Mend It May – How to…Darn

Darning is that most stereotypical of mending tasks, and one that quite frankly used to scare the pants off me.

Maybe it was the fact that it requires special pieces of kit, those mystical darning mushrooms (actually it doesn’t) or maybe it was the diagrams showing rows of very neat stitches that terrified the messy sewer inside. Whatever it was, there was something that stopped me, and I was consequently flummoxed when the first time I went on my local BBC Radio station a few years ago to talk about My Make Do and Mend Year, I was asked whether I owned a darning mushroom! I was like a rabbit in the headlights. I’d come on for a gentle chat about not buying stuff and I was being quizzed about things I knew nothing about, like darning mushrooms, and bodkins (I had to look that one up: “a thick, blunt needle with a large eye, used for drawing tape or cord through a hem”).

And then to my surprise I received a parcel in the post containing not only a darning mushroom, but one where the top screwed off and the needles were stored inside. Sent from a complete stranger who had been listening to the radio show and wanted to pass on their Nana’s darning mushroom to me.

Darning mushroom

There may have been tears.
And then a sudden realisation that with this family heirloom that someone else had entrusted to me, came an unspoken obligation that it must be used. So I bit the bullet, and I learned to darn.

Well, when I say I learned, I just kind of had a go.
I started on hubby’s work socks, which aren’t hand-knitted, or even machine knitted. They were good old M&S navy blue sports socks, and they had holes in the toes. I grabbed a big needle and some regular knitting yarn, poked my newly acquired darning mushroom inside and started filling the hole, rather haphazardly, with stitches, weaving in and out when I remembered.
To my great surprise it worked! And they weren’t fantastically uncomfortable. And actually, the yarn felted when they were washed, so ended up providing a much more secure fix.

Darning socks

So for any of you intimidated by darning, please don’t be.
There are lots of different techniques, all with different names, and I am sure that the darning purists will crucify me with bodkins for saying this, but as long as it’s functional, that’s the main thing. Just have a go, and make a start. Don’t expect beauty, or invisible mending to start with. As with all things, it takes practice. My darning is still not especially neat, but that’s one of the reasons I’m such a fan of visible mending…!

This is what you need:

  • Darning mushroom or similar
    A darning mushroom or egg is worth trying to track down, as not only are they super useful for, errrm, darning, they are usually things of beauty too. You can find them on eBay, or places like Etsy too. Or ask your mum/Nana/aunt-they might have one hiding away in their sewing box and be grateful to see it go to a new home.
    Other alternatives include: a lightbulb (the thought makes me feel a little queasy for some reason, but I’m told they work well); an upturned teacup; an orange or a lemon (these have the advantage of releasing lovely citrus scents if you inadvertently stab through the fabric into them)
  • A darning needle
    Any longish needle with a large eye hole will do. The main thing is to make sure that they eye of the needle is large enough to be able to thread your yarn/darning thread through
  • Yarn/darning thread/embroidery floss
    What you are darning, will to some extent dictate what you use to fill in the hole.
    The general rule is to try and match the material of the item to be darned. So if you are darning hand-knitted socks, use a similar weight yarn; if they are cotton socks, you can use cotton embroidery floss0the floss usually comes with 4 or 6 strands plyed together, you can untwist a length and just use 1, 2, 3 strands etc to get a similar weight to the cotton used for the socks. One word of warning would be not to use too fine a thread in the first instance, as you will lost patience, especially on a first attempt!
    You can buy special darning thread which tends to be a mix of wool and nylon, with the nylon adding some strength and stability. Again eBay is a good place to look, or you might hit lucky at a vintage fair, although do be aware that some threads can weaken over time.


This is what you do:

I’m possibly being slightly lazy cheeky here, but I’m going to post pictures from the original Trade Board Make Do and Mend leaflets issued during WW2. They are as good as any more modern diagrams I have seen, and certainly better than my attempts at photographing my own efforts would be!

Darning title page

  • Turn your item (let’s assume it’s a sock) inside out to start with
  • The advise from the official leaflets was to tack a piece of netting over the hole and darn onto that. Whilst I think that would work well with holes on larger things, it might not be the most comfortable for socks
  • Thread your needle with a length of thread that is long enough to mean that you don’t keep having to re-thread (v.annoying) but not so long that it keeps getting tangled (also v.annoying). The length of your arm from your shoulder to your wrist is usually about right
  • You don’t need to worry too much about securing the end of your thread, as you will be sewing backwards and forwards over it and it will be sewn in eventually, and a knot might be uncomfortable inside your socks!

Darning instructions

It all looks very simple in diagramatic form, and clever old Mrs. SEW-and-SEW has got her stitches very neat and even. Yours won’t be. But it WILL still work.

If you’ve had a go and are now keen to find out more, this great post from Twist Collective details FOUR different techniques, or take a look at the The King of all things darning, Tom of Holland’s blog. And for those of you who find video easiest to learn from, You Tube is, as ever, a useful resource.

Come along to the Mend It May Facebook group and share your darning triumphs and tribulations!

And don’t forget to take the Mend It May pledge, to show your support for all things mending, and to stay up to date with all the Mend It May information

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