With only a few sewing supplies and the most basic stitches, you can repair holes, seams, and hems on your garments and extend the life of your clothes.
To make the hole easier to repair, cut around it with small scissors to make a neat square or rectangle; trim any loose threads. At each corner of the hole, cut a 1/4-inch notch at a 45-degree angle. Turn the material inside out. Fold the square's 1/4-inch edges onto the material's wrong side, and iron flat.
Turn the shirt inside out. Fold back the 1/2-inch of excess fabric so it's flush with the folded edge of the hole, folding the corners over each other. Insert the needle through the folded edge of the patch; stitch up diagonally through the folded edge of the shirt, joining the two fabrics. Continue all around the square. Remove the basting thread.
Use a cross-stitch to finish the edges of the patch inside the shirt. Also called a catch stitch, this technique holds the patch in place. Cut off the tips of the patch's corners at 45-degree angles. Fold back each edge 1/4 inch. Cross-stitch the edges to the shirt, picking up only one or two threads with each stitch. Inserting the needle from right to left creates a series of tiny Xs. Once the hole has been patched, iron the patch in place before turning the shirt right side out. Iron the patch in place again if necessary.
To mend a ripped seam on a cotton shirt, use mercerized-cotton thread in a shade that matches the fabric's dominant color. Turn the garment inside out. Tie off the loose machine-stitched threads around the tear. To follow the original stitch line, draw a guideline with a marking pencil. To secure the thread, make a short backstitch about 1/2 inch before the rip. Take the stitch through both layers of the fabric.
Close the rip with the backstitch, one of the strongest hand stitches: With right (front) sides of the fabric together, bring the needle through the two layers of fabric. Insert the needle back down through the fabric about 1/8 inch to the right; bring it back up 1/8 inch to the left of where you started (so each stitch will overlap the last by 1/8 inch).
Depending on the garment's original seam finish, you can open the seam and press it flat, or finish the seam with an overcast stitch: From underneath, pull the needle and thread through both pieces of fabric; then come up and over the seam allowance, on a slight diagonal, and reinsert the needle and thread, being careful not to pull the thread too taut. Repeat until the area being repaired is covered. Secure stitches with a short backstitch. Press the seam.
To illustrate the mending of these cotton-Lycra pants, we used red mercerized-cotton thread (you should use a color that matches the fabric). To begin, turn the pant leg inside out. Start and end your repair about 1/2 inch on either side of the rip. You don't have to knot your thread for this task; to secure it in the fabric, use a short backstitch: Piercing only the folded inner edge of the fabric, insert the needle in the hem, below the seam, and pull it out to make an 1/8-inch stitch. Reinsert the needle through the same stitch, and repeat once more to secure.
Just above the hem, insert needle through the fabric from right to left. Make the smallest possible stitch; it will show on the right side of the fabric. Bring the thread down and to the right of the diagonal, and make a stitch in the hem, piercing only the top layer of fabric, again pushing the needle from right to left. Draw the thread up and take another stitch above the hem, about 1/2 inch to the right of the previous stitch, again inserting the needle from right to left. Repeat.
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