Now, let me just start out by saying that I am no darning expert. My grandmother taught me how to darn when I was a kid, but to be honest, I seem to lose socks before they ever have a chance to get holes in them! It is, however, a really useful skill, whether you use it to repair holes in socks, sweaters (keep those little baggies of matching yarn that come with the sweater!), blankets, or to strengthen weakened fabric on a pair of pants or a sheet.
When you darn, you are essentially reweaving the textile; with modern knit items, it’s a little bit trickier because you need a similar stretch as the base material, but still doable. The old adage “a stitch in time saves nine” is something everyone should pay more than lip service to: it’s a lot easier to repair a small hole or threadbare fabric than a gaping vent! Repair your moth holes or tears right away and you’ll thank yourself later. (Or curse yourself if you don’t; trust me on this one.)
I’m first going to show you the basic technique on a wool blanket, because it’s a little easier to see the weaving concept; then I’ll show you a couple of socks that I’ve repaired. Next week, I’ll include some darning techniques in a Patch 101 I’m working on.
Darning a Blanket
Spread your work on an even surface. Choose a thread or yarn that is similar in weight to the yarn in the piece you want to repair. I chose a contrasting lace-weight yarn to darn this wool blanket, partly because it makes the instructions really easy to see and partly because I like the look of darning, but if you want your repair to be more invisible, pick a color that matches. Starting about ½" before and ½" below the hole, make a simple running stitch. Turn your work, and head back in the opposite direction, keeping the stitches even with each other.
When you get to the hole itself, run the the yarn over the hole and make a few more stitches on the other side before turning around. Make sure not to pull your yarn too tightly, as it may shrink in the wash later; leaving small loops at the end of each row is a good idea.
When you have covered the hole plus ½" on all sides, turn your work 90° and begin weaving through the warp you have just created, under one thread and over the next. When you get to the end of your row, head back in the opposite direction, weaving under the threads you ran over before and vice versa, as seen in the photo. Stitch tightly or loosely depending on the weave of the original textile. For this blanket, I darned fairly spaciously because the original weave is pretty open.
Here’s a look at the other side; you could trim the broken ends of the original yarn and stitch them down, but since this is just a throw that doesn’t get washed very often, I left them as is.
I used to fold this blanket to hide the hole, but now I leave the darn front and center!
Darning a Sock
For cheap cotton socks, a patch (made from an old T-shirt or another sock) may work best, but for nice wool or handmade cotton socks, darning is a great way to keep a favorite pair in rotation longer! This is a (very old) cashmere sock that my mom gave me when I went to college on the East Coast years ago. I wore them constantly, and they’ve thinned at the heels. I finally put them aside when a small hole started in one of them; this darn takes care of the hole, and strengthens the worn part as well.
For a sock, make sure to turn it inside out first (unless you want the darn to be really obvious). It’s also really helpful to use a darning egg or mushroom (a round wooden tool) or even just a light bulb if you’re making a repair in the heel, or a block of some sort if the repair is somewhere else in the sock. Having a hard, smooth surface under your work helps you run your needle under and over the warp in the second stage of darning.
As with the blanket, I ran a series of parallel running stitches over the worn part of the sock and the hole in the middle.
I went quite a bit beyond the hole to strengthen the threadbare part of the sock to prevent another hole from forming.
Here’s the completed darn; the hole is completely woven over and the rest of the worn part is strengthened.
And here’s the sock turned right side out. If I had used brown yarn, you’d hardly be able to see the repair!
These last two images show another sock darned with embroidery floss (again, no hole, but I wanted to strengthen a threadbare patch to avoid a hole) and a darned glove.
Green Fibres has a great video on how to darn if you want to watch darning in action. It’s a little long, and the repair is on a thick wool sock, which is the easiest darning to do, but it’s still gives you a great sense of how it all comes together.
The Vintage Sewing Reference Library has reprinted a great sewing lesson book from 1893. Scroll down the page, and you’ll find details on darning all sorts of things.
I also like this post on the blog Skona Life — the author sort of figured out how to darn instinctively! If you have socks that are a blend with some sort of elastic (many socks are), you could just weave in new fiber using the original threads as your warp, but your repair will be a lot stronger if you stitch in your own warp first.