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March is National Craft Month and though we love DIY projects with old socks, sometimes you want to keep wearing the sock as a sock! That’s when darning comes in. It is surprisingly simple and becomes easier with practice. It’s one of the easier mending skills because all you need is a blunt needle, some yarn that matches your socks and something to work as a darning egg.
The yarn and the needle
Embroidery floss works for most darning applications, you want to use something that matches the weight of the yarn used in your sock, since embroidery floss is made up of separate strands it is very easy to add or take away however much you need to get the weight to match. Because embroidery floss is cheap and comes in a million shades it’s also easy to match the colour of your sock for stealth mending.
If you knit or have a friend who does, then you can use sock weight yarn scraps instead, what you’re looking for is nice thin yarn so the darn isn’t too bulky.
A blunt tapestry style needle is the best for darning, its smooth end works through the sock easily. Darning is mostly weaving new fabric, not sewing, so a larger and easier to handle and guide tapestry needle is ideal. They’ve also got a more spacious eye, so it is less of a hassle to thread your yarn.
The darning egg
A darning egg sort of looks like a maraca. The smooth surface gives you something to work against and keeps the shape of the sock. Not everybody has a darning egg (I don’t, the one pictured below is borrowed from a friend) and there are a handful of equally good options to work with. I prefer a large plastic Easter egg, some folks use a doorknob and a lightbulb is another favourite substitute.
Okay, you’re all set up. Add a holey sock to the mix (in my case, a well-loved B Chevron) and join me after the jump for a walkthrough of the whole darn process!
Turn the sock inside out and insert whatever you’re using for a darning egg, situating it under the hole.
First, you’ll want to work some foundation stitches. I’m using a contrasting yarn so you can see what I’m doing. Where there’s a hole there’s thinning fabric, so you want to reinforce the area around the hole so you have something to stitch to. Keeping your stitches loose, so you don’t lose stretch, work a running stitch framing the hole. If the sock really needs reinforcement, you might want to do more than one line of stitches.
Now, darning is just weaving new fabric, so the next step is to lay the warp. Try to keep the threads spaced comparatively to the gauge of the sock’s knit. Work a couple stitches in at each end to further reinforce your work.
Okay, now for the fun part, the weft! Work your needle and thread over and under the warp you just made, keeping your rows nice and close (or looser, depending on how open-knit your sock is). Remember, go over the rows you went under the pass before, just plain ol’ weaving. Every couple of rows, gently push the weft you’ve made together, to increase the density of the patch. Just like with the warp, work a couple of stitches at the end of each row to increase strength.
Keep going until you’ve filled the hole. When you reach the end, knot it off and work the loose end into your weaving. Washing and wearing will shrink and compact the darn.
And you’re done! I’m pretty messy about darning, but if you catch a hole early and use matching thread, it’s much more subtle. And it’s strong! The sock is now better than new, because you considered it awesome enough to mend. Though what sock isn’t?
There are a lot of great darning tutorials out there, this one at Craft:Zine has good photos and some supplementary links and I love the illustrations for this one at Knitting Daily. There’s also a bunch of great videos out there too, but I haven’t found a favourite.
Do you darn? How long have you kept a sock going (I finally had to get rid of a pair that was nothing but darns in the toes)?
24 soxy thoughts:
Oh man! I have been wondering how to do this forever, I though you could only do it with hand-knitted or -crocheted socks. What an awesome tutorial, thanks so much!
Great post! I didn’t think anyone darned socks anymore but me!
I don’t use embroidery floss though, not very stretchy and some colors might bleed, I use sock yarn. It’s readily available anywhere yarn is sold, JoAnne’s, Michael’s, Wal-Mart etc. very inexpensive, a skein will go on forever – fiber variety is wide, my favorite for darning is naturally caron.com Country (merino wool blend) lots of colors and you can control your thickness by untwisting the strands and thread as normal. it’s very soft and since it’s a wool blend it will tighten up nicely in the wash and there wont be any saggy loops. I recently used it to stitch some of my fuzzed out sock dreams wool OTK’s into a cute scarf! as for darning eggs the wood is so cute! i haven’t seen one of those in years, i use my lemon juicer!
Katherine —I learned from an old sewing book (circa 1949, I think!) and it has helped so many of my socks keep rocking! I’m glad to pass it on.
Lyeneia —A lemon juicer, how smart! I love learning what people use to darn with.
I use cotton darning thread mostly, since I can’t wear wool all my socks are cotton and I like to match the fiber. My balls of yarn I picked up at a second hand store will last me about forever. Cotton darns tighten up just as nice as wool, thank goodness. I could not deal with wool patches in my socks. Itchy! (oooh, unless I used angora, but angora just does not take the beating other fibers do)
I like embroidery floss as an intro fiber because it’s less than a dollar and even when I lived out in the middle of nowhere you could pick it up (the closest fabric and craft store is at least a half hour from where I live!), though nowadays with the internet, it’s easier to get things.
Okay, the pictures on this are much more awesome than the tutorial I found and eventually scrapped and did it however I pleased. I did start further back and go over-under more purl bumps, making sure to go under on the right side. That helps a bit when you’re going through and weaving the sideways threads in to cover the edges of the original hole and make it look more like one piece of fabric. The tut I originally found just said to trim the overlap which made me kinda cringe. That just sounds like asking for more holes to form.
Zaftiq—I am so not a knitter that I hardly think about the stitches! I’m a messy darner, like I said, but yes, I should have mentioned about grabbing the flippy ends where you can when weaving!
lovely tutorial b! My dear friend theresa did a nice video tutorial on darning a while back as well. this is my favorite video darning tutorial… though i haven’t really looked at any others, biased i guess.
ha ha, suppose i should have included the link to said video.
I like your nails! Probably the first thing I noticed about the tutorial.
This is a great idea, but I would probably only bother with it on socks that I buy from here, and not walmart brand socks. I’ve been looking into ways to recycle my clothing and this is definitely a good one.
Trina—Thank you for the video link! I’m super picky about video tutorials and couldn’t find one I liked. I love Theresa’s stuff!
Courtney —Ha, I never think about my nails, until I’m editing the photos. Good thing nail painting day is just before Sock Journal photo day!
The Craft:Zine link mentions patching thinner socks with cut up t-shirt material, which I may try on some of my cheaper (and cheaply made) socks that I want a little more use of but aren’t in love with.
Thank you Thank you Thank you!!!!
For the last year and a half, I’ve been desperately trying to sew up the holes in my super Dreamies, knowing they were discontinued. I’m a seamstress & I design and make clothing for a living, but somehow I never picked up on darning. I was always terrible at knitting and crocheting, so I always felt a little intimidated by darning, and it was one of those things i always meant to look up how to do but never got around to.
Your step by step photo’s are genius Thanks so much for helping to prolong (and add character to) my super dreamies!
@Trina: Theresa’s the one who taught me to darn! And now Brenna’s cemented the lesson. <3
This is fabulous. I’ve recently moved into an older apartment with wood floors, and just about every one of my pairs of socks has holes in them from stray flooring nails that stick up. And I just happen to have a massive stash of embroidery thread. Seems I’ve got a lotta darning to do!
I’ve been mending my socks for a years because I have socks that I really like and cannot replace. However, I’ve used regular thread, and stitched them. This is much preferable. Thank-you. I used to have an old darning item but it got lost. It was an antique that belonged to a relative. Wish I had it now as I have some more pretty socks that need darning. Another thing I do, with some heavier socks…is get old thick gym socks, cut patches and stitch those on the inside for added strength.
Than-you for the links too; wonderful!
This is a great tutorial! The only socks I’ve darned are a pair of sweater socks, so I just used regular yarn for them since that’s what they’re made of. I never thought to use embroidery floss. This will definitely come in handy next time I need to darn regular socks
Thank you for this post! I had been cutting the feet off my socks & using them for arm warmers when I wore through the toes/heels/ball of the foot but now I might try this instead! I’m very hard on socks, so it’s a useful thing for me to learn
Yay! We’re so happy to hear that we’re helping save all y’alls’ socks! We’d love to see the socks you’ve saved, you can always post a picture of your much loved and darned Sock Dreams socks on our Facebook!
After looking at several different sewing stores in vain for a darning egg and calling my mom ranting about “these darn kids nowadays don’t fix anything dadblammit” (I myself am 28), I finally found one at an antique store. Actually I found a cache of darning eggs, some of them quite ornate!
If you’re in Portland and are as despairing as I was, check some of the antique malls in Sellwood for your pick!
@Rachel—Score! I have yet to delve into the layered depths of Sellwood’s thrift and antique shops. They have a bunch. And, of course, our shop is in Sellwood, so it’s easy to make a day of it.
My family all thought I was crazy for keeping every cute pair of socks I’ve ever owned for the last 10 years with a hole in them (and that’s a LOT of socks). For the longest time I just kept them in a big case, not able to bare tossing them away. Then, last month, while going through my grandmother’s old sewing supplies, I found a darning egg and thought, “hey, if I knew how to use this, I could shamelessly keep all my great socks”. Enter sock Dreams one month later…
The moral of the story is that you guys rock!! Now I will have dozens upon dozens of socks to once again adorn my feet – woo!!!
PS: yeah, I just got to this post – but better late than never…
@Lcat, yay! We’re just glad you found the post, no matter when it was. Save all the socks!
Just wanted to say thank you for this tutorial! I have yet to rescue any socks from a forlorn fate at the bottom of mend pile, but I did use what I could remember of this tutorial to save my field pants last week (and myself from certain embarrassment). As part of my job, I sometimes have to cross over, under or through barbed wire fences, and until last week, have made it unscathed. Not so much so last week, as it seemed that every time I turned around, I had snagged some piece of my clothing on the barbs. Much to my chagrin, this included the seat of my pants. Sock Dreams darning tutorial to the rescue! It may not be the best example of darning in the world, but my first attempt at darning kept me from sharing the color of my drawers with my coworker (and the general public) and provided me with the best feel good and proud of myself crafty time I have had in awhile.
My pants, and presumably my coworker, thank you (as will my pair of Diamond Lace OTKs in plum that are next to be rescued)!
@Sarah, your comment and story just made my day! I’m so happy that we were able to give you a new skill that you can rock, barbed wire can’t stop you now!
Why are your nails all different lengths?
@Julia, I’d recently moved and broken most of my nails! Instead of chopping them all short, I just smoothed ‘em out where they were.