Sewing | An Article on Mending Skills

This article is intended as an overview to mending clothes and is not intended as a training document. For more detailed information on how to sew garments please subscribe to Threadelicious Threadbox.

Most people would say, ‘why are you wasting your time writing an article about mending it’s boring!’ Well not to me. You see I am rather passionate about sewing and mending to me is considerably exciting, as you never know what you are going to get to fix up. Mending is challenging both technically and creatively. Mending is a life skill after all the biggest human invention of all time was the sewing needle. Mends are mini sewing projects that you can take along wherever you go and usually require a short amount of time and can be done in between all the other jobs you do on a daily basis. At this time I am willing to write an article about mending if it is going to get some people picking up a needle and thread and start sewing so I hope you find it interesting, useful or inspiring.

Whether you are looking after your own or others clothes, mending and altering is a great way to practice all of your sewing skills and learn about fibre, durability and finesse. But it is also a chance to get creative and learn new fibre skills, and try out new stitches and experiment, in a way I think it brings out your textile artist side.

If you have already started following the modules in the ThreadBox and have got as far as Module 1 – Unit 5 then you may have in your possession a bag labelled F holding all of your Mending/Alteration projects. Otherwise if you are organised you may have a mending basket where everyone in the house throws in the items they need mending.

These are projects that you can pick up whenever you are in the mood to sew but don’t want to start a big project they can be done in the home or on the fly. Sometimes I keep mending projects like this in a little bag and fix them up when in a waiting room or sitting around for the kids, sitting at one of their sports events etc., or just watching a film or TV series, or to destress (which is an essential for me!) I can’t sit and do nothing, I never have idle hands!

Mending and Altering are really two very different things and I need to have either my mending head on or my altering head on as I may need to use very different skills and mindsets to determine how to deal with them.

Mending starts with a garment that is damaged or worn out that is close to leaving the house but with some tender loving care it can stay for a little while longer to be used for its original purpose.

Altering a garment can use totally different skills on clothing that may not even be damaged, and can give a garment a complete new lease of life even if the garment was brand new to start with. Altering may completely change a garment into something entirely different from its original purpose. Or simply change its size or length. So whatever you call it altering, re-purposing, or recycling this is where you can really get your ideas and creative juices going and use up all of your spare/waste fabrics. I will be covering Alterations in another Project Unit later in the year. But if you look on my recycle board on Pinterest you can get lots of ideas to start you off

With fewer schools teaching sewing skills or teaching unvaried sewing skills and families living outside of their original communities or away from other family members, and people prioritising other activities to fill their time, sewing skills are starting to dwindle. Where do you go if you want something mended? Can you do it yourself? Do you want to be able to do it yourself? Have you ever thrown anything away because it needed mending?

This is an upsetting state of play for me, for what it is worth I believe every person should have a basic set of skills for life and I consider basic sewing and mending to be amongst that list. I truly believe that if you have the capability to hold a needle and thread that you can work some sort of basic stitching. However trying to get my teenage boys to sit down and understand this theory is proving to be tricky!

We have plumbers, electricians and other experts that come into the home to fix household broken things, why are we discarding sewing skills in this way. There are less and less places you can take garments to for fixing and fewer people in family circles who have the skills. Skills of seamstresses and tailors are not being valued enough in our communities they are dwindling too because the cost of mending can outprice the cost of repurchase, but they need to make a living. By not having these skills in a community garments become throw away items.

If you already know how to mend and sew then please please teach others around you! I find myself driven to teach these skills to anyone who will listen and also hope to turn those around who don’t hear me yet!

The following information is simply an overview of what is possible with mending just to get you thinking about what kind of mends you might like to learn how to do. By no means is this an exhaustive list as this article would go on forever! As you read along think about how you would have done the mend or if you would have done anything differently.

The garments here are from my local community, I wanted some examples of mending for you and I mended all the items for free in exchange for photos for this article so I thank those who took the time to deliver and pick up and allow me to fix their clothes! I must say I had fun that week getting all the requests for mends and looking at the variety of fixes and mends. I would highly recommend you doing this to challenge yourself and your sewing skills! By the way I do have an alterations business and specialize in Bridal and Formal alterations.

Essentially I see mending split into two categories, Invisible Mending and Visible Mending.

Invisible mending is a secret - you attempt to mend without it being obvious that mending has taken place, to keep the garment as close to original condition as possible.

Invisible mending can demand perfect sewing or fibre skills to the level of artistry.

Visible mending is a statement – it is where you throw caution to the wind and make the mending visible but suitable for the garment so that the wearer is still happy or proud to wear it. Visible mending is not an alteration but can change what the garment looks like dramatically and you can pretend that the mending creativeness was always there and part of the garments personality.

Both forms of mending can use the same or a completely different set of skills. Both offer the chance to learn new skills from simple stitch placement and styles to embroidery, weaving, fibre arts, spinning, felting, knitting, crochet, lace making, tatting, beading etc. So this is the chance for you to practice other previous life skills that you have learnt. We could never cover every creative option in one article so this is where you can trawl Pinterest or google, UTube and lose yourself down the ‘Alice Hole’ learning (also my Grandma’s name!), growing and experimenting with everything fibre you can find. The good thing about the sewing art is that nothing is wrong and everything is a learning process.

For any type of fix stitches add strength to fabric, they make it more durable, thicker, heavier (and surprisingly so). Stitches make fabric into garments and I know that is an obvious statement but it always surprises me how and fabric feels and the weight which is so different when a garment comes together with stitches. So wherever possible I will always prefer stitches to any glue or iron on fix for mending although sometimes these new fibre technologies can give a more invisible mend but not necessarily a stronger fix.

In order to truly fix invisibly the more knowledge you have of the fibres your garment is made of, and the more understanding of the process that the thread went through to make the fabric for the garment the more ideas you will get to do the fix. So any other skill you do have will play a part in fine tuning your fixes. I have honed skills and taught workshops in fibre preparation, spinning, weaving, knitting, crochet, weaving, embroidery, beading and so on and every mend will take some portion of my skills to get the best results and this knowledge is continually growing over a lifetime. Practice makes it less about retaining information as it brings you more connected to the cloth and it simply becomes about the feel and becomes second nature, threading a needle, settling the thread, deciding on a knot, the stitching all becomes established in muscle memory and can literally be done with eyes closed and little thought process, you feel the job at hand rather than think it, I believe any master at a craft works in this way. Mending is going to take you on this journey.

If you have made the garment in the first place then the fix will be more simple to make as you are familiar with the shape, pattern fibre, fabric, etc. already, but other garments may require a little more study initially to see how it was constructed and what threads will match in texture thickness and colour for the best results. It goes without saying that any study of a garment designed and constructed by someone else will start ideas popping in your own head too, so it’s always worth jotting down any ideas in your notebook as you think of them.

The list of fixes possible for mending is really matched to the skills required to make the garment in the first place so if you are mending and don’t think you could make a garment then I say sign up to our sewing course because I believe you can, you just need to know the order in which do everything and the Threadelicious Threadbox will show you that.

Here is a list of some of the main things that would require mending;

A hole in the fabric

A split seam

A hem fix

A closure fix

A strap fix

A trim or decoration fix

The rest of this article looks at some of the fixes above as an overview to show examples of before and after with a brief explanation of how it was done. For more detailed view of sewing consider subscribing to the Threadelicious Threadbox.

I would also like to say at this point that I try to use what I have in order to mend including delving though my recycle bag A for those who already subscribe to Threadelicious Threadbox, so I will look at my stash first before I get my purse out.

A Hole in the Fabric

Woven Fabric Definition

On a basic level to fix holes it does help if you can identify whether the fabric was made using a woven technique i.e. a warp thread in one direction and a weft thread going under and over the warp threads to create a criss cross pattern or if the fabric was made using knit stitches where threads come through loops to create loops in this case it is important to secure the loops to stop a laddering (think tights) effect to continue.

This is an example of woven fabric it is a photo of a little project of mine using my hand spun yarn mostly silk and sea weed interestingly and woven on my ridged heddle loom. You can see the warp threads going from top to bottom and the weft threads going horizontally, the holes by the way are done on purpose – Leno weave if anyone is interested.

Obviously on a finer weave on a garment the threads used are much thinner than this to create your fabric but essentially it is the same idea.

Knitted Fabric Definition

Here is a photo of a project of mine a knitted scarf using a cashmere and silk yarn.

Although there is a pattern to this scarf which sends the stitches in different directions and again these holes are there on purpose as part of the pattern but you can see how the stitches look like little ‘V’ s all joined together. Anyone who knits knows that these are little loops that you hold on your knitting needle and if you drop a stitch a ladder effect would happen as the threads unravel.

Again these stitches are much larger than the thread and stitches used in your knit fabric for your garments but it proves a point in the difference between knit and woven fabrics.

The fix for a hole in a garment regardless of whether the fabric is woven or a knit fabric is determined by how big a hole is, if it is a little hole then just a few stitches will be needed to close it up quite invisibly, although you can never really expect a totally invisible mend. If the hole is any larger then you are walking into visible mending territory where darning will be required or using a patch to close up the hole either from the back of the fabric or applique to close up the front.

Example of a Woven Fabric Mend

Let’s have a look at this garment from my mending basket, it is a very fine top belonging to my mum an inexpensive top but still has some wear left in it. It is see through so she does wear it with a satin camisole underneath.

You can see that she has caught the fabric somehow almost centrally in the front and really ruined it. This is usually departure time for most wardrobes as this is a particularly difficult fix to deal with.

If I were to repurposing this top I might consider cutting it up and saving the lace sections and some ideas would be to use it to line little zip bags or I might make fruit and veg draw string bags out of it to take to the supermarket as this fabric has no weight.

But as we are looking at mending let’s see what can be done with this collection of holes.

If the hole was a little out of sight say in the armpit and this was a more precious fabric say a silk then I would take the time to attempt to sew this by creating a matrix with my pins along the top of the hole and the bottom of the hole and weaving a warp up and down around the pins and then weaving over and under in a weft fashion to create a new layer of stitches using a matching thread, in this case the finest of threads that I could find in my drawer. I have laid out the pins on this top just to show you what I mean, although there is obviously no hole in this section to fix.

I know that this is a very fine viscose or rayon fibre which resembles cotton and although it is made from manufactured cellulose fibres from plants or trees it is neither truly a natural or synthetic fabric it is somewhere in between because of the chemical process it goes through. I don’t mind viscose as a fibre as it will degenerate and decompose when you are finished with it and it uses less waste products than a polyester manufacturing.

The fix for this garment is not easy, anything you do here is going to always be visible no matter what. The main options are attempting to stitch the holes closed using a few running or satin stitches or attempting to weave a fix as outlined above. Or you could use a fix that requires no sewing. I know I just said I prefer not to do that, but this is one of the occasions where I will allow myself to do this as it will give an improved look to the holes!

In this case I used a very small piece of double sided thermos web fabric, you could use the tape that can be bought for hemming, it melts and sticks when you iron it on (although don’t put your iron directly on it or it will stick to the iron). This is cut to a size slightly larger than the hole and is placed behind the hole. Then another piece of either iron on interfacing or a silk organza (the large see through fabric that has the overlocked edge in this photo) of the same size is layered below that for support. It is also useful to add in this bottom layer just in case you feel you would like to add in a few stitches to finalise the mend. You can use this method to start off any hole fix really and it will hold everything in place while you stitch and gives you a base to work on.

The pieces are positioned and then ironed in place.

Here you cans see that I attempted to lay the loose threads flat and trimmed off any that are too long. But as you can see this fix is not ideal as you can see the interfacing behind the fix and the fix does not look invisible at all, keep in mind that there is a dark background below this photo.

However have a look at this photo. This is what the same fix looks like with the camisole worn underneath, all of a sudden the fix is starting to look less visible.

Here is a more zoomed out view of the same thing.

