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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: