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The art of darning

Would you spend 4-5 hours mending a tiny hole on a piece of clothing?.. I guess the answer from most people would be “No way!” Partly because not many of us are ready to spend that much time on clothes mending if you can just replace them and partly because even less people have the  actual skills of mending their clothes.

Recently I read a very interesting book called “Artistic darning” by V.M. Korneeva. The book is in Russian and I have the second edition published in 1989. It is a real vintage treasure that goes into detailed description of seven various ways of invisible darning – darning in such a way that broken cloth is completely restored and the repair is barely, if at all, visible.

I know there are plenty of crafters and dressmakers out there who can do beautiful repairs and clothes restorations creating intricate embroidery over damaged areas or utilising the art of Japanese Sashiko stitching and they create masterpieces. It became really fashionable now to wear something old, vintage and visibly repaired. But I have found close to zero information on how-to lessons in the art of invisible darning.

There was a scarce mention of fine darning, sometimes known as Belgian darning - attempts to make the repair as invisible and neat as possible. Often the hole is cut into a square or the darn blends into the fabric. There are many varieties of fine darning. Simple over-and-under weaving of threads can be replaced by various fancy weaves, such as twills, chevrons, etc., achieved by skipping threads in regular patterns. Invisible darning is the epitome of this attempt at restoring the fabric to its original integrity. Threads from the original weaving are unravelled from a hem or seam and used to effect the repair. Again, description, but no tutorials. Like the work the masters of invisible darning do they are themselves remain invisible. I started wondering why.

Darning is more that just an action of restoring cloth, it is like a repair of our emotional connection, our relationship with the piece of clothing. A darner therefore becomes a healer to damaged cloth. In the past it was not fashionable or acceptable to wear mended or repaired clothes especially among upper class, and that is I think the main reason darners were not commonly spoken about. “Besides, darning is like magic. It makes a flaw disappear. So this magical act is a best kept secret; if the worker revealed how this magic happened, the magic would go.” All of this, over centuries, has contributed to making darning and darners [or Rafoogars as they are called in India] invisible. (Source)

All this thinking made me really want to try an invisible darning myself. Very inspired by the book I mentioned at the beginning of this article I thought I would start with something rather simple. I found a piece of 100% wool crepe fabric of dark charcoal colour, made a little hole in it and started my journey.

From my understanding, rafoogars of India can restore finest silks with intricate patterns. Doing my charcoal wool piece I realised I have to practice and learn much more to even think of attempting something that complicated… To do my darning sample I chose one of the methods from the book that is suitable for wool crepe – insertion of a piece of the same fabric over the hole. It is accomplished by taking a square piece of the same fabric as the one that needs to be mended, loosen about 2-3 cm of threads all around the square and weave these threads into the fabric around the hole. So basically in this case darning is done without stitching. You can watch the video I made to understand the process more.

It took me somewhere between 4 to 5 hours to finish covering the tiny hole… Am I happy with the result? I guess I am. I do not think though I did an excellent job, I am sure professional darners would call it hack-job 🙂 But for a first time attempt it is quite ok I guess. My darning is not 100% invisible, but I believe with experience it is possible to achieve much better results. Doing this tiny but very laborious job made me think how much appreciation and respect people used to have for fabrics and those who make it, for spinners, weavers, dressmakers and tailors to spend so much time on clothes repairs. How broken our perception of things is these days (this concerns not only clothing industry, but any other industry and trade out there) if we think it is easier to discard and buy new rather than restore. We have lost the connection with the art of making things... And I believe we urgently need to repair that connection if we want a happier future for our planet and our children.

What do you think? Have you tried to do invisible darning similar to that before? Would you like to learn this art? Let me know in comments below!

6 thoughts on “The art of darning”

  1. Thank you Victoria for sharing this invisible darning technique with me. I am an avid visible mender both machine darning and Boro [Japanese patching and stitching] Invisible mending is a lost trade in Australia. In years past it was offered at dry cleaners and work was sent off to menders [possibly working from home].

    If at all possible, I would like to see a video on how you prepared the patch for mending. I have been following some of the mending by the rafoogars and greatly admire their work. Kaz at Mend It, Australia aka RUDE Girl @ruderepair on Facebook

    1. Hi Kaz! I am so happy to see some interest in invisible darning. I only started learning, most of the information I know is coming from a vintage Russian book I mentioned in the post. The book in mainly wordy and it contains lots of descriptions, and although they are very thorough I find it hard to understand them at times as I am a visual person. So most of the times I simply guessed how it would have been done. I would love to see the rafoogars you are following as I am trying to find more people sharing this art.
      From my knowledge some ateliers in Russia are still offering this service and it is in demand for expensive suits. I am happy to share my journey and I will try to make a more detailed video of how I do this type of darning within next few days or a week!

  2. Your video is fascinating – thankyou very much for sharing. I was searching for videos of darning techniques to mend some moth holes in some fine wool knit jumpers leaving as little evidence as possible and came across yours. I’m a reasonable sewer; but I think invisible mending is beyond me.

    1. Thank you! This type of darning does require a lot of time, patience and practice. 🙂 If you really want to learn, try to practice on small fabric pieces. 🙂

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