Modern Mending: How to Sew a Hole, Mend a Seam, and Fix a Hem

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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.

Beyond elementary darning and patching, there's a whole world of mending techniques to learn. Check your local sewing store for classes and workshops, or page through one of these expert guide books for inspiration: Mending Matters: Stitch, Patch, and Repair Your Favorite Denim & More by Katrina Rodabaugh, Darning: Repair, Make, Mend by Hikaru Noguchi, and Slow Stitch: Mindful And Contemplative Textile Art by Claire Wellesley-Smith.

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. Hundreds of years ago, the wives of Japanese farmers and fishermen began embroidering their work clothes with running stitches to make them more durable. This tradition, called sashiko, worked so well that the garments often lasted generations. During World War II, patriotic Brits patched knees and elbows, vowing to "make do and mend" to support their troops. In today's fast-fashion world, where we're tempted to replace our wardrobe every season, these stitches are teaching us to shop for life. Each good-quality piece you buy, care for, and darn or patch as needed means one less in a landfill.

Ready to begin? In a few simple steps, learn how to patch a hole, repair a ripped seam, and fix a pulled hem.

01 of 07

Sewing Supplies

sewing supplies to mend clothes
Ryan Liebe

All you need to mend woven or knitted staples is an embroidery hoop or mushroom darner and yarn or thread.

Shop Now: Lacis Wooden Embroidery Hoop, from $4 for 3", Darning Mushroom, $13.99, Olympus Sashiko Thread, $2.80 for 22 yd., Koigu Wool Designs Koigu KPM Needlepoint Yarn, $3.75 for 11 yd.,

02 of 07

Save a Shirt

woman wearing a mended denim shirt
Ryan Liebe

When your trustiest button-down starts to fray, revive it colorfully. To fix the rip in a pocket, Living contributing editor Silke Stoddard secured an interior patch with bright rows of running stitches. She refortified a buttonhole by patching the placket and covering the hole's edges with closely placed blanket stitches.

03 of 07

Highlight Holes

woman wearing a mended sweater
Ryan Liebe

The most skillful darning (otherwise known as knitwear repair) used to be the invisible kind. Today, displaying your handiwork and expressing yourself is more in style, and that's why artists like Celia Pym have embraced visible mending as a medium. As part of an installation for the British clothing brand Toast, she restored this plum sweater; the company also has a repair program, workshops, and a mended-garment exchange.

04 of 07

Pops of Color

a mended sweater vest with pink thread
Ryan Liebe

To make your own statement, choose yarn that complements your garment, like Pym's fuchsia; or contrasts with it, as on the cheerful vest that Silke touched up here. Just make sure it's of a similar thickness and material, so the end result will feel evenly fuzzy or smooth.

05 of 07

Give Tears Flair

a woman wearing a mended denim dress
Ryan Liebe

When a thick woven fabric like cotton twill or denim splits or wears through, stitches alone aren't the solution. It's a job for a patch—and you can work it two ways. Sew a rectangle of fabric onto the inside of a garment, as British professional textile repairer Molly Martin did on the back of this denim dress, and let the tidy stripes of thread get the attention.

06 of 07

Patch Up a Throw Blanket

a mended blanket draped over a chair
Ryan Liebe

Or add pops of color, as on Martin's heavy linen blanket, by affixing them to the outside.

07 of 07

Regenerate Your Jeans

woman wearing mended jeans
Ryan Liebe

Go-to pairs always give out in the same spots: the knees and inner thighs. To turn damage into decoration, American textile artist Katrina Rodabaugh punched these up with interior patches and visible running stitches; for the smaller holes, she did horizontal and vertical rows. Rodabaugh got into mending while taking a "fashion fast": in an effort to live more mindfully, she didn't buy any new clothes for a year. Now, she teaches workshops for sustainable brands like Eileen Fisher. Up top, this mohair sweater's thinned elbows and forearms were darned by Pym.

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