#134: You Can Mend Clothes

Check Your Thread
Check Your Thread
#134: You Can Mend Clothes

Are you interested in mending your clothes but you’re just not sure where to begin? For this episode, we’re taking a different approach to the topic of mending in that this episode is for complete beginners, no prior knowledge of sewing is needed or assumed AT ALL. But for the regular listeners who already engage in sewing and mending, this episode is kind of for you too. It’s an excellent resource to forward on to people in your life who are interested in keeping their clothes in use for longer, and who you feel might be open to learning how to do it for themselves.This episode is one part pep talk, one part practical guide. You’ll be left feeling empowered to start repairing your own clothes. 

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The climate action NGO WRAP has published studies on the impact on keeping our clothes in use for longer. 

The items I think you need for a basic but very effective mending kit:

So you’ll need:

  • Hand sewing needles: try to find a pack that includes needles that range in thickness. Different thicknesses of needle will be suitable for different thicknesses of fabric.
  • Sewing thread: go for reels polyester or 100% cotton thread made by a known brand like Guterman, Meltler or Coats/Moon. Cheap, or very old, sewing threads are liable to break. If you bought a sewing kit that includes some thread, treat yourself to some stronger, higher quality stuff anyway. It’s a good idea to keep a small range of common colours in your kit (black, white, navy, red, grey and cream perhaps) which should cover the majority of your projects, and add other colours to your collection as you require them.
  • Small, sharp scissors or thread snips: a basic, shop-bought sewing kit may or may not include these but they are definitely necessary. Cheap thread snips are available in most haberdasheries, but sharp nail scissors will also do.
  • Pins: a pack/tub of sharp pins is very helpful to keep things in place during your repair or alteration. Only an octopus could successfully complete every project without some pins. Pins that come with little plastic shapes or spheres attached to the end are easier to pick up. 
  • Safety pins: a few safety pins in a range of sizes will likely come in very handy. They can be used instead of pins for some projects to keep things in place, and you will be less likely to get stabbed whilst using them. Safety pins are also invaluable for threading elastic through a channel. 
  • Seam ripper (AKA stitch ripper/quick unpick): these sharp metal hooks with plastic or wooden handles are useful for removing stitches carefully. Using scissors or snips to do so is more likely to result in holes in the fabric. 

Additional items and materials to allow you to make patches and expand your repertoire of repairs:

  • Tape measure: This is for working out how big you need to cut a patch. Fancier, retractable tape measurements are available if you wish, but the basic kind that you sometimes win in Christmas crackers is also fine! 
  • Tailors chalk or fabric marking pen/pencil: This is for drawing out the size and shape of the patch you require before cutting it out. There is a wide range of fabric marking tools available. From the basic triangle shaped tailor’s chalks, to chalk wheels that dispense chalk dust, to marker pens with ink that disappears when you iron it. They all do a similar job, so buy whichever appeals to you and see if you like using it. 
  • Fabric scissors: they are going to make cutting fabric to create patches a joy. Using other types of scissors such as paper scissors or kitchen scissors is an option of course, but using blunt or unsuitable scissors for the task will be frustrating and may damage the fabric. So use non-fabric scissors at your own risk.
  • Fabric scraps: As you can imagine, these are to make the actual patches. You’ll need a variety of types of fabric, basically try to gather a selection that represent the types of fabrics you’d find in your wardrobe, seeing as those are the items you’ll be fixing. It is particularly useful to have scraps of denim, T-shirt jersey and stable, woven cotton (like shirt fabric). Fabric scraps can be harvested from old garments that are beyond repair. 
  • Iron: this will allow you to improve the finished look of your repair. It is also essential for making neat patches, and at a later date using fusible interfacing if that’s something you eventually get round to. Make sure the base (the soleplate) is clean and free from any burnt-on residue. Keep a piece of light-weight, 100% cotton woven fabric with your iron to use as a pressing cloth. 
  • Ironing board: obviously goes hand-in-hand with an iron, but I’ve always found it can also provide a useful surface for resting your project on whilst you work. A heat resistant surface like a kitchen worktop covered with a clean towel can be a substitute at a pinch. 

And lastly, a couple of useful additions:

  • Buttons: obviously it’s great when you can catch a button that’s coming loose rather than completely falling off and getting lost, then the buttons will on your garment will all continue to match. But as well all know, that isn’t always the case. So keep a little selection of standard looking buttons in a variety of colours and sizes. Some buttons have two or four holes in them, other buttons have a bit that sticks out with a hole through which is called a shank. Like fabric scraps, buttons can be harvested from old clothes, and make sure to keep any spares that come attached to your shop-bought clothing. 
  • Iron-on patches: if you like the look of ready-made, iron-on patches, then they are a great tool for quickly covering up a hole or stain. If you see any that appeal to you, buy them to have on hand. 

Common repair tasks and resources for guidance:

Stitching a button on:

This video by Treasurie shows the three different types of button. 

Repairing the broken stitching in a seam:

This video by Rokolee DIY shows both back stitch and a ladder stitch techniques. 

Repairing a hem:

This video by GreenecoStyle shows the blind stitch approach to fixing an invisible hem. 

If the original stitching at the hem is visible, then I’d recommend a backstitch to replicate the look of sewing machine stitching. 

This video by Sewn Company shows how to do backstitching more neatly. 

Repairing a tear:

This video by Rokolee DIY shows how to use a whipstitch to close the tear by bringing the edges back together and use a scrap of fabric on the inside to stabilise the repair at the same time. This is a good idea if the tear has occurred in an area of weakened fabric. 

This video by @elhrfy shows a more challenging approach but shows how you can effectively deal with a tear in fabric that probably occurred when the garment got caught on something and the surrounding fabric is in good condition. 

To Repair a hole or stabilise a worn out area:

This video by This Little Farmhouse walks you through how to make a patch that goes behind the hole. 

Katrina Rodabaugh’s book ‘Mending Matters’ is an excellent resource for making and applying both external and internal patches. 

This blog post by Indestructables includes two methods, an iron-on no-sew approach, and a hand-stitched approach:

Other books:

Check out these other episode of CYT: 

Happy mending!

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