A darning mushroom

Up until the middle of the 20th century, men’s socks were usually made of wool. They were prone to develop holes, particularly on the heels, due to the constant friction between the sock and the shoe. Similar holes might have appeared at the elbows of children’s knitted woollen jumpers.

Most sewing boxes would have contained a darning mushroom.

This smooth wooden object could be inserted under the hole before attempting a repair. It served to hold the tube of the sock or sleeve open, whilst providing a firm base for sewing, and prevented a stitch from going through both layers of the clothing by mistake.

Most households would have had a small stock of darning wool in common sock colours available for making the mend.

A long length of the wool was threaded into a needle and long parallel stitches were sewn across the hole with one hand, whilst the other hand held the mushroom by its handle. Then the work was turned through a right angle and the wool was woven under and over alternate strands. The next pass went over and under and the process was continued until the hole was filled with a woven darn and the garment was ready for a new lease of life.

The mushroom at Market Lavington Museum has a handle that can be unscrewed. It dates from the early 20th century and belonged to Lucretia Ethel Gye, the mother-in-law of the founder of our museum. (The Gye’s building firm on White Street continued in her name after the death of her husband.)

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