What the heck is darning?

clothing repair darn mending visible mending

F.A.Q.'s for Darning Socks

Darning has been around forever, and is a simple and useful skill to learn and share. There are many types of darning, most of them work as a technique to weave a patch in place, where the fabric has worn through.

Here is a very simple darning step by step that works to weave a patch over the top of a hole, a.k.a. surface darning. 

How to darn

What type of thread do I use? 

The type of thread or yarn that you use is really up to you. Most of my socks are wool, but I prefer to use cotton thread (either sashiko or embroidery thread), because it seems to wear much longer than a darned repair using wool yarn. 

Darning Supplies

 Do I need a special needle? 

Yes, you should use a darning needle. A darning needle is thicker, and has a dull or rounded tip. This makes it much easier to weave over and under individual strands without piercing the thread. 

How do I use a mending mushroom? 

Mending mushroom collection

You absolutely DO NOT need to have a mending mushroom, mending egg, or any special made for mending apparatus. But they are really cute. 

When you are darning, you want to mimic the shape of the area. For example, the heel of a sock has more of a curve than the toe of the sock. You might use a lime or a golf ball, place under the area to be mended. This keeps the area flat while you mend, and keeps you from stitching it to another part of the sock. 

What can be darned? 

Like embroidery, you can pretty much darn anything you can poke a needle through. Socks, sweaters, jeans, arms of couches, napkins, shoes, are all some of the places I have seen people darn patches. 

How is darning different from sewing a patch over the top? 

Patching and Darning

You might notice that darning is often used to mend socks and sweaters, rather than stitching a patch over a rip, like you would on a pair of jeans. Socks and sweaters are knitted, which gives them more stretch than a pair of jeans. These knit items can unravel well beyond the torn area without much provocation. When you repair these items with a darned patch, you are stitching directly into the knit pattern, stopping the broken ends from unraveling more. A darned patch will also  lay flatter, and incorporate into the garment more naturally than a sewn in place patch. 

What's the difference when darning thicker vs thinner socks? 

The only difference will be in the thread thickness you choose. It is not necessary to match the thickness of the yarn used to knit the sock. Sashiko thread or embroidery thread is a good option for a wide variety of sock thicknesses from dress socks to mid-weight wool socks. 

What should I darn first? 

I say this in all seriousness, choose a sock that you have zero emotional connection with, because your 1st darn is almost certainly not going to look good. Darning is simple, but takes practice. Each darn will be better than the previous one. 

How big should I make the darned patch?

You may opt to increase the size of your darned patch if an area surrounding the tear is weak. Otherwise, the size of your patch doesn't need to be too much larger than the tear. 

What can I do to make my darn smoother looking? 

This is an issue with tension. Make sure you aren't stretching the area as you darn, or patch will seem baggy on the underside, or the patched area may not lay flat against the original garment. As you darn the area should be taut, but not stretched. 

How do I keep my lines straighter?

You can draw a line with chalk, or a light marking, or stitch a guideline around the hole, and then darn your patch just outside of the guidelines, covering up your guidelines. You can also use the knit lines of the garment if they are easy enough to see. 

Darning example

How do I not use knots? 

I would never suggest any sort of knotting when darning, especially a sock. That knot might feel as irritating as a pebble in your shoe. 

What do I do with the loose ends when I am finished?

Finishing a darn

Simply stitch the tails to the underside of the sock, and weave under several stitches, and clip the ends. Because it's the inside of your sock, the thread will lock in with other thread as you wear them. 

Why doesn't it look as good as the picture? 

It takes practice. Yes, darning is simple. But simple doesn't mean effortless. The more you practice the more comfortable you will get with the technique, and with the structure of the garments you are fixing. 

Will I feel the darn if it is on the bottom of my foot? 

Darned socks

If darned correctly, you shouldn't feel the darned patch at all. If you do feel it, chances are the thread or yarn used for the darn was too thick. 

What about different styles of darning? 

Darned patches

There are lots of different ways to darn a patch, or reinforce a worn area. This surface darning technique is just a beginner friendly straightforward method. You can create different patterns using this technique, varying the pattern of the weave. 

Examples of darning

Other types of darning include duplicate stitch, Swiss darning, Scotch darning, English darning, and for that matter, probably a variation of darning for every group in history. There are also many stitches used in embroidery that work well as reinforcing darning stitches. 

What about a mini-loom or speedweve? 

Vintage Speedweve

You can use a mini-loom to weave a little patch. Mini-looms, or vintage speedweves do the same thing (weave a little patch over an area) as described here, just in a much quicker fashion, resulting in a very neat looking patch, using a cute little gadget. 

But, with all of this said, the best advice I can give you is to start with the least favorite sock in the mending pile, and mend it terribly. Then, move onto the next mend, keep it simple, and try to make your stitches a little more lined up, and be a little more aware of your thread tension. The only way to improve the outcome of your mending is to practice and repeat. Think about the first time you do anything, it's always pretty bad. Mending is no different, it may be simple and ancient, but it still take practice! 

If this answers lots of your questions, but you still want the reassurance of a teacher nearby, you're in luck, I also teach in person and online mending classes! 

Click here to see the list of upcoming workshops

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  • Michele Francis on

    This is a very accessible and comprehensive guide and it has given me the confidence to dive in.
    Thank you.

  • Annette on

    Thank you for this great summary! So very true about the first darn not being that great (still, it gave me a great sense of accomplishment). It hadn‘t occurred to me to use cotton, even for wool socks – I will have to try that.

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