If you like your clothes, you’ll wear them a lot. Like them enough and they’ll get worn out. And, if you really like your clothes, you’ll repair them. Rips and tears happen with time — it’s only natural — and mending your clothes is a good thing.
The most obvious reason is that increases the longevity of your garments. Repairing rips, tears and holes will not only keep your garments in service for much longer, but it will also prevent further damage if caught soon enough.
Mending your garments also breaks the cycle of consumption, leading to less waste in landfills. By mending a garment instead of tossing it in the bin or donating it (damaged garments wouldn’t even qualify for donations and would just get tossed anyway), you prevent it from rotting in a city dump somewhere. The amount of time and resources that go into a single garment can be staggering, so if you can prevent your clothes from going to a landfill, you can also, over time, lessen the demand for new garments and ultimately the resources needed to make them.
Repairing your clothes is also be an essential life skill. It teaches coordination and spatial skills but also reminds you to appreciate your clothes and the people who make them. By getting your hands involved in the process, you’ll better understand what it takes to make and maintain a garment. Clothes are still made by human hands and knowing your way around a needle and thread, even if it’s in a very basic sense, can help you understand the skills needed to make your favorite garment.
And at the end of the day, there’s a certain aesthetic value that a garment gains with every repair — it will become more a reflection of you. It may not be box-fresh, nor will the repairs look perfect, but clothes are made to be worn. In Japanese culture, the concept of ‘wabi-sabi’ is a view and an aesthetic that appreciates the transient and the imperfect. The patina, the patches, the imperfect stitching are what give your clothes their character, and, by extension are an expression of you and your lifestyle. Lean into it.
How to Patch Clothing
There are several ways to mend your garments, each one unique to the type of damage and fabric in question. One of the most common repairs is a patch that can be used to repair rips and holes. The following is a step-by-step guide on how to patch a hole in woven fabric explained by Matt Rho, an expert on sashiko and boro repairs.
In this example, he shows you how to patch a hole in a pair of denim jeans, but you can apply this method to other garments with woven fabric like an oxford or poplin shirt, chinos or other wardrobe-essentials.
If you want to dive into the art of boro denim repair, the kind of repairs in which Rho specializes, you can pick up this list of supplies.
Step 1: Cut a patch of fabric and pin it over the hole
Cut out a piece of fabric that spans beyond the hole at least three inches in all directions. You want to cut a patch larger than you probably would think, Rho says. The idea here is to attach the scrap fabric to an area of the garment that still has integrity to it. “If you have a blowout at the knee of your jeans, for example, chances are the fabric around the knee is pretty weak too,” he says. “If you anchor the patch into that fabric, it’s just going to rip again and pretty quickly.” In the end, you can always trim the scrap fabric down to a more manageable size.
Wash and dry your patch to get rid of any shrinkage.
Once you’ve cut the fabric to size, flip the garment inside out and pin the scrap fabric into place. This will help hold the scrap as you sew it to the garment in the following steps.
Step 2: Trim the damaged area
To give yourself a cleaner repair, trim the hole or tear of its frayed yarns. This makes the next step easier to handle.
Step 3: Stitch up the damaged area
Thread your sewing thread through the needle and tie a knot at one end. The knot keeps the thread anchored into place as you sew.
From the inside of the fabric, insert the needle through both the scrap fabric and the garment, near the edge of the hole. To sew a stitch, insert the needle back down into both the garment and the patch — pull the thread through. Repeat this until you’ve stitched along the entire perimeter of the hole. As you stitch, make sure to fold the edge of the hole under as you go. This ensures that the hole has a clean edge that will not continue to unravel.
In Rho’s example, the stitches themselves are about a 1/32 of an inch in length and are spaced apart about 1/2 an inch. However, the size of the stitch and the distance between each stitch is a matter of preference and aesthetics. “You just have to experiment a little bit and see what looks right to you because you’re gonna be looking at it every day,” Rho says. “You want it to also be pleasing to your eye.”
Once you’ve stitched all the way around the hole, on the inside of the garment, tie a knot at the end of the sewing thread. Make sure to leave about a 1/4 of an inch of slack to account for the sewing thread shrinking in the wash.
Step 4: Stitch the scrap fabric to the garment
Now, you want to secure the remainder of the scrap fabric to the garment. Like step 3, sew the scrap fabric all the way around near its edges.
“Once you’ve done the repair of the hole, the places where you’ve safety pinned the edges, you’ll find that the fabric has moved around a bit,” Rho notes. So, make sure that the scrap fabric is flat and flush against the garment to avoid bunching.
Don’t forget to leave some slack before tying the knot at the end.
Step 5: Trim the excess scrap fabric.
To cut down on the extra bulk, trim the excess fabric from the patch. Here, pinking shears are useful as the zig-zag cutting pattern helps prevent the fabric from fraying, but you can still use regular scissors.
Step 6: Wear them!
Congratulations, you’ve just repaired your garment! Now you can wear, wash and repeat until another hole comes along. If you want to get even more into the art and the skill of mending your clothes, Mending Matters by Katrina Rodabaugh is a great resource, and you’ll even find more inspiring imagery and techniques used by Matt Rho in there, too.