8 April 2015

How to darn: adventures in mending socks

By nonfictioness

If you are a regular reader of this blog you will know what I am up to, but if not, let me explain! My book How to Skin a Lion: A Treasury of Outmoded Advice will be published in May 2015 and as a result I am attempting to follow some of the historic advice contained in the book.

Darning was once a skill everyone had. In the days before our disposable culture, a hole was there to be patched and mended, not an excuse to bin the offending item and buy a new one.

I have to admit that I have already had a bit of a head start with darning, in that my mother taught me to darn when I was a teenager and seemed to be going through socks like a dose of salts. She thought that if I learned to mend them my sock collection might last a bit longer.holysockx600

Unfortunately as a moody teen my enthusiasm for darning was akin to my enthusiasm for sixteenth century organ music – unkindled.

As the owner of a large collection of holey socks I thought this was certainly a skill to be resurrected. Andy tried to persuade me to practice my skills on his socks, but in the interests of feminism I decided to darn my own darn socks!

The method

I selected a navy pair of socks with a classic heel hole as I already possessed some navy darning wool from my earlier dalliance with the dark arts of darning.

The instructions from Cassell’s Home Encyclopedia (1934) advise:

darnequipmentx600The idea is to counterfeit the weaving of the material, first one way and then the other, till the hole is filled with closely interlaced threads going over and under each other at right angles.’

This is where modern factory produced socks tripped me up. The idea that I might be able to recreate the extremely fine knit weave of my modern socks is beyond me. If I had owned a lovely home knitted pair of chunky socks, I might have been able to create a more seamless darn, but with modern materials my darning wool will stick out like a sore thumb.

Start on sound material well outside the edges of the hole, running the needle (threaded double for all but small repairs) in and out of the stuff in a straight line. Return as close as possible to the first line, going under the stuff where that went over, and vice versa. At the end of each line do not pull thread tight, but leave a tiny loop. This allows for the shrinking of the new thread in the wash. Continue darning up and down till well outside the hole on the far side and on sound stuff again.’1Dx600

I double threaded my needle, put one hand inside the sock to keep the hole open and used the other to start sewing straight lines across the hole, from sound material on one side to the other. Having double threaded I had under-estimated how much thread I would need and ran out halfway through, requiring me to tie a knot and start again.

Once I had covered the hole with stiches in one direction it looked rather neat, but I knew the next step was the more fiddly aspect of the endeavour:

weavex600Then darn closely across at right angles, alternately under and over the original lines of the stitches until the hole is completely filled.’

This under and over business is way more tricky than it sounds. It is quite hard to manoeuvre the needle in and out of the rows and to remember if you are supposed to be going over or under. It also takes an awful lot of thread.

The result

This is certainly a skill I think you need to practice, as this attempt though adequate was not as neat as I’d hoped. Once I had finished weaving through my second layer I had reasonable coverage of the hole, but on putting the sock on you can still see a few tiny holes. However, it felt really strong and I think it is a good solid mend.darnedx600

The instructions for this task were really nice and easy to follow and the skill itself very useful. I think darning modern socks is probably not worth it as the cost of the darning thread is about the same as that of a new pair of socks! However, having practised this skill I subsequently successfully darned a hole in a jumper, which was great as it gave a much-loved jumper a new lease of life.

So here is an old fashioned skill that I shall certainly be putting to good use in the future.

Do you have any darning or mending tips? If so please share with a comment.