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Sunday, May 2, 2010

Darning It

Not exactly about quilting this time, but about another nearly-disappeared art: darning.

Holes, snags, seams coming apart, fraying - these are all things that happen in everyday wear and tear on our garments. Sometimes the "wear and tear" is "wash and tear" - putting, say, a flimsy open-weave cotton blouse in the wash, along with jeans or some other zippered garment. In the wash, and during the spin cycle, rubbing happens, quite vigorous at times; and one's open-weave cotton blouse suddenly has developed a spot where the weave is more open than usual. Missing, in fact, several of it's cross-threads.

Darning is the fine art of replacing these cross-threads, and strengthening the area while you're at it.

Since I couldn't sleep all the way through the night tonight, I decided to get up and get darning my open-weave cotton blouse.

You're supposed to darn an area larger than the tear or hole, and you're supposed to start from one end and go to the other, but, being me, I didn't do that. I started in the middle.

See, this is basically a verticle slit in the fabric. The warp threads are all there, but no weft threads are left intact in this 1/2-inch long torn area. And, looking at it, I decided to start from the middle of the tear and stabilize it crosswise before going back to the verticles. So, I started from the middle and went to one end, then started at the top and went down to the middle.

And for now I'm quitting there. This is a very open-weave fabric. I've given a few gentle tugs in each direction, and it sure looks and feels just as stable as the rest of the fabric. So I'm experimenting with only stabilizing the cross-threads.

Another difficulty I have with darning is the notion that you're supposed to weave in and out of every single thread. So like, if you have a tear in your 300-count sheets, that means in one inch of darning you'll weave your thread in and out 300 times?! Not this darned stitcher! I have a life to live.

No, I go in and out a clump at a time. And I've learned to do this work on the back of the piece. See, the darning doesn't actually become part of the fabric, it kinda sits on one side of it - the side you work on. It shows plenty from that side. It's when you turn it over you see - or rather, don't see - your darning &/or the former hole.

Maybe if you really go in and out every single thread, it would meld more with the fabric, become this wonderful thing called "invisible weaving". But for me, close is good enough.

But I noticed something else this morning while darning my blouse. My hands kept tingling and going to sleep. I kept having to stop what I was doing to stretch out my arms till they stopped tingling. Frustrating - as this process is already time-consuming. Especially frustrating when I think of all the hand-quilting I have to do in the near future. "What's gonna happen to me," I wondered, "if I can't quilt because my hands keep losing circulation?"

And that's when I realized I am now in the age-group - demographic - market - for a propped-up magnifier.

That's right - one of those large magnifying glasses you wear on a string around your neck with little legs that prop it up perpendicular to your chest, so you can use both hands to sew at a decent distance from your face, and your arms don't have to be scrunched as tight as they can to bring the work 4 inches from your eyes.

The propped-up magnifier has always been something I thought of as belonging to a different class of sewers than me. Specifically, much older sewers.

But now, apparently, I are one.

Having been raised by my grandparents, I used to think that I'd make a great old lady, since I learned how to be one long before I learned how to be young. But now that I've got being young down pat, my body is giving up before it's time, stranding me in a world of limited mobility where there haven't been many improvements since, basically, the middle ages. Hah! No pun intended!

Maybe that will change soon, as the baby-boomers suddenly get to tingling, too. Maybe a host of technological aides will suddenly appear to help us along with our preferred pastimes. Maybe they'll invent an i-sew.

But till then, unfortunately, I will be the fat old broad with the huge magnifier on her chest, darning blouses and socks, and quilting as fast as my tingling fingers will let me.

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