Make a Pattern Darning Sampler + The Story of Darning

on September 28 | in Sewing + Quilting Tips, Sewing Inspiration, Sewing Tutorials + Patterns | by | with 47 Comments

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Allison Dey Malacaria from the SweaterDoll shop and blog designs toy and doll sewing patterns. She is a multi-talented sewist who loves upcycling, fixing and the “magical landscape of play.” Allison shows you how to make a Pattern Darning Sampler so you can learn this important skill and art. As Allison notes in the history discussion below, darning can be for repair or embellishment, or both! You also may have heard of the trend of “Visible Mending” as a modern take on darning skills.

Don’t miss Allison’s introduction, and her research on the history of darning below the sampler instructions. So many of us love the history of sewing as a functional household contribution, and the idea that there is art in the extension of the life and wear of quality sewn items. Here’s to utility, art and the lasting power of stitching!

We also have a giveaway… Comment below to share how you learned the tradition of stitchery )and feel free to add what it has meant to you) for a chance to win two PDF patterns in the SweaterDoll shop (winner’s choice).

Make a Pattern Darning Sampler

Though normally we think of darning as something relegated to the heels and toes of woolen socks, pattern darning has a fairly long recorded (and probably longer unrecorded) history for being not only functional but highly decorative. Surviving samplers exhibit the range of designs used to embellish petticoats and bed valances or to repair textiles.

Pattern darning uses a running stitch to create geometric designs. The running stitch is accomplished by inserting a threaded needle into fabric and running it over and under the fabric threads. The threads are counted in each stitch according to a pattern. Types of threads vary and depend on what kind of fabric is being mended or embellished. Regardless, the thread should look pleasing within the weave of the fabric.

For this tutorial, I chose a basic mending patch (worked in plum) and a decorative block (worked in ecru) to fit within a 5″ x 7″ border. The pattern chart provided for this sampler shows how many threads to count per stitch for the block, and which direction to use when stitching. Rows of stitching are worked back and forth from side to side. I have included an additional cross-stitch rose pattern to add to the sampler. Roses and small flowers add a decorative quality to even the most utilitarian of historical mending samplers.

The sampler shown is worked on 100% linen and uses embroidery floss. Use any color you like, creating something with seasonal or favorite colored threads. You can also use just one color of thread. White thread on blue linen, for example, would be stunning, as would black on cream.

Stitches are usually not longer than six fabric threads to avoid loose stitching. However, because this may be your first foray into pattern darning, I doubled the stitch length for the decorative block so you could become accustomed to counting the threads to create a pattern. The mending patch is worked traditionally with the stitch length of two threads: under two threads, over two threads, and repeat.

There will be mistakes. If I miscount a thread, I usually correct it, but I left quite a few miscounts in the work to bring out the old-fashioned quality of a handmade sampler and to illustrate the beauty of imperfection. The one mistake I made on purpose is in the decorative block. The top row of Xs has only one middle stitch and the others have two. This is a common act of humility I learned as a child at the feet of old-time quilters who said only God could make something perfect so they added an intentional “mistake” in their quilts. The instructions given here do not contain this “mistake.”

Materials:

  • Linen or cotton fabric, about 12″ square
  • Embroidery floss (your choice of colors)
  • Darning needle
  • Scissors
  • Sewing thread
  • Embroidery hoop (optional: 10″ hoop for the entire piece or a smaller one to work the blocks)
  • Magnifying glass (optional)
  • Crochet hook (optional: for hiding loose thread ends at the back of the work)
  • Patience (required)

Prep the Sampler:
A square of 12″ square will enable you to use a 10″ embroidery hoop easily. If you don’t have such a large hoop, you can use a smaller one for the blocks or use none at all.

To begin, baste a 5″ x 7″ border in the center of the fabric using a doubled length of sewing thread.

Decorative Block:
Thread the darning needle with a six strand length of embroidery floss.

