I’ve been thinking a lot about my mending journey lately as I put together slides and videos for online classes. New formats, new adventures, but as always, it’s clarifying for me to explain something to someone else, and to dig through photos of past projects, thinking about what I’ve learned in the meantime.
For example, I’d like to share that it turns out, cramming a sock under my sewing machine to put a patch on it works for a while, but if the sock still has life in it and the patched area wears out again, things can get pretty messy, since it’s hard to take off the patch, and covering it again makes a really thick spot.
Fortunately, there are lots of other good options! For one, you can use the sewn-knit-duplicate-stitch technique that’s become one of my favorites. Here’s a video I made for North House Folk School with my filmmaker friend Amanda where I walk you through this technique on a sweater knit. It’s definitely easier to practice on a fabric with bigger stitches first. This works on all kinds of knits!
You can even use this for factory-made socks. For those and other fine-gauge knits, try working each new stitch over more than one of the tiny original stitches—for example, treating a block two or four stitches wide and the same number high as one new stitch. (Approximately. It’s fine if you get off by a tiny stitch or two.) I really like this idea for when the wool is gone from a sock but the nylon remains, since it adds new yarn to both sides of the old threads. And, the whole point of mending with the knit stitch (instead of flat woven darning) is that it maintains the stretch and cushy thickness of the original knitted fabric. It’s also easy to add more stitches around the first ones as you need them.
If that seems like not quite your cup of tea, you might try another idea from my North House friend Elise Kyllo—using needle felting to fill in the missing wool. She shows the whole process in this video. (It’s on Facebook, but I’ve had no problems accessing it even though I don’t have an account there.) This technique works best for areas where there are still some threads remaining (either nylon or wool) for the new felted wool to work through and around. Needle felting on its own isn’t usually sturdy enough to fill in an a large hole, unless you wet felt it thoroughly afterwards. And if you’re thinking of patching a large area, also keep in mind that felted fabric is stiff and doesn’t stretch much at all—although that should be fine for the bottom of a sock. And little needle-felted motifs are also a great way to patch small holes in a fine knit sweater.
Sewing on a patch is still a good option too, and I’ve gone back to preferring to sew them by hand. It’s easier to do, easier to take off if you need a new patch later, and I just love how the stitches look. In my quest to add more visible hand stitching to my wardrobe, I’ve been experimenting with stitches that work well with the stretch of knit fabrics. I really like zigzagging running stitches for this, and alternating back stitches that essentially make a catch stitch on the inside. I demonstrate the latter style in the video below, along with how much more these stitches can stretch than a plain running stitch across the grain of the knit. (This is a short video I made for my online classes. There’s no sound. Anyone who has the link can see it, but it’s not searchable, not meant to stand on its own without any explanation.)
I now recommend using one of these stitches rather than the catch stitches I used in my original sock mending post, since it’s easy for long stitches on the surface of the mend to snag on things. You may still want to check out that post for more visuals of sock patches though.
One thing I can’t fix is the tendency of mass-produced socks to lose their stretch and get saggy over time. The nylon content is also problematic from the standpoint of microplastics and biodegradability … but I know there are a ton of these socks in circulation, and I fully support mending them. For myself, I’m slowly letting them go from my life as I embrace knitting socks, and lately, spinning my own yarn to knit the socks … it sounds like a process, and it is—an amazing one—taking me towards a deeper understanding of different kinds of wool, and of how to make a durable yarn. It turns out that Merino is actually a terrible choice for socks—it’s super fine, super prone to pilling and felting, and not very durable! Other springy, non-felting, durable wools exist! In fact, this kind of wool is often undervalued or wasted, when it could be going into naturally wonderful socks and other sturdy knits.
Happily, the tops of good hand knit socks seem to last forever, so as long as I keep repairing the bottoms I’m good to go. I’ve been wearing and mending the socks above since 2012. Still going …
If you want to find out more of what I’ve learned in my mending journey so far, come and join me for a class! You can find upcoming online and in person opportunities on the workshop page.
Be well everybody!