How to mend socks

Learn how to fix holes in socks with this extract from Visible Mending by Arounna Khounnoraj (Quadrille Publishing)

How to mend socks

Socks are one thing that people go through a lot of – they are probably one of the most disposable terms we wear. There was a time when handmade socks were precious because of the time involved in making them, so mending them helped to prolong their use. In today’s world it’s worth mending both the handmade and the machine-made ones.

Worn areas are usually mostly on the heels, feet pads and toes. Mending can not only repair a hole – it can elevate a plain pair to another level of interest by adding colour and shape.

You will need

  • Pair of socks
  • Thread
  • Snips
  • Darning mushroom or tennis ball
  • Elastic band 2ply (fingering) weight sock yarn  – preferably the same material as the sock
  • Tapestry needle

How to mend socks

Step one

Before beginning, clean the edge of the hole. If there are any loose threads or if it’s an odd shape it might be best to clean it up a bit with some snips.

Step two

I decided to use the darning weave, but you may decide that duplicate stitch or the blanket stitch darn (see below for the stitches) would be better for your mend.

Step three

To make it easier to work, put the darning mushroom or a suitable substitute inside the sock so that you have a surface to work on. Centre the hole to be mended against the surface and use an elastic band around the sock so that it’s secured on the mushroom.

Step four

Decide which colour yarn you want to use for the warp threads and thread the darning needle. Leaving a 7.5cm (3in) or so tail that you will later weave into the back, bring the needle through to the front about 2.5cm (1in) away from the edge of the hole. Work the darning weave as explained below.

Step five

I tend to make my stitches about 5mm long as I work toward the hole, but if the sock is thicker make longer stitch lengths, and if the sock is thinner you might want to make your stitches smaller. The stitch length doesn’t affect the mend – it’s more for aesthetics.

Step six

Create the weft with another length of yarn, working at 90 degrees from the previous running stitch. When you reach the area where the hole is, take your darning needle under and over the warp threads to create a woven section. On the way back, go over where you went under, and vice versa, and continue to alternate on subsequent rows of stitching.

Step seven

When weaving do not to tug too hard on the yarn because this will create too much tension in the weave. Allow a bit of slack – after the first wash the surface will even out with the rest of the sock.

Step eight

Finish off with a 7.5cm (3in) or so tail. Turn the sock inside out and weave both tails into the back of the sock fabric.

Tips for visible mending

  • Choosing the right material for the mend is a good starting point. I like to use the same fibre as the sock, so if it’s a wool sock use wool yarn to repair it. By using the same type of fibre, when the socks are washed the mend will not pucker up or shrink.
  • To change the look of each mend you can use different colours for the warp and the weft.
  • You can also lengthen your running stitches to make larger or smaller areas of mending, or extend some or all of stitches further into the surrounding fabric for a different look or to modify the shape of the mend.

Darning weave

Woven darning can be simple to fine, visible to invisible, but most types use what is commonly referred to as a darning stitch, which adds a mini woven section over the damaged area.

The darning stitch creates a warp and weft with thread or yarn, which are anchored into the existing fabric on all sides of the mend. It is most suitable where the damage is a hole or weakness due to wear, and because darning weaving extends into the weave of a fabric it is typically used for knitwear, woven fabrics and denim.

At its most basic, there are a couple of ways that I use this technique. Both mend a hole in the fabric; the difference is in how the stitches are anchored. In the first method, sometimes referred to as darning weave with seeds, the anchor stitches extend some way into the existing fabric creating little dashes or seed stitches surrounding the hole. This reinforces a larger area around the hole, making it more durable – but it also has an aesthetic effect because the dense weave over the actual hole contrasts with the radiant field of stitches.

The second approach, simply referred to as a darning weave, takes the stitches into the existing fabric only as far as necessary to create a connection. In this case the woven mend appears as a more distinct and specific shape filling in the gap – often a square, as a result of the weave.

How to work darning weave with seed stitches

Step one

In order to create a work surface, place a darning mushroom or a similarly curved object underneath the garment and centred to the hole. Use an elastic band to hold the garment in place. Choose a starting point some distance below and to one side of the hole. Thread your tapestry needle with wool yarn and push the needle up from the back to the front, leaving a 7.5cm (3in) or so tail that you will later weave into the back when you have finished the entire mend. Leave a similar tail at the back whenever you need to start a new thread as well.

Step two

For the warp, start working a line of small running stitches parallel to the weave of the existing fabric and continue it up, making little dashes of yarn, to a point above and beyond the hole – the distance is up to you, but it is usually symmetrical to the distance you started below the hole. Now reverse direction and continue your line of stitches back down, close to the previous line. Continue working up and down, trying to begin and end the lines of seed stitches somewhat randomly.

Step three

When you have worked to the hole, on the next line of stitches you need to create one long stitch that will reach across the hole and into the fabric on the other side. Continue in this way upward and downward across the width of the hole, remembering to keep your stitches over the hole close together as this is where the weaving will be so you want the area to be dense. Continue creating the seed stitches above and below the hole as before.

Step four

On the other side of the hole, continue working a line of small running stitches into the existing fabric, as you did at the start, until you feel you are far enough away from the hole.

Step five

You will now repeat this entire process to create the weft, perpendicular to the warp. Again, start in the existing fabric using your running stitch to create lines of little seed stitches. When you get to the hole take your needle over and under the warp threads to create the weave before continuing the seed stitches into the fabric on the opposite side.

Step six

On the next pass, when you reach the warp threads go under and over – so working alternately to the first pass. Continue this process back and forth, over and under, then under and over, until the hole is completely woven over. Carry on to extend your stitches into the existing fabric as far as you wish. Be careful not to make the tension too tight or the fabric will pucker.

Step seven

When you are finished on the front, turn the piece over to clean up any loose ends of yarn. To avoid making knots, thread any loose yarn tails into your needle, one by one, and weave them into the backs of your running stitches. This will keep your stitches from coming undone and be more comfortable when wearing the garment.

Duplicate stitch

This type of darning is generally used to mend stocking (stockinette) stitch knitted garments using a tapestry needle and yarn. It works best on areas of knitwear that have thinned out due to wear, but have not yet developed actual holes. It’s a preventative measure that reinforces the structure of the knit – and because of that it is usually best to choose a similar yarn to that used for the garment but, if possible, slightly lighter in weight so it doesn’t add too much bulk.

Thankfully it’s not as daunting as some stitches are, since your guide to follow is right in front of you in the existing knit; you just need to follow along.

Step one

Thread your tapestry needle with yarn and find a starting point just outside of the worn area – I tend to begin working right to left and upward, so I’ll be starting at the bottom right corner. Bring the needle from the back to the front through the middle of an existing knitted stitch so that it appears at the bottom of a ‘V’. Leave a tail 5–7cm (2–3in) long on the inside, which you will weave into the back of your work afterwards.

Step two

Next, follow the existing loop of the knitted stitch up and insert the needle from right to left underneath the two threads of the stitch in the row above. Pull the yarn through, and insert it back into the spot where you started. You have just completed a stitch, or loop that mimics an existing knitted stitch.

Step three

Now you simply need to repeat the process. So, from the back, move the needle to the next knitted stitch to the left and pull the needle up at the bottom of the next ‘V’, then as before, follow the loop up, inserting your needle under the two threads of the stitch above and back to the bottom of the ‘V’ again. Move to the next stitch to the left and repeat until you have completed a row as far as you need to.

Step four

When it’s time to move up to the next row above, instead of moving to the next stitch along, simply bring the needle from the back to the front up through the middle of the stitch above. Continue working, now moving from left to right.

Step five

Repeat these steps until the area is filled. Because you’re duplicating the knit rather than replacing it with something altogether different, it’s possible to make a mend that is potentially invisible if you choose the same yarn as used for the existing item. But keep in mind that your mend can also stand out through using a different colour and by how you organise your rows to create shapes or patterns.

Blanket stitch

More often blanket stitches are used as a decorative finish along the outer edges of fabric, quite often one with unfinished edges. But it can also easily be used as a darning stitch to fill in holes.

Step one

Start by cleaning any loose ends around the edge of the hole. Thread your tapestry needle with any tapestry wool or yarn similar to the garment. Starting anywhere along the hole and a short distance from the edge, push the tapestry needle through from the back to the front, leaving a 7.5cm (3in) tail on the inside that will later be woven into the mend.

Step two

As with a basic blanket stitch, create a starting loop by wrapping the yarn around the edge and coming up through the same hole again so that you have now created a loop around the edge. Slide your needle sideways along the edge of the fabric and underneath the stitch you just made to anchor the thread.

Step three

Now bring the needle from back to front next to the last stitch. Bring the needle up to the edge and through the loop from the previous stitch. Pull tight. You have completed the first blanket stitch, so repeat it all around the edge of the hole until you return to your starting point.

Step four

For the next row you will be repeating the blanket stitch but rather than anchoring the stitches into the existing fabric you will work them into the previous row of stitches. Continue in this way around and around, row by row. Keep in mind that, because you will be working in a circular manner, you will need to reduce the number of stitches on each row by stitching onto every other stitch of the previous row in order to keep the stitches flat as you work towards the centre. Continue in this manner until the hole is filled in. When filled, turn your piece over and thread any loose tails into the mend.