Darn it all! My new Speedweve
People talk a lot about traditional skills and oh what a shame it is that they’re dying out, but to be honest, I think there are some skills we should rejoice are no longer essential. Take darning, for instance. I’m all in favor of mending serviceable items instead of just throwing them away, but there’s a reason why darning socks belongs to the long list of chores that, for most of human history, men wouldn’t touch.
Darning socks, like many other things it’s much nicer to have done for you than to do yourself, is shrouded in unwarranted romanticism. The equation of sock-darning with feminine nurture was so sentimentally ingrained in western culture for so long that as late as 1967, Luis Buñuel could still use holey socks as cinematic shorthand for “motherless man-child” in Belle de Jour . The romance of darning conveniently obscures the fact that, as anyone who’s attempted it will have discovered, it’s classic women’s work — fiddly, prosaic and time-consuming.
Darning only makes sense in an economy where a pair of socks is worth more than the time it takes to mend them. In the late 1940s, after the privations of war began to ease — and, more importantly, after women had had a taste of earning decent wages for their work — a lot of wives, mothers, daughters and girlfriends must have found it hard to return to darning other people’s socks for nothing. That, presumably, is one reason why the Speedweve was invented.
I stumbled across this little gizmo from the ’40s on eBay and was instantly charmed by it. The Speedweve darner, “Lancashire’s smallest loom”, has all the hallmarks of the “as seen on TV” invention — a domestic gadget dreamed up in a garden shed by somebody hoping it would make his fortune. It even got a mention in Popular Science.
Darning, as Zoe’s post illustrates, is basically just filling in a hole by using a needle and thread to weave a small patch in the fabric. This can be a very slow and imperfect process, as well as being hard on the eyes if you’re using fine threads or darning black on black. The Speedweve works as a miniature loom, raising and lowering alternate warp threads of the darn, so all you have to do is pass the needle and thread between them like a shuttle:
I tested the Speedweve last night on a pair of much-loved but holey wool tights, and found to my delight that using it really was as easy as following the instructions. After less than an hour I ended up with a not-terribly-tidy but perfectly adequate 2″x2″ patch.
If I’d had a bit more experience with the Speedweve and mended the tights before the hole got so big — or, better yet, before it became a hole at all — it would have taken me still less time. Even if I weren’t counting coupons, that’s still an acceptable trade-off by my math, since a pair of merino tights costs about the same as an hour of my time as a freelancer (my default “is it worth the bother?” yardstick).
What a pleasing little device! The fact that technological and market changes would render it totally obsolete within a couple of decades of its invention only increases its whimsical appeal.