Begin the top row of stitches about 1 5/8″ from one side edge and about 1/2″ under the top basted edge. Insert the needle from the back of the fabric at the top right corner of the block and pull through leaving a 2-3″ tail. The tail will be woven into the stitches at the back later. Stitch over and under the following number of threads to produce the design.

Row 1: From right to left, over 12 threads, under 4, over 4, under 4, over 4, under 4, over 12, under 4, over 4, under 4, over 4, under 4, over 12

Row 2: Bring the floss to the front from the back again two threads below where row 1 ended. From left to right, stitch Over 12, under 4, over 4, under 4, over 4, under 4, over 12, under 4, over 4, under 4, over 4, under 4, over 12.

Row 3: Bring the floss to the front two threads below the end of Row 2. Over 12, under 8, over 4, under 8, over 12, under 8, over 4, under 8, over 12.

Continue on this way following the pattern guide to make a decorative block as shown in the sampler photo. At the end of the block, cut the thread to leave a 2″ tail hanging.

Mended Patch:
Now that you have some practice counting threads for stitching, you can work smaller stitches across the linen. Using a long two strand length of embroidery floss, start at the top right corner of this patch about 1″ below the lower edge of the block and 1″ in from the side edge.

Bring the thread from the back to the front leaving a 2-3″ tail hanging. Work across along the same thread line going over 2, under 2, over 2, under 2, ending this pattern of stitching about 1″ in from the other side edge.

Bring the needle to the front again two threads below the end of the first row and two threads in so the stitches are staggered in each row. Work over 2, under 2 again to the end of the row.

Continue stitching side to side, staggering the stitched rows to create a patch-like darned design about 5/8″ to 1″ tall.

Cross-Stitched Rose:
I placed the rose a bit below and to the right on my sampler. I plan to put the date on the other side and my name centered below. You can stitch the rose wherever you like or none at all.

Stitch the rose according to the pattern provided using one color of two strand embroidery floss for the rose and another color of two strand embroidery floss for the stem and leaf. The crosses are worked over two threads side to side and up and down. I made just a part of the rose pattern as you can see.

Border:
Use the basting at the edges as a guide for stitching a border. Use a six strand length of embroidery floss and stitch straight edges around the sampler. I used the pattern of over 5, under 2, over 5, under 2 as my border. You could certainly embroider something more decorative if you like. Pull out the basting threads when you are finished.

Hiding the “Tails”:
Weave the loose ends of the embroidery floss in and out of the stitches on the back of the work. Use a small crochet hook if you need to.

Making the Sampler Your Own:
The additional space at the bottom of the sampler is for your name and the date. Use cross-stitch or any favorite embroidery stitch to make the sampler undeniably your own!

The fabric square is large enough so you can display the sampler in a 10″ hoop or an 8″ x 10″ picture frame.

The Story of Pattern Darning

Our knowledge of pattern darning originates from textiles from Egypt dating to the 11th century. Ancient decorative designs using the counted running stitch appear on clothing and household linens primarily as decorative geometric design elements. Over the next 400 years, surviving samples with a decidedly folk style span the entire Mediterranean area, including Greece, Turkey, Spain and Morocco. Samplers were most often worked in silk thread on linen fabric but pieces might also use cotton or linen thread.

Designs for pattern darning seem to be carried generation to generation as evidenced in a 15th century German piece which is remarkably similar to a much older Egyptian design. The skill is believed to have moved north along trade routes. Pattern darning, called skakkaglit in Iceland, appears on altar cloths, bed linens and curtains. In this stitching, we start to see wool thread being used on linen. Church inventories mention skakkaglit as an adornment.

Japanese sashiko stitching includes one version, called kogin stitch, which was originally worked over even- or odd-numbered groups of threads to reinforce work clothing and make it more durable for agricultural work or other outdoor labor.

Darning as a method of repair is used to prolong the life of a garment out of necessity or economic reasons, sentimental reasons, or beliefs in frugality and thrift as a way of life. Though the skill and technique of darning and pattern darning are essentially the same, the line between them holds significance in the intention of the maker. Is this pattern being used to repair and extend the life of the garment or is it meant to enhance and embellish the piece or is it both?

