“I call them poignant repairs,” she said. Why poignant? “These objects show affection made material by transfiguring artistry,” she said, speaking in religious terms. “Everyone who encounters the conversion from common object to holy object is a witness to incredibly vital experiences. I have a pair of repaired scissors that would bring tears to your eyes.”
~Marilynn Gelfman Karp, the author of In Flagrante Collecto (Caught in the Act of Collecting), quoted in a NYT article about repaired objects
A while ago my friend Kim blogged about her beloved great-grandfather and his well-worn sweater. She asked for some advice on how to repair it. Kim's family settled in the same area that my mother's family is from, and I felt a sort of kinship. Plus: I love puzzles, and repairing an old sweater is a fantastic puzzle! So I asked Kim if she would trust me to repair it--and she said yes.
This sweater was knit in pieces out of a heavy-for-its-size worsted wool, what I think of as standard Scandinavian knitting wool. The garment was neatly knit in pieces and seamed together by hand.
The white pattern yarn was the most vulnerable to breakage, largely because the floats were subject to more wear than the closely spaced gray yarns. Clearly the sleeves had had the worst of it--leather patches had been applied to the elbows, hiding a large darned area. In order to add the patches the sleeve seams had been opened up--the patches were applied with a sewing machine and the seams were re-sewn with the machine. Sadly, this weakened the white yarn at many points and also caused some problems with the gray yarn.
Both sleeves showed wear where the cuff ribbing met the sleeve--I wonder if the wearer tended to fold up the cuff? (Kim thought these might be moth holes, but they weren't.) The left sleeve showed much heavier wear than the right.
The body of the sweater was remarkably intact, but some of the buttonholes were raveling, as was the back of the neck.
So how do you repair a sweater? There are two ways to approach this problem: one is to make the repairs invisible, or nearly so. The other is to make them obvious, not even trying to match the colors. I chose option one, for the most part, to reflect the quiet virtues of Norwegian culture.
The stranded problems were the easiest. When I turned the sleeves inside out it was clear that the even where the white pattern was still intact it was only a matter of time before it, too, gave up. I removed all the white yarn until I reached yarn that still had integrity. Then I threaded a tapestry needle with white yarn and created new stitches where the old ones had been. It's easy to do when the old stitches are so docile!
Upon close examination the cuff breaks involved only one row so the ever-useful kitchener stitch solved the problems.
A couple of areas further up the sleeve posed a problem. In both cases the yarn had been weakened by the machine stitching, and there wasn't a strong area to duplicate stitch into. I ended up using old-fashioned darning. (By the way, take a look at how artist Celia Pym used darning to create a statement.)
The most challenging repair was the neck ribbing. At first I couldn't figure out what was going on--I had unraveled the ribbing by two rows to reach each edge but was stymied, then it became clear to me that the neck band was knit from the top down and grafted onto the sweater (how could I tell? When I followed a stitch down to where it met the sweater, you could see the tell-tale half-stitch jog). And, to complicate matters, the front band was an integral part of the neck ribbing continuing down the fronts and sewn on.
At first I thought I'd cast on and rib a few rows, and then kitchener the neckband together. But (an ominous word!). There was something different about this ribbing--as if it were single-sided stocking stitch. It had a lovely tightness to it, which has allowed it to keep its shape over all these years. And I couldn't for the life of me figure out how it was done. Taking my cue from Japanese boro repairs I decided to allow the new part of the band to be different from the rest, resulting in a little decorative edge--I hope Kim agrees that it is delightful!
Mason pulled the sweater off my footstool and cuddled up with it, something he hasn't done before!
What did I learn from this?
- Being skilled in kitchener (grafting) and duplicate stitch will repay itself tenfold
- Don't use a machine to repair your sweater.
- Knit the date and your initials into the garment. I bet Kim would love to know more about her great-grandfather's sweater.
- The feeling of competence is priceless!
- The joy of being part of this dear object's story is even more priceless. (Can something be more priceless? I say yes!)
- Knitting has value above and beyond the simple fact of a sweater or vest or socks or mittens. Value it.