Darning

I own three pairs of woollen tights, perfect for wearing with dresses in autumn, winter or on generally chilly days. Over time they have, as tights will, developed holes in the toes. Tights are cheap. They are the sort of articles of clothing which are easily replaced, picked up as a regular shopping item – not daily like milk or bread, or even weekly like cheese or tea or cereal, but monthly, perhaps, along with those other less essential but necessary items like washing powder or cleaning products. Something that makes it to the list. Unless you’re a man, of course, then perhaps socks would be a more relevant purchase.

It’s not a huge expense – dependent, of course, on your budget – but it seems sad to throw away my woollen tights just because of some small holes in the toe area. After all, most of the time I will be wearing shoes and no one will see the toe anyway. A hole in the toe is practically invisible. Yet it is also uncomfortable. The exposed toe grows cold, it pushes harshly into the stretched opening of the hole. It is not a nice experience. Yet something about the minor nature of the holes makes it hard to simply throw them away. Are the tights really useless, discardable, because of such a minor imperfection?

I don’t think so. The same can be said of a holed sock. So I gathered my damaged tights together, dusted off my sewing kit and resolved to get darning. Darning is a mystical thing. You only need to read a Victorian novel, one which features a (rare) woman, to hear about it. There they were, by the acrid light of a tallow candle, darning socks. It was a daily occurrence, relentless in fact. Children did it, grown women did it, servants did it, somewhere, everywhere, once upon a time there would be a person sitting in a dark kitchen or drawing room of an evening darning socks or stockings or, in my case, woollen tights. How does one darn? It is a word used only as a pejorative these days, ‘that darn cat’ and all of that (okay, maybe in the 50’s), not something that is wanted or needed or done voluntarily.

I wasn’t entirely sure how to darn, whether it is a distinct activity or simply an old fashioned word for ‘sewing’, but I didn’t let this deter me. I threaded my needle, found the holes and sewed. It wasn’t a pretty job, not neat or delicate or invisible, but gradually the holes were all gone and in their place a jagged cluster of thread and a juddered lump in the fabric. I doubt I would have passed the Victorian test of basic darning skills. Yet I pulled my tights on and felt good about it. Perhaps the repair will not last, perhaps some new holes will appear and eventually my poor little darning skills will be inadequate to the task of restoring them to usefulness, but for now I have three pairs of lovely warm woollen tights for the winter. Inadequately repaired, perhaps, but still useable.

I felt good about repairing my tights. It is an ordinary activity, a day to day thing which could easily be avoided by judicious use of the bin and a credit card. But whilst my tights may have been old and in a state of minor disrepair, their damage did not make them worthless. How true this is of so many things. I am old, I am damaged, but I am not worthless (well, I don’t think so anyway). My Mum is even older, she is in an ever greater state of disrepair, but she is certainly not worthless. Too often we throw away things that are no longer perfect. Yet their imperfection makes them unique, in some cases it makes them beautiful. My Mum, for example, is the beautiful sum of everything she has got wrong and right. Her body is damaged because it has been so thoroughly used. In this world of discardable everything the idea of things becoming better through use is almost forgotten. We take something, we use it, we throw it away, we buy something new. So little becomes loved and valued through its age and familiarity.

I am not very good at sewing, but I can get better at it. All it needs is practice. And perhaps next time my darning will be better, my repair a little bit neater. Maybe next time I will sit with my darning needle in my darkened room of an evening and love every last stitch of it.

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