Clothing repair is a lost art, but I don’t mean to suggest that this post will replace all the art that has been lost! This is just one way that I’ve found to be a satisfactory way to repair clothes.
I used to just throw away clothes with rips and tears, but when I got more into simple living and simplifying my belongings a few years ago, I realized how wasteful it is to toss out something just because it needs a few stitches. After a few attempts at trying to mend things, I realized I didn’t know what I was doing and looked around on “The Google” to learn some more. And that was when I realized just how lost clothing repair is!
I found some blogs that mentioned people repairing clothes, but with frustratingly little details. I found oodles of stuff on how to sew a seam, or how to sew on those impractically stiff “patches” you can buy in craft stores, or iron-on patches, but not much on how to elegantly patch pretty, delicate clothing (the kind that always rips) in a way that 1) Does not require appliqué-type patching techniques or 2) look funny or feel funny.
I should mention a few things about clothing repair, first:
There are different kinds of tears. A ripped-out seam is easy to re-sew (if it is a seam you sewed yourself, check thread tension, or quality of thread – perhaps this is why the seam came apart in the first place).
Then there are the terrible, awful, mid-fabric tears that are so unsightly! This post is about repairing THAT kind of tear.
It’s also a good idea to check over the general quality and wear of the fabric. If the fabric itself is threadbare and barely in existence, this might make it a candidate for actually being thrown away. Repairing a garment that is so worn out that the fabric itself is wearing out does not give you that much longer to wear that garment. If the fabric still has a lot of life in it – repair it!
I’ve made an interesting observation about modern fabrics…they just don’t last very long. Nearly 33 years ago, when I was a baby, my mom scrounged some gorgeous Korean cotton baby clothes from the free box at the University housing where we lived while my dad worked on his PhD. I wore them. Then my brother wore them. Then they sat in a box for 20 years, until Mirin was born, and he wore them. Then Rose wore them. Then Clothilde wore them.
They are being packed away in a box again, ready for the next baby (it’s up to my brother this time!). They are still in good condition, and the cotton is still soft and thick, despite many, many washings and much wear. In contrast, the cotton baby onesies I got when Rose was a baby are falling apart, and were in very poor condition when I used them for Clo (she was the kind of baby/toddler best put into a worn, grungy onesie most of the time anyway).
I’m not sure why this old cotton is so superior. Different cotton variety? Better soils back then? Different manufacturing? The point is – take a good look at the quality of the fabric before you bother to repair a garment. I also like to check for fabric quality before I buy a garment.
This was a very pretty dress that Rose has been wearing for several years. Although the fabric is a light, floaty cotton fabric, it is still strong. It sadly got a rip in it one day when she was playing with our terribly behaved 6-month old puppy, who caught the fabric with her front claws.
Step # 1 is to find matching thread. We didn’t have any good options, and since we are still “gainfully unemployed”, buying new thread is not an option. We opted for the pearl grey color, although the mend is much more invisible and pretty if you have truly matching thread.
Step #2: Find a scrap of light fabric that fits over the torn place. It doesn’t matter much what color it is – unless the garment is very light and it shows through. This is a stained piece of dressmaker’s muslin (the children tried to dye it with mulberries a couple of years ago. It didn’t work).
Step # 3: Starting on the inside of the garment, carefully pin around the outside of the rip. Smooth both the patch and the garment fabric to keep everything as flat and wrinkle-free as possible.
Step #4: Turn the garment right-side out, and carefully smooth and pin the other half of the rip to the patch fabric.
Step #5: Either by hand (works, too, but takes more time!) or on a sewing machine, zig-zag stitch over the rip, as if you were sewing a button hole, with the stitches very close together. This stabilizes the rip and keeps the threads of the fabric from tearing more (if you simply sew the rip together without the backing fabric, the garment fabric will just wear away from the stitches – I’ve tried it before, unsuccessfully).
Step #6: Make sure your stitches overlap the tear. See here, my stitches didn’t on the top side. I went back and did another line of stitching to make sure the garment fabric was firmly sewn to the patch.
Step # 7: Turn the garment inside out again, and take out the pins on that side. Press the patch fabric away from the seam and trim with pinking shears.
Step#8: Remove the pins on the other side of the patch, and trim that side as well. Here is the result, on the inside of the garment:
When worn, the light patch fabric will ripple and bend along with the rest of the fabric. It feels like a regular seam against the skin, and so it is unnoticeable while being worn. This is what it looks like on the outside:
If we had used perfectly matching thread, the patch would have been nearly invisible. As it is, it is difficult to notice. And Rose is happy to have a favorite dress back in the closet!
12 Comments Add yours
This repair came out very well! 🙂 Actually, old sewing machine manuals always explain how to repair clothes, with zig-zag and darning, as this was a very common thing to do back then, and now you could do it faster with your sewing machine – how exciting! 🙂
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Thanks! See, I just needed to find an old sewing book! Instead I had to plug along and try to figure it all out myself. It actually took me awhile to come up with this repair method!
I’m sure it wasn’t all that easy, having to invent it all! That’s why sewing used to be taught at school, along with cooking, maths and languages. All useful skills! 🙂
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Most certainly! I did take home ec in middle school, but it just wasn’t what it used to be.
We baked cookies and worked on an easy cross-stitch pattern. Nothing about clothing repair or more involved, actual home economics!
Yes it is. I recycled some of my son’s t shirts into a blanket after they were worn out but passed on the wearable cloths
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That’s a great idea! I’ve made crochet rugs from old, torn up t-shirts before. People used to use old cloth scraps for dusting/cleaning or quilting (if they weren’t too worn).
Thank you for this instruction. I have a favorite skirt that got a similar tear and hadn’t given up on it yet.
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It’s so wonderful to have favorite clothes mended and wearable again!
This actually doesn’t work doing it by hand as the stitches still tear away from the fabric. I have used different sizes of stitching, and different stitches. I have followed the advice in books (limited), online (virtually non existent for a tear that isn’t to be patched and isn’t jeans) and my own inventions. They usually look pretty nice when you do them but the functionality is so poor that there isn’t any point. The fraying of a sturdy cotton still has the mending stitches pulling through. Even with a backing fabric (the stitches remain attached to backing but pull away from the tear. ) Darning works (the hand kind but it is visible and time consuming and seems overkill for a tear when there is no hole). It is a problem!
I am an advocate for hand sewing so really want to find a solution, as usually hand sewing matches machine strengthwise (when done well). Back in the very old days they went in for invisible mending which is extremely skilled and not for those of use with dodgy eyes (you used very fine thread or even hair and replicate the fabric weave exactly). Otherwise old books take the darning route. Seemingly nothing in between. I want to avoid fusible fabrics as I think it should be possible and as you mention they make fabric stiff.
Hi Sandra! Thanks so much for sharing! I’ve found that it 1)depends on the shape, size, and location of the rip and 2) depends on the fabric. I’ve done a bunch of these repairs and some last longer than others. I have some I’ve had to keep mending and some I’ve done on garments two years ago that I wear often and are virtually invisible still. We hadn’t had any income at all for 6 months when I originally wrote this article, so to be able to get even a little more wear out of a garment makes me happy!
I didn’t realize darning was possible except for knits, where you can pick up and graft the stitches! Great to know difêtent techniques! My hand stitches are not as even as the machine stitches, but since one of my children fatally broke my sewing machine this year, I’ve been doing a lot more by hand!
Fine writing ! Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful blog. It’s clean, engaging and very very enjoible. Keep writing as I am waiting for your next.
Read an interesting Blog on “Invisible mending Sydney” now
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Thank you! I’m working on a post right now😁