Useful Sewing. I Challenge YOU!

So, a lot of us like sewing. Or wish we could, because it looks like fun.

And we wish we had the time, but feel that work, housework, family, pets and the likes should all take priority, or that we’re too busy to complete a task in anything less than a week.

However sewing can be easy, quick and satisfying and we shouldn’t shy away from it. Inexperienced? You’ll become experienced. Not much time? A minute here and there can add up. People hovering around you? Get them involved. Got housework? Do some sewing whilst a pot boils, the washing-machine finishes or the water heats up. Sewing isn’t really that hard.

Plus, it can be really useful. You can fix things, make them fit you again, customize that dress you like that’s JUST off for your preferences, make handy stuff to use everyday. So many uses!

So, this is a challenge, to get you started sewing little by little, get