Saturday, January 17, 2015

To Darn or Not To Darn

I have a handknit sock dilemma. HOLES! Likely created by a lovely little insect in my sock drawer.
I'm faced with a decision to make, to darn or not to darn. There are many methods for darning holes in your knitting; Swiss darning (duplicate stitching), weaving a patch, re-knitting a section, etc. There are specialty needles, darning eggs and even yarn marketed specifically for darning.   All techniques are relatively easy and require just a few tools. Unfortunately, all methods of darning (minus machine sewing in a patch) require a considerable amount of time and concentrated effort.   Here is a great reference if you'd like to learn how to darn.

So how does one decide if darning is actually worth the time or not? Above you can see my socks. The arrows point out the holes placement. Honestly, when I first found these holes my immediate thought was to pick up the stitches a few rows above the hole, rip out the rest of the sock and re-knit them. I put my socks away for a little while, so I could think about what I wanted to do.  

Here's my basic question list for evaluating whether to darn:

1) Is this a simple knit or something complex?

If my item is a pair of plain handknit socks or a hat, I consider those simple knits.  For something like lacework in the middle of a shawl, I would more than likely consider that too complex to darn.  I might find a way to secure the stitches around the hole and prevent further damage to the shawl, but not try to recreate the lacework.

2) Where is the hole located?  Will that affect how the item wears?

In the pair of socks above, one sock has a hole right in the heel gusset.  I would have to be very careful no change was made to the tension of the sock in this area or it may not fit well.  Socks need to have free range to move and bend with the pivoting of your feet.  This particular hole is near the hinge point of my foot. I may also feel the darned area with the pressure of a shoe.

3) Is this yarn one of a kind or can I buy more?

Typically I place a high value on hand dyed or handspun yarns and might choose to rip out and knit a new item from the salvaged yarns to have a "complete one of a kind" item. If I could buy more, I might be more inclined to fix the hole and order a new skein in the future if I wished.

4) Do I still have some yarn scraps to repair the hole? Or will color differences of a comparable yarn choice bother me?

It takes a bit of yarn to repair the hole.  I typically try to save small scraps of all my sock yarns just for darning any future holes.  On occasion though, that little scrap gets used in another project or I may need every yard to finish my project.  Sometimes you have to substitute in another yarn or even a different stripe color in self-striping yarns.  I always evaluate if that will be ok for me personally.

5)How old is the item with a hole? Is there a sentimental attachment?

Have I worn this item for a while?  Do I feel like I got my wear out of it and am ready to move on? Knitted items, just like other clothing made from fabric, come to the point where they are threadbare and unwearable. If you've worn a sock for a few years, it's only a matter of time before it develops another hole. I usually repair them 3-5 times before considering them too old.  The particular pair above have only been worn about 5 times, so these are newbies. I also started these while I was in labor with my son and worked on them during those long nights in the hospital before we got to come home.

6)If I can't or decide not to repair the hole, can I use the yarn in another item?

Sometimes a hole represents an opportunity to make something new.  This could simply mean just ripping out the yarn and knitting something new, but there's a lot more if you open your mind. You can salvage parts of your item and turn them into something useful.  A non-repairable sock can be turned into a number of things; cuffs, small change purses, sock puppets for the kids, patches to needlefelt, etc.  I've saw people take a special motif from a lace shawl, stabilize the edges with a clear thread, starch them and turn them into ornaments. The possibilities are really endless.

What's my decision? 

I'm going to begin with the sock that has the hole in the gusset.  In my opinion, its the sock that will need the most attention to detail. If I'm happy with the darning method I choose, I'll continue on and repair the two holes in the second sock.  But if I decide mid project that the heel will be compromised from my darning attempts, I plan to rip both of the socks back up to the twisted ribbing and knit them again cuff down.  I usually knit socks toe up, so this would make them a new project for me.  I enjoy socks that match each other as closely as possible. 

There's my method for making darning decisions. I do hope that none of you find yourself with insect damage like me or a snag in your knits. But if you do, I hope you give darning a consideration before throwing out those knits.

(PS If you do feel the need to rid yourself of a knit with a hole, please let me or another knitter/crafter know first. We may love to revive that knit into something new.)


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