Modern stitchers, fascinated by both skill and art in textile history and household management, have been taking this craft into the 21st century under the name “Visible Mending” which combines techniques and philosophies of garment repair and maintenance immortalized in WWII frugality pamphlets and books and the many available designs seen throughout pattern darning sampler history. A small hole in a sweater might be darned with a matching yarn for practical purposes. But Visible Mending brings the decorative into the utilitarian by choosing a contrasting color and perhaps a different weight of yarn, maybe adding pattern and picture to the work. This visible mend brings frugality, design and frivolity into one place, literally stitching history into our daily lives as clothing and household linens sprout small testaments to a lineage of stitching as an essential skill in the human story.

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47 Responses to Make a Pattern Darning Sampler + The Story of Darning

  1. Julie Zeigler says:

    My Grandma taught my sister and I both how to stitch,knit and crochet when we were quite little. Some things stuck, some did not, but years later we are both crafty and artistic. I have gotten back to quilting and needlework. My relatives tell me how pleased my Grandma would be. I feel her nearby during late night sewing sessions! 😉

  2. B. Bailey says:

    I never thought of darning being used for decorative purposes specifically to enhance a textile. This has opened up new worlds; thanks for posting and for the amazing photo samples.

  3. Barbara Bailey says:

    I was taught to embroidery by my mother, she did embroidery and I was hooked at a young age. I loved the look of all the stitches and how they looked in different patterns. My fumbling fingers got better and I even taught my own daughter but she want’s as interested as I was. Guess I’ve always been an “old soul” because I enjoyed sewing, cross stitching and quilting. Sorry, I’m rambling and reminiscing.

  4. Cathleen says:

    This is absolutely beautiful! Great idea!

  5. Dawn Jones says:

    I am currently learning, mainly from online sources. Especially wonderful blogs that feature great tutorials. Have a great day!

  6. Mary Kay says:

    Thank you for this interesting read! Mending is not one of my favorite sewing activities but this just might change that!

  7. jackie says:

    With my Grandmother’s help my sisters and I embroidered guest towels for my mother each year. she taught us different stitches. I would also watch her darn my tights, she would let me “help”

  8. Susan says:

    I remember my grandmother coming to our house to visit and she would sit in a chair and darn or mend by hand socks and clothes. My mom would darn socks, but for mending she used the sewing machine. Both my grandmother and my mom embroidered. I taught myself to cross-stitch and am working on learning embroidery stitches.

  9. It looks very nice. I never do this. Now I’ll do it right.

  10. jenny says:

    ive learned and admired stitchery by thrifting thru garage sales and rummage sales. im amazed at the brilliant work i can find for pennies. would love to learn this craft myself.

  11. Emma says:

    I learned to sew from my maternal grandmother when I was around 8 years old. I continued to crawl under her old treadle sewing machine and would push the treadle. She became so frustrated with me she said “Well, if you won’t leave it alone it’s time to teach you what this machine does when you play with it.” She sat me on the round stool and I began to sew! I was so excited about it that she gave me her treadle machine and bought herself an electric one. I’ve been sewing ever since! Now my passion is teaching children (and adults) how to hand and machine sew, embroider and quilt.

  12. Brenda says:

    Love the larger samplers. Never before realized the significance of pattern darning. Would be a fun sampler to make with many more samples of pattern stitching, similar to the one shown where the patterns border a center square. Going to dig for some linen!

  13. Alicia says:

    I am self taught. Learned over 40 years ago and just getting back into it. Thanks for the chance.

  14. Alicia says:

    I am self taught at stitchery since I was I’m middle school 40 years ago. I’ve recently picked it up again and so glad I have. Thanks for the chance.

  15. Your stories are so beautiful. Our heritage as makers is rich and deep. I’m so grateful to have been taught a love of stitching and so happy to hear the joy in your stories, too. Thank you for sharing them here.

  16. Jeanette says:

    My great aunt taught me on a treadle machine. Mostly I did mending or what we now call upcycling out of style clothing given to us.

  17. My Grandmother taught me to cross-stitch when I was 11. It is something we have always shared since.

  18. Nathania says:

    I have never done this before, love the beauty of it and I can see how handy it would be when repairing clothes or even just revamping something I already have.
    Love this form of art!
    N.snaer at gmail dot com

  19. Cindy S. says:

    My mother-in-law was my example for learning to darn. It was something she enjoyed. This made me think of her. My mom taught me very basic sewing skills. I currently sew for distraction from chronic pain, and enjoy making prizes for my grandchildren.

  20. Sarah says:

    I learned from my mother. I remember stitching little clothes for my dolls out of scraps as she sewed.

  21. Licia says:

    I learned to sew from my grandmother on her treadle machine. She helped me sew my first skirt on that machine and I won first place in the city in 4H! If I messed something up, she would always patiently pull out the stitches for me. She bought me a more modern Singer machine, but it could never match the pretty stitching on the treadle machine, which dated back to the early 1900s. The machine I have now is computerized and a dream to use. I like to sew, quilt and make fabric crafts. My daughter and my granddaughter also like to sew.

  22. Tina says:

    When I was in 3rd grade we did a simple stitchery project in class on burlap. I got interested and my older sister taught me more stitchery and cross stitch. My mother sewed and I used to watch. Today I mostly sew. My daughter, who is 10, likes to crochet after I taught her a few basic stitches.

  23. Faye says:

    What an interesting article. I was taught at age 9 the method of darning heels inwoollen socks over a wooden egg by a great uncle by watching. Then he let me try I’m sure the results were poorly his standards but from then I was on my way! I was intrigued to see the variety of stitches I had never see for repairs.

  24. Suzanne says:

    I’m a self taught stitcher who began with cross stitch. Now I do a lot of knitting and I’m becoming fascinated with the make do and mend movement. I have a sweater I want to practice a steek on (cutting the pullover and adding a button band). This sweater also has a few moth holes than are prime canvas for visible darning.

    Thanks FOs sharing this topic and the history behind it. I’m definitely going to read up on it.

  25. Shawna says:

    I am self taught at darning and stitchery. I like the designs shown in this article, I have been darning alot of my daughters clothes to extend the life and this will be nice to add to what I can do!

  26. Cathleen says:

    I learned to sew a little bit when I was a kid from my dad, who was a commercial textile salesman. We had TONS of fabric samples…the good ol’ days. 😉 I just recently started taking an embroidery class on creativebug which I love. The patterns above are a bit beyond me, but someday soon I hope! This was a fantastic post! Thanks!

  27. Marjory W says:

    I first learned simple stitchery from my grandmother, but then as a young adult was incredibly inspired by Erica Wilson’s PBS programs, and consequently, her books.

  28. Paige says:

    I remember looking through my great aunt’s Workbasket magazines. She taught me embroidery.

  29. Anne says:

    I’ve always loved this type of stitching and I’ve pinned both of the vintage pieces shown. I learned this type of sewing in the RAF school in Germany. My Mum still has a pincushion from those school days.

  30. marilyn says:

    My mom taught me how to sew. She also taught me how to embroider too. I don’t have enough patience to embroider!! I did not really get into sewing until I had children of my own to sew for. Now it is fun.

  31. Diane B says:

    I loved every bit of history in the post regarding darning. It’s something my grandmothers and mother did for hours, as I watched in the evening. Usually they were mending socks, for every family member, in lieu of purchasing new ones. It’s so intricate, I tried it as a teenager under my mothers tutelage, but not since then. SO I shall pick up the floss and try it. Thank you so much.

  32. Marian says:

    My Polish grandmother taught me to knit, sew, darn, mark linens and all the things a traditional woman should know. She did not speak English, but we always understood each other. I miss her

  33. kathyh says:

    I feel like I’ve always been sewing. My mom taught my sisters and I to darn socks using a L’eggs plastic egg – back in the day – you bought pantyhose in these giant egg packages. Pulling the sock over half of the egg so the hole to be darned sits atop the empty space, it’s easy to hold taut what you need to be hanging onto but also easily rotate as you do your darning stitches.
    Of course, when my hubby asked if I would darn his tube socks – which are 20x less expensive then women’s socks, I said ( ) “No”.

