Lou Tonkin is the Florence Nightingale of the fashion world. While others spend their hard-earned pennies on cheap clothes that last all of ten seconds and aren’t really worth fixing, this Cornwall-based artist is busy using her needle and thread as a saline drip and suture kit to breathe new life into older better-made garments that, apart from a few holes here and there, have stood the test of time.
She has just launched a small side-business (as a full-time artist, she sells lino prints out of her local pub and has been running felt workshops for five years) via her Facebook page, styling herself as the jumper doctor, with visions of herself in a long white knitted cardigan, her glasses perched on her nose and a knitted stethoscope around her neck, offering to mend people’s battered cardis for between £20 and £30.
But this is no ordinary darning and mending. Oh, no – Lou’s work is far more imaginative than that, inspired by the beautiful Cornish countryside in which she lives. She spends her days wandering the country lanes, pulling wool off barbed wire to use for her felting, strolling down cliff paths to draw the movements of birds and watching the wildlife in her rose garden from her kitchen window (which also, enviably enough, doubles as her office space). It should come as no surprise, therefore, that she covers holes up with felted swallows, butterflies, dandelions and wrens.
Inspired to start her sweater surgery after she spied a hole in a visiting friend’s top and covered it with a blue beetle, Lou – whose own clothes are covered in swallows – believes that it is the nostalgic nature of some garments that makes her new line of work so appealing.
“I’m fixing my friend’s jumper that used to be her mum’s who died a few years ago. She doesn’t want to throw her clothes out,” she says. “She’s been wearing the jumper to do her gardening in so it had a few holes in it, but now it’s all fixed it’s like a new thing. She can wear it for something other than just gardening. I’d much rather be fixing something that deserves a new life, nursing it back to health.”
For Lou, it is the recycled nature of her work that she loves the most and part of why she wants to offer this service UK-wide. “The make do and mend ethos isn’t just fashionable, we have to start reusing the resources we have,” she says. “With wool, it’s there. It’s a completely sustainable material, but is kind of a waste product in this country.”
She is also keen to give felting a “contemporary lift”, admitting that it has a a bit of a hippy reputation. “It’s got so much more to offer than the felting of old. It needs to change its image!”
With her beautiful fixed-up jumpers and recycled bags, it certainly looks as though Lou’s doing her part in propelling felt firmly into the 21st century.
So – who’s thinking about ripping holes in their jumpers and sending them off to Lou? I am!
Thank you Sarah xx