I know you were probably expecting “How to hem pants- Part 2.”  #realtalk: I don’t have any dress pants that need to be hemmed right now.  (I know.  It’s crazy.  It’s like I’m living in that amazing alternate universe you dream about where you don’t have a single item to mend and all your clothes are clean and pressed and you’re free to go dance in a field of flowers.) I’ll go find a few things to rip apart for illustrative purposes by next week, don’t worry.

But for today, lets talk about what is staring me down from my mending pile.  You know that amazing cashmere sweater you have that you can’t bear to throw away because of the hole on the front? Or your favorite toasty warm wool socks that your elf toe sliced right through? They can be saved.  You don’t have to cut them off or felt them to turn them into upcycled Pinterest crap, ahem, garments.  You can mend them and keep wearing them.

I know you usually either 1. Get rid of them, 2. Put them aside in an ever mounting bin of things that aren’t quite right, but you don’t know how to save them, or 3. Give them to your friend/mom/grandma that knits to do it for you.  I’m here to tell you how to save it yourself.  Because your friend/mom/grandma seriously has a pile of things just like it that are hers that she needs to mend, too.

Darning on the left, reknitting on the right.

How I mend garments isn’t technically darning.  “Darning” implies that you’re reweaving the hole, creating warp and weft threads running vertically and basketweaving horizontally to create new fabric.  This is how I mend holes in woven fabric like jeans or shirts, and it’s perfectly acceptable there.  But in my knitwear, I find that it’s a more elegant alternative to actually re-knit the area.  Don’t let that scare you.  No actual knitting involved if you don’t.


A knitted garment with a hole, i.e. sweater, socks, gloves, etc.

Matching yarn– if it’s a high quality sweater, they usually come with a little envelope of extra yarn for just this purpose.  If you’re a knitter, see if you have something in your bin of the same color.  You can always un-ply yarn that’s too thick to get the right gauge.  You can use sewing thread if it’s particularly fine gauge, but I’d recommend using wool if you’re mending a wool garment.  You can find cheap mending yarn online and it’s worth it.

Needles– I like embroidery needles best because of the blunt tip which will allow you to go through the loops of the knitting without piercing the yarn, and also the long eye makes it easier to thread yarn.  I used a sharp just because it was the closest and I was too lazy to root through my bin.

I had three varying sized holes in the sweater I was mending.  The first wasn’t even really a hole, it was just a thread that had worn away to almost nothing and was about to become a hole.  When mending, I like to go over the entire garment and check for wear areas like this.  All the supplies are out, and you’re already in the groove, so reinforce anything likely to come loose.

Securing the yarn and tracing the original threads.

Start by securing your yarn.  In knitting, this is done by weaving your yarn through the back ladders of stockinette stitch.  I start next to the hole, serpentine weave away from the area a few stitches, and then weave back to where I started.  This kind of weak thread area is the easiest to mend, as you don’t have anything loose to secure and all the threads are there.  Just follow the original yarn as you see it going around the stitches.  You don’t have to know how to knit, just follow the line.  I start and stop a stitch to either side of the weak area to reinforce.  You can work from the back or the front here, whatever is easier for you to see.  When you’re done, do the same serpentine weaving back and forth so you change direction with your yarn.  Leave a bit of a tail and snip off.  Done!

Tracing the knitting pattern back and forth, row by row.

The next hole I mended had a few broken threads vertically, but only one open stitch was visible at the top.  Not even much to replace besides reconnecting the fabric and securing the stitch at the top from creating a run.  I started the same way, securing the yarn before I poked through to the front.  For actual holes I like to work from the front to see what I’m doing.  Again, I trace the stitches with my needle and new yarn.  If you knit, you can see where to go a bit more easily, but you really are just following the lines with your yarn.  When you get to one side of the hole, do an extra stitch just to help reinforce, and then jump up a row.  Work back to where you started.  Continue going back and forth this way across the area.  If you have any open loops like I did at the top, be sure to actually use them where they would appear in the knitting.  And if you don’t know how to do that, all you need to do to secure is make sure you stitch through the loop at some point so it can’t pull out.  I do an extra row at the top again for reinforcement.  Secure your yarn and clip!

Working a dropped stitch.

The last hole I fixed was a bit more complicated.  This actually had missing yarn, a few dropped stitches creating some open ladder yarn, and live loops.  For this kind of hole, I get out a straight pin or two to help.  Secure your yarn and begin by reinforcing the bottom row.  If you see the ladder stitches, meaning you have a live loop and can see that it has pulled out and left the original yarn intact, you can fix this by pulling the ladders back through the loops.  I take a straight pin, dive through the loop, hook around the first ladder, and pull it back through the loop to create a new loop.  Repeat with all remaining ladders until they’re done.  I did this so automatically I didn’t photograph it until after the fact, but lion brand has an excellent visual here.

stockinette illustration
The anatomy of a knit stitch in stockinette; what you’re trying to replicate in most commercially made garments.

Once you have recovered all the dropped stitches, you’re going to be left with live stitches to incorporate into your mending.  I use a stick pin again as a placeholder for an actual knitting needle, and grab some of the garment on either side of the hole to help hold it in place.  (If you have a very large hole, you can run vertical placeholder threads like in the illustration at the beginning of the post.)  Start your mending going back and forth again.  When you reach the live stitches on the pin, go through them with your needle to secure.  And if you feel fancy, use another pin to create a row above, and loop your yarn around to actually create a new knit stitch.  Across larger holes like this, I work at least a stitch if not two on either side of the hole.  Keep reknitting until you get to the top of the hole, make sure you incorporate all live stitches as before, and do a row or two at the top.  Secure your yarn and clip!

Mending, like knitting, always looks better after blocking.  Wet and let dry, or simply steam by hovering your iron a bit off the surface.  This sets the stitches and helps them meld into the garment.

It may not look like new every time, but it’s certainly a bit nicer looking than just lashing thread around and around the area, which always pulls in and puckers.  When worn, they’re hardly noticeable.  I pulled out another cashmere sweater this week, knowing that I had mended four areas, and could only find 2.  If you’re using the yarn that came with your garment, the mending can look imperceptible.  Challenge yourself and try something small, or try the toe of a sock where the results are less visible if you want some practice.  Mending clothes is another lost art in the fast clothes era we live in, and most quality garments are worth the time and effort to make them live again.

Not too shabby, eh?

Happy mending!