In decades past, wear and tear was a source of embarrassment. Discrete repairs were prized and practised - to produce a visible mend would have been seen as wearing a badge of impoverishment and idleness. This is world's away from the vibrant patches of 'tweed' created using coloured repair threads darned over damaged areas of Flora Collingwood-Norris' knitwear.
A knitwear designer and maker based in Galashiels in the Scottish borders, we speak to Flora about where she finds inspiration and her passion for textiles ahead of her Visible Mending workshop for Selvedge that will take place on 22 January 2022.
Could you tell our readers your 'textiles origin story' and how you came to establish your knitwear business?
I’ve been in love with textiles for as long as I can remember. My mum started teaching me to knit and sew when I was 5-6, which was then carried on at school. During my teens, I spent my free time teaching myself new techniques and skills, and making and customising my clothes, as I always liked to wear unique pieces. I studied Textiles at university, where I specialised in knitwear and learnt to use knitting machines.
After university I worked freelance, where my work included making catwalk samples for Christopher Kane, Jasper Conran and House of Holland, as well as working for a design consultancy company, swatching and designing hand knit patterns. I started Collingwood-Norris in 2016, with the aim of creating designs that would be timeless, environmentally conscious, and be made in a way that valued the people that made them.
My designs are now either made by myself, or in small batches at a factory half an hour away in the Scottish Borders, where I can visit regularly.
On the blog this week and in our latest issue of Selvedge we're focussing on mending. How did mending become part of your creative business and how do you share this skill and the ethos of mending with people?
I’ve always been mindful about what happens to my designs at the end of their life, so I’ve always wanted to have repair as part of my business. When I first tried visibly mending my own knitwear, it just felt right— it was a way of combining the textile skills I loved in a creative way. As a result, I could make garments functional again, which is incredibly satisfying. I started posting my mending on social media and getting requests, both for workshops and commissions.
When lockdown happened, I created digital mending guides so that people could learn from home, and put together packs of wool for mending. I’m now set up to teach zoom workshops as well, and have spent this year working on a book to share my skills. Now more than ever it’s important to start caring for the things we already own, to value making skills and reduce waste.
Practically speaking, repairing an item of clothing enables the owner to keep on wearing it for longer — but what value and meaning can mending imbue an object with, especially if the process of mending is visible?
Visible mending definitely adds to a garment's story, and I think how it adds may vary person to person. For the pieces in my own wardrobe, visibly mending them has often made them feel like a new piece that I can wear. I feel more excited when I wear them, and I have a deeper bond with them as I’ve spent many hours working on them. I care for them more, because I’ve already put so much love into keeping them. For people who’ve had garments passed down over generations, I think it’s a visual reminder of the garments age, and of the loved ones who wore it before them. A way of connecting the past to the future.
Do you have a favourite stitch or method of repairing knitwear?
It’s so hard to choose! I love variety, and that different techniques will give me different effects, or are useful for different things. Darning is wonderful, because it can be used for most damage. Swiss darning is a great knitwear-specific stitch, and I love it for reinforcing worn areas before they turn into holes.
What inspires you and where do you draw influence?
My mending is generally very colourful, and rather than a particular influence for that, I enjoy finding colour combinations that work well for each individual garment. When it comes to more creative mending— when I include embroidery for example— I seem to be very drawn to florals. I always loved the vintage floral embroidery on the tea cosies my mum collected, and the pressed flowers arrangements my great aunt made, so I do often have those at the back of my mind. I always take photos of things that inspire me on my daily walks, often wild flowers and landscape, and they also inspire me both for motifs and colour choices.
What can readers expect from Visible Creative Mending?
Step by step instructions to all the techniques I use to mend knitwear! Starting with understanding the basics of knitted fabric and choosing materials, to darning, adding patterns to your darning, swiss darning, scotch darning, mending cuffs and edges, embroidery and making your own buttons. I’ve even included a chapter on design, as well as suggestions for being creative with the techniques, as I really want to help people to create their own unique mends. There’s also a chapter on caring for your knitwear, to help with any washing anxiety or moth problems.
The book also includes 5 repair projects of mine, shown from their holey beginnings to completed mends. I chose particularly holey pieces, as I remember when I was starting to mend just how daunting larger holes were. I’ve explained my approach to these projects, with the aim of making larger areas of damage less scary to others.
Flora will be running a day-long workshop exploring visible mending techniques for knitwear. This workshop will take you through darning and Swiss darning, starting with the basics. You will also learn how to tackle holes at the edge of your knitwear and look at ways to make your mending more creative. No mending experience or knowledge of knitting is necessary!
Find out more about the workshop here: Visible Mending Techniques, Online Workshop with Collingwood-Norris
You can find out more about Flora and her new book, Visible Creative Mending for Knitwear, by visiting her website: https://www.collingwoodnorrisdesign.com/