Clothing always seems to fail at the most inopportune moment. Who hasn’t bent into a downward dog only to hear the terrifying rip of your yoga pants? Or rushed to a job interview and realized your formerly pristine dress shirt is missing a button?
While you can’t always control the timing of wardrobe malfunctions, you can restore your clothes to tip-top shape. Some repairs, such as wedding dress alterations, are best left to the pros, but you can do plenty of simple at-home repairs yourself. These techniques can vastly extend the life of your clothing and minimize the impact on your wallet of either replacing or professionally repairing the item.
Ready to bring your damaged clothing back to its former condition? Here are some skills to learn.
1. Sew on a Button
Check out your buttons every time you do laundry — it’s a great time to see whether any are coming loose. If you notice one starting to dangle, be sure to fix it before it falls off. Reattaching it is a lot easier when you don’t have to go through the hassle of locating a replacement button.
If you weren’t able to catch it in time and you don’t have the original button, see if there is a replacement somewhere on the garment. Many shirts and pants have spare buttons stashed inside the waistband, cuffs or the button placket (the double layer of fabric where the buttons and buttonholes are). If there is no spare to be found, head to a craft or fabric store with the garment to match the button as closely as possible.
You’ll also need thread that matches the color of your garment and a needle. Once you have your materials in place, follow these simple directions to attach your button.
2. Fix Torn Seams
When the seat of your pants splits in half (or when a less dramatic seam fails), follow these directions from Nicola Donati Fine Tailoring and Alterations’ head tailor to get those seams looking like new. This technique is moderately difficult, so consider watching the video a couple of times before beginning.
You will need thread that matches the garment, a needle, scissors and a thimble (to protect your finger when working with thick materials such as denim). First, flip the clothing inside out to locate the hole. Next, prepare the needle and thread by cutting a length of thread, tying a knot in one end, and threading the needle.
Create a running stitch to bring the seam together. Next, create an overstitch to finish the seam and secure the running stitches so the seam doesn’t fray. Finally, tie your finishing knots, cast off and trim the extra thread. The video does a fine job of illustrating these steps and stitches; after watching, even an amateur sewer should be able to fix a torn seam.
3. Replace a Drawstring
When the drawstring pulls out of your favorite hoodie or sweatpants, follow these simple instructions to put it back in place with no fuss. This is a simple technique and it works best when the drawstring is completely out of the garment. If you’ve lost one end of it within the waistband, it’s best to pull it completely out so you can follow this technique.
First, you will need a safety pin. Affix the safety pin to one end of the drawstring and then begin feeding it through the track that the drawstring came out of. Slowly, work the safety pin through the waistband (or hoodie drawstring hole) and gently help the safety pin move around to the other hole. When you pull it out on the opposite side, simply remove the safety pin. Consider tying larger knots on both ends of the drawstring to prevent it from disappearing again.
4. Sew a Hem
Sewing a hem is a simple yet invaluable skill that can help shorten too-long shirts, dresses and pants. Learning this technique also allows you to finish unraveled edges and put a nice finish on tablecloths, curtains and more.
Follow these instructions from Threads Magazine to learn how to hem by hand and sewing machine.The instructor explains the components of a hem (including the types of edges, the hemline and hem allowance). This thorough tutorial provides detailed information on how to make a blind hem (the most common type) with popular stitching techniques, including a catch stitch or a slip stitch. Even if these terms seem unfamiliar, have no fear. Anyone can sew a hem. It might take a few tries to perfect it, but this skill will surely pay off.
5. Patch a Hole
To patch a hole, you will need: fabric shears, thread (to match the patch), needle, ruler, pins, iron and fabric for patching. Choose fabric for the patch that is at least as sturdy as the fabric that gave way initially.
The old saying to “measure twice and cut once” comes into play here. Learn how to measure the patch and determine the correct size, prepare it by pressing the edges with an iron, pin it over the hole in the right spot, and master the tricky technique of sewing the patch onto the knee of pants without accidentally sewing the legs together! Watch this video for complete directions. This is a moderately difficult technique that most people should be able to master.
6. Darn a Sock
When your toes start poking out of holes in your socks, you don’t have to suffer freezing feet and it’s not necessarily time to throw them out. Darning isn’t just an old-fashioned word — it’s a classic way to save your socks.
This sock-patching technique requires a darning needle (which is long with a large eye and a blunted edge), embroidery floss and a “darning mushroom” (or something with a rounded edge to stretch the sock over — a tennis ball will do). First, flip the sock inside out and stretch it over the darning mushroom (or substitute). Be sure not to knot the thread since that may create an uncomfortable bump. The video provides a detailed illustration of exactly how to stitch up the holes.
This is a fairly advanced technique, but it’s worthwhile to try it on an old pair of socks that’s destined for the rag pile first to perfect the technique before moving on to nicer socks in need of patching.
7. Fix Zipper Issues
These devices can have a number of problems, including relatively easy-to-fix slider issues, when the slider has jumped to one side of the zipper. It’s always frustrating when a backpack or purse zipper decides to jump the rail and the zipper splits wide open, leaving only the lone slider to pinch the two sides together. However, this is not too difficult to fix.
But if those methods don’t fix your zipper, it might be time to replace the entire zipper.While this is slightly more complicated than sewing on a button or hemming pants, it is still something that even an amateur sewer can accomplish.
A little bit of handiwork can save you big bucks by extending the life of your clothing. This also comes in handy when you can find used, slightly-damaged clothing at a deep discount, whether thrifting, shopping at big box stores or browsing the local boutique. Bring it home, patch it up and enjoy your bargain! You could even rent your repaired clothes out for a little extra cash.
Your Turn: Do you repair your damaged clothes? Did we miss a skill you’ve mastered?
Kristen Pope is a freelance writer and editor in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.