very amusing to think that something so original can be made out of discarded samples.  She came to see me this year and cleared my last few scraps with the usual cries of delight, and then presented me shyly with this bag which is really a miracle of patches and decoration.  There are squares of darning here and there, many additional running stitch lines in criss-cross patterns, a good pocket and extra bottom lining inside the latest bag shape from Paris cat-walks, and is a total delight - so many hours of meticulous hand work and someone who is totally inspired by the materials she has in her hands.  Such a lovely girl! and her bag - a lovely gift I value more than one from Mulberry, our local up-market bag maker!


  1. I found this post very moving, filled with both information and carrying the spirit of centuries of tending to treasured fabrics.

    How fortunate you are to now have that unique bag, with its many perfect samples of skilled stitching.

    On a much less skilled level, I have also been doing a bit of my own mending/embroidery/appliqued patching of some treasured linens in my own little apartment. It is an intriguing project.

    Best wishes from New York.

  2. I'm so glad that you chose to show mending and darning in such a favorable light. In the past I have been laughed at for enjoying darning socks and patching worn clothing. My husband rolls his eyes when I start darning his socks. He thinks he is the only one these days who has to wear darned socks. There truly is an art to darning and I have taught my needlework group how to do it correctly and with the results of a proper darn being beautiful and most serviceable.

    Thanks again from Diane in North Carolina

  3. Lovely post thankyou. I relish too these darned French bits and pieces. I just bought a few pieces here in Burgundy some rather Corfirmation looking gowns with smocked necks and lacy borders. I'm intrigued by your Japanese collector she sounds fascinating, you wonder really what drives her to seek out fabrics so far away when Japan also has some incredible textiles

  4. Elizabeth Baer2 July 2015 at 11:02

    The Japanese women seem to like French things very much and I am told there are several very specialised shops in Tokyo selling textiles - perhaps they appreciate the very conventional life of girls over there in pre-war years and like the style and elegance of the fashion world there. I have always found them very good buyers and quite knowledgeable about buttons, trimmings and vintage prints from France.

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