We've all had that "oh-no!" moment when we notice that our favorite shirt has developed a hole or a ripped seam. Next time it happens to you, don't worry. A little snag doesn't mean you need to ditch your go-to button-down just yet. Four hand stitches—the slip stitch, the catch stitch, the backstitch, and the running stitch—will get you through just about any sewing task.
For hemming, use the slip stitch or catch stitch. The slip stitch is virtually invisible and very durable—the thread is hidden inside the fold of fabric, where it's not subject to wear and tear. The catch stitch allows for a little bit of movement between the hem and garment. For other mending tasks, use the back stitch or running stitch. The back stitch approximates the straight stitch on a sewing machine, making it strong and perfect for mending a seam. The running stitch joins two pieces of fabric together temporarily.
Think of it this way: Every chance you have to practice your sewing technique is an opportunity to improve your skills. That's true whether you're just starting out with a needle and thread or you've been sewing for years. In fact, there's even an ancient Japanese art called sashiko that celebrates the mending of fabrics with beautiful stitches (and you don't have to be an expert to try it). When we mend clothes instead of discarding them, we are also doing a favor for the environment. Every year, households alone are discarding hundreds of pounds of fabric and textiles due to imperfections like shrinkage, stains, and snags. By taking a few moments to mend an article of clothing and giving it a second (third, or fourth) life, we can not only preserve items we've come to love, but also help keep textiles out of our landfills.
Ready to begin? In a few simple steps, learn how to patch a hole, repair a ripped seam, and fix a pulled hem.
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For mending fabrics, it's helpful to have these items in your sewing kit: mercerized-cotton thread, button twist thread, heavy-duty thread, beeswax (a disk can help stiffen thread and prevent tangling), marking pencil, six-inch ruler, needles, thimble, pins, and scissors (keep two pairs: one for trimming fabric and one for snipping threads).
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With only a few sewing supplies and the most basic stitches, you can repair the hole on any garment. Here, we used a denim shirt to demonstrate. For this mending task, you will need a needle and thread, straight pins, a quilter's ruler, a handheld iron, and two pairs of scissors (a small one for trimming the hole and a large one for cutting the patch material). You will use the overhand stitch, overcast stitch, catch stitch, and running stitch.
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Step 1: Cut Out the Hole
With small scissors, cut the hole into a clean square or rectangle. This will make the repair neater and easier. Trim any loose threads. At each corner of the square hole, cut a 1⁄4-inch notch at a 45-degree angle. Turn material inside out, fold square's 1⁄4-inch edges onto material's wrong side, and press them flat.
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Step 2: Prepare the Patch
With larger scissors, cut out the patch material; this patch was cut from the back of the shirt's pocket (the hole left behind can be patched later with another material, since it won't be visible). Measure, mark, and cut out a square that's 1⁄2 inch bigger all around than the hole you're repairing.
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Photography: David Prince6 of 15
Step 3: Match the Grain
With the shirt still inside out, position the patch on top of the hole, right (front) side down. If using a material with obvious grain, like denim, be sure to match up the patch and shirt so the grains run the same way. Turn the material right side out, and pin the patch in place. Now, baste the patch from the outside of the shirt: Starting anywhere on the square, make a 1⁄4-inch stitch down through the patch; push the needle up and out, catching the folded edge of the hole. Continue all around the hole, and remove pins.
Photography: David Prince7 of 15
Step 4: Join the Fabrics
Turn the shirt inside out. Next, perform the overhand stitch, simply a tighter version of the overcast stitch: Fold back the 1⁄2 inch excess of patch fabric, so it's flush with the folded edge of the hole. Insert the needle down through the folded edge of the patch (only one layer of fabric) and then stitch up diagonally through the folded edge of the shirt, joining the two fabrics. Continue this stitch in a uniform manner all around the square. Make several short backstitches at each corner to further secure the patch to the fabric. The overcast stitch will be slightly visible on the front of the shirt. Snip and pull out the basting thread.
Photography: David Prince8 of 15
Step 5: Finish the Edges
To finish the edges of the patch inside the shirt, use the catch stitch described on page 000. Cut off the tips of the four corners of the patch at 45-degree angles. Fold back each edge 1⁄4 inch. Catch stitch the edges to the shirt, picking up only one or two threads with each stitch. Press the patch when finished.
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The seam on this cotton shirt was mended using mercerized-cotton thread (in a contrasting color to illustrate; you should use thread that matches your fabric) and even the backstitch, one of the strongest hand stitches. For this mending task, you will need a needle and thread, marking pencil, a quilter's ruler, a handheld iron, and scissors. You will use the backstitch and overcast stitch.
Photography: David Prince10 of 15
Step 1: Prepare the Seam
Turn the shirt 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 fabric.
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Photography: David Prince11 of 15
Step 2: Close the Rip
Close the rip with the backstitch: 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). Repeat.
Photography: David Prince12 of 15
Step 3: Finish the Seam
Now, 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 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.
Photography: David Prince13 of 15
How to Fix a Pulled Hem
The catch stitch (also called the cross-stitch) was used to mend these cotton-Lycra pants, and mercerized-cotton thread in a contrasting color was used to illustrate (your thread and fabric should match). For this mending task, you will need a needle and thread, a handheld iron, and scissors. You will use the backstitch and catch stitch.
Photography: David Prince14 of 15
Step 1: Sew Diagonal Stitches
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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Step 2: Secure Your Stitches
Continue stitching up and down the hemline until the rip is closed. As you sew, keep the tension of the thread slightly loose; pulling it too tight could break it or pucker the fabric. Secure your work with a short backstitch, as you did at the start.
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