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While invisible mending is keeping tailors and seamstresses busy around the world, Celia Pym specialises in visible repairs.

While invisible mending is keeping tailors and seamstresses busy around the world, Celia Pym – a London-based artist, knitter and darner — specialises in visible repairs. Using white yarn on a blue Norwegian jumper and yellow on a pair of blue jeans, Celia’s handiwork celebrates wear and tear.

“I love seeing damage and holes,” Celia says. “Making mending invisible doesn’t make sense for me: things happen, stuff changes, holes appear. Let the darning grow into the old bit so that the garment can be seen to change and age.”

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Celia Pym

Last autumn, she installed her mending table in King’s College London’s Dissecting Room, where medical students learn anatomy through working on bodies. The students brought damaged clothes to the sessions, mending them with Celia. “I wanted to see what would happen if you introduced mending and darning, and yarn and colour, and conversations about holes and damage in to the Dissecting Room,” Celia says. “I was interested in what stories were in there.”

A trained artist with a background in sculpture, Celia originally took up knitting as a means to warm up before a day in the studio. “I was only knitting with red wool and would use the knitting time to look at and think about the sculptures I was making,” she says. “Suddenly I realised I had made a very long piece of red knitting; I was pleased that I had made this thing without really noticing, my eye was elsewhere and yet this piece of work grew.”

Having learnt embroidery, tapestry, silk painting and other textile techniques as a teenager, Celia now returned to them. “I use textiles because I love the way wool and yarns feel,” she says. “I love the repetitive processes involved. I love the way colour works in yarns. And that colour can be a thing; a line of yarn, a block of cross-stitch, a ball of wool. I also use textiles because the processes lend themselves to pattern making: in the construction of knit or cross-stitch or darning, there are grids and rows that link together, and you have to teach your hands to relax, to settle, to lead the making.”

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Celia Pym’s studio

It was an old jumper originally belonging to her artist great-uncle Roly — carefully mended by his sister Elizabeth — that sparked Celia’s interest in repairs and darning. “I was overwhelmed by the care invested by my aunt in mending my uncle’s sweaters, and the way the different bits of mending looked together, adding up to this entirely new sleeve. I also loved how the holes showed me how the sweater was used — it was evidence of the everyday wear and tear of my uncle’s occupations.”

Through ‘The Catalogue of Holes’, an ongoing project that she began in 2007, Celia mends strangers’ clothes. Recording the items through descriptive ‘mend slips’ and sometimes photographs, the project has led to exhibitions at the Royal College of Art and beyond. “I find it is a way to get to important conversations quickly, with strangers,” Celia says. “As we look at and examine the garment and discuss work to be done, all sorts of stories come out. The amount of stories about loss surprised me at first – I did not anticipate that. I am not sure how important it is to the owner to get their garment mended; what does feel good is talking about their sweater.”

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Made by Celia Pym

Celia’s mending tips:

Invest in a good darning mushroom — Celia recommends those by Made by Dad.

Use any yarn, like pieces left over from knitting projects. Holes can also be patched with old sheets, pillow cases, jeans and pyjamas. “These worn down materials can be very valuable mending supplies, as they have achieved a special worn out softness that makes them ideal for patching,” Celia says.

The difficult bit in darning is getting the tension of the warp threads (the first lines across the hole) even: “Try not to draw the sides of the hole together. But if you do, don’t worry about it.”

Among Celia’s favourite suppliers are Prick Your Finger in Bethnal Green and Craft World in Stoke Newington (both in London).

For more inspiration, see the work by artist Jasleen Kaur and Annemor Sundbø.

Visit Celia here.


2 Comments

Haldi Sheahan: extraordinary deep and organic conception of our intimate relationship with personal materials :)
August 15, 2017

Amanda Sullivan: This is so beautiful. A lost art.
January 19, 2016

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