Sweater Repair


Sometimes if I'm struggling on a tough problem or in the doldrums between things I find it helpful to pick up some kind of physical project, something where most of the thinking is in the hands. Whatever it was I was working on before, I start to feel like I've done all the conscious thought I can think about it, and I need to soak it in the oils of my background mind for a little while. Occassionally I can pivot to another kind of creative work, but oftentimes I'm worn out, no more juice for that kind of activity. In these moments I like to try and fix things. This week I was trying to figure my way through a thorny sort of puzzle so I darned a sweater. It came out great.

Darning is a kind of sewing repair work, usually done on knit items, where you need to not only close a hole but fill a gap. It's not like a sewing a rip closed, because the material isn't there, it's been eaten away (by a worm). And you can't sew a patch over it because the hole is too small for that. What you have to do is weave a tiny bit of fabric right onto the garment itself.

I'm not going to go full tutorial here, but the process is pretty simple so I'll just describe the larger picture, then you can watch a tutorial, then you can try it and it'll come out kind of weird (but with cool parts), then you will see what the problem is, then you'll just have this skill to use as you see fit.

OK This is very basic but the idea is: First you sew big stiches up and down across the hole, that's pogo. Then you sew big stiches side to side across the hole, crabwise, weaving the crabwise stiches in and out of the pogo stiches. Then you tie a knot (or don't) and call it a day, that's it.

image image Enlarged to show texture. Finished project should look more like this:


But it's not going to look that perfect, no way.

If you're at all successful then you should have a tiny patch that's pretty well integrated with the original garment, which is what we were trying to do. You can match the thread to your garment so the patch blends in, or use a different color, or, as in the diagram above, use two different colors for kind of a ska look. If you're able to match the color somewhat, then it's possible that the patch will look better from the other side of the fabric-- it might be nearly imperceptible. I wouldn't bet on it, but be aware of that possibility and adapt your strategy as you see fit.

Again, you'll probably want to look up a tutorial on this. They might try and upsell you on specialized goods like a special needle or a wooden egg, but I just used a regular needle and a small wooden bowl. The thing to be careful of is to not pull the threads too tight. If you do pull them too tight your sweater will gather in an unsightly pucker. You want your thread tension it in the goldilocks zone of present but mellow. I'm sorry but I think this is one of those finesse points you'll just have to screw up to understand, then you'll understand it immediately.

I put off learning how to do this for years, because I thought it was hard. It isn't, that's the main reason why I'm writing. It isn't hard to do and it looks cool and your sweater doesn't have a hole in it anymore. Or in my case dozens of holes. From where a worm ate it.

OK, some pics. First I did a hat, because it just turned indoor hat season in the northeast corner, and my nice wool hat had taken worm damage over the years. Previous to this mending moment, the main question about the hat was "does this hat have too many holes to be effective?" and the answer was no. But then the answer drifted into a maybe, and the new question on the table was "what am I gonna do, throw the hat away?". This "hovering over trash" moment can be a really opportune time for someone like myself with interest in the subject but low skills-- I mean if I fuck it up who cares, I was on the verge of throwing it out anyway. But guess what, I didn't fuck it up, I did a great job. I mean it looks like pure scar tissue but I'm into it. I did a great job.


With this success under my belt I got to work on a cashmere sweater that I like, seen here in a file photo from October 2019:

confirmation on my sauce theory from Ashling:

The sweater is a much finer weave than the hat, and the holes are smaller and more plentiful. I decided to use embroidery thread instead of yarn, and since color matching was impossible with what I had on hand, I decided to go with a funfetti look. Flowers growing through dry grass.


I got the embroidery thread at the string store, there were a few multicolor clumps laying around in 3 feet lengths and when I tried to buy them the guy just said take them.

Going multi color is a little fanciful but I felt it was the best way to draw the attention away from the fact that the sweater was severely snacked upon by multiple worms over several years. I mean even if I matched the thread exact you'd still see that there were a lot of repairs, and this way you're just like "nice colors". Hidden in plain sight. It's also practical, because lets face it this sweater's going to get more holes in it, and this way I don't have to worry about maintaining a supply of perfectly matched thread, any 90s pastel will suffice. Also it looks great. :)

image image

Please note that I still have a lot to do! And my technique is far from perfect but getting better.

If you never fixed up your own clothes before, it might feel a little silly at first, taking all that time to repair your clothes when you could just wear other clothes or get a replacement (or get someone else to fix it). But it feels good to put time into nice things, and to treat a small rupture as an opportunity for growth. I was listening to an audio book, sitting on my couch, other problems were marinating peacefully in my background mind, and the sweater looks great. It gives me a positive feeling to wear it-- not just comfort or warmth but a sort of liveliness, a presence. I think maybe this kind of psychic charge is what people seek in expensive things? I hope so.

Anyway, if you have items that need to be darned, as all woolfans eventually do, or if you find a nice sweater but there's a few holes in it, I recommend going for it. Feel free to send pics!

image image

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