All About Textile Repair: How to Repair with Stitching

on October 12 | in Sewing + Quilting Tips, Sewing Inspiration, Sewing Tutorials + Patterns | by | with 42 Comments

This giveaway is now closed. Thanks!

Allison Dey Malacaria from the SweaterDoll shop and blog just showed us How to Make a Pattern Darning Sampler. We also got The Story of Darning with interesting resources for further research.

Now Allison is back with her thoughts on textile repair. Learn about Swiss darning, sock darning, Sashiko and more. Textile repair can be an art, and it’s an essential skill for environmentally friendly and thrifty households. Allison also lists numerous additional resources for more information.

Allison is a toy and doll sewing pattern designer with a love for whimsical sewing. Learn more about Allison in her introduction, and her Pattern Darning Sampler tutorial. She’s offering up a giveaway for a chance to win two PDF patterns in the SweaterDoll shop (winner’s choice). Comment either on this post or Allison’s How to Make a Pattern Darning Sampler post for a chance to win!


If you tried your hand at the pattern darning sampler from a couple of weeks ago, you might be tearing your hair out or you might be encouraged to learn more about these stitching methods. Either way you go, you can’t help but be amazed at the diversity and beauty of textile repair stitching samples in the hundreds of awe-inspiring photos available through Google and Pinterest. There are fixes for all types of materials: woven, knits, felts, laces and plastics.

Textile repair falls into two categories: professional restoration and conservancy, and home repairs which includes work done by homemakers, local tailors and seamstresses. No matter who is doing the repairing and preserving, at least four steps are common to all:

Identification: Even at home, fibers must be identified in order to choose correct cleaning and repair methods.
Cleaning: Care must be taken to clean the fabric and remove stains, dirt or burn areas before repair.
Repair or Stabilization: Appropriate types and colors of fibers and sometimes overlays or underlays (patches) are chosen for repairing the textile. Some restorations use adhesives to preserve fabrics.
Storage: Out of the sun, away from too much humidity, historical and everyday textiles must be stored safely to preserve them.

The Victoria and Albert Museum website gives a lovely description of basic textile repair that reads almost like a WWII home care pamphlet.

    “In some cases tears are the result of accident, such as catching fabric on a nail or splinter. If this is the case, repair is possible but may not be invisible. Darning may be appropriate so long as it is done with care and skill. You will need the same or a finger weight of thread lighter than was used to weave the original fabric. Matching the original colour is very important for a good result. Remember that darning must be worked over the weak or damaged area and into an area of strong fabric, or the repair will pull away and make the damage worse. Often, a more suitable repair method is to use a support fabric behind the tear, of a similar weight to the original, couch stitched into place.”

Tom van Deijnen, popularly known as Tom of Holland, brought mending out of quaint home making and complicated textile conservancy to stitchers and fiber artists everywhere through his program called “Visible Mending.” Tom studies historical and current international methods of reweaving, darning and patching to bring what has previously been hidden into full view as not only a functional method, but also art and whimsy. Invisible mends, so difficult to achieve, are banished as matching threads and style of weave matters less than a pleasing aesthetic and decorative addition to the renewed garment. Mending has gone from being a torturous to-do to a skillful and beautiful art form.

Over the years I have played around with mending techniques sometimes from necessity, sometimes because I wasn’t ready to part with a favorite garment, and sometimes just to revel in the joy of stitching as my grandmothers did. Before I heard of Visible Mending, I was already destroying the sanctity of the invisible mend in my own home. With the barest of supplies (a darning or sewing needle; some thread, finer yarns, or embroidery floss; scissors), the mending pile became a playground of possibility and design.

The internet makes it so much easier now to find tutorials for methods of repair that are creative and reproducible. Here are some of the repairs I’ve made and links to tutorials on the web where you can learn how to do them.

Swiss Darning: This method is actually an embroidery stitch that moves under and over knitted stitches to cover them and duplicate their design. In this case I decided against wool and chose a rather thick cotton baker’s twine for the delightful contrast. Knits whose yarns may have become thin but are still intact are perfect for swiss darning. If the hole has already formed, stabilizing threads must be put in place before it can be swiss darned.

How to Guide for Swiss Darning from Woman’s Weekly

Sock Darning: This is the traditional darning we think of when someone mentions darning. A darning egg or darning mushroom is inserted into the sock to stabilize the area needing darning. Darning is easiest if the knit is worn but intact, but it can also be accomplished if a hole has already formed. A blunt darning needle is used to run the new yarn horizontally across the hole back and forth. Then the yarn is woven in and out of this to create a new fabric. The type of yarn used for socks is generally the same weight as the original sock yarn so the wearer isn’t walking on an uneven and uncomfortable fabric. In this case, the small hole was not underfoot and I chose to add texture using a contrasting wool yarn (upcycled from a sweater) of a different weight.

