Josna Rege

223. Darn It!

In 1960s, 2010s, clothing, Inter/Transnational, Stories, women & gender on August 22, 2013 at 2:13 am


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.

how to fix a run in your tights (from

how to fix a run in your tights (from

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.

imagesIt 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:

two-tone darn (

two-tone darn (

Or these?

purple pantyhose (from wikimedia commons)

purple pantyhose (from wikimedia commons)

Next time, don’t throw it away: darn it!

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  1. Hi Josna
    Beautiful photos on your post. Who would not desire them indeed? I am at least as bad (if not worse) at sewing as you. I remember the frightful time I had ‘smocking’ something in my teens at school and the unspeakable tangles of cotton in the manual Singer sewing machines we used.
    Thanks for your comments on my blogs. I am also awful at IT and the struggle involved in inserting a Google verification code (HTML tag) into my Rose Lady home page had me writing weeping-style emails to support at!
    It sounds like your sunken garden might need an arbour to train the vines over? The work is meditative but the garden itself needs to touch the human soul. Occasionally I go to a garden and think, ‘Oh. There you are. Someone to love.’

    • Thank you, E. Your description of the “unspeakable tangles” made me smile–I can totally relate! I’m super-impressed with your website; your tears to the Support people don’t show in the friendly as well as sophisticated Rose Lady pages.
      An arbour is exactly what I need. My garden needs my love badly, and I haven’t given it the time of day. It’s badly overgrown; but I have hopes that one day, when my attention returns to it, it will come back.

  2. I must admit that although I wore tights continually during college, until I went over to bell bottom jeans, that I have never darned anything. I remember that my mother had several darning eggs, I don’t remember her ever darning anything either. I’m pretty sure that my grandmother’s did.

    • Okay, now I feel really old! Darning in the U.S. died out after your grandmother’s generation! In my mother’s day it was Depression-era thrift and economic necessity; in mine, it was part economic necessity and part opposition to consumerism (the “ending is better than mending” of Huxley’s Brave New World). To be honest, though, I haven’t done any darning for more than 25 years, since my son was little and we lived on the farm. Perhaps now it’s making a modest comeback the way manual typewriters are making a bit of a comeback among my son’s generation. Especially since the youth are environmentally conscious and unless they’re cotton or silk, they usually aren’t biodegradable. I do feel that tights/pantyhose lasted longer in the old days, though I have no hard evidence for that.

      • I used to wear thick, black tights. I’m sure they lasted longer than panty hoes today. Someone gave my daughter a manual typewriter and I borrowed it to write a postcard poem. It was so slow and so loud and so stiff! Not to mention the correcto type I had to use.

        You are not as old as my grandmother unless you were born in the 1880s. Maybe all around me other people were darning. I don’t think so though. I did used to patch things – worn out couch covers, holes in slacks, and I sewed a LOT.

        • Me too, Kristin, after those first awkward, early days. Black tights are the best! I still have one or two pairs from back in the 70s and 80s. BUT Ah, sewing: my nemesis. I envy you your sewing skills. I did manage to make a couple of simple garments in my 20s, but mostly I’m extremely challenged in that department. I hem pants, replace buttons, reinforce and let out seams, that’s about it. My mother used to make simple clothes and knit for us, and my mother-in-law made almost all her children’s clothes, but I never acquired that skill that until recently was a must for every woman. In fact, the only time I got hit in school — smacked on the hand with a ruler in convent school — was for not having completed my needlework.
          And thanks for reminding me that I’m a little junior to your grandmother!

  3. I do have a nice pair of knit slippers that need darning…if you are looking for a darning project in your spare time.

  4. I remember very clearly how my Mom would use nail polish to stop the runs in her stockings. I always thought it looked rather funny. Amazing how you remember these little things. Thanks for the prompt Josna.

    • I think young people are more likely to wear tight leggings rather than tights today. Also, there’s even more of a throwaway culture today, so I am skeptical about whether people still try to preserve their tights as we did or whether it was only practiced by our generation and the one before it—who, as you note, wore stockings rather than tights. I believe they were even harder to get and more desirable.

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