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Darn those Socks!

My mother is a talented woman with a sewing needle. She also is a great teacher. She taught me to embroider when I was in elementary school. She taught me how to fix a run in a sweater using a crochet hook. And she also taught me to darn socks.

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This was in the mid-1960s, when you could still buy cardboard tubes of darning floss at the store. It came only in boring guy-colors as far as I remember, but it was basically several very fine threads held together flat, like a ribbon. It made for a very smooth and flat repair.

In those days I knew only one way to fix a sock. Typically, the sock had a true hole all the way through the fabric. I learned how to make a woven patch over that hole, using the flat darning floss. It did not occur to me that others might not know how to do it.

Fast-Forward to years of working in corporate America. I had to wear a skirt every day to teach computer classes. I did not want to wear synthetic nylon hose (it’s like wearing a plastic bag, if you ask me). So every time I was in a large city, I would seek out sock stores or large department stores with huge hosiery departments. I collected black or gray cotton hose to wear for my work. (Photo here is “The Sock Man” on St. Mark’s Place in NYC’s East Village.)

Sometimes I did not get to go to a city for a long while. Sometimes the hose would get holes in the feet. I could not just run down to the local mall and buy more cotton hose. I was desperate to avoid wearing 100% nylon hose. So I darned the hose using sewing thread. It was really worth the effort, given the comfort these hose gave me on the job.

Fast-Forward again. I knit my very first sock ever, in spring of 2001. I knit over 30 pair in my first year. That first year I did make 11 pairs for friends/family at Christmas, but lots of those socks were for me.

I do what they tell you not to do. I don’t wear shoes in the house, and I do not like shoe-like slippers. So I wear my socks “bare” against the floor in my home. I do have a lot of socks, so each one does not get a lot of wear each week. However, lately more of my knitting is for work samples and I can not wear those socks. My own sock drawer is one thin-fabric display.

I learned since I started knitting socks, that if you catch a sock before it is totally worn through, that you can strengthen the fabric using an embroidery technique called “duplicate stitch.” You actually sew through the path of an already-knitted yarn in the sock. It is a more stretchy and less noticeable patch underfoot. Since I discovered this, most of my sock repairs are handled this way. I try to notice the state of my socks as I wear them, so that they do not get a hole all the way through.

The first photo above today shows a sock I knit in “Magic Garden Buttons” yarn, DK weight (the yarn includes little specks of yellow, red and blue, and is great for kids’ garments and semi-thick, washable socks). It got one full hole, which I patched using pink sockyarn in a woven technique. It also had some thin yarn in another spot nearby. I strengthened that with duplicate stitch in green.

I teach darning classes quite often. One need not be a knitter to learn this skill, though it seems handknits are more worth patching than store-purchased socks. I have a fondness for patching in unmatching yarn. It shows more (though the patches fit inside my shoe) but I smile because I feel happy I know how to do this, and that I get to keep my handmade creations in use for a long time.

I have scheduled a Darn that Sock! class at Rae’s Yarn Boutique in Lansing, MI on Thursday, April 1, from 6-8pm. You can register for that class online now, at Rae’s new website: Register for Darn That Sock!

I am also waiting to hear from Threadbear Fiberarts about a weekend date for the class at their location. It will probably be on a Friday night, sometime after the class at Rae’s.

This weekend I did not have any classes to teach. I spent Saturday washing every piece of fabric which goes on our bed, and darning socks, and watching TED.com videos for inspiration. It was rather more domestic than I usually am in one day, but it is a delight to repair my “babies” that I knit and had to set aside. I got 4 pairs darned (most in more than one spot) and also fixed 2 sweaters. Score!

3 Responses to “Darn those Socks!”

  1. Susan Gallacher-Turner Says:

    Thanks for the tips on darning…I love how you do it in different colors, then it adds another layer of creativity, too. I just learned how to crochet socks and I must say it is really, really fun! I, too, am wearing them ‘bare’ on my floors around the house and loving the soft, colorful cozy socks I made myself.

  2. Mary-Heather Says:

    “I smile because I feel happy I know how to do this…”

    Oh, I love that. It’s such a treat to know these skills, to be able to use our hands to create, not waste, and make beautiful things. :)

  3. computer mouses Says:

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