in days of yore....

....when "damn it" was considered unladylike
and "bloody hell, not another one", was positively wicked,
conversations were a little more like this....

Child: muuuum, there's a hole in my sock.

Mum: wear a different pair.

Child: there's holes in all of them.

Mum: oh, DARN it!!

Or so I'm led to believe...
Then she did. Darn the socks.

Do any of you remember darning socks? 
I used to, up until about 6-8 years ago, when I could no longer see well enough to darn black on black.
I remember my mum darning socks and the elbows of jumpers (sweaters) and cardigans.

I remember a friend's mum who did what she called preventive darning.
This is when weak places on socks, like heels and balls of feet, were reinforced by darning before the holes actually appeared.
When I darned my own kids socks, preventive darning is the one I did most.
 Especially on my husband's army socks.
I remember when darning thinner, modern day socks, darning wool was way too thick and unsightly, so I darned with embroidery silks.

Here's a few images sourced from google.

 The darning basket. Most households had one in one form or another.

Very basically, darning is weaving, going well outside the worn edges of a hole into stronger fabric to hold the stitches in place.

Darning needles came in an assortment of sizes, always blunt tipped to prevent snagging on fabrics, but with a much larger eye to enable darning wool to be threaded through more easily.

Skeins of darning wool came in all colours, so you could match the shade and make a near invisible mend, or make a contrast mend, a stand out statement of your ability perhaps. 

These are called mushrooms, inserted into a sock or a sleeve to expose the hole to be darned more clearly and also to hold the sock or sleeve firmly while working the darn.

The most common shape was more of a mushroom and this is what mine looks like. Yes, I do still have it.

An example of a darned sock.

More darned socks.

Fabric items were sometimes darned as well, if there was a pattern that would almost hide the stitches.

A common sight in old "family" movies or TV shows was Mum darning by lamplight in the evenings after the kitchen had been cleaned and shut down for the night, kids in bed.....

A less common sight was Dad, mending his own socks.

Beginning a darn. If this was my sock, I'd have snipped off that loose thread.

Really, it's just like weaving.

These "mushrooms" look more like musicians maraccas, don't they?

I've heard from a few of my older customers that they even used to darn their silk stockings......


  1. My mother's sewing skills are very lacking but when my grandmother visited, she would darn some socks for us. She used and orange in the sock rather than mushroom.

  2. Mom had gram to darn socks. I remember Dad wearing heel savers in his boots.

  3. My mum darned everything in sight, its definitely a dying skill in our throw away society :-).

  4. Hi River,

    Yes - I'm old enough to remember darning socks (well my Mum darning socks).

    I have never darned a sock - nor will I ever.




  5. With the increase in hand knitted socks,these skills are needed even more!

  6. I hang around with a bunch of knitters, so darning socks is current in my world. A couple of things they do: knit the heel with stronger yarn as that's the area of most wear, similar to the pre-darning concept, or they knit what's called a provisional or peasant heel. The sock is knit as a tube, with some waste yarn where the heel would be. Then the heel is knit at the end. This construction allows for whole heel replacement when the heel needs darning, because of the initial setup. They call those darning eggs here in the US.

  7. yup.... I've been there..... I still knit socks and i reinforce the toe and heel with a nylon thread. I can't remember when we stopped wearing silk stockings..... after WW2, I guess. I definitely remember silk stockings during the war. I didn't wear silk stockings because I was a teen-ager but I would mend my mothers. It was fun..... there was a real slender metal hook, kinda the the sturdier hook for rugs. For a single run, you would catch the bottom loop and move the hook up and down and it would weave the run back up. Rather interesting. But I wouldn't have the eyesight to do it today.

  8. This is a fascinating post, River. I've never heard of people knitting a separate heel, or reinforcing the heel with nylon while knitting, but they both make perfect sense.

    "little bits of water
    wear away the rocks
    little bits of toenail.."

    My mother used a small vegemite glass. An orange would have made the socks smell better than usual.

    There were always 2 great piles when I was a kid - clothes that had been starched, "damped down" and rolled up, before we had a steam iron; and darning. Piles and piles of sunday socks.

  9. I like the whole 'make do and mend' approach but saying that I haven't darned a sock in ages. If one gets a hole I usually save the good one, wait for another to get a hole and make a new mismatched pair that I wear with work boots out in the garden.