How To: Darning, from Zero Waste Home
Basic Embroidery Stitches for Darning from Royce Davids

Darned Patch: This was quite a fun patch to make though fiddly. It used a technique similar to the link provided for making a woven patch that is sewn to the fabric. However in this case I made the woven fabric, then pulled the end of each thread through to the back of the sweater. I anchored them all there by weaving them in and out of the knit, and then mildly wet felted the area to secure it. There is a matching woven darn to cover some broken threads at the edge of the sweater.

Creative Mending: Patches, from Karen Barbe

Sashiko: This is a form of functional embroidery used in Japan for reinforcing fabrics and strengthening them. Sashiko is a running stitch embroidery that can be as simple as lines of running stitches, to little crosses, to patterns made of outlining stitches. White thread on indigo blue is very traditional but sashiko is used in quilts and clothing of all colors and might be decorative, functional or both. This denim pinafore had a rip in it and I used a ecru embroidery floss in a sun-like pattern to cover it and mend the tear.

DIY Sashiko Boro Denim Repair from Honestly WTF

Pattern Darning Cross: This is from the method I showed you in my previous darning post. In this case I had a vintage “Waltzing Matilda” story tablecloth. I believe the fiber content is linen which is in pretty good shape aside from a few small, worn areas near the edges. You can see one towards the top of the tablecloth photo to the right of middle. Rather than use a white thread to make a relatively invisible mend, I found embroidery floss that matched colors within the print and use them to make a simple cross darned patch. I have not found simple online instructions for a simple darned cross so I included a link with great photos of samples of similar crosses.

Darning Sampler from Tom of Holland

Crochet Mend for a Knit: I saw this rather recently and decided to patch up a small hole with a bit of wool crochet. The hole was much smaller so the stitching was a bit of a close-up affair, but it worked and I’m thinking of covering the sweater with polka dots this way. The burgundy colored wool yarn was upcycled from another sweater.

How to Patch a Hole with Crochet from Craft Stylish

Most of the really good books about mending are out-of-print, but they can sometimes be found at thrift stores, used bookstores, estate sales and through online venues like Etsy, Amazon and eBay. Some of the classics are:

Mend It! by Maureen Goldsworthy
Practical Home Mending Made Easy by Mary Brooks Picken
Make Do and Mend published by the British Government Board of Trade

Mending doesn’t have to be a tedious chore. With some colorful threads and imagination, even the most ordinary repair can be transformed into an extraordinary embellishment and an artistic fashion statement. You may not have to make do, but with simple supplies, you can certainly mend like a pro.

Resources:

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42 Responses to All About Textile Repair: How to Repair with Stitching

  1. Sara A. says:

    A sweater I knit for my daughter last year had developed a two holes somehow and I was really worried about how I was going to fix it until I read this post. I’ve fixed knitting with Swiss darning before, but always intending to be as invisible about it as possible. I had almost a skein of the yarn leftover at the end of the project and had gone on to use it all up to make slippers. So I got out a different leftover bit a few shades darker and duplicate stitched a large square over the first hole 5 stitches by 5 rows and then did a smaller patch over the second hole. It definitely looks noticeable, not not bad.

  2. Karen J says:

    Great article. It’s nice learning something new every day. I would not have thought to do this while mending holes. Thank you.

  3. Tina L. says:

    I’ve always been a fan of handwork and mending is no exception. My favorite pair of jean would be unwearable save for the patchwork and mending I’ve done. I would love more tips and hints and Allison’s darning seems like just the ticket. Thank you!

  4. Carmen N says:

    What a great idea – creating art out of a problem.

  5. Ellen R says:

    Thank you for this! I found it quite by accident, but what a happy accident it is, as I’ve been struggling to mend a hole in one of my favorite tops, but each new “brilliant” idea I had turned out to be not-so-brilliant once I began the process. I already see at least three great (and truly brilliant!) options here! All the best!

  6. And I know you will! I don’t know how you keep up, Lisa, but you have the most beautiful array of projects going on. 🙂

  7. You’re ‘sew’ welcome! It very exciting to find something new to try.

  8. I may be the opposite. I detest clutter (though my sewing table would shame me with its constant creativity explosions) so I tend to sew items that are also functional. But visible mending gives a functional technique some whimsy, yes?

  9. Thanks for the link. Always helpful to see more examples of mending techniques.

  10. That’s exciting to find a mended item in the charity shop! It’s very rare. I would love to see photos if you wanted to email them to me. I LOVE old mending. Good on you for picking it up and giving it the love it deserves!

  11. Isn’t it amazing how creatively people have managed to make a moth hole or sweater tear a work of art! I’m also quite awed.

