This was an actual quote to my dad to my mom, circa 1982-ish, as he dumped a pile of hole-y work socks (cheap black cotton dress socks) in front of her. My mom assumed he was joking and started laughing, unable to stop for a few minutes, during which time my dad got more and more angry. “Oh my god,” she said, “you’re serious, aren’t you?” He replied, “My mother always used to darn my socks.” “Send them to your mother, then!” (cue more laughing)
I’m with my mom on this one–on a number of counts, but certainly on the futility of spending time darning cheap socks from Sears that come in a pack of ten and wear out fast. Especially when the wearer is a fairly successful physician and can certainly afford to buy another 10-pack. But hand-knit socks? Well, my friends, time to learn the fine and ridiculously easy art of sock hole repair: darning. Interestingly, the word “darn” is one of the few words in English to come from a Celtic language, specifically Breton (meaning piece or fragment). Unless, that is, you subscribe to the theory that it comes from an Anglo-Saxon term, but I’ll let the linguists duke that one out.
It takes a long time to knit socks. I may be a particularly slow knitter, but even the fastest knitters spends considerably more time knitting a pair of socks than it would take to buy them, even counting the drive to the mall. Handknit socks are worth repairing when they inevitably get a hole from wear and tear, a snag, or even a moth attack. Recently I noticed a hole in my favourite pair of hand knit socks:
Still not quite sure how it happened, but the socks haven’t been worn heavily so I’m leaning towards a snag on something. I decided to mend the hole but first, had to get the proper tool.
Enter the darning mushroom. It’s a variation of the darning egg, essentially an egg-shaped wooden tool that may or may not have a handle to make it easier to hold. I’ve heard tell of people using lightbulbs, but the thought of tiny slivers of broken glass appearing in my hands and lap is less than appealing, so I looked for a darning mushroom. It’s an easy tool to use: push it into the sock in question so the hole is exposed across the rounded top, and use the “stalk” to hold on as you work. The top of the mushroom gives you a surface to push against and also see the edges of the hole and where you’re weaving (more on that below). I was lucky to find a woodworker just an hour or so north of Toronto, Sharon Burger(link is to her Etsy), who makes darning mushrooms out of salvaged local woods. I picked up this beauty in black cherry:
And then I got to work. I’ve seen some darning tutorials that advise seaming the hole and pulling it closed, like a sutured incision, but in my experience darning is meant to create a durable patch that will cover the hole without puckering the knit fabric around it. You do this by threading a yarn needle (I use my own handspun wool yarn) and weaving across the hole first in one direction (say, top to bottom) and then the other (right to left and vice versa):
In the end, you’ll have a new bit of wool fabric integrated into the sock. It’s generally visible (I suppose I could have used the original yarn for the sock from the leftovers I have somewhere, but it still would look different being woven rather than knit), but I think that’s part of the appeal:
End result? More months or even years of wear and new life for a hand knit item. No trip to the mall required!