  10. I used to darn too. And like you gave it up because my eyes were simply not good enough.

  11. Andrew; an orange would make the socks smell nice.

    Delores; heel savers? Did they work? I've found it isn't the heel that wears out so much as it is the small section just above the heel where the edge of the shoe rubs.

    Windsmoke; it's a skill that shouldn't be lost, useful for many things besides socks.

    plasman; oh go on, darn it! You might find it soothing.....(just kidding)

    peskypixie; hand knitted socks are making a comeback at places like weekend and farmers markets I believe. Darning will need to be learnt by the people who buy these.

    Amanda; full heel replacement! That seems a good idea. I remember an article years ago about women knitting wool socks for the soldiers overseas in the war. Heels and toes were knitted with double yarn.

    Manzanita; you're the only preson I know who has had personal experience with silk stockings. They were nylon by the time I was a teenager.

    Toni; Now that you know, you can sit and be calmed by the weaving action of repairing all those socks in the evenings....ha ha

    FruitCake; I'd never heard of knitting the separate heel either. I remember the piles of sprinkled and rolled clothes too. Mum would sprinkle while we girls rolled. She used an old soft drink or cordial bottle with a little rubber stopper that was pierced with many holes to do the sprinkling.

    Gaby; I like the mend and make do approach too. Cheaper than buying new clothes...I make pairs out of mismatched socks too and wear them to bed in the winter.

    EC; I'd probably still darn coloured socks if I had any, but black and dark is all I've got now, for work.

  12. Thanks, this is something I have read about so often, but never really understood. Love the images.

  13. Eccentricess; if you read about something but don't understand it, wouldn't you look it up on google and find out?

  14. What a nice article. I do not darn anymore.....sox and table clothes are just too inexpensive.....but I have my grnad mother's darning egg. And I still use it one in awhile......and I still tatt, too. I have an ivory tatting shuttle that Gramdma gave when I was 8 years old. The darning story brings back many fond memories.

  15. My mother was (still is) a very talented sewer and I'm utterly not. When socks get holes in them I chuck 'em out.

    I have been known to (relucantly and badly) sew on loose buttons though. And ONLY if it's a business shirt of Love Chunks and I get a neck rub aftewards.

  16. Thanks for this. Husband here longs for me to darn his socks but I am without such a skill - although I knitted a pair of socks just last year. I remember my mother darning socks. I might have a go.

  17. You were rude to Eccentricess. And pompous. What do you think you are, a PhD?

  18. Anonymous; tatting is similar to lace making I believe? I'll have to look it up.

    Kath Lockett; I'm a great sewer on of buttons. I either sew them back on immediately they come off, or I'll check a new garment to see if the buttons are well sewn and if not, I'll re-sew them before I wear it.

    Christine; could you ask your mum to give you a quick darning lesson?

    R.H. Pompous? PhD? Absolutely not. It's just that when I read about something I don't know and it makes me curious, I'll look it up and see what it's all about. I simply wondered why others wouldn't do the same.
    I'll give you an example; when I'm reading a novel set in a particular town/country, I'll often get out the Atlas to see exactly where the place is and if the author describes it in a way that makes me want to see it, I'll have a look via Google Earth.

  19. Not everyone knows Google.

    Not everyone is as obsessive.

    As you.

  20. R.H. that's true.

    Eccentricess; do you think I was rude and/or pompous? My reply certainly wasn't intended that way.

  21. No, silence is Esse saying that she has been too busy preparing displays for our circus performance at the Festival this weekend to spend any time on the computer. *looks at the rain that meant all the acts were grounded, even the ground acts*

    Research via Google is something I spend a lot of time doing, the darning simply never got explored. So, it was nice to simply find it here and feel content to have explained in such a clear and visual way.

    It has been shown to me quite often, especially when I have friends over who are teens/twenties, that I still automatically reach for a book to do my research, and I do recall looking for darning in books over the years.

    I'm tired all the time. It's nice to have info I'm interested in just pop up, randomly and unexpectedly. ;-)

  22. At this moment I'm trying to work out the best way to darn my silk stockings, which have a long run in the front, and two small holes. I have very fine silk embroidery thread, but what Manzanita mentioned sounds like it could save me a lot of time. Does anybody have the time to explain it to a youngster?



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