Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without. This age-old proverb is the goal for those of us trying to live a frugal and sustainable lifestyle. Unfortunately, we live in a throw-away economy. Most people just find it easier to toss things when they break, rather than try to repair or repurpose.
Almost 10% of what Americans spend on consumable goods goes towards
clothing. For the average family, that translates to about $1800. Every year. On clothes.
Your great-grandmother always had a mending basket sitting next to her rocking chair. Whenever she had a few minutes to spare or sat down to rest in the evening, she’d pick up a piece of clothing and mend it. It’s an old-fashioned idea, but maybe it’s something we should all be doing. Imagine what would happen if you were to mend torn or worn clothing instead of just tossing it? You could dramatically cut your clothing budget and decrease your environmental impact on the world.
From simple to complex
Most mending is something simple: sew on a button or re-sew a hem. Most store-bought clothing comes with one or two spare buttons attached somewhere on the inside (usually at the bottom hem.) But what if the button is well and truly missing and there’s no spare? You can usually find a match at the fabric store. A packet of 4-6 buttons will usually cost $1-$2 and you’ll have extras for the next time a button disappears.
But you should also do what your grandma did: start a button jar. Before you throw away a piece of clothing or (consign it to the rag bag), remove all the buttons and put them in a jar. These spare buttons will come in handy when a button falls off.
Holes and tears
If you get a small hole or tear in a light-weight garment, the easiest thing is to use repair it with a custom patch using fusible web. Fusible web is a lightweight fibrous film that has a paper backing and melts with heat. Cut the paper backing to the shape and size you need to cover the hole or tear. Then place it over another piece of fabric that closely matches the torn clothing. Following manufacture’s instructions, press it with a hot iron. Let it cool for a minute or two and then remove the paper backing. You now have a iron-on patch that closely matches your torn clothing.
When you patch a hole, you want the fabric to
match as closely as possible. Perhaps you can cut out a little bit of the hem. If the garment has shoulder pads, that is an ideal source of matching fabric.
You don’t want the fusible part of the patch to stick to your ironing board. So lay down a piece of wax paper underneath the hole or tear that your are mending. Pull the edges of the tear together so that they meet. Put the patch over that and press with a hot iron. Wait a few seconds for the fabric to cool before moving it. Peel away the wax paper if it’s sticking to the fusible web. (Aren’t you glad it stuck to wax paper and not your ironing board?)
You should always have a yard or two of fusible web on hand to cover any minor repair that comes along. You can purchase it at any fabric store.
BoNash is a fusible powder that allows you to create almost invisible repairs. Just wet the area you want to fuse with a Q-tip dipped in water and sprinkle the powder on it. The powder sticks to the wet fabric and you can blow remaining powder off. This is especially helpful when you’re working on a lined garment or a quilt, where you cannot sew the patch on.
Another nice thing about the BoNash powder is that you use a fiberglass
How to use BoNash
sheet when you press it. That means that you can repair delicate or heat-sensitive fabrics (like wool or silk) that typically can’t take much heat.
Are you totally confused? The video will help.
Jeans are another matter
Jeans (or any sturdy pants) need a more heavy-duty mend than you’ll get from BoNash. And some tears–like at a pocket or the crotch–may be a little more involved. So I’ve provided some examples here of mending I’ve done recently.
If the fabric is just a bit worn (but not actually torn) you can “darn” the worn patch. In the old days, darning was done by hand. It’s done by sewing several closely-spaced rows of running stitch and then turning the fabric 90° and sewing rows of running stitch perpendicular to the first set of stitching.
But instead of doing all this darning by hand, I do it with a sewing machine. It’s a lot faster and a lot sturdier than hand darning.
Simply make several parallel (or parallel-ish) stitches with your sewing machine. Go forward the length of the spot that’s worn, then stop at the end and reverse the stitching. Using the reverse button on your sewing machine, go back and forth the length of the worn patch until it’s covered. Then, with the needle down, turn the fabric 90° and stitch back and forth the width of the patch.
If the fabric is torn, you’ll want to “anchor” or reinforce the fabric before you darn to prevent any tearing or fraying at the edge of the tear. You can do this by creating a custom iron-on patch, using fusible web like I described above.
Now iron the custom patch over the tear. If you’re repairing a hole or if the tear is so big that it will not come together, put a piece of wax paper below to prevent the fusible part of the patch from sticking to your ironing board.
After several washes, even the sturdiest iron-on patch will begin to fray and peel away from the fabric. To prevent that, you’ll want to darn over the patch. Go back and forth in parallel rows and then in rows at angles until all the torn area is covered in stitching. This will create a very sturdy patch that will stand up to lots of washing and lots of wear.
Turn the fabric over and trim away any of the iron-on fabric. This isn’t essential, but you may find the patch peeling away and curling at the edges if too much of the patch isn’t sewn down.
There are two spots that might be a little tricky and hard to darn around: seams and pockets. Let’s start with pockets:
If the pocket is not torn, the easiest thing to do is to remove the pocket. Darn or patch the torn part of the garment. Once everything is repaired, sew the pocket back on to the mended fabric.
Another tricky area to mend is tears that are close to a seam. You can try to stitch as close to the seam as possible, but you may just find that the darning will have to go over the seam. This is especially true when the tear is at the crotch. That’s where you find yourself at the crossroads of four seams and it may be a little hard to work around. If that’s the case, treat it as one piece, darning back and forth over the seam. Be sure to use a needle designed for heavy fabric, a size 14 or 16.
By combining iron on patches with darning, you’ll find that you can mend just about anything. Now it might not always be pretty, but it will be sturdy and good for wearing around the house or outdoors.
Want to make it pretty?
Let’s suppose you have enough “wear around the house” clothes and you really want to be able to wear your mended garment in respectable company. You can still do it so that it looks nice. If the tear is small and the thread is a close match, chances are the repair will be nearly invisible using the BoNash powder.
You can also finish off the mending by covering it with an applique, a lace insert or ribbon flowers. For young children, try covering the patch with appliques in the shape of cars, animals, flowers or tools. Simply trace the shape out on the paper of the fusible web and iron it onto the wrong side of a colorful scrap of fabric. Cut the web-backed fabric out and iron it over the patch. A zig zag stitch around the edges of the applique will keep the edges from fraying and prevent it from peeling off after washing.
If your sewing machine does machine embroidery, you’re in luck! Instead of darning over the patches with straight stitches, just embroider a pretty motif on the right side of the garment.
It can be a challenge to find ways make your clothes last longer, mending them so that you still get good use from them. But it’s economically sensible and makes better use of earth’s resources. I hope you’ll try it.