I never officially learned to darn... I simply figured out my own method after I learned some needlelace. My method is simple: first I used a doubled thread to outline the hole, giving it wide margins. Then I fill this outline with a Corded Brussels stitch. Where there is cloth, I sew the Brussels stitch through it, thus thickening the fabric. Where there is a hole, I just sew Corded Brussels stitch right over it, putting a layer of new cloth where there was none. When I'm teaching someone to darn, I use contrasting thread, but generally I match the sock color.
In needlelace, Brussels stitch is just a series of half-hitches, with each row hanging off the loops of the last row. The half-hitches are the only structure, leaving lovely open spaces. A corded Brussels stitch is a denser version of Brussels stitch where the open spaces are filled with a floater thread. Lorelei Halley explains it and diagrams it excellently here (the second one down).
I don't think my method is the usual one, although I found it mentioned on Tom of Holland's blog in this darning article. He has a nice illustration of the Corded Brussels stitch being used to darn. It is labeled "Scotch darning". In another part of his site, he demonstrates the technique based on an illustration in a Finnish book he had. Whatever you call it--Scotch darning, Corded Brussels, something Finnish--it's basically what I do. Just goes to show there's nothing new under the sun
However, lots of people think darning is archaic. And I can understand that.. with socks as cheap as they are nowadays, mending them makes less financial sense than buying new. Unless of course, you have fancy socks. I darn my hiking socks (good wool, cost a pretty penny) and my fun socks (I like pretty patterns!). I don't bother darning cheap socks. My sister's shirt was more expensive than socks, which gave me added incentive to mend it, but still lots of people wouldn't: ours is a throwaway culture.
I once worked in a place where I had no opportunity to buy new jeans, but mine wore out regularly due to my work with chemicals and lots of kneeling (housekeeping is hard on your clothes!). So I patched them, and I mended them. And when the patches wore through, I darned them and patched some more. Since mending is dull, I got creative and darned flowers onto the knees, and used embroidery to strengthen weak spots. You might think I was fond of these pants, after all my work on them, but the reverse was true: when I finally got new jeans, I gleefully threw out the old ones. Imagine my surprise, then, when my co-worker fished them out of the trash. "These are like folk art," he said, "People don't do this!" (He was an anthropology major.) I wonder if he eventually threw them away, or if he still has them today, in some kind mending-themed shadow box.
Do you darn? What's your method, if you do?
Quilting, dressmaking, and history plied with the needle...
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