  34. Jennie says:

    I love the functionality and practicality of the pattern darning. I love Sashiko stitching and love the simple beauty in the stitches which sparked my interest in hand sewing.

  35. bekki says:

    Really interesting post. I haven’t seen something like this for darning stitches. I’m self taught at stitching.

  36. Pauline says:

    When I was 4 yrs old my grandmother taught me how to sew, and she also taught me how to control my needle by teaching me how to thread small beads at 3 yrs old. My mother also used to sew and very often sat mending clothes in the evening sitting by the fire – she had 3 boys and a tomboy! I love mending and I do the mending for my two daughter’s families and I get a lot of satisfaction out of making clothes wearable again, and items useable again. As a young teenager we were taught mending at school needlework class. How to mend a sheet correctly etc. I have loved needlework all of my life and make quilts now, as well as embroidery, I make quilts, clothes, toys and pjs for my 5 grandchildren – my youngest daughter asked me to make her wedding dress in 2010 which I did, as well as 4 bridesmaid dresses and a pageboy suit. Sewing has given me a great deal of pleasure all of my life. I am teaching my granddaughter now.
    Pauline
    Pauline

  37. Mandi says:

    My grandmother, mom, and aunts would sit on my grandmother’s front porch mending clothes as we kids played outside. Every once in a while, one of them would stop me as I ran by, to show me a different technique or style.
    I used a bunch of darning to fix my hand-me-down sock monkey!

  38. chickie brewer says:

    It was when I was in fifth Grade and we not only had to sew with a maching but we also had to embroider our initials.

  39. Paula says:

    Such an enlightening post! I’d never heard of darning. Probably because it’s named different in my country. Thank you for posting such an interesting info.

  40. Rachel B says:

    I learned stitchery from my Grandmother but it has meant so much more as a connection to the past and other women.

  41. linda newman says:

    I learned the tradition of stitchery from my mother and my aunts and was inspired by the work of my late grandmother. My mother sewed a lot of my clothes when I was a child, so I saw that in action. One of my aunts has a PhD in textiles and taught fabric and fashion at Texas Women’s University for decades. My late grandmother was a “mistress” of traditional stitching arts, including embroidery, crochet, knitting and quilting. I have a crocheted tablecloth and bedspread she made, as well as many embroidered table toppers, and two quilts (and my own baby quilt). Sadly, she died when I was four, so I didn’t learn from her, but loved her heirlooms. I taught myself to knit and crochet from instructions in books, and learned to sew in home economics. I now spend most of my sewing time on quilting, but I have a number of cross-stitch, needlepoint projects from the past, and I have several embroidery and applique projects in my ufo stack.

  42. Nicole Sender says:

    My mother taught me how to sew and embroider. She had her mother’s silk threads that were so nice to sew with and such pretty colors.

  43. Janie says:

    Lovely stitches. Thank you for the information. I am self taught when it comes to stitchery. Thank goodness for books, magazines, and tutorials.

  44. auschick says:

    My mother and grandmother taught me. My parents had their own business so my grandma often looked after me. She did tapestries all day and knew I loved it so she would buy kid tapestry and cross stitch kits for me. One Christmas she photocopied a number of pages from her g favorite embroidery books and bound them into a book for me with a cross stitch that she had done attached to the cover. She died a few years ago but I still have it!

  45. Michelle says:

    I am really excited to see this example of a darning sampler! I’ve been admiring them, but haven’t seen many concise instructions online on how to do them. Looking forward to working on my darning skills – thanks!

  46. Kristen says:

    This is so cool! I have never done this but it looks so neat.

  47. Melissa meinhard says:

    When I was very little, my mom taught me basic stitches. Enough to sew on a button or sew up a rip. When I was about 12 I started cross-stitching. My mom preferred embroidery, and I never learned all she knew about it before she passed

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