Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Blarn! (A blog post about darning)

Last night I spent most of the evening with my feet up on the couch, darning socks. Yup, darning socks, weaving the holes closed with the blunt-ended needle and darning thread in the photo.

If you've ever darned, you know that it's a pretty meditative process. You have to pay enough attention to securely anchor your threads, keep them straight and weave (or knit) the darn over the hole. But the process involves a lot of repetition, and that allows the mind to wander. (If you haven't darned, check out this video, or these instructions.)

I had let the holes in my socks get bigger than I should have before attending to them. In case you wondered about the origin of the homily "A stitch in time saves nine," I'm guessing it came from darning. The sooner you patch the hole, the less stitches and thread required. Much less, as I can now attest after spending a couple of hours darning holes in the heels of my favorite socks.

As I carefully stitched lines of anchoring threads around the holes, and then ran threads across the hole from top to bottom and wove threads through those from side to side, I thought about the act of darning.

It's been a long time since I did any darning--a couple of decades, in fact, since I was a starving biologist working for the federal government on a seasonal basis. Back then, I had to darn my wool socks: the heels wore out long before the socks did and I couldn't afford to replace them often. So when my socks got holes, I darned them.

I quit darning when I started making more money. I had good excuses: I was navigating a new marriage, raising a step-daughter, and starting a writing career, and I could afford to discard socks with holes in them. The real reason, I think though, was that darning just didn't fit my "important" lifestyle

Darning didn't cross my mind again until last week when the holes in my favorite Smartwool socks, the ones with the flowers, got so big that my heels got cold when I wore the socks. I would probably have thrown those socks away with great regret and bought a new pair, but for two things:

There is no "away." With more than 3 billion people in this country, there is no place to put trash without displacing someone, whether human or wild. Where I live, trash goes to the county dump, which I would nominate for the award of dump with the most beautiful dump if there was such an honor. It occupies a mesa lying between a wall of peaks rising to over 14,000 feet elevation on one side, and knobby granitic hills splotched with Technicolor aspen groves on the other. Sacrificing this site to house our refuse in near-perpetuity seems so wrong that Richard and I now recycle or reuse the bulk of our discards.

Then there's the personal reason: I can't just replace the socks, even if I did have a way to recycle them. They're last year's design; in a triumph of planned sock obsolescence, it's not produced anymore.

So I spent a couple of hours teaching myself how to darn again. It wasn't hard, and when I finished darning the hole in the first sock and slipped it on, my foot felt cozy and warm. (Not to mention quite stylish.) I learned an aphorism I've always thought charming but outdated is actually relevant to my life--I will save stitches and yarn by not letting the holes in my socks get so big before darning next time. I learned yet again that the amount of waste we create is not actually a necessary consequence of modern life. It is possible to give my favorite socks, and much of the other material we thoughtlessly discard longer lives.

Darning socks may seem like a small act when compared to the mountains of trash we humans generate. But it has had a big impact by changing my view of my favorite pair of socks. Despite the holes in the heels, they are not trash: after darning, they're still warming my feet. There's something very satisfying in finding a way to reuse what I am so fond of despite its obselescence.


Deborah Robson said...

I love darning. It's so satisfying to put on a favorite garment that's been retrieved for more life. I love darning eggs: wooden or stone ovoids that create a firm surface to work against (I also punt with other household objects when I can't find my darning egg).

I've darned favorite nightgowns by embroidering roses over the small holes that wear in the flannel over time: if you have two or three roses, they look intentional (and usually there are two or three holes by then . . . ).

Then again, when I knit socks now I use Priscilla GIbson-Roberts' short-row heel and toe structure, which can be removed and replaced entirely. It leaves me with socks that feel like new (although perhaps with new colors).

Doesn't have the charm of darning though.

Thanks so much for the post.

Susan J Tweit said...

Hi, Deb,

I love your idea of embroidering roses to cover the small holes that appear in flannel! That's great for nightgowns, but it would also work for flannel shirts or jacket linings. (Okay, maybe I won't do roses on Richard's shirts--perhaps embroidering tiny rock hammers or granite saws would be more appropriate.)

I used to have a darning egg, and it vanished in one of our many moves. But I showed a photo of one to Richard, and he promises he'll make me one. Eventually.... ;~)

Happy knitting! Susan

Pungo River Days said...

Please do tell what is the brand of the darning thread you are using and where can I find it? I have looked in the past and can't seem to find it. Smile

Susan J Tweit said...

The brand is Fortissima, and I got it on the web at The Knit Shop (www.knit-shop.com). The thread isn't cheap, but it's really easy to work with, strong, stretchy and lasts well. I recommend it and The Knit Shop. They shipped more promptly than they promised and their shipping charges were very reasonable.

The best darning egg I've seen online is at Halcyon Yarn (halcyonyarn.com), my absolutely favorite online fiber store.

Happy darning! Susan

bookladyincraig said...

Like you, I used to darn. Yesterday I bought two new pairs of SmartWool socks. Now I get to this blog with your wonderful reminder about "there is no away" when throwing things away. Thanks for this reminder about reuse, recycle, reduce, repair. I am going to darn the socks that are starting to thin. Thanks. Carol