I have to confess a new addiction. Without a couple of lines a day I start to feel cranky.
Don’t worry. It’s only Swiss darning! Yes, this mending technique is very more-ish indeed. It’s perfect for thinning areas that haven’t become properly holey yet: the sole of a sock or the elbow of a sweater. It can also be used to reinforce areas in anticipation of heavy wear. There are really wonderful decorative possibilities (Tom is the master!) but I am currently plodding along with the very basic version.
First, a few practicalities. Unlike regular darning, this can be worked from the front of the garment, which I really like as you can see exactly what you’re doing and it feels much more controlled. A darning mushroom is useful to keep your work well supported, though don’t over-stretch it. The yarn you choose should be the same weight and type of fibre as the rest of the garment; if wool, you want to aim for roughly 15-25% nylon content for improved wear. Bespoke darning yarns are ideal as they tend to have that proportion of nylon, but it’s also fun to experiment with odds and ends so it’s worth testing whatever leftover yarn you happen to have lying around (tapestry, for example). Make sure you’re using about an arm’s length of yarn: more and it will be prone to tangle, less and you’ll be forever finishing off and restarting. Use a yarn-darning needle, meaning a blunt one; a pointed one will tend to split the fibres.
I invested in three pairs of John Arbon Textiles‘ Shetland wool socks a couple of years ago, and they were so comfy I wore them to death. They all became very thin across the ball of my foot; I think this indicates the high wool (or low nylon) content of the body of the sock; the contrast toe caps and heels appear to be made of something more robust. This pattern of wear might also indicate my lack of slippers, a situation which has now been rectified.
You can see the thinning here.
The method for Swiss darning is to follow the line of the knitted stitches. With stocking stitch this means going in and out two holes above, in and out two holes below. And repeat. And repeat. And repeat. You quickly get into a rhythm and learn to identify the right holes. Keeping the tension even takes a little getting used to.
Shh! Darning in progress.
I was using up odds and ends of darning yarn, so repaired the other sock in navy blue (and it didn’t look quite so good).
And here’s my second pair, one sock down. I’ve experimented with different ways of working in the ends, and I think I’m getting generally better at it.
By the way, that green stuff is a vintage skein of Botany mending yarn. As Swiss darning consumes a lot of yarn, you do need quite a bit to complete two socks. These skeins are ideal for the job, but I haven’t found any new darning yarn available in any quantity. Just smallish cards. If you happen to know where to buy the stuff in bulk, please let me know.
Next I plan to unpick the inferior darning job I did on my blue socks and rework those, still in a similarly bright colour. And then I’m looking forward to reinforcing some elbow patches. I find this such a soothing, satisfying way of mending a knitted garment; it really does feel like an authentic, robust way of rebuilding a fabric. Here’s a page from the vintage needlework book I was following: Dressmaking and Needlework by Catherine A. Place, published in 1953. I hope you’ll have a go too.