The craft of darning

I finally got round to visiting the Victoria & Albert Museum this weekend to see the exhibition of finalists in the Woman’s Hour Craft Prize.

Launched in 2017 to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Woman’s Hour, the prize seeks to “reward originality and excellence in concept, design and process and to recognise a craft practitioner or designer-maker who is an outstanding artist and who has significantly contributed to craft practice in the last five years”.

The winner of the £10,000 prize was Phoebe Cummings for her fountain made from raw clay. The fountain is turned on at noon each day for one minute, so it erodes and dissolves over time.

womans hour prize phoebe cummings

Predictably, the work that appealed most to me was by Laura Youngson Coll. Her sculptures of microscopic marine organisms, made from goat vellum, were inspired by Haeckel.

womans hour prize laura youngson coll womans hour prize laura youngson coll

Romilly Saumarez Smith is a jeweller who combines precious metals and other materials with found objects to create organic or natural forms.

womans hour prize romilly saumarez smith

Also very organic was the large scale willow sculpture by Laura Ellen Bacon.

womans hour prize laura ellen bacon

Andrea Walsh combines glass and bone china to make beautiful delicate and translucent boxes and vessels.

womans hour prize andrea walsh

Another finalist, Celia Pym, uses darning, knitting and embroidery to mend other people’s clothes, drawing out memories and meanings through the process.

womans hour prize celia pym womans hour prize celia pym

In an adjoining room there was a drop-in workshop displaying clothes that people had brought in for Celia to mend throughout the exhibition.

celia pym celia pym celia pym

Now, fond as I am of upcycling, I’ve never been a great mender of clothes (it takes me forever to get round to sewing on buttons that have come off). My mum used to have a darning mushroom in her workbox, though I have to confess I never saw her use it.

However, by coincidence, between Christmas and new year I did patch a pair of much loved jeans by sewing an extra piece of denim on the inside and then stitching over the top. Do you think it will show? 😉

darned jeans

After seeing the exhibition I was inspired to have a go at mending a very holey cashmere sweater. There are still a lot of holes to go – it will probably end up more purple than grey by the time I’ve finished. 🙂

ESP has offered me some socks if I want more darning practice but I have to draw the line somewhere!

The Woman’s Hour Craft Prize exhibition at the V&A runs until Monday 5 February.

8 thoughts on “The craft of darning”

  1. Kim – Love your posts – and this one is especially fascinating! FYI, check our Fabienne Dorsman Rey in the Netherlands who mends lost memories with her exquisite darning, homage to loved ones’ battling dementia

    1. Thanks Wendy – happy new year! I know that Fabienne does a lot of indigo dyeing but I didn’t know she’s a darner too. I’ll check out this side of her work.

  2. How swell! I likely would never have seen this work without your post. I especially like the “melting” dish garden and will be getting out my earning tools. Thanks so much for sharing.

  3. Very interesting post Kim! I saw this exhibition advertised and am going down to visit it later this month. I came across Laura Ellen Bacons work in the National Centre for Craft and Design last week and was wowed by the scale of it! As for your jeans, you’ve definitely got away with it……no-one will ever notice that invisible patching!

  4. I’m bad at mending too. I keep thinking I will do some similar to yours but can’t even get that done. My jeans just have holes 🙂 And socks with holes get thrown away.

    1. I have real problems finding jeans that fit so it’s good to be able to resurrect some old pairs. But I definitely can’t be doing with darning holes in socks!

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