The first pair of tights (pantyhose) I ever owned were pretty heavy—they must have been at least 40 denier—and a ghastly putty colour to boot, but at not-quite-fifteen I felt slinky and sophisticated in them. So you can imagine my consternation when I looked down after less than a week and saw the beginnings of a ladder (run) in one of the toes. I knew that I wouldn’t be getting another pair anytime soon and was desperate to do anything I could to extend their life. Fortunately a friend saved me with some clear nail polish, which stops a run dead in its tracks. For a time, anyway; until it can be darned.
And darn it I did; we all did in those days. It was unthinkable to throw away a perfectly good pair of tights because of one little run. If it could be caught early, just a few simple stitches would do the trick. But if there was a big enough hole in the toe and the tights were thick enough, they could be darned just as you would a hole in a sock.
Although I haven’t sat down to darn anything for years, I still find it hard to throw a pair of tights away after just one wearing; either I’m especially clumsy or they’re getting flimsier and flimsier. Indeed, nylon stockings are a classic case of planned obsolescence. I heard a story once that may or may not be an urban legend about someone who invented run-resistant tights. Apparently someone else with an interest in selling, rather than saving them bought up the patent, and that was the last anyone ever heard of the brilliant invention.
It is an understatement to say that I was never much of a needlewoman, but my mother did manage to teach me how to darn. She remembered with pride having mastered the art in her early teens, during the Second World War, when her whole school was evacuated from London during the bombing. Her needlework teacher praised her darning and held it up as an example to the whole class. (How children need praise—we all do!) My darning was never a thing of beauty but with some embroidery silk, a bodkin, and a darning egg or mushroom I managed to get the hang of it and extended the lives of many a pair of socks.
Sadly, thanks to the new mania for de-cluttering that seems to have taken hold of a number of my friends and has even infected me (I who, until recently, hadn’t thrown anything away since something like 1972), I just threw away a big bag of old woollen socks that were perfectly good but for the gaping holes in their toes and heels. I had saved them for years (full disclosure: at least 25 years) for a winter’s night when I would sit by the fire and darn them, but alas, that night never came, and now they are gone forever. (On the bright side, I can now see the floor of my bedroom closet.) If you don’t fall prey to decluttering fever, you might try reclaiming a favorite pair of socks.
While I find most sewing extremely frustrating, strangely enough, darning gives me great satisfaction: first containing the hole by weaving a circle round it, then picking up those frayed and broken stitches, and finally reweaving, first warp, then weft, until the gaping hole is filled with a beautiful nubbly knit. Seeing the finished product makes me feel that anything can be made right with a little skill, attention, and desire.
Who wouldn’t desire this:
Next time, don’t throw it away: darn it!