Meet The Knitter: Tom of Holland
Tom Of Holland, a knitter and mender with a passion for British rare sheeps wool, traditional techniques and putting value on how clothes are make an appreciated. He begun the Visible Mending Program, which strives to highlight the art of mending in a world of throwaway fashion. We chat to him about how knitting became part of his life and what fuels his enthusiasm.
Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Tom and I’m originally for The Netherlands and have lived in Brighton for 14 years now. I’m a self-taught knitter and mender and general appreciator of textile arts and crafts. I really enjoy working with wool and in particular with British rare sheep breeds and have started spinning my own yarns in the last year or so.
Who or what inspired you to pick up the needles? What was your first project?
My mum is a very good knitter, and as a child I was always allowed to pick patterns and colours for the things she knitted for me. Even then I preferred 100% wool! I remember being taught to knit at primary school and knitting a teeny-tiny cabled scarf for my teddy bear. However, I didn’t enjoy it at all at the time. It wasn’t until after I had moved to Brighton I picked up sticks and string again to knit a huge scarf, inspired by a designer scarf I had seen, but which was far out of my price league. I haven’t stopped knitting since!
What types of projects do you normally go for?
I tend to favour fiddly things that take forever. I enjoy the technical aspects of knitting, so lace knitting is a favourite. I’m always eager to learn new techniques, as I find that really enriches my knitting. I guess I’m a process knitter with attention to detail and finishing. I also really enjoy stranded colour-work, and have knitted a fair few Sanquhar gloves, and have worked on a re-interpretation of Fair Isle knitting with my comrade in wool, Felicity Ford on a project called Aleatoric Fair Isle.
Why is knitting by hand still an important craft?
I think that knitting by hand has many aspects to it and there are many reasons why it is still important. For me personally, I enjoy the creative side of it, and I think it’s easy to learn. Once you’ve managed to break away from sticking to a pattern to the letter, it can be very enriching and you feel you can make anything. The other aspect I find fascinating is that wool has been very important economically for Britain, and investigating knitting traditions of the British Isles brings that to the fore. It’s exciting to then be able to work with that and be inspired by it.
Why is mending clothes important to you?
It’s always been part of me, and I have always fixed up my clothes to varying degrees of success. Ever since I started buying my own clothes as a teenager, I never bought them for one season, even if they came from the High Street. So mending then becomes a necessity. It was only later I thought more about this and understand the hidden cost of clothes. Growing the raw materials, the processes to turn them into fabric and then making clothes takes a lot of time and skill and effort – but as all this happens in remote countries now, we no longer appreciate all that. Clothes used to be really expensive, and people had much smaller wardrobes as a result, and really made an effort to make things last as replacing them would be very dear.
Trying to make more of my own clothes has really highlighted all this to me. It also made me realise that because these have so much invested in them, I really want to look after them. In order to translate this to shop-bought clothes, I like to highlight the mending process. A good repair (visibly or invisibly) also takes a lot of skill and effort, so you start putting something of yourself into them and as a consequence, you’re more willing to look after them for longer.
What are your knitting aspirations?
I have two competing aspirations at the moment. I’m one to do a lot of planning for a project. I knit swatches, try out different needle sizes and stitches, measure and calculate. So on the one hand I’d like to let go of that and I’ve been really inspired by knitting and crocheting books for the 1970s, and by Mary Walker Phillips’s ‘Creative Knitting’ in particular and I have started knitting large swatches without any planning whatsoever.
On the other hand, perhaps to compensate, I’ve been reading up on Catherine Lowe’s couture hand-knitting techniques and I’d love to knit a plain stocking stitch jumper, but extremely well executed, making sure it fits me like a glove.
What other interests do you have?
On the textile front, I’m really enjoying spinning my own yarns and learning more about the different wool qualities, and learning what spinning techniques bring out the various qualities of sheep breeds. It’s exciting to be able to turn a fleece into yarn, and being able to spin exactly from it what I want, rather than buying yarns that have to be prepared so that the spinning machines can process them. They loose something in the process I think.
What’s your proudest knitting memory?
It’s usually my latest project! I’m also very proud of my first ever show I had at Prick Your Finger called ‘The Reading Gloves.’ I knitted gloves to portray characters from classic novels: Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Anna Karenina, and Dorian Gray. I always feel inspired when going there, and always get away with something new.
Why would you advise someone to learn to knit/mend?
I can only share my enthusiasm for both knitting and mending, as I think that people come to either for many different reasons. But once you’ve been bitten by the bug, it’s hard to stop!
Thank you, Tom! Click here to visit Tom’s website.
Do you mend your own clothes? Let us know in the comments below.
Last updated: July 3rd, 2014.