"I have been known to darn the darns."
- Monica Leo, director of the Owl Glass Puppetry Center
My friend Monica Leo loves hand-knit socks and knitters love to knit
them for her. A puppeteer and doll maker, she understands the handmade.
She's a good guardian of the socks she receives. Monica doesn't mind
hand-washing the wool ones her German cousins send her, and what
touches me and inspires me to knit for her feet is that when needed,
she will darn her socks.
I have always wanted to be a darner. But I didn't know how. Darning,
was convinced, was a formidable task to master. Someday I would take
the time to learn. Till then, my worn-out socks would convalesce in the
intensive care section of my sock drawer.
For a long time, I avoided darning by some taking very strong
preventive measures. I knit my socks at the tightest possible gauge. I
knit my heel flap in a slip stitch, adding in a strand of wooly nylon.
Many of these socks are still going strong after more than a decade of
Over the last few years however, I have had a shift in my sock
aesthetic. Those steel sock heels felt too weighty, like foot armor. So
I threw my precautions to the winds and what may. I prefer the feel of
my newer socks, but they do have a shorter life span. The injured among
them has steadily grown, reaching the half dozen mark last year. One of
my 2011 Knitter's New Year''s Resolutions was to finally learn to darn.
Needing a break from knitting shawls and sweaters, this hot July seemed
a perfect time to accomplish that goal.
After studying knitting books and watching YouTube videos, I
darning was best leaned from someone sitting right next to you. Like my
friend Monica Leo. So last Friday I headed over to her Owl Glass
Puppetry Center in West Liberty, Iowa, for a lesson.
Huge parade-size puppets greeted
me. It was the end of an open studio
at Owl Glass, preparation for their float in the Muscatine County Fair
Parade on Sunday. I was immediately recruited to help one puppet
receive a pink boa, and another one, a cardboard accordion. After the
puppets were completed, Monica and I sat down. I showed her the
neediest sock in my basket with holes in several places, two several
inches in diameter.
"Do you think it’s salvageable?" I asked her.
Rejecting the yarn I brought, Monica rummaged around her puppet
supplies, found a skein of yellow sock yarn, and proceeded to thread
her needle with it.
"Do you want a darning egg?" I asked. I had brought mine.
"Oh, I don’t need one."
A child of German refugees on a tight budget, Monica had darned as a
child. Her mother taught her and her older sister Anne. Back then, Anne
explained when I called later that night, "we darned all our socks,
whether we loved them or not."
"Did you use a darning egg?" I asked.
"Never heard of one. We used the air."
And so did Monica. She slipped her hand inside the sock, opening it
Stitching an outline around the largest hole, she secured the
perimeter. Then she set up a warp by threading through the live
stitches on the top and bottom of the gap. Next poking through the
secure stitches on the upper right side, she wove the woof (also called
"weft"), horizontally though
the vertical strains she had just created. Under and over, she
continued on, row by row until the entire area was a loosely woven
"The next part is crucial," said Monica. Again from the right she
this time diagonally from top to bottom, bottom to top, in and out in
several places, tightening the weave.
"There," said Monica. We took turns trying the sock on and walking
about the studio. No bumps or uncomfortable spots.
"Have I demystified darning for you?"
She had. In a matter of minutes she repaired the largest hole.
her darn with deft and ease, I felt confident to tackle my basket of
"Now you can tell everyone how easy it is," she said. "And don’t
forget to show up for the parade."
That Friday night I pulled out the sock Monica had worked on. There
were still several holes. In my stash, I found a close match to the
original yarn. I outlined the first hole, then I wove the darn just the
way Monica had showed me. By Sunday afternoon, all the patients in my
sock infirmary were restored to robust health. I was ready to
celebrate. Ready to cheer for the puppets in the parade.
Check out the website of Owl Glass
Photo credit: Michael Kreiser
- When laundering your socks, every now and then inspect the
toes. Darn the transparent spots as they develop. It's much easier to
repair what's worn thin than a hole that must be rebuilt.
- When darning check where your socks are most vulnerable,
and note improvements that might be made in future socks.
- If a sock in the pile beyond repair, save the cuffs and
start a new pair of socks, or wristers.
- Always darn a clean sock.
- Whenever possible, save some leftover sock yarn for
repairs. With each
new pair, Monica's cousin Doro sends her a small amount of the sock's
yarn for future darning.
Other darning options:
- Darning can also be done with the duplicate
stitch. Check for instructions in the knitting classic, Mary Thomas's Knitting Book.
Although Monica and her sister Anne use their outstretched hand inside
the sock, some folks find tools designed for darning helpful: darning
mushroom, a traditional style light bulb, a small ball. I used a small
ball on the larger holes.