another feature

The new Rowan Magazine has just come out, and I have a feature in it, exploring the history of mending, darning, and ‘plain work’. I really enjoyed researching and writing this piece, and working on it became quite important to me during some difficult times over the Summer. In many respects, it is a very “me” sort of piece, and I feel rather happy to see it published. Reading my words, and remembering the ideas behind the writing, reminds me that I stayed me even when I did not feel like me at all (if you see what I mean). I can perhaps give you a quick taste of the feature with a few of the images that Rowan did not use:


Margaret Boxall’s darning sampler (1799). © Ackworth School Estates. You can read more about these beautiful samplers in Carol Humphrey’s super book).


“Two women set up a make do and mend exhibition” (1943) (D14646) ©Imperial War Museum (grateful thanks to Eleanor Farrell at the IWM)


Liz kindly agreed to be my darning model. Here are her hands mending a lovely Hopscotch sock (of her own design) using Felix’s darning egg.

I am also very happy that the wonderful and talented Mandy, and her mother-in-law, Noreen, feature in the feature. And, quite apart from anything else, I reckon that this is a sterling issue of the magazine. I was particularly struck by the ‘Illusion’ story, which showcases some beautiful, airy pieces, set off with Rowan’s characteristically gorgeous photography and Marie Wallin’s great styling. Just the thing to brighten up a dreich January day.

34 responses

  1. I can’t wait to read it! I didn’t know about Rowan’s magazine. As a seamstress and reconstructive children’s clothing designer, it will help further my interests. Thanks for the tip!

  2. Darn! I wish I hadn’t whacked my little sister on the head with Gram’s darning egg! She was showing me how to darn socks but took it away after the mayhem ensued. At least I graduated to cross stitch on a hoop.

  3. I’ve been wrestling with some art ideas around mending and darning for a while now. The trick is how to do it without it just being fake & meaningless. I’m still thinking about it.

  4. I am feeling the need to learn how to darn socks. I used to just sew the holes closed until socks got so cheap as to just pitch them.

  5. I am looking forward to reading the article very much! I’m focusing on the sustainability of knitwear in my MA and looking into educating the consumer on owning fewer, more durable and classic pieces as an alternative to fast fashion, and as such, the make do and mend mindset of the 1940’s is very inspiring attitude for us. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and findings!

      • Thanks! I may put updates on my blog about it (www.kristenmakes.wordpress.com) . I haven’t yet, as the research portion has only begun but I hope to share, if it comes to anything good!

  6. The darning sampler is a jaw-dropper. And “make war on moths”: what was their plan of attack? I could always use more strategies. Meanwhile, I look forward to this issue of the Rowan magazine – luckily for me, it’s easy to find in the US, whereas Knitter’s is not.

    PS: I emailed you a picture of my Tantallon just before Christmas. Let me know if it failed to reach you, and I’ll send it again.

  7. My mum taught us needlework and knitting as my third year primary school teacher. Mending and darning was normal back then – in the 50s as people hated to waste or throw away anything. Mending socks with that very fine yarn, sold for the purpose, was a real chore for me because I could never get it to look right! Gave that job up as soon as I could. Mum talked about doing mending for my sister just yesterday though….. :)

  8. Congratulations on another article! It has reminded me that I have somewhere a darning ‘mushroom’ that belonged to my great grandmother….must dig it out. By the way, aren’t those woman SKINNY!!! That is war rations for you!

  9. That “forget about conventions” poster is fascinating. I wonder if that was when people stopped wearing hats/gloves on a regular basis? What a shame. I do love a fancy hat.

  10. I will order the Rowan magazine on-line and look forward to reading your article Kate. Thanks for the heads up. I am also going to post this on my blog if you don’t mind and spread the word. My mother darned and so did my aunt. So it was very common for me to watch her weave in and out of the thread bearing garment until she had “filled” in the gap. She took a great deal of pride in her work and would gather pieces from her brothers ( my uncles) so it was more than a need to mend…it was like a hobby. I used this technique somewhat in my drawing (filling in) and it gave me, as it did her, a great sense of relaxation and peace…like doodling…and with rhythm. I love to see the elbows of sweaters and heels of socks darned…it brings me back to simpler and warmer times and I believe a demonstration of love. My grandchildren think I am amazing when I fix a ripped teddy, or stitch (darn) up a glove seamlessly…a favourite blankie still has life due to some handy darning…until now I had not realized this was a craft handed down. Not nearly as good as Mum was at this but good nevertheless.