  12. I had seen sashiko as a decorative stitching on pillows and curtains but when I saw it on denim mends, I knew I had to try it. I enjoy the rustic, work-day, pioneer look of it. I hope you’ll try it and share your results.

  13. Once I discovered how easy it was to simply reweave through existing but thinned yarns, I swore I’d never wait until there was an actual hole! I don’t always catch it in time – especially if they are not my socks – ahem, husband – but yes, it is much easier! Glad I could make the job easier for you to learn now.

  14. Brenda says:

    I never did master the effective darning of socks that had holes in them. Of course, it never occurred to me (or my mother) to darn socks that were worn but didn’t have holes yet!

  15. B. Bailey says:

    I LOVE this post and all the ways you can darn different textiles – with lovely stitching and other techniques. I love the intentional contrasts, making the darning into artistic statements. Thank you – I recycle and repurpose clothing but have never learned how to do decorative darning and sashiko.

  16. kathyh says:

    I am loving the pinafore sashiko mend. I would have backed the hole with fabric and sewed a patch on the front to secure. This is way more awesome to add the darning stitches in a design to compliment.

  17. sangeetha says:

    this is a good post and yes those books that you recommend are really good. nice way to save some money and the environment

  18. Lee says:

    I think this is a fabulous post!!

  19. Allison CB says:

    Awesome post – love the different ways of covering up a hole!!!

  20. Excellent post! This goes so far beyond darning socks. I will definitely put these techniques to use.

  21. Rebecca says:

    I was just trying to fix holes in a wool sweater. I’m not very proud of my trying to catch the broken stitches. The pictures you posted of holes fixed were so cool. thank you

  22. Mandi says:

    Thank you for these tips!

  23. Geraldine says:

    I love mended and darned items. They show the love of the owner and their history. I bought a drying up towel from a charity (I think they’re called thrift in the US?) shop which has three different coloured beautiful darns on it. So much care for something so cheap these days. I was actually surprised it was for sale and not just dumped in the recycling bin! I have long admired and loved the boro textiles of Japan and the patched and stitched throws from India. Now that my Indian quilts are beginning to tear I am patching them.

  24. Bekk says:

    I love the sashiko method.

  25. Shawna says:

    My favorite pair of jeans my daughter wears are the ones that I stitched flowers, butterflies and bumblebees onto the knees to stabilize the holes and thinning fabric. I’ve been asked several times where we bought them and it’s such a compliment. I had picked them up at the Salvation Army for 50 cents, and I thought I had checked the knees for holes. When I got them home and noticed the holes and thinning fabric I was going to throw them out, but than I got the idea to practice darning on them. They have lasted almost a year now, with an addition of a few more butterflies!

  26. Marian says:

    One of the first things I remember my Polish grandmother teaching me was darning! I still use it.

  27. Gia says:

    I LOVE this post!!
    Such a wealth of information on a subject that’s been on my research list!
    Thank you for both the post and the giveaway!

  28. Oh wow, this is an AMAZING post! I’ve been wanting to learn more about mending in decorative ways so I am going to check all of these techniques out! 🙂 Lisa

  29. Veronique says:

    I’ve always been afraid of mending clothes because I felt I would actually make it worse but these repairs look amazing. Thanks for the inspiration to try something new.

  30. Cherie's says:

    Great post! I have a lot to learn about mending! Thanks for the info and I’d love to win two patterns!

  31. linda newman says:

    I love these ideas. I have a few beloved sweaters with some defects, so these will come in super handy!

  32. Sandra Ross says:

    I have a vintage dresser scarf that has a few tiny holes in it. I had thought of cutting it up and using the “good” parts ito make something else but this article gives me some really good ideas of how I could repair it, especially the section on darning the tablecloth.

  33. Ginger says:

    What great ideas for mending or just using some of the techniques for embellishing!

  34. Melissa meinhard says:

    Awesome tutorial! So often I sew to make something that has no function other than being pretty to look at. I am in love with the idea of functional sewing ????

  35. marilyn says:

    Thanks for the informative post!

  36. Tonia Jeffery says:

    What a great way to mend holes.

  37. Knitlass says:

    Really enjoying this series – and doing my own mending using some of these techniques. Check out my blog series ‘Mending Mondays’ http://www.auldfashioned.blogspot.co.uk

  38. Dala says:

    I especially love the Japanese darning, how lovely!

  39. Rachel B says:

    I love this return of mending and embellishment hand in hand.

  40. Emily T says:

    What a fabulous resource!

  41. Eluned says:

    This is so beautiful – I’ll definitely bear this in mind next time I have a hole to repair.

  42. Kellie Warren says:

    I love love love this post! I, being very thrifty and a champion for repurposing as well, am always interested in new ways to mend a sad article of clothing or piece of decor or…anything really. As a bonus we are being kinder to our environment by repurposing and mending these things instead of throwing them out. So glad you posted this, thank you!

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