Darning an Intarsia Christmas Stocking
October through December is a special time of year for me—Christmas stocking repair time, when one in five of my knitwear repair clients sends me a worn Christmas stocking. I’ve seen some interesting damage done to Christmas stockings—one, made in acrylic yarn, that a fire had melted, and another that a pet had gnawed through to get to the beef jerky inside. Most of the time, however, Christmas stockings suffer from the same sort of wear and tear that other knits do: broken seams, holes where ends haven’t been woven in securely and the stitches have raveled, and pest damage (usually as a result of improper storage).
In my post on repairing cables, which also appeared in Interweave Knits Fall 2018, I wrote about strategies for proper cleaning and storage of knitwear, strategies that are definitely applicable to Christmas stockings. However, because Christmas stockings are often given as gifts, the creator has little control over what happens to them when they go out into the world. Additionally, knitters sometimes inherit vintage stockings that have been well loved and may be in need of some restoration and care.
Most knitted Christmas stockings come in one of two colorwork varieties: intarsia or stranded knitting, with occasional duplicate stitch additions. Intarsia Christmas stockings are the most common type of handmade stocking. In this article, I’ll show you how I repaired a Christmas stocking that a client sent to me.
It is important to note that there are many different methods and perspectives to approaching repairs. The following tutorial is the way I find most intuitive, but there are other techniques and approaches that achieve similar results. Like the rest of knitting, there are often multiple ways to achieve the same result.
To repair handknits, there are several skills in which you should be proficient:
- You should be familiar with duplicate stitch and Kitchener stitch.
- You should be comfortable dropping down multiple stitches and laddering them back up to the working row.
Several factors, such as matching fiber, that are critical in repairing knitted garments are less relevant with Christmas stockings because holiday items are rarely washed and are handled less often than everyday items. Because matching stitch size is important, the yarn weight needs to be close, but there is often more room for fudging weight than in other repairs. The most important factor is matching color and sheen because the items will be on display.
Matching color can be difficult, especially in vintage items. Over the decades, color palettes have shifted, so sourcing yarn can be an exercise in creativity. The following strategies can help you source hard-to-match colors:
- Find a gradient yarn. Sometimes, a section of a gradient yarn will match the section to be repaired.
- Use embroidery floss. Embroidery floss comes in a wide range of colors with subtle differences in hues. Sometimes, holding two strands of embroidery floss together to create a comparable color can trick the eye. However, be aware that this technique can backfire and create a marled effect if the two colors are too far apart.
- Wash the yarn before using it. If the item is old, the colors may have faded over time. If it was washed, the colors may have faded as a result.
COMMON TYPES OF DAMAGE TO INTARSIA STOCKINGS
Holes tend to develop along predictable areas of the stocking: the seam, areas where ends have been woven in, and areas along color changes. Let’s look at each of them in detail.
1. Broken Seams
Nearly every piece of intarsia that is meant to be a tube is seamed because it’s easier to work intarsia back and forth in rows than in the round. On Christmas stockings, this seam is most often along the foot of the stocking. Occasionally, the intarsia is limited to the leg part of the stocking—the foot and toe are worked in the round.
When a seam comes undone, it is usually best to pick out the seam and redo the entire length. If the yarn is wearing out noticeably along the seam in some places, chances are it is also wearing out in other areas that aren’t so noticeable. Many stockings are seamed using whipstitch, which isn’t very sturdy; mattress stitch yields a stronger seam that puts less stress on older stockings. Redoing the entire seam also makes it easier to hide and weave in ends at the top and bottom of the seam, rather than working in the ends of the old seaming yarn in addition to the new ends.
2. Poorly Woven-In Ends
Another problem often seen in older Christmas stockings is places where ends that were poorly woven in have popped loose. Frequently, the ends are woven in using duplicate stitch, which can come undone over time. I am a huge advocate for weaving in ends using the skimming method, which involves using a sharp-pointed embroidery needle to draw the ends through the center of plies on the wrong side of the work, rather than weaving the strands into and out of loops. Skimming is faster and uses the energy of the spun yarn to hold ends in place.
