Functional, fabulous, forgotten

Note: Please join me tonight, September 23, 2011 at Antigone Book Store in Tucson, AZ for a book signing of Raw Art Journaling. It’s at 7 p.m. and we’ll be making permission slips before the signing. Hope to see you there! [411 N 4th Ave  Tucson, AZ 85705-8444]

(520) 792-3715

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My parents were immigrants to this country. They came with very few possessions, so the things they brought had to be the most important. Their possessions fell into three categories:

  • Useful items for a household
  • Books
  • Clothing

It was pretty lean, but it was all important, practical, and functional.  I often play the game in my head, “If I had only three wooden crates to fill with important possessions, what would I take?” For my parents, it was no game. It was their life–in middle age. They had two children and three crates.

Wood inlaid darning egg

They chose things that would last. There are still linens in my closet, real linen, with the initials of my father’s mother. They are soft with age, but still ready for use. I should point out that those still-used linens are more than a hundred years old and show no signs of wear.

And then there is this item, on the left. It’s solid wood, inlaid, not painted. About the size of a goose egg. Much larger than a chicken egg, about the length of a navel orange. It’s beautiful and not only did my mother use it, I did, too.

I showed it to a friend about a month ago and she guessed it was decorative. My parents brought nothing decorative unless it was functional, and this piece was functional.

It’s a darning egg. You used it to darn socks. Socks developed holes from use, but you didn’t throw them out when they did. You got a thick cotton thread, dropped the darning egg into the sock, pulled either the long side or the rounded end into location to mimic the curve of the sock and darned the hole. Darning the hole consisted of stitching long supporting threads across the hole, then weaving back and forth to create a patch. You could also use it to fix holes in the knees and elbows of sweaters and jackets. I wore a lot of darned clothing when I was a child, and I learned how to darn. My mother’s patches looked like she had appliqued woven fabric onto the fabric.

This beautiful piece of mosaic wood now has no use. We throw things out when they wear out, socks are not meant to be darned. In just the span of one lifetime, the darning egg is forgotten. It’s not a tragedy, change happens. I’m not demanding to bring back darning as a money-saving method. Most clothing materials today aren’t built to take darning well.

I’m simply glad that this utilitarian device, which could have been made of glass or steel, was made with care and still delights the eye and hand. In my world, this carefully made piece is a piece of art that holds memories along with function.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. She runs workshops and seminars through her business, QuinnCreative.

13 thoughts on “Functional, fabulous, forgotten

  1. I have three darning ‘eggs.’ Two in wood that are actually egg-shaped rounds with handles (not only to be used as handles but also for darning the fingers of gloves) and one that is plastic in the same shape. It is half white and half black and used the same way Joanne mentioned.
    If you knit your own socks and gloves (a returning skill as the wool for socks can now be purchased in ‘superwash’ so it can just be tossed in the washer and knit gloves are still very useful), a darning egg is not only a necessity for executing the Kitchener Stitch sewup of toes but for fixing or reinforcing wearing heels, toes and fingertips.
    As you love to ride, I’m surprised you haven’t discovered the joy of hand-knit custom boot socks to keep your feet warm/cool and dry.

    • Knitting socks was my first knitting task when I was six. With gray wool. Which is how I discovered I’m horribly allergic to wool–alpaca, sheep, angora. I’m re-learning to knit, but it will take some time. I still fear socks and gloves. Right now I’m doing a scarf, just so I can learn to knit a long rectangle instead of a long triangle. I keep adding stitches. And I still use the darning egg for pillowcases from my great-gramma and sweaters.

  2. I still have my grandmothers darning egg as well as one given to me by a friend. One is light brown, the other is painted black. Both have handles. One used for darning light colors, the other dark colors. I love your description of how they were used and wish my gran had taught me how to use one properly.
    I also have a drawer full of embroidered linens from both of my grandmothers that are still lovingly used. I love these ties to the women in my family.

  3. I knew what your egg was for, but I certainly have never used one. I am such a product of the disposable society I live in. While I feel bad about the things I throw out (and I’m sure there are many ways I could be more frugal and saving), I also recognize that, as you say, fabrics are not made for darning, and many other objects are similarly just not made to stand the test of time. It makes your linens and darning egg all the more treasured.

  4. Your darning egg is beautiful Quinn,
    it reminds me of an inlaid floor in the Wuerzburg’s Residenz that master craftsmen laid out. Every time I walked on it I held my breath, wondering if people even realized what they were standing on.
    I hope that as more and more people support the handmade movement that the world will fill back up with these kind of treasures that are of lasting quality. My mother-in-law gave me some German linens that I will always cherish. They are so heavy and silky at the same time that it’s hard to describe unless you can touch them yourself.
    Returning here to the US, I have had to buy 3 curling irons because they were all defective. Three different brands, all crap. I am wondering why this is tolerated. Maybe we’ve become so used to a rotten standard that it’s an affliction.
    So cheers to you and your egg! I hope we all have a few things in life that remind us that the world isn’t disposable!!!
    Best, tj

  5. How wonderful that you have that. I have my great grandmothers darning tool. It is rounded with a handle. I never learned to use it. It isn’t nearly as beautiful as yours but it was hers and I love it.

  6. My mom had one too, mushroom shape in oakwood, she passed away and it got lost.
    I would not know where to buy another one, it was and is a very useful thing to have!

  7. I had forgotten about the darning thing, mine was a mushroom and the top unscrewed. As an immigrant, my arrival was with one trunk on a boat charted for students to visit America. The arrival Pier in NYC harbor is long gone and the shipping line discontinued. It seemed like a romantic way to arrive in the USA, the influence of too many movies and books.

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