Darning : 2 Best methods to repair holes in a shirt

Ready to wear clothes are available so cheaply nowadays – we would rather buy a new dress than take the time to repair an old one with a little tear. But when you value quality over quantity and buy things which we think will last a long time, you want the clothing to look the same as always. Then comes that little tear. I can taste that bad feeling one can have when you see that shirt or dress, perfect in every way but for this small imperfection! Here come the old but golden Darning 

Mending a hole without anyone being wiser that there was once a hole there, is an art. This art is called Darning. Darning refers to replacing the fibres of the fabric with new thread, after they are lost due to a tear, burn or when simply worn out.

If done perfectly it can be done so inconspicuously that you will think there has been no hole there ever. This type of fine invisible darning is a lost art that needs many hours of practice to perfect. But I am never one to back away from a challenge. Here is what I learned.

For the darning to look anything close to this perfect the first rule is – the thread used for darning should be of the exact same colour and exact same weight as the fabric of the clothing – be it done by hand or by sewing machine.

And you need to put on your reading glasses. Careful work, with a mind that stays in focus helps. Practise on a waste cloth before trying on real clothes.

Hand Darning how to do darning

Careful hand sewing is the best way to do darning stitches. Use the thinnest hand sewing needle for darning – only then it will be a perfect job.

Do you know that you can even use hair to darn – you cannot get thinner thread than that – but it should also be strong hair and clean from oil. 

darning

To get the best result you can pull the thread from the clothing itself when hand sewing – take the thread from an inconspicuous place. Take from the lengthwise grain of the fabric. (Know more about the grain of the fabric here) The thread lying in the lengthwise grain of the fabric is always stronger than the one in the crosswise direction. 

If this is not possible choose nylon or silk thread if the fabric is thin ; if it is coarser cloth, use a cotton thread.

Main rules of hand sewing darning are –

  • Choose a thread that as nearly as possible matches the fabric.
  • Darning stitches are made more than what covers the hole. otherwise, it would not be strong.
  • As you sew do not use tight stitches; especially as you reach the end of rows – if you make tight stitches when you later wash the cloth the thread will shrink and your weaving /darning stitches will too, leaving puckers.
  • Do not knot the thread on your needle at the end.
  • You should also be hand sewing darning from the backside.
  • The stitches along the lengthwise grain are made first.

How to do the darning stitches and mend the tear in the fabric 

In this method will be weaving with hand sewing needle. You will make straight stitches across the hole. Now start weaving the thread under and over the straight stitches you have made. After you have finished this you will get a woven look which is as natural as the original fabric

Steps to darning by hand.

When you have a hole mark 1/2 inch up all around it. Stabilise the hole by making running stitches around the hole.

darning

Now starting from the top corner make running stitches parallel to each other.
Remember to go over and under the same number of thread in the fabric – you can take one or two thread.

When you go over the hole you will obviously be not making any running stitches – so just go over it as a straight stitch covering the hole.

The rows of stitching should be equidistant and one thread or so distant from each other

When you reach the beginning and end of each row you will be leaving a small loop – this helps in later shrinking of thread and avoid puckers

Now when you have finished the coverage in the lengthwise direction, start in the crosswise direction. Here you will be making weaving stitches.

You will be alternately taking up and leaving the crosswise threads; the same is done over the hole as well. You are practically re-weaving the fabric back to how it was earlier

My first attempt at darning flopped because it was a double shaded synthetic fabric with crosswise thread in a different colour and so weak that I could not pull one out for darning. So I used the lengthwise thread for weaving in both directions. That caused a colour different from the original cloth. Then midway I forgot all about counting stitches and got confused about whether I went over or under previously. So important lesson – have a clear mind when darning and concentrate.

Straight darning

This is the darning done when you have a straight tear, without much of a hole.

How to repair a straight tear with darning.

The straight tear may have loose threads and rough edges – just arrange them carefully to make the tear look smooth. Tack the fabric with the straight tear on to a stabilising fabric. This will ensure that when you stitch the darning stitches the tear will not gape.
Now make similar darning stitches as described earlier over the straight tear.

Diagonal darning

This darning is sometimes done in a diagonal fashion. Here the first lengthwise running stitches are made as previously described but the crosswise weaving is done diagonally. This makes for a more flexible darning but it is not as blending or invisible as the regular darning. 

Sewing machine Darning

This makes for a very sturdy darning. You should be doing darning with sewing machine on fairly medium weight or heavyweight fabric.

How to darn with the sewing machine.

To darn a hole with a sewing machine, keep a removable stabiliser /fine net under the hole. You can use the darning foot and use the closest colour thread on your sewing machine to the fabric.

Now start making darning stitches very close to each other covering the hole. You will be making stitches that will replace the fibres which are missing on the hole.  Make darning stitches in a free motion embroidery fashion all over the hole. You can cut away the stabilising fabric from under the hole after you have repaired the hole this way.