An option or an alternative to fixing in this way would be to do a visible mend by adding on beading or some sort of embroidery or applique some lace over the damaged area. I may yet do this to this top but I don’t have anything in my stash that would look right for now.

Example of a Knit Fabric Mend

Here is an example of a black knit jumper that has a hole (black does not photo very well under my light). Extra special care is needed here to fix this to a point where the hole is less noticeable and it will need some thought and delicate stitching to get it just right.

Here is a close up of the hole.

You can see the ladder effect as the little loops are stretched and start unravelling down the fabric.

Here I have put some strain on the fabric and you can see how far the ladder has gone, how the little loops are running down the fabric and unravelling. I have placed a little red pin cushion under the jumper here and this can be used during sewing to help give some contrast in colour and support when sewing, you can also buy a darning mushroom made out of wood that does a similar job if you have lots of these sorts of mends, useful to darn socks!

First start out by threading a needle with a thread that matches as closely in thickness and colour for sewing, tie a knot and secure it in the back of the garment, the knot will need to be large enough not to pop through the fabric.

To fix this I used an appropriately sized crochet hook to chain stitch each knit loop back up through the ladder. If you are a knitter then you may already know that you can use a crochet hook to do this when you drop a stitch rather than frogging a number of rows (pulling out). With the loop on the crochet hook you move under the next horizontal thread and pull it through the loop as you would in a chain stitch then do the same for the next and the next all the way up to the top of the hole.

Here you can see that I have secured the last loop with a pin for now. I have also pinned down each of the loops top and bottom to secure them for now.

Then each loop is chain stitched back up to the top and finally caught with small stitches with the sewing needle joining the loops to the top of the hole. If there are any gaps I might add a few more stitches or weave a little in and out to close them up and to give a little more strength to the fix.

Although not perfectly invisible it is a little better than before and no more laddering.

This photo shows a slightly smaller hole fixed on the same jumper.

Of course if you preferred to make the fix more obvious you could use a contrasting thread and use more stitches, or darn a patch over the fix.

To darn a fix (a visible mend) you would surround the hole with small running stitches in any shape, then create large stitches from one side to the other sewing under the outline running stitches to create a warp. The final step is to stitch perpendicular to the first large stitches under and over the first layer of stitches weaving a weft from one side to the other until the gap is closed. This stitch is generally used to mend socks as it is a more obvious fix.

A split seam

As split seams do tend to happen more regularly in seams under stress such as crotch, armpits or splits, they do benefit from lots of stitching to make them stronger and sometimes couture techniques can help to secure the seams further, such as creating a thread bar at the top of a split or a stay or strip of binding or selvage edge to further strengthen a seam.

I will consider either machine sewing or hand stitching to fix a split seam.

Armhole Split Seam

For most mends I would tidy up the area first as any loose or torn fabric can make a mend look untidy, but before I use the scissors I will always think about what needs to be done. This is where your pattern making and dressmaking skills can come in handy. For example look at the following top that has a split seam in the Back Shoulder area probably caused by moving the arms forward and causing a strain on this seam.

This can’t just be stitched as the fabric has been shredded in this area and needs tidying up and protected from further fraying first. This means that the shredded area will have to be trimmed away before stitching and the newly sewn area will need to take up some fabric from the back. The stitching line will need to blend down in to the armhole and up along the seam. To show you what I mean, I have marked the stitching line with pins.

Of course doing this will both alter the shape of the armhole on this side and make the back panel smaller on this side which was explained to the client. If the variance to the other side was going to be noticeable I would consider taking the same in on the other armhole to balance things up. However in this fix I didn’t do this because it would make the back even smaller and put more strain on these seams when worn.

After looking in my stash for the closest thread colour I have, the seam gets trimmed down to remove the damaged fabric.

Then overlocked on the raw edge (or in this case a zig zag stitch on my sewing machine as I don’t have that particular colour in quantity for my overlocker). The seam is then sewn and pressed.

Dress Side Split Seam

This dress although a simple fix has a little complexity as the fabric is fine and the style is to have the fabric crushed, so a little light pressing on the edges help to keep the fabric manageable and not curl up during fixing.