Thursday, March 13, 2008

Oh, Darn! Darning Socks

I went to put on my socks, and noticed a small hole in the toe of one. The saying, "a stitch in time saves nine" is so very true when it comes to mending socks. A small hole is easy to fix, but once it gets bigger than a thumbnail, almost impossible. To mend a sock, you wouldn't want to just sew it, because that would leave a ridge that could later cause a blister or sore spot. Mending a sock uses a method called darning, weaving a patch over the hole. So I went to get my darning kit.

I inherited my mother-in-law's darning kit. She kept it in a marbled bakelite box. The box has a broken hinge, but it's the perfect size and I really love it. Looking at some of the things in there, I might be the third or even fourth generation to use it. There are big cardboard spools of cotton darning thread in normal sock colors, and smaller ones with some very bright and odd colors. Some of the threads are on wooden spools, and others are wrapped around rolled paper, labeled 10 yards for 5¢. There's writing inside the rolls, but I haven't wanted to take the thread off to see what it says. An assortment of wool yarns and nylon thread are wrapped around cards, 30 yards for 10¢. The darning "egg" is a wooden oval mounted on a spindle, the varnish worn away on the end and the tip scarred with gouges and scrapes. I've added a plastic cigar case, perfect for mending holes in the fingers of gloves, and a better pair of scissors.

To darn, put your "egg" inside at the location of the hole. For a darning egg, you want something rounded you can stretch the material over, with a smooth surface the tip of the needle will glide over. A light bulb or plastic Easter egg are good options. Thread your needle with yarn, darning thread, or embroidery floss that matches the type (and color, if you want) of material you're working with - wool yarn for wool socks, cotton floss for cotton socks. Double the thread for heavier material - you want to match the weight of the material too.

Stretch the material slightly over your egg. Start below the hole where the material is in good shape. You don't want to knot the thread - that would create a lump - so anchor your thread by making a running stitch (dipping the needle in and out of the material) to 1/2 inch away from the hole, and then making another running stitch back towards the hole. Don't pull the thread tight enough to pucker the material. You want it to just lie smoothly in the slightly stretched material.

Make a boundary around, outside the hole, with running stitches. That helps anchor the darning and reinforces the edges. Then, working back and forth over the hole from top to bottom, lay down parallel lines of thread. When the hole is covered over, start parallel lines side to side, perpendicular to the first set, dipping the needle up and down to create a woven pattern that fills in the hole. Finish with a running stitch away from the hole, and one more back, trim the ends, and you're done!

Edit added later, in response to Linda's question: "Where can I buy darning cotton?" I haven't tried to buy darning cotton for quite some time - I inherited a lot of it, and can usually find a color somewhat close to what I need. But I often use embroidery floss. DMC makes cotton embroidery floss, available in lots of colors. I don't knit, but I think sock-weight yarn is available in cotton, wool, and acrylic versions - try to match what the socks are made of. Try your local fabric store: Joanne's, Hancocks, whatever is nearby where you live, the yarn section at Michaels, or even the crafts section at Target. You should be able to find something suitable even if it's not specifically labeled darning cotton. Incandescent light bulbs, soup ladles, and plastic Easter eggs make good darning eggs.


frogtailrae said...

Love the category: Thrifty Arts :-)

Anonymous said...

Hi Sadge,

I found you through Rhonda Jean. Thanks for writing about darning. I taught myself using your instructions and wrote about doing it on my blog - linking people to yours. Hope you don't mind!


Sadge said...

I don't mind at all - glad to be of assistance, and you have a great blog. I've bookmarked it and will be back. I've also, thanks to you, put April 19th on my calendar for National (Laundry) Hanging Out Day. Thanks!

Stuff said...

Oh, my goodness, that looks just like my mother's sewing box. What a lot of lovely memories you just brought back.

Anonymous said...

How does this work on the heel? All of the heels of my socks are threadbare. Will it rub and cause a blister?

Sadge said...

Since you're not knotting the thread or creating a sewn ridge when you darn, there shouldn't be anything there that could cause a blister. In fact, it works great on threadbare heels, reinforcing those thin areas before a hole appears.

Anonymous said...

where can I buy darning cotton. My 88 year old mother wants to darn my fathers socks! I have not found it on the net.
Thank you
Linda Van Hine

Francesca said...

What a great object to have from your mother in law, and what a perfect description of darning, Sadge! Thank you for leaving this link on my blog.

Anonymous said...

You can use any thread to darn socks; you just want it to more or less match the thickness of the socks. So for wool socks, use a piece of yarn that matches; for cotton socks, use two pieces of thread. You could use regular thread. I use embroidery thread which comes with 6 threads per skein; I use two. My favorite thread and fabric company is Near Sea Naturals because they sell USA grown organic cotton (so hard to find!) and organic threads (also hard to find). I use the one at but there are a lot of good threads there, it seems. Happy darning!