How to Fix Clothes

Do you have a split seam in your backpack? Should the button on the shirt be sewn back on? Or, if you’re ambitious, want to patch up a hole in your jeans? Let’s talk about the basics of clothing repair so you know what you can do to fix it and how you will do it.

We’ll start with the simplest things and move on to the more complex repairs. Everything on this list can be done by hand, so you won’t need a sewing machine, although it will help with some repairs.

Hand sewing basics

Take a needle, thread, and scissors. If you have a sewing kit somewhere, it is probably good enough as a last resort. Ideally, however, you will have a selection of different sizes of needles so you can choose what works best for your project and a few good quality hand sewing threads.

Cut the thread first. It should be long enough to be comfortable to work with, so for most projects it should be slightly shorter than the distance from the knee to the arm’s length. If you plan on using a single strand of yarn, use that convenient amount plus a little extra (six inches or so). If you are doubling the thread – which I recommend for sewing on buttons or for those who are afraid that the thread will unravel – you will need exactly double the length, which is comfortable to work with.

When you remove the thread from the spool, it often twists and gets tangled. If you are using double-length thread, cut off the entire double-length thread, thread the needle, and bring the two threads close to each other before allowing them to unwind. Each side will wrap around the other, stabilizing the thread so that it does not curl. If you are using a single length, just do your best to straighten it before you start sewing. If you still have problems with tangles while sewing, you can run the thread over a piece of candle wax or soap to stiffen it up a bit.

Before threading the needle, make sure the end is neatly cut so that frayed pieces do not hang over. I have a habit of licking the end of the thread if I need to push it through the small eye of the needle because it helps hold the fibers of the thread together. I’ve never used a needle threader (those little foil and wire accessories that come with many sewing kits), but you can if you want.Here’s a video showing how to do it .

If you were using double thread, tie a knot at the end at the top to act as a stopper, and insert it into the fabric so that the knot and tail are hidden on the back of the fabric or inside the seam. If you are using the same length of thread, simply sew two or three stitches in the same place on top of each other to secure the thread before starting.

You are now ready to sew. The basic stitches you need to know are found here . I use reverse stitching for most hand sewing and repairs as it is sturdy and reliable.

Split seams

The simplest repair is when two pieces of fabric have been joined by a seam, and now the thread holding that seam is loose and out of order. This can be easily corrected if the fabric is still intact on both sides . If the stitch is intact, and the fabric is torn, then the seam cannot be repaired; you need to patch the entire area instead. Ditto if the fabric stays in place but is thinly worn. There is no point in adding new stitches to a weak fabric that is about to rip again.

So, the fabric is still in good condition, but it hasn’t been stitched. Take thread (as above) and start sewing where the stitching is still good. Sew a few new stitches over the old ones to secure them in place, then continue. You should be able to see exactly where the old stitches were, so follow this line. Finish the same way as you started, using a new thread to secure the old one. If the seam is straight enough, the repair should be invisible from the outside.

Reattach a button

If the button falls off, replacing it is quite easy. Clothes often have a spare button sewn on somewhere inside, or sometimes a button is attached to a tag when you buy clothes. If not, buy a new one (or find one in your stash; it’s worth keeping a stock of buttons) and make sure it’s the same size as the one you’re replacing. If it’s too big or too small, it won’t go with the loop.

On thick fabric, such as a coat, the button should sit over the fabric. This means you need to make room for the fabric while you are sewing on the button. A toothpick or two crossed pins may help.


Patching is difficult because it looks so easy, but if you pay incorrectly, you may create more problems than you solve.

The idea is to replace all of the weakened fabric with a fabric that is at least as strong as the original. Take a pair of jeans, for example. You’ve got a two-inch hole in your kneecap. The denim around the hole will also be thin and loose, so you won’t be able to fix it with a two-inch patch. Take a closer look at the fabric and feel it with your hands to determine how much fabric should be gone. You will most likely need to replace the entire knee area.

So, find a large enough piece of fabric – ideally denim if you are patching. (If you think you’ll probably fix even more jeans in the future, it’s worth saving on trims of old pairs of jeans.) As a last resort, smooth patches are great, but they often need to be sewn a little to stay in place. and secure them correctly.Here’s a video that shows you different ways to secure jeans with adhesive tape.

For a basic patch, you have two options:

  1. Sew a patch on the inside of the garment behind the hole to reinforce the fabric but leave the hole visible.
  2. Sew the patch on the outside of the garment so the patch is visible and the edges are finished.

The second option is the most accurate. Either iron the edges of the patch to fold it down, or schedule a stitch or quilt stitch along the edge of the raw fabric. Whichever approach you choose, sew on the patch, making sure your stitches fit onto a good, durable fabric. Then, if you’re using the second approach, trim the old fabric underneath the patch so that the torn edges of the hole won’t irritate you when you put it on.


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