Darning : 4 Best methods to repair holes in a shirt

Learn the best methods for fixing tears and holes on fabric: Darning /Invisible mending

Ready to wear clothes are available so cheaply nowadays – many 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 comes 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 fibers 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 never been a hole or tear ever there. 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 color and exact same weight as the fabric of the clothing – be it done by hand or by sewing machine. If you want invisible mending, that is.

And you need to put on your reading glasses. Careful work, with a mind that stays in focus helps. Practice 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 will it 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. 


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.
  • Do not choose a  higly spun thread which will stand out.
  • Darning stitches are made from the backside.
  • Darning stitches are made on an area 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. Learn how to make thread knots almost invisibly here
  • The stitches along the lengthwise grain are made first.
  • Make small and even stitches.

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

Darning by hand sewing stitches

The first method ( and the best in my opinion) is 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.

Trim the cut edges straight and cover the hole as much as possible.

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

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 color 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 color 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 an 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 stabilizing 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 diagonally. 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

Patching and darning 

Simple running stitches worked over a fabric patch adhered over the hole can be a decorative element if you fail at inconspicous darning. 

fix holes

Long darning needles are used for this kind of darning. 

different types of needles

It can seem beyond beautiful, if you like that look. Sashiko, a Japanese embroidery technique originated with the intent of mending old clothes that are worn. If you want an almost invisible look do this with the same fabric as the background.

Visible Darning

This is making Darning stitches (explained earlier) with contrasting colourful yarn instead of inconspicous thread. The darning will stand out. It is a very artistic look and can be used as an embellishment.

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 stabilizer /fine net under the hole.

You can use the darning foot and use the closest color thread on your sewing machine to the fabric. You can also use the zig zag foot and the three step zig zag stitch. Use a sewing needle to match the weight of your fabric.

If you do not know your stitches, check out this post on Basic sewing machine stitches and the necessary sewing foot you need on your machine.

Now start making darning stitches/zig zag 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 stabilizing fabric from under the hole after you have repaired the hole this way.

Related post : How to fix holes in jeans – 10 ways ; Clothing Repairs

clothing repair

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Author: Sarina Tariq

Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.

4 thoughts on “Darning : 4 Best methods to repair holes in a shirt”

  1. Thanks for all the useful advice about darning, it’s something everyone should be able to do so we don’t chuck so many clothes.

  2. My brother’s pants made of a fine Italian wool, got a 1 cm mot hole in the middle of the butt , how do I fix that? you’re advice will be appreciated. Thank you for your great work

    • Look and see if there is enough fabric in the trouser turn-ups or somewhere else which is inconspicously hidden from sight to make a small hole of your own. You can carefully cut a piece of fabric to use as a stabilising patch and sew it in with a matched piece of thread or yarn.

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