Normally, when ends come unwoven, stitches drop down and create holes. After laddering up the dropped stitches, new yarn will likely be needed to graft the live stitches back together because the ends of the old yarn are usually trimmed and will be too short. After the stitches are grafted, the ends should be woven in using the more secure skimming method.
The stocking I repaired in this tutorial had an area where the yarn ends came unwoven and the stitches raveled. To repair the damage, I first captured the raveled area by laddering the stitches back up to the unwoven row:
Then, because the yarn end was too short to repair the hole, I used a new piece of yarn to graft the stitches together. The color wasn’t a perfect match, but it was close enough for the small area that needed repair:
After I repaired the hole, I skimmed the two yarns through the wrong side of the work using a sharp needle to make sure the area was secure.
3. Breaks Along Intarsia Color Changes
It is common in intarsia Christmas stockings for the small vertical floats between color changes at the back of the work (as shown in the photo below) to catch on the items in the stocking and break, especially when the stocking is stuffed to the brim.
In the stocking I repaired, Santa’s beard had come undone where it met the green Christmas tree:
I began the repair by joining the new yarn and tracing over the stitches of the beard using duplicate stitch to create an area where the two yarns overlap. In the photo below, the orange cable needle is holding the live stitches I knit with my repair yarn. I threaded the green tapestry needle to work duplicate stitch over the next few stitches of Santa’s beard (moving from left to right) to reinforce the fabric that was falling apart and anchor the newly knitted fabric into the rest of the work.
The next photo shows the last three stitches reknitted over several rows. At the left of Santa’s mouth, you can see the slightly thicker stitches where I’ve duplicate stitched over the original fabric, connecting my knitted patch to the rest of the work.
After I finished working the duplicate stitch to anchor the previous row, I began to knit the first stitch off the orange cable needle onto the pink cable needle, working from right to left. When I reached the end of the row, I used a tapestry needle to sew under the edge of the first stitch in the green.
Here, I’ve finished knitting across the three stitches and all three stitches are on the pink cable needle. I’ve threaded my working yarn back onto the green tapestry needle:
Because the left side of my work is a different color, I could not anchor my stitches to the work using duplicate stitch. Instead, I re-created the intarsia joins that originally held the stocking together by putting my tapestry needle through the edge of the current stitch and the following stitch. If I were looking at these stitches at the edge of a flat stockinette swatch, this would be the little bump formed by turning my work to begin the next row.
After I anchored my patch by sewing through the bumps, I knit the next row from left to right. Here, I’ve begun knitting with the orange cable needle and just finished working the first stitch:
I worked the three stitches:
Then, I inserted my tapestry needle into the base of the last stitch on which I worked duplicate stitch in the previous row, going from the back of the work to the front. This prepared me for working the next row of duplicate stitch to anchor and reinforce the rest of the beard.
When I worked duplicate stitch on the previous row from left to right, I shifted up a row and worked duplicate stitch from right to left. The next photo shows the last row of the beard just before I closed up the hole using Kitchener stitch:
I find it easier to work Kitchener stitch on live stitches, but you could also do it with the knitting needle in place.
I began the Kitchener stitch by going up through the first live stitch on the right. After that, I inserted the darning needle into the legs of the red stitch right above the white live stitch:
Then, I returned to the live white stitch below, went down through it and up through the next white stitch, then back to the top to catch the next green stich, and continued until the hole was completely closed:
I finished this repair by tidying up the stitches, tugging on them here and there so that the new stitches matched the gauge of the existing stitches. When all the repairs to the stocking were complete and all the ends were woven in, I lightly steam-blocked everything to smooth out the stitches in the repaired areas.
Traditions are an important part of holiday celebrations, and it always gives me a great sense of satisfaction to know that I can play a part in preserving some of those traditions for the next generation.
Jennifer Raymond runs Tinking Turtle LLC, specializing in teaching, designing, and repairing knit and crochet items. She is based outside of Richmond, Virginia. You can learn more about her at her website, www.tinkingturtle.com.