Meta-Darning my Sanquhar Socks

The Sanquhar socks I knitted last year have seen a lot of wear this winter and even well into spring and when I washed them the other day suddenly loads of holes appeared. These socks are one of my favourites because they are so very comfortable and I managed to get the fit just right. The 2-ply yarn I used (a wool and mohair blend from Blacker Yarns, alas no longer available) is soft yet has a lot of spring and was quite hard-wearing, considering how much I wore them. I’m also still very pleased with how the Sanquhar-inspired design came out.

In other words, a good opportunity to reread those chapters on darning in one of my favourite mending books to ensure I’m going to do a really good job.

The darning tool I used for this job has a mushroom end for holes in the heel, and a toe-shaped end for holes in the, you guessed it, toes. I picked it up in a car-boot sale, and the toe-end is particularly well-designed.

A close-up of my darning tool reveals that somebody didn’t like it as much as I do! (click on the picture to see a larger version: GRRR!) I guess that in former times, when darning was seen as a necessity, and a skill every woman was supposed to possess, a little girl didn’t like it one bit. This is so different from my own views and feelings. In a society where it is easier to throw away and replace than repair (for whatever excuse), I often get the feeling that people think of darning as a hobby and a luxury. But I like my hand-knitted socks, if only because the fit is unsurpassed and it gives me pleasure to be able to make such an everyday item myself. As these socks took some time to knit (11 stitches to inch!) I want to be able to wear them for as long as I can possibly make them last.

Whilst I was examining the holes, I also noticed thin areas under the ball of the foot and on the side of the big toe. So not only did I need to fill in the holes with stocking darns, but I also wanted to reinforce the thin areas to prevent holes forming.

I tried out a couple of new things. First up is the biased stocking darn:

As you can see, these threads cross each other at the diagonal, and not in the more usual perpendicular fashion. This is supposed to give the darn more stretch. I shall report back in due time, although so far, I haven’t noticed any difference.

Secondly, as I like a Visible Mend, I decided to mix up the colours.

Solid patches in Swiss darning, and the stocking darn is speckled due to different colours for “warp” and “weft”. But as you can see in the following picture, it didn’t stop there. My cuff design was calling out to be re-used!

And so, esteemed Ladies & Gentlemen, the meta-darn was born. This self-referential pattern took me a quite a bit longer than a plain darn, but I had so much fun doing it. Suddenly the slightest shadow of a hint of an inkling of a possibility of a thinning area required to be reinforced. I’m very interested in adding something, which is related to thing added to. Another good example of “meta-interventions” is Amy Twigger Holroyd’s stitch-hacking work. As she says about stitch-hacking: “The [technique is] used to adapt existing garments and patterns to include personalised content. On a conceptual level, these pieces explore authorship and ownership; on a personal level, they allow me to put something of myself into my wardrobe.” *) Although Amy is talking about shop-bought clothes, which sometimes lack a certain individuality, this principle can also apply to hand-made things (although admittedly, the authorship and ownership does not get questioned as much here). In these socks, the cuff pattern gets referenced, and so the darn not only reinforces the fabric, it also reinforces the design.

I limited myself to the areas that needed reinforcing, so the pattern isn’t complete. It looks like an ancient Roman mosaic, or half-stripped wall paper. I’m not sure how this mending yarn will wear, as some of the mending threads I’ve used tend to get fuzzy. However, to me that is going to be an exciting development to follow. Will this design still be legible after having worn these socks for another winter? And once this has worn out, will I be able to perform another Swiss darn, will I need to do a stocking darn, or will I eventually have to resort to refooting the sock? Perhaps for some, these socks are just temporarily stopped on their way out, but for me, the journey with these socks has only just begun.

*) http://keepandshare.wordpress.com/2011/10/06/stitch-hacking-and-pattern-blagging-at-prick-your-finger/

13 Replies to “Meta-Darning my Sanquhar Socks”

  1. Such lovely socks are worth all the time you’ve lavished on them, and now they’re beautiful and extra-quirky!

  2. Estonian knitters would be most impressed with your stitch count. Many gloves knitted in traditional styles are created here with round-the-hand stitch counts of 190+ sts, so your Sanquar socks would be in good company!

    However in all the lovely mending I have witnessed here in Estonia (and photographed, especially with you in mind) nothing quite encapsulates the fine new invention of THE META DARN! Huzzah for the genius of this new idea, and how fine your newly-darned socks look.

  3. i have ordered this book thanks to you, and am still admiring amy’s lovely pastel darns on her old sweater. i am contemplating a similar project.
    i have seen, somewhere, artisanal post-modern mends made to old persian rugs. i have some that are nearly obliterated, as my mother liked them that way. i think some hand mending of them would make them wonderful. are you aware of any such project on line?
    with thanks for all your work on this.

    1. I have not seen any artisanal post-modern mends on old Persian rugs, but I’m most intrigued by the idea. I hope you’ll find the book useful. I also find it quite amusing. It’s patronising towards the poor husband who obviously can’t even thread a needle, but on the other hand it firmly believes a woman’s place is at home. As you would expect from a 1940s book. The repair instructions however, are clear, informative and well illustrated.

  4. Tom, I came to this post via your 2012 wrap-up. I very much love that darning tool, frowny face and all. If you think about it, doesn’t that darner’s comment make for its own “something of [her]self in her work?” Talk about your authorship and ownership! I think you’ve got a value-added piece of folk art in that tool!

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