Friday, February 4, 2011

Darning Socks: A Lost Art?

I tend to wear out my socks by tearing a hole in the back of the heel when I pull them on. This makes them uncomfortable to wear and I've always felt guilty just throwing one sock away. Sometimes I have other socks that are identical so if I throw one away then I'll have a spare in case another one gets torn or lost. But sometimes there aren't any other matching socks so if I throw away one I might as well throw away its pair, too. And that seems ridiculous to me.

Growing up, my family was selectively very frugal.

In the olden days, the woman of the house would mend torn socks with a technique called darning. You don't hear that word much anymore so last year I figured I'd give it a try. After all, I have a needle and thread and can find 20 minutes for a little mending. Plus, I have a shade of misplaced confidence because replacing buttons is a skill I've acquired over the years.

So I did a little research. Turns out darning is a little harder than I thought. To do it right you don't simply knit the hole closed by sewing the sides of the hole together like if you had just a slit in the knee of your trousers. You actually need to completely fill in the hole with new thread in order to keep the integrity of the shape of the sock for lasting comfort. Like this:

So I decided I'd pay someone to do it for me. That way I still don't feel so guilty about throwing away socks that are still 90% good because, well, where is "away", anyways?

I waited until I had 4 socks that needed to be darned and took them to the downtown Mpls skyway tailor I often use. They told me that they don't darn socks. Hmmm. Maybe it is a lost art.

Disappointed but not discouraged, I biked up to Tom's Tailors on Grand Ave a couple weeks ago and asked him to do them. He said he could do it, but that I most likely wouldn't like the outcome because people have complained to him that the socks are not comfortable anymore after being darned -- something about the threads not matching up well or the seams or whatever.

But I had nothing to lose and was now on a quest, so I gave him one of my socks as a test.

A week later I picked it up and when I wore it the next day it felt good as new! So I dropped off the rest in all different styles -- old school wool, cotton, fancy outdoorsy hiking types -- and they became good as new, too, each filled in with the proper type of thread. I guess our grandmothers were on to something.

The only slight hangup is the price. I think I paid $6 per sock which is more than most of them cost originally, but I was completely willing to pay it because I felt better not contributing to a landfill and didn't have to make a trip to the store to buy new socks (I'd much rather bike to the tailor than enter any sort of store that sells socks).

I'm happy to report that darning socks is not a lost art...yet. It may be endangered but only needs to be rekindled by a new generation to regain its rightful place in society.


Karin said...

I have an antique darner - not sure if that is what it is called. But it's a wood piece to help hold the shape of the sock as you sew. Nope, I've never used it.

Susan said...

Uh oh, is it bad that I don't mind tossing?