The Lost Art Of Mending

lost-art-mending
Photo by Robyn Rosenfeldt

Have you ever had to throw out a piece of clothing because it got a stain you couldn’t remove, or a hole you couldn’t mend? In our efforts to reduce our burden on the planet many of us buy second hand clothes, or pass on the clothes we don’t want anymore so that they can have another life with another owner. But what about the clothes that are just too stained or damaged to be passed on?

While some of us are crafty, and quite happy to darn our favourite stripy socks, others feel overwhelmed by the prospect of having to mend or alter a piece of clothing. Never fear! The following ideas for altering and repairing old clothes will have you rebirthing old clothes into a whole new sartorial array.

1. NEEDLE FELTING: FOR REPAIR AND DECORATION

This can be applied to any woollen garment that has a hole or stain. It requires no skill, and only a small investment in needle felting tools, which can be purchased easily at your local craft shop or online. Please note that, while this project is suitable for kids and beginners, it does involve sharp needles so please exercise care!

You will need

  • A wool or mostly-wool garment that has holes and/or stains. I had a beautiful wool vest from an op shop which had both.
  • A small amount of fleece or wool roving (available from craft shops or online). I used a handful of handdyed fleece bought from a local grower at the farmers’ market.
  • A needle felting needle and brush. The brush is optional, and you can use a piece of foam, but I find that a brush is easier to use, especially for inexperienced felters.
  • A spray bottle with water in it, or a damp cloth, and an iron.
lost-art-mending
Photo by Robyn Rosenfeldt

Method

Identify the sections of the garment that need repairing and mark them out (e.g. with pins). Now comes the fun part. Lay your garment out flat and place the brush underneath the area you will work on. Pinch off small amounts of fleece. Resist the temptation to grab a huge chunk: it’s much better to build it up as you go, especially if this is your first project.

lost-art-mending
Photo by Robyn Rosenfeldt

Use the needle to ‘stab’ the fleece onto the garment, covering up the stains or holes. The special barbs on the needle will mesh the fibres together, creating a felted shape that is firmly attached to the garment.

Keep adding fleece in smallish pinches until you achieve the shape and thickness that suits your project. Simple shapes (e.g. spots and love hearts) are good for beginners, but as you practise and gain confidence you can make almost any shape that comes to mind. Clouds made from natural fleece are especially lovely.

Once you have created the shape you want, to the thickness you want, and all of the fibres have been felted together so that you can see no loose strands, remove the garment from the brush. This might be a bit tricky at first, but just go slowly and gently. Lightly dampen the felting and iron it well on the reverse side of the felted patch. And here’s a tip: the ironing part is recommended but not essential. I live in an off-grid house and don’t own an iron, but have successfully used this method on many a cardy.

2. APPLIQUE: FOR REPAIR AND DECORATION

lost-art-mending
Photo by Robyn Rosenfeldt

This can be applied to any garment that has small holes or stains, or even to a garment that just needs a little jazzing up. It would be a good project for a beginner who has some experience using a sewing machine, or it could be done by hand. Please note that this method is not recommended for very big holes.

You will need

  • Any garment that has holes and/or stains. I used a yellow cotton cardigan that had both.
  • A sewing machine or hand sewing needle.
  • Scraps of fabric to make shapes.
  • Pins and thread.

Method

Identify the sections of the garment that need repairing and mark them out (e.g. with pins).

lost-art-mending
Photo by Robyn Rosenfeldt

Cut out pieces of fabric which are big enough to cover the holes or stains. I used leaf shapes because they’re easy and pretty, but you could use other simple shapes (e.g. circles or squares). Obviously, if you’re an advanced sewer (or ambitious) you could make other shapes, but the leaf is my favourite.

Lay your garment out flat, and pin your shapes over the stains or holes. If you have a big stain, you could layer several shapes together. Pin generously. If you have a stretch garment don’t stretch it as you’re pinning, or it will pucker.

Using the sewing machine, or a needle and thread, stitch around the shape to fix it in place. I don’t turn the edges under, and use a zigzag stitch on my machine so the fabric doesn’t fray. If you’re hand stitching, you could use blanket stitch.

Repeat until all the holes or stains are covered.

3. REPLACING BUTTONS: FOR REPAIR AND DECORATION

lost-art-mending
Photo by Robyn Rosenfeldt

Sometimes buttons fall off; sometimes they’re ugly or boring, or not the best colour. It’s amazing the joy that a simple button replacement can bring. Replacing buttons is not difficult, and can be done by anyone, even someone with no sewing experience. All it takes is a little care and patience. Replacement buttons can be purchased from an op shop, online or from your local craft shop.

You will need

  • A garment that needs some exciting button replacement action. I had a gorgeous woollen cardigan from the op shop, but the buttons were not to my taste.
  • Enough new buttons, or a matching replacement button.
  • Needle and thread, and pins.

Method

Lay your garment out flat. If you’re replacing the buttons, carefully snip the threads holding the old buttons in place. The buttons you remove can be saved for another project, or passed on for someone else to use.

Locate where to sew on the new buttons. If you’re replacing buttons that have been removed recently, you may be able to see a piece of thread which indicates where the old button was. Alternatively, or if you’re replacing a button that’s long gone, use the buttonholes for reference: carefully align the garment opening, and locate the pin(s) through the buttonholes.

lost-art-mending
Photo by Robyn Rosenfeldt

Now, stitch on your buttons. There are many and varied methods for sewing on buttons. This method is strong and not too complicated. Using doubled thread, thread your needle so that you will be sewing with four strands. Tie a knot in the end. Starting on the wrong side of the garment, bring the needle through the garment, through the button, and then back down through the garment. Before pulling the thread tight on the other side, pass the needle through the loop made by the knot at the end of your thread. Pull tight, to close the loop. Stitch three times through the garment and button, finishing on the wrong side of the garment. Make three small stitches through the back of the stitches that secure the button, looping the last one through itself to make a knot. Repeat until all buttons are sewn in place.

4. SEWING A COLLAR ONTO AN OLD OR RECLAIMED TOP

This is a great way to fancy-up a plain top from an op shop, and can also be used to cover up a stain or alter a too-tight neckline. This is a project for someone with a reasonable amount of sewing experience, as it involves using a sewing machine to sew curved lines, and using a combination of stretch and woven fabric, which can be tricky if you’re a beginner. You could do this project by hand, if you have the patience.

lost-art-mending
Photo by Robyn Rosenfeldt

You will need

  • A plain top. I used a maternity T-shirt from an op shop.
  • A small amount of matching, contrasting or interesting fabric.
  • 25 mm bias binding (available from your local craft shop or online).
  • Sewing machine, or needle and thread.

Method

If you are changing the neckline of your top, cut the neck to the shape you want. If you’re not changing the neckline, cut off the existing neck band carefully, as closely as you can.

lost-art-mending
Photo by Robyn Rosenfeldt

Make a shape for your collar. I made a classic Peter Pan shaped collar, but you can make any shape you want. Using some scrap paper, make a template for the collar pieces, ensuring the inside of the collar follows the shape of the neck hole. You can do this by laying the paper underneath the top and tracing it with a pencil. Cut out four of the collar shapes (two for each side).

With right sides facing, stitch together the collar pieces on the outside curve only. Turn right side out, and press. Pin into position on the neckline.

Stitch bias binding around the neckline, being sure to enclose the collar as you go.

You could also add buttons, rickrack or other braid as you feel inclined.

lost-art-mending
Photo by Robyn Rosenfeldt

5. PATCHING

lost-art-mending
Photo by Robyn Rosenfeldt

Patching is a great way to prolong the life of a favourite piece of clothing, and is especially handy for kids’ clothes that can often wear out in one spot (usually the knee) but are otherwise fine. You can patch using a machine or by hand, and it’s not too tricky. Pinning a patch before stitching is the secret.

You will need

  • A piece of clothing with a hole in it.
  • A scrap of fabric.
  • Sewing machine or needle and thread.

Method

lost-art-mending
Photo by Robyn Rosenfeldt

Lay your garment out flat and cut a piece of fabric slightly larger than the hole you want to cover. Square shapes are best if you’re a beginner, but you can use any shape you want. Make sure that any patch is at least two centimetres bigger than the hole on all sides.

Pin the patch over the hole, turning under the edges as you go.

Stitch around the edge of the patch. If you’re using a machine, a zigzag stitch works well. If you’re hand sewing, experiment with something like blanket stitch.

Be brave, and note that there are many good tutorials for sewing techniques online.

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