"Darning is the art of restoring the worn parts of any fabric by means of inserting new threads."
The following is my short report on one woman's take on darning:
Darns may be roughly classified as follows: -
1. Running.Purpose: To strenghen weal places where an actual hole has not yet been worn.
Procedure: Rows of running stitch laid side by side, worked on the wrong side. They can be any shape, with waved being most common, and strongest, as it relieves a good deal of the stress on the thinning fabric. The threads should be laid down in the warp direction, if possible, as they are stronger. Also, it is necessary to leave small loops at the ends of the rows, to allow for shrinkage in washing.
2. Plain.Purpose: To fill the spaces where fabric is actually worn into holes in a way that resembles the original weaving.
Procedure: The warp yarns are inserted first by placing a margin of running darn around the hole, crossing it, and stitching another margin on the other side until the hole is covered and surrounded by threads running parallel to each other. The weft threads are inserted second, weaving across the hole and continuing to make a margin of running darning around the hole. Try to maintain even spacing, and the same number of thread lines as in the warp threads. Don't forget to leave small loops at the ends of the stitching, as in running darn!
3. Damask (a) Plain or diapered, (b) Twill.Purpose: To mend damask, or patterned cloth.
Procedure: Follow the same procedure as for laying the warp threads in plain darning. The weft threads, however, are to be laid in the same pattern as the rest of the fabric. It helps to chart it first. Diaper patterns have a set repeating diamond-shaped background, twill has a diagonal pattern.
4. Swiss and Stocking-web.Purpose: To strengthen or repair a knitted article.
Procedure: Using your darning egg (of course) or cardboard, start at the bottom right hand corner of the repair area, and work on the right side. Whenever possible, unpick across the top and bottom of the hole to make it square or oblong, and turn the loose pieces at the edges of the hole underneath until the darn is completed. Run strands lengthwise across the space, making one more point on the top than on the bottom. Swiss darns are a different name for the same procedure, only without the hole (yet). I find the written description of this technique incredibly confusing, but the picture above describes it perfectly: think nalbinding or twisted stitched.
5. Hedge-tear, Catch or Triangular.Purpose: for repairing the tears we get when we catch on a sharp object (like hedges, nails, sharp corners, etc.).
Procedure: Running darn following the pattern set out in the picture to reinforce the area. In the corner area, pattern your stitches to look like little stair-steps, perpendicular to the corner, to help strengthen and disguise the repair. Work on the back side, and don't forget the little loops at the ends of the rows.
6. Crosscut, Breakfast or Diagonal.Purpose: Repair a tear on the diagonal of the threads. ("...usually occurs...through careless handling of a knife...)
Procedure: Follow the directions for a running darn, drawing the edges close together and making the stair-step stitches parallel to the tear. The final shape is extremely important in effecting this repair, and needs to be two crossing rhomboids in order for the tear not to repeat itself.
As we saw previously, it is indeed possible to do these repairs on a sewing machine, but they look so much nicer when done by hand, and they are thinner, as well. We used to do some hand-darning on fabric when I worked at a living history site, but we stitched repairs by machine on those pieces which existed at the time of sewing machines (unless the repair was front and center and would look terrible). I have a beautiful old linen kitchen towel with a hole in it - I plan to darn it properly, and I hate to see a patch on it, so at some time in the future, there'll be pictures of how this all actually works (and how well).
In the meantime, I'm making progress on knitting up a sample of the WWI washcloth, and it turns out to be very gauze-like. I'll share soon. Promise.
So: patching next time?