Darning Handkerchiefs

Happy first of November! We are now, without a doubt, in the candlelit, couch-snuggling, crafts-enjoying, darning part of the year. The weather is turning darker and colder outside, and few things are as nice as coming home and cradling a warm cup.

It is also the part of the year where I start working on my basket of projects and repairs. Summer is just not the right time for it. We’re far too busy enjoying the warm outdoors, visiting friends, foraging and watching sunsets. But when autumn and winter sets in? I know few things more iconic than snuggling up in an armchair, project in hand, maybe a blanket, a cup of tea, preferably a lit fireplace someplace within my line of sight.

I love mending, darning and repairing my old things. It is like an act of love towards an item which has served you well. And added bonus is that I don’t have to buy new things, which is a hassle I just don’t enjoy.

So when I was actually asked to illustrate how I repaired hankies… how could this crafty granny (in a young person’s body) resist??

Why should you mend things?

Mending is an empowering act. It is an act of resistance against consumerism, capitalism and the status quo. In a world where most things are made to last only a season or so, extending the lifetime of an object grants you incredible power. You can buy something new because you want to. Not because you have to.

You might also find yourself increasingly annoyed at the un-repairability of certain items. Especially polyester and other synthetic fibres (glitter tops?!) are notoriously difficult to mend. Cheap shoes are the same. They’re just not made to be repaired! I had the honour of helping a cobbler friend in his shop for a month, so I got to see all the shoes he had to turn away because there just wasn’t a good way to fix a customer’s beloved-but-shitty pair of shoes.

Warning: Falling in love with mending might have other dangerous consequences. Such as starting to reject things where you see from the get-go that they will be difficult to mend. You might find yourself opting for a few quality items where you can afford it, instead of cheap lookalikes. I don’t buy synthetic fibres in the charity shop anymore. They smell too fast and are always a pain to mend. It’s just not worth it.

Back in the beginning of this blog, I wrote a post about darning your socks. And while the principle of darning is the same, I do take a bit more care with my threadbare handkerchiefs compared to a thick pair of working wool socks.

I don’t bother with an embroidery hoop when I darn my socks for instance. Their structural integrity is good enough even with a big hole (plus my sock is in 3D and would hardly fit). Soft, floppy hankies? Not so much. Pro-tip: get some fine sandpaper and go over the hoop when you get it if the edges are a bit rough. You don’t want to create more work for yourself.

Darning a handkerchief

You’ll need:

  • A small embroidery hoop
  • Sewing thread in matching colour and fiber (typically cotton)
  • Small sewing needle
  • Small, sharp pair of scissors
  • Your holy hankie

For the illustrations, I actually opted to use white embroidery floss in the hopes that what I was doing would be easier to see. But as you can see from my pictures, this is actually a bit too thick. Cotton sewing thread would be a better choice if you want a less bulky result. Although I will say, no darning at this stage is going to be invisible. But it will render your handkerchief usable again.

Darning is, in essence, weaving a new piece of fabric over your broken fabric. It can be done simply or it can be done elaboratively. But it cannot be done invisibly, which is why some people decide to go the fancy and time-consuming contrast route instead. I will go for the basic and functional repair in this post, not the fancy one. But I’d be very impressed if we could start a fancy repair trend on Instagram.

You can choose to carefully cut out the damaged threads to leave you with neat, clean edges. As you can see, I typically don’t, but try instead to incorporate the damage into my fix.

Start by fastening your handkerchief to the embroidery hoop. Don’t pull or strain too much on the fabric, and try to keep the threads reasonably straight. This will help you get an even fix. It will loosen up as you work. This is ok, just readjust between the stitches. Don’t try to go the route of pulling the embroidery hoop too taught. You’ll just risk more breaks in the threadbare fabric.

Do not throw a knot on your thread. Your hankie does not have a front or back, so you have to act accordingly. You do this by inserting your thread between two threads horizontally, and alternating between going over and under the vertical threads. You should start at least 5-7 whole threads above/outside the damaged area.

Keep going when you reach the damaged area. Try your best to keep your thread aligned with the original fabric. Always going one more step down horizontally, but alternating which thread is up and which is down vertically. When you reach the area with no fabric, pull your thread across and try to keep it at the length of the original. This is where the embroidery hoop is invaluable.

 

Once you reach the bottom of the break, simply turn your needle 90 degrees and do the same thing the other way, now using your freshly inserted thread as the vertical thread to go over and under respectively. Do not pull too hard. As you can see in the picture below, I have highlighted the small hoops I allow while I work, rather than trying to pull my thread too taught. Again, handkerchiefs, and especially old handkerchiefs, are thin and threadbare. Made more so by regular use and wash. Being impatient will just provide you with more work. 

 

Keep going, keep going. You’ve got this. Patience pays and all that.

I will note that the large log of a needle you can spot in  some of the pictures is one of my finest sewing needles, so you know the scale we are working at here. Good light recommended. 

If you run out of thread midway, just thread it through your work as you would normally, carefully cut as close to your work as you can, and continue by inserting a new thread.

You can also do this do go over an area you were not too satisfied with, or felt had too much space between the threads. Just go over it again.

 

And done. Now onto the next hole! 

Should I try to make a “fancy fix” post? Please let me know!

2 Comments on “Darning Handkerchiefs

  1. Thank you, Kristine, for this great post! At least I know I am not the only one who cares to mend damaged handkerchieves or sock. I am surrounded by people who brag about spending their afternoon throwing away socks because of holes. It really hurts me to know that so many resources are going to the landfill just because people don’t care to take a needle and some thread. Oh well, thank you, this post made my day. Greetings from Slovakia

    • Thank you for reading – and for saving socks from their untimely demise! I hate to throw anything away, even if there are a few pairs I probably should have had mercy on. 😉

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