  11. I must see if I can get a copy. I really enjoyed reading your article in The Knitter recently. I still have my Granny’s wooden darning mushroom somewhere! I must dig it out and have a go at darning some socks, as one of my favourite pairs now has a hole!

  12. I belong to a Rowan knitting club in Milton, Ontario, Canada. At our next meeting we’ll receive the spring Rowan Magazine and I’ll direct the members’ attention to your article and to this blog. You are quite a person. And I know they’d enjoy the connection.

  13. I’m in Candice’s Rowan club…..and Candice pointed me to your blog, the same day that I had found you thru Ravelry……a very happy coincidence. I look forward to reading your article in the new Rowan, and I am going to look up your past articles in “The Knitter” which I have here………

  14. Congratulations on the publication. I haven’t purchased a Rowan mag in years, but your article looks interesting. Have you ever submitted to Piecework (U.S. magazine on needlework/textile history)? Not as “chic” as Rowan, but a very good, solid magazine.

    And the focus on mending is timely; my weekend knitting project is darning socks.

  15. Congratulations Kate! I will hunt down the magazine out here on the West Coast. Mending is of particular interest to me, as I have a kitty who loves cashmere and, as a result of this peculiar habit of hers, I have large, gaping holes in too many wonderful sweaters! I sometimes call her, Moth; her given name is, Vida– she’s a beast of a kitty.
    Help is on the way, thanks to you! Be well!

  16. i purchased the humphrey book some time ago on your recommendation — along with a bunch of others, including a bound collection of dryad pamphlets. they’ve given me so much pleasure, thank you.

  17. Love the elegance, and simple clothingh of the ladies setting up the display.
    My Mom used to have a wooden “Darning Mushroom” I loved that thing as a child, it fascinated me.Lol
    I will check out the article when I get My Rowan magazine.

  18. I read your piece a couple of days ago – it reminded me I need to learn to darn to fix a beloved pair of woolen trousers. They’re a herringbone weave, so if I could only figure out how to replicate that darning pattern from the sampler above, I’d be well away. Suspect I should practice before I let loose on actual tweed though.

    I agree with you on the pattern/styling in Rowan this issue – the best one they’ve had in ages. I’ve been a bit disappointed with the last few recently and I always struggle more with the spring/summer issues, but this ones up there with my all time faves.

  19. So good to see the article in print!

    I know exactly what you mean about seeing things that are somehow very “you” which were made at times when you didn’t feel like yourself.

    Work is great for those times.

    The darning shot is beautiful!

  20. Ooh, I was swithering whether to buy the latest Rowan. I always buy the winter one, but the summer one is cotton knits,and cotton and me don’t get on. However, I will buy it for the article. I might get out my mother’s darning mushroom while I am at it!

  21. I am congenital toe-poker: ALL my socks and tight have holes in them! Can you darn tights? I suppose not. I did try to learn how to darn socks a couple of years ago, but then my toes poked through my darning. Must try harder!

  22. I spotted and purchased the new magazine before I read this post and it was really pleased to spot your article. I enjoyed it very much – thank you for bringing such depth of knowledge and rigour to the research for all your articles, it is very much appreciated.

  23. I am really enjoying reading your blog – especially the parts about Shetland knitting tradition. I have been looking into this as my ancestors migrated from the Shetlands to Australia in the 1850s and I am researching them. Keep up the great work!

  24. This is so cool. I owned an Ackworth School sampler for a brief moment in life. My first husband was English and attended Ackworth and his mother purchased a sampler circa 1780ish done by Mary somebody at Ackworth. She thought it was a nice memory of his years at school (and probably all the money they spent sending him there). He “borrowed” the sampler to give me as a gift. His mother didn’t know that he had borrowed it (and neither did I) until she came to visit for the first time. The sampler came in handy during our divorce. I held it hostage until he paid me some money I was due and then I mailed it back to his mother.

    It was beautiful sampler and I feel privileged to have owned it for even the briefest of time.

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