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A Mending Tool From the Past: The Darning Loom

A once-popular darning tool makes a meaningful comeback
Threads #225, Spring 2024

My sewing practice has expanded over the years to include and prioritize repair as part of my making process. The ethos of visible mending resonates with me. Honoring my presence of hand while undertaking sympathetic repairs on the textiles I make, wear, and use only adds to the object’s preservation and history.

A Mending Helper

When tackling my family’s mending pile, I often reach for a small darning loom called a Speedweve to mend small holes. Also known as Lancashire’s Littlest Loom, the Speedweve is a handheld darning tool that originated in Manchester, England, and was sold by E. & A. Chesstok during the 1940s and ‘50s. The loom was devised for domestic sewists to swiftly repair small areas with a woven patch.

author using mending tool
The Swift Darning Loom (WorthMending.com) is a modern take on the classic Speedweve. These looms are made by hand of reclaimed materials. Photo: Rachael Gilbert-Burns

How the Darning Loom Works

The textile in need of repair sits over a disk-shaped darning surface secured with a spring, and a bank of hooks slips into a slot at the top. The warp thread is anchored along the bottom edge of the damaged area using a needle and then looped around a corresponding hook at the top. This anchoring and looping is repeated until the width of the damaged area is covered. The hooks holding the warp can be flipped left or right to raise alternate threads (changing the shed), enabling you to pass the needle containing your weft through in one motion left or right, like a shuttle. The handy device speeds up darning and allows for experimentation with weave designs.

A Fascinating History

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