Part 2 Research point 1

Tom of Holland – Tom van Deijnen

Confessions of a serial darner

I had the opportunity in September 2016 with the Essex Handicraft Association to hear Tom speak about his journey into textiles and his ‘Visible Mending Programme’.

He describes himself as a self-taught textiles practitioner who specialises in knitting and mending knitted woollen items.  He enjoyed being creative as a child which included teaching himself to knit.

His mending journey started as a reaction to the ‘throw away’ society that we have become and how knitted woollen garments can be mended and continued to be worn and enjoyed.  He aspires to share his love of mending not just in the traditional darning sense but also using mending as a decorative feature adding a new aspect to a preloved garment.

He also referred to the manufacture of cheap clothing today, and considering the narrative of the person who has made that item of clothing.  He believes that even this type of clothing deserves to be mended and taken care of, and in doing so giving respect to the person who made it wherever they are in the world.  By choosing to mend and continue to wear our clothing for longer we are using less materials and resources.

In his research into the history of darning he referred to the ‘Make-do and Mend’ campaign used by the British Government during the Second World War as rationing was brought in and fabric and clothing became scarce.  Fabric and clothing production was used for the war effort and people were forced to mend or re-use fabric because it was in such short supply. Knitted woollen garments were unpicked and re-knitted to get maximum use out of the scarce yarns.

Another of Tom’s philosophies is;

‘A garment is finished when there is no more mending or wearing left’

This is not how many of us think about garments, most of us who make clothing think of a finished garment as one which the making process is complete and it is ready to be worn.  He has pushed that idea to the end of a garments life when no further adaption can be made to enable it to be worn.

Tom has carried out a lot of research into different methods of darning particularly traditional methods and has examples of some of the books he has found and read on the subject some Dutch others English.  He had a few samples of his work showing the different techniques he uses and how a traditional darn can be used in a decorative way making a feature out of a piece of mending.  Not all mending can be completely invisible so why not use it to enhance a garment?  His preferred textile is wool and wool from old rare breeds of sheep.  He had some examples of different types of darning tools, mushrooms, European and English (there is a difference in the shape) and a little gadget called a Speedweve – Lancashires smallest loom which you can sometimes find on Ebay.

Tom teaches his darning techniques in Brighton and undertakes commissions.


My observations…..

I had to smile whilst this young Dutchman spoke about his textile speciality to the group of ladies who are all members of the Essex Handicraft Association.  The average age of the audience was around 70 and most of these ladies have been darning and mending all their lives as have I, although I’m a little bit younger than they are!  Whilst I was not around during the Second World War the Make-do and Mend mentality has been firmly instilled into my persona.  I learnt to darn as a child, taught by my mother who always seemed to be mending, repairing or darning, particularly her hand knitted socks.  Despite this they were all interested in a young man whose enthusiasm for an old traditional technique was being rejuvinated and reinvented for a new modern audience.

Taken from my own personal notes made during his talk and



Essex Handicrafts Association (EHA)

I joined EHA in 2013 after seeing a poster in my home town advertising a meeting so I went along to see whether it was something I wanted to be involved in.  I am now part of the committee something I have never done before so it shows that I enjoy being part of the group.

EHA was founded in 1909 and has several branches throughout the county, each run independently but there is a County Executive Committee administering the organisation.

EHA is open to anyone of any age interested in crafts but in my group we are all female and mostly over 50’s in age, there are a few younger members some of which are on the committee and we have around 40 members.  We meet in the evening on the third Thursday in the month and meetings consist of either a speaker on a relevant subject or a  practical evening finishing with a tea or coffee.

2016 so far

In January we had a talk from members of the Brightlingsea U3A (University of the Third Age) about The Pioneer Project in Brightlingsea.  The Pioneer Trust was set up to restore the last East Coast 1st Class Essex Skillinger Smack originally built in 1864 in Rowhedge, Essex and the U3A undertook to research and produce as closely and as traditionally as possible the clothes worn by the sailors of the Smacks before all the heritage was lost forever.  They produced a full range of clothing including underwear, gansies (hand knitted woollen jumpers), shirts, boots, socks and trousers all made as closely as possible to the original. A lot of research and trial & error had been undertaken to produce the clothing.

In February we had a ‘Show and Tell’ by a local lady Mary McCarthy who is a rag rug textile artist.  She talked about how she creates her textile art and she had lots of examples for us to see along with a few pieces where we could try out the techniques she uses.

March saw a practical evening with one of the members showing us felt quilling.  We had a small kit containing all the wool felted fabric cut into strips which we coiled into rounds resembling mini Swiss rolls and endeavoured to sew them together using the correct technique.


April was another practical evening ‘The return of the Inchies’.  This had been one of the practical sessions in 2015 but I had been working that evening so I missed it.  An ‘inchie’ is a square inch of fabric which you treat anyway you want, in our context that is embroidery, beading or fabric collage – basically anything you like.  A square inch of fabric is quite a small area to work with and I only made one during the evening!

May brought us a ‘Show and Tell’ by textile artist Sara Impey from Coggeshall, entitled ‘Writing with a needle’.  Sara is a leading quilt artist who uses text in her beautiful work. She brought along a selection of her quilts which were very inspiring. You can find out more about Sara on her website –

In June we had ‘Rescue, Revive and Recycle’.  This is an opportunity for any unfinished projects (UFO’s) to be shared with the group either for advice, to swap or give away to be finished.  I didn’t have anything to take with me but rescued a piece of 1950/60’s linen embroidery to finish in my spare time. This was followed by locally picked strawberries and cream.

July brought us together for another local textile artist Sue Rhodes from Wivenhoe, her talk was called ‘Stitches with Stories’ in which she talked about two different traditional embroidery techniques – Sorbello from Sorbello in Italy and Glazig from the Breton Region of France.  I had the opportunity to try some Glazig embroidery which I would like to explore more in the future.

We don’t meet in August and September is our AGM and Members Evening which includes the Branch competitions where we can enter work completed either from the workshops, practical evenings or anything you have done during the year.  Work entered is judged by the members by anonymous ballot and the winners receive a cup for the year.  We also have an annual ‘Challenge’ set by the Committee and whatever is made for the Challenge is displayed and we have the opportunity to talk about what we have made.  It’s not obligatory to enter but it does usually generate a lot if interesting pieces and people enjoy taking part.

October has us thinking about Christmas and the annual Christmas Tree Festival held in our local church.  We have made ‘Penny Garlands’ to decorate our tree for the festival.  Penny garlands are made from felt circles sewn together with blanket stitch.


Penny Garlads made by Brightlingsea members of EHA 2016

In December we don’t have a meeting but those who wish enjoy going out for a Christmas meal together.

We are now starting 2017 and have had a ‘social stitching day’ at the beginning of January where people brought anything they wanted to work on.  I took a piece of stump work that I started at a workshop in 2015 and hadn’t picked up for a while.  I needed some help as I couldn’t remember how to complete some of the pieces.  I will put a photo on here when it’s nearer to completion!

We have a varied programme for 2017 and I will add details of each months meeting as we progress through the year.







Project 2 – Drawing with stitch

Exercise 2.3 Drawing with stitch on paper

I have selected these six from my drawings because I hope that they will give me a good variety for working with alongside my manipulated papers.  They have a wide range of differing marks which I hope will inspire me.



Sample 1 – Elderberry brush/ink – Cotton bust bodice

I have made a tentative start on this exercise by selecting this section from the drawing. The marks were made with black ink and a cluster of elderberries made into a brush.  You can see where the berries have hit the paper and dragged the ink across the page.

Section of drawings for bustier

I have sketched out the section that I will use and I have chosen the simple creased copy paper which shows the folds and drape of the garment.  I thought about the stitches that I could use and made notes alongside my enlarged drawing whilst considering the strength of the drawn lines.  From my collection of threads I selected a braid type yarn which I started to couch down to the paper.  I used the folds and creases in the paper to show the flow of the marks also interpreted in the stitching direction. Working on paper is very difficult as it tears easily especially after it has been manipulated and the fibres become  soft.  I have knotted the ends of the braid to represent the circular marks where the berries have hit the paper first and I tried different methods of couching to give slightly different effects.  I have not made a representation of every mark and if I did this again I would not try to do so much as the paper gets too soft.  I ended up just sewing the braid through the paper rather than couching on top of the paper because it was easier.  I have used straight stitches, running stitch, back stitch and an over stitch to couch the braid down.




Sample 2 – Plastic scourer/ink – Brassiere 

I have selected a simple area of this drawing and decided to use the tracing paper that I rubbed with a stone onto a rough concrete floor as this showed the swirling pattern of the original drawing.  I like the differing depth of the marks that make up this section and think that they will be interesting to interpret into stitching.



The tracing paper is a bit more forgiving than the copy paper although it can tear between the holes made by the stitches.  It has a nice body and I like the translucent quality.  I have used back stitch, couching, chain stitch and a diagonal straight stitch.  I have used a variety of different weights of thread, wool tapestry yarn, narrow silver ribbon, round elastic couched with black cotton perle, danish flower thread and stranded cotton. Sometimes the holes previously created in the paper were in an unconvenient place for my stitching which was interesting.

Sample 3 – Black pen – Brassiere


This area of the drawing details the construction of the fabric for the brassiere, I have chosen folded, punched and burnt copy paper which was also an interpretation of the construction of the garment.  The area selected reminds me of the Honesty seed heads that I have studied before, there is a plant/fruit like quality to this drawing and the stitching that it has produced.  I have used simple black cord and couched it down with black cotton perle which has also been used for the straight stitching.



Sample 4 – plastic scourer, lolly stick/acrylic paint – damask stays

I have selected a small area of the original drawing which has a variety of marks to interpret and I have chosen the corrugated card to stitch into because of its similar qualities to the stays – stiff and supporting.



Whilst it is difficult to interpret every line and mark of the original drawing, I really enjoyed trying to get the main characteristics and show them as stitching.  I had to plan where I wanted to stitch as the holes had to be made with a much larger needle before the stitching began because of the thickness and stiffness of the card.  I have used  cross stitch in two different threads, tapestry wool and a space dyed grey cotton perle for the lighter vertical lines and back stitch in black cotton perle for the darker heavier vertical lines. One of the draw backs in stitching on this card is if you change your mind then you are left with vacant holes.

Sample 5 – Elderberry brush/ink – Cotton bust bodice


This section of my original drawing is again simple but selected because I like that each line has a different value and can be depicted with a different type of stitch and thread.  I have used the copy paper sample which was slashed and burned with a pyrography tool replecating the marks made by the elderberry brush and ink. The stitches I have used are running stitch, chain stitch, couching and french knots. Stitching on paper that has areas missing can be interesting if not a little difficult!


Sample 6 – black pen – brassiere

The brassiere is constructed using bobbin lace and crochet, this area is a close up of the mesh or net that makes up the garment.  I have used my copy paper sample which I have folded and cut to represent this mesh.  I didn’t want to stitch parallel to the cuts in the paper so the stitching is on the diagonal which means that the mesh falls across the holes.



Sample 7 – plastic scourer/acrylic paint – Borage plant study










I have selected this section because of the flow of the marks similar to falling leaves or running water.  I have use the manila paper which I had cut in flowing marks with a knife.  The paper had to be prepared before stitching with a sharp needle because it has no strength and tears easily.  I considered using machine embroidery but decided the paper would pull apart and tear so I have used straight stitch and chain stitch.  I have used similar colours as the sample selection.



Sample 8 – 2 pencils – brassiere


I have used my tissue paper sample which was burnt with a soldering iron along with some tracing paper rubbed with a stone onto a rough concrete floor.  I have used both papers because the tissue paper would not be strong enough to stitch into and needs a base for stability.  I have machine embroidered with two colours of thread, salmon pink and beige which are the colours of the original garment.  The stitching has produced a quilt like quality to the tissue paper and it would look good with a coloured paper underneath to show through the holes.



Sample 9 – 2 pencils – brassiere

I have not selected a particular area of my drawing but have used this paper as a reference to the feel of the drawing as a whole.  I have used buttonhole stitch on a bar of thread between the cut discs of paper on both sides which pulls the paper into a 3d piece.  It reminds me of 1970’s lampshades but I really like it.



Sample 10 – plastic scourer, lolly stick/acrylic paint – damask stays


For this sample I have used the folded and burnt thin card which represented the stitching on the red silk stays.  I have machine embroidered in the folds of the card with dark grey and red straight stiching and threaded black ribbon through the holes created by burning the card with a soldering iron.  The black ribbon has all been recycled clothing that all seem to have these sewn into them. I used red stitching as a reference from the colour of the silk used on the original garment.


Whilst I have enjoyed this exercise I have found stitiching difficult on papers that had been heavily manipulated as the fibres had become soft and they tore more easily.  Those papers with made holes also were a bit of a problem unless the holes were in the right place.