Lighten Up: Darning and healing

Winter is back tonight, with a sharp wind blowing, and the temperature dropping. I’m cozy inside on the couch, darning socks. Yup, darning, weaving the holes closed with a blunt-ended needle and darning thread like those in the photo below.


Darning is a pretty meditative process. You have to pay enough attention to securely anchor your yarn, keep it straight and weave the yarn over the hole. But the process involves a lot of repetition, and that allows the mind to wander. (If you’ve never darned, check out this helpful video.)

As I carefully stitched lines of anchoring yarn around the hole, and then ran them across the hole from top to bottom and wove through those from side to side, I thought about the act of darning (and I wished I had a handy darning egg to make the process easier).

It’s been a long time since I did any darning, in fact, back when was I a low-paid field botanist working for the federal government and had to darn my workwear wool socks since the heels wore out long before the socks did and I couldn’t afford to replace them. So I darned the holes in the heels, and kept wearing the socks.

I quit darning when my life got busier. I had good excuses: I was navigating a new marriage, raising a step-daughter, and starting a writing career. The real reason, I think now, was that darning just didn’t fit my “upwardly mobile” lifestyle. 

Darning didn’t cross my mind again until the hole appeared in my favorite pair of hand-knit socks. I would have thrown those socks away and bought a new pair, but for two things:


There is no “away.” With more than 3 billion people in this country, there is no place to put trash without displacing someone, whether human or wild. Where we live, trash goes to the county dump, which may have the most beautiful view of any dump in this country. To the west, a wall of peaks rise to over 14,000 feet elevation; to the east are knobby granitic hills splotched with Technicolor aspen groves. Sacrificing this site to house our refuse seems so wrong that Richard and I have begun to recycle or reuse the bulk of our discards to keep from using the dump.

Reason two: I can’t just replace these socks, even if I did have a way to recycle them. They’re hand-made.

Weftdarn Weavingdarn Finisheddarn

So I spent an hour this evening reclaiming them (as in “reclaim, reuse, recyle”) by reminding myself how to darn. It wasn’t hard, and when I finished and slipped the sock on, my foot felt cozy and warm. I learned yet again that waste is not actually a necessary consequence of modern life. It is possible to give my favorite socks, and much of the other material we thoughtlessly discard, longer lives.

Darning may seem like a small act when compared to the mountains of trash we generate. But it has had a big impact on me by changing my perspective. Despite the hole in one heel, these socks are not something to be carelessly discarded: they can be repaired. It’s very satisfying to reclaim a pair of socks knitted by hand, of hand-dyed yarn, with love. Or any favorite socks, for that matter.

When this pair become so worn they can’t be darned anymore, I’ll give them another life by unknitting the remaining yarn and placing it by one of our bird boxes for nesting material.

Imagine my colorful socks helping cradle a brood of baby mountain bluebirds–that’s true recycling!


Spending an evening darning socks (and writing this blog post) represents a welcome restful turn for Richard and me. Being home, reconstructing our quiet routine, and picking up our creative lives is all part of helping his brain begin to recover from the near-catastrophic hematoma of the week before last. He’s his usual funny, intellegent, creative self, but… his short-term memory is impaired, his vision may have issues, and his ability to synthesize complicated information quickly is, well, not so quick anymore.

Everything takes longer than he imagines, and that’s frustrating. But we’ve got time, faith and love, a combination that can heal most anything.