Learn the Lost Art of Mending Knitted Garments

Wool socks hanging on a line

Zoran Milich / Getty Images

Knitted woollens should never get tossed until you've tried to repair them. Thanks to online tutorials, it's not as hard as it seems.

The day my favorite cashmere sweater got a hole in the arm, I was devastated. The sweater had been a hand-me-down from a friend years earlier and I wore it through many winters. It was the softest, warmest, most comfortable sweater I owned. How does one go about repairing a hole in a knitted garment? I asked an expert knitter to help me. She was able to close the hole and extend the garment’s life by several more years.

It was an epiphanic moment for me, realizing how little Western culture knows about repairing the goods we buy. Because they are so cheap and easy to replace, it’s hardly worth the bother, unless it is a gorgeous cashmere sweater that I could not afford to replace.

Learning how to repair knitted sweaters is one way to fight back against disposable clothing culture. It takes skill and practice, but it could potentially save many garments from meeting an early demise. It’s also deeply satisfying to repair your own things, or, as sustainable fashion blogger Tortoise & Lady Grey wrote in an inspiring post on this topic, to use “visible mending techniques to that add an interesting and individual touch to your garment.”

I’ve gathered some helpful online tutorials, but if in doubt, a knowledgeable knitter friend is always a great resource. See if your community has a knitting group that could demonstrate some of these techniques in person.

How to Fix a Sweater

The Guardian has an article on how to mend moth holes. While moths may not be your problem, this are helpful diagrams that explain darning (filling in and reinforcing a hole) and needle felting (meshing a piece of wool with a sweater, which creates a kaleidoscope of colors that can be attractive).

How to Fix Socks

You can learn how to darn socks by watching YouTube tutorials.

One easy way to fix small holes is to felt them, which basically shreds and works the fibers of another piece of wool into an original piece to fill a space. You can get an idea for it here, where the technique is used to repair a sock hole, but it can also be used to reinforce weak points in a garment that have not yet broken through, i.e. heels.

Here is a more detailed photo tutorial for felting sweater holes.

How to Repair with Thread

This can work well if the hole is along a seam, otherwise it may stand out. Online sewing instructor Professor Pincushion has an excellent video on this. Here is another article describing a thread repair along a cuff.

How to Fix Cashmere

For cashmere, one option is to use Fuse-It powder, combined with chopped up fibers from another part of the garment. This quick tutorial shows how it’s done and the result is astonishing.

Other Ideas

Make a cute heart-shaped patch to go over a hole. These are a great idea for kids’ sweaters.

If You Cannot Fix It

See if you can unravel it and keep the yarn. This is an excellent 10-minute tutorial that explains how it’s done. This is where I learned that the official term for unravelling yarn is "frogging." Instructor Ashley Martineau says it's because you're pulling, or ripping, the yarn, so "rip it, rip it, ribbit, ribbit..."