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Darn It! The Forgotten Art of Repairing Socks

For the last few years I have been heavily obsessed with knitting socks, giving most of them away to friends and family but keeping a few coveted pairs for myself. At last count I have made 26 pairs, 2 orphans socks that I have subsequently returned to a yarny state, and hundreds of miniature socks.

Handmade socks are heaven to wear, they’re so soft and squishy and warm, and pretty in a wild look-at-this-crazy-yarn kind of way.

They also wear out quickly in the heels and toes, even when I double the yarn in these tender areas.

Forgotten arts: darning socks (before)

Because I am insane – or loving and generous, depending upon who you talk to – I have informed all the recipients of my socky love that they can return them to me for repairs as needed. Talk about fateful last words…

I have no fewer than 5 pairs of socks that were gifts that need darning, and 4 more pairs that I personally wore holes through and 2 more that the complete foot is almost gone, so I realized I had better get to work and learn how to darn a sock.

Back in the old days everyone darned their socks because it was too wasteful to throw away a sock simply because it had a hole in it. Today socks come 12 to a pack from a big box megastore and cost $3 so it seems simpler to just throw them away and buy new ones.

Hand knitted socks are another story. The yarn I use is pretty special, often hand spun or hand dyed and cost up to $30 per skein and you had better believe I am not throwing these things away even if they are on their last legs!

My darning efforts were somewhat delayed by the lack of a darning egg, a wooden contraption that looks like an egg on a stick. I had been using my marble pestle but would drop it on my toe or my knee or possibly too close to the cat snoring on the floor under my feet so I really needed to invest in a true darning egg. My Granny had one but much to our sorrow we could not locate it anywhere in her knitting baskets and sewing baskets up at mOm’s. I found some super cute ones online, like these darning mushrooms, but I needed a cheaper alternative (for now), so I found a simple unfinished wooden egg at an stall at Stitches West this year.

Of course I had to learn *how* to darn a sock but fortunately YouTube is great wealth of information and this was the video that I have played over and over until I got it right.

With my new egg in hand and a mound of socks, little bits of leftover yarn, scissors, darning needles and my glasses, I set to work. When it comes down to it darning socks is really not hard, just the tiniest bit tedious.

Darn It!

  • Turn the sock inside out and insert the darning egg or mushroom inside. Position the sock so that the hole in question is centered over the egg and pull the sock moderately firmly in place over the egg (see top picture).
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  • Thread your darning needle with matching yarn, and pick up stitches in a 1/4″ border across the hole, making the threads as close together as possible.

Forgotten arts: darning socks (during)

  • Then go the opposite direction, weaving in and out of the vertical strands and securing them snugly by pushing down against the threads with your needle. You should alternate each row so that you get a true woven effect. Weave in the ends and trim, and repeat for each hole. Or, in my case, repeat for 9 more socks.

Here is the darned sock with the new woven repair showing through.

Forgotten arts: darning socks (done!)

Amazing! Turn the sock right side out and they are good to go for another few weeks or months. We shall see…

Sadly some of my socks are so worn out that the entire sole is practically transparent. However the wonderful Elizabeth Zimmerman wrote a book, “Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Knitter’s Almanac”, where she shows how to completely reknit the sole of a sock, or making a sock moccasin. Once I embark upon this adventurous project I will be sure to share my progress.

Now, for those other 4 pairs of socks….. Sigh…..

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