Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium, (2004).


Presented at “Appropriation • Acculturation • Transformation,” Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium, Oakland, California, October 7-9, 2004. Copyright 2004 Textile Society of America.


This paper documents the transformation of cloth through the repair process by examining the impact of darning on the cloth’s surface. It looks at historical precedents for the translation of a darn into a decorative embellishment and the application of this translation as a concept for contemporary textiles.

Darning is a repair process for cloth, used to prolong the life of a garment out of necessity, sentimental reasons or on principle. Darning aims to make new, re-new and restore by the insertion of additional threads into the warp and weft of a cloth to repair holes and tears. An assumed aim is invisibility. But the very act of darning transforms the character of the cloth as the darning threads are inter woven into the fabric; they impact and distort the surface becoming visible, like an embellishment or decoration on the garment.

The urge to transform a darn into a decorative element is evident in 18th century darning samplers, 19th – and 20th –century school needlework sample books and WWII brochures through to 1970s hippie clothing and recent fashion. In the 18th century, following the successful completion of embroidery samplers, young girls began a darning sampler. Utility followed decoration in the pursuit of skills for life. Many young girls combined both as the urge to embellish transformed the darns into a decorative pattern.

By tracing the idea of a darned embellishment, the transformation of a darn into a decoration or highlight becomes a resource for imagery for my practice which includes contemporary Jacquard woven art textiles.