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by Kate Gilbert

Last February, I put on one of my favorite pairs of socks—one of the first pairs I ever made. They’re a lovely toe-up design that I managed to squeak out of one precious hank of Lorna’s Laces Lucky Stripe Shepherd Sock back when I lived in Paris, some ten years ago.

And that’s when I found the holes. Four of them. Figuring them for goners, I sent a tweet saying that they were biting the dust, and I prepared to say goodbye.

Then the responses, urging me to darn them, started filling my feed.

Somehow I had absorbed the idea that socks with holes weren’t worth saving. (Who said that you should drop the offending pair in the trash bin, saying “oh darn!” as you do?). The tweets suggested otherwise.



All advocated the procurement of a darning egg. A few suggested that I use a lightbulb for this purpose. (“Easy to find,” they said. “It won’t break,” they assured.) As someone who gets the creeps just changing light bulbs (chalk it up to that squeaky metal rubbing noise and the possibility that it will shatter) there was no way that I was going to start poking at thin glass with a needle. So darning egg it was. But where to find one? I decided the most convenient option was to contact my woodturning father and give him a project. I asked him for a darning egg. A week later, he showed up at my house with four of them.

I had the egg, but what to do with it? Much searching of my knitting library and Google ensued. Via The Principles of Knitting, the revered June Hemmons Hiatt suggested reknitting and grafting the holey area. The web offered a variety of ideas: Use darning thread. Darn diagonally to the stitches. No, scratch that, darn vertically and horizontally. Weave it! Double the thread. Stabilize the stitches with sewing thread. Do it in a square. Do it in a circle. Make it pretty. Do it on the wrong side. No, do it on the right side!

So many options. Thankfully, I had enough holes in my socks to test most of them out. Care to follow along?


Tools of the Trade

Every project requires the right materials for the job and darning is no exception. Here’s a list of what you’ll need in your own darning adventures:

  • Darning egg or mushroom (an incandescent light bulb—not for the faint of heart—or tennis ball will also do in a pinch)
  • Knitting needles
  • Sewing needle and thread  
  • Yarn of a similar weight (and color, if you like) to the item being darned.
  • Tapestry needle


Method 1: Swiss Darning

If the fabric of your socks is simply thinning or the hole is small one (one or two stitches at most), the solution is pretty straightforward. Grab a length of yarn and duplicate stitch the area. The fancy name for this is Swiss darning.

Tools You’ll Need: Darning egg, tapestry needle, yarn.


 1. Put the sock on the darning egg. Starting two rows below and two stitches to the side of the hole or thin spot begin duplicate stitching.

2. Once you’ve progressed a few stitches into a stable area, go up one row and proceed in the other direction.

3. Continue doing this right through the thin areas and two rows beyond.

4. The finished Swiss darning patch.

PROS: Fast and easy, will keep small holes and thin spots from worsening, and will be invisible if you use the same yarn.

CONS: None that I’ve figured out so far.


Method 2: Stabilize With Sewing Thread and Graft on the Outside

I used this method, which is done vertically and horizontally,  for an area where there were two holes near one another.

Tools You’ll Need: Darning egg, tapestry needle, yarn, sewing needle, thread.


1. Put the sock on the darning egg and stabilize the area to be darned with sewing thread.

2. Use a tapestry needle to run the yarn horizontally across the holes, starting a few rows beneath and going a few stitches beyond on either side. Use the stitches as a guide.

3. Weave the yarn vertically through the yarn and sock.

4. Turn the sock inside out and pull out the stabilizing sewing thread.


The finished patch.

PROS: It looks nice and neat on the outside. I found that darning in the same direction as the stitches made it easy to keep the yarn spaced evenly and close enough together while keeping the shape of the sock correct. In retrospect I could have probably done without the stabilizing threads, but recommend them for larger or more complex holes.

CONS: Any lumpy bits left over from the edge of the hole are on the inside against the foot, but I think they will mash down pretty quickly with a little wear. If there are large flaps they can be cut off.

Method 3: Graft On the Inside

This method is done diagonally. 

Tools You’ll Need: Darning egg, tapestry needle, yarn.


1. Put the sock on the darning egg.

2. Beginning in the stable stitches around the hole, use a tapestry needle to thread the yarn back and forth.

3. Weave the yarn 90 degrees to the first stitches.

4. Ta-da! The finished patch.

PROS: It’s smooth on the inside against the foot

CONS: It’s not as neat looking on the outside. I found it more difficult to space the yarn evenly and get a look that I was happy with without the yarn to use as a guide for keeping the stitches going in the same direction as the yarn.


Method 4: Reknit and Graft

This last method is a little more labor intensive

Tools You’ll Need: Darning egg, double-pointed knitting needles, yarn.


1. Pick up stitches a few rows below the hole.

2. Pick up the bars between the stitches a few stitches on either side of the hole.

3. Knit across the stitches on the first needle.

4. Knit the last stitch together with the first stitch on the left-side needle.



5. Turn. Slip your first stitch (this part is optional, I just preferred the look of it), and purl across the needle to the last stitch.

6. Purl the last stitch together with the first stitch on the right-side needle. Turn and slip your first stitch and repeat steps 3-6.

7. This is what it looks like halfway done.

8. When you have no more stitches left, cut the yarn and graft the live stitches to the sock.


The finished patch.

PROS: Looks nearly invisible if you use the same yarn.

CONS: The extra fabric is on the inside of the sock against the foot. Since the darn is worked in a square a more irregular shaped hole could end up with a lot of extra fabric around it. That said, this is clearly a spot that is subject to wear so the extra fabric is probably a good thing for reinforcement.


The upshot? I’m glad I didn’t ditch the socks. Darning took some time and I’m still not entirely certain which method is best, but it felt good to take care of something I’d made. (Make do and mend and all that.) I also liked the sense of connection to all the knitters before me (my grandma included) who certainly would have taken the time to give their socks a second chance.   


Editor’s Note: Kate’s dad, David Gilbert, makes the wooden darning eggs and mushrooms featured in the photos in his upstate New York workshop. They’re all hand turned and absolutely awesome. You can order an egg or mushroom of your own (they make great gifts) hereDarning eggs and mushrooms are hand-crafted and supplies are limited.


Preventive Measures

Follow these tips to keep your socks in shape:

  • Examine your socks every so often. Are there areas that are thinning? If so, reinforce now, before an actual hole forms.
  • If you knit socks for friends and family, tell them to give the socks to you as soon as they notice a thin spot or a hole.
  • When you spot a hole in your socks STOP WEARING THEM! The hole will only get bigger.
  • Be proactive by reinforcing heels and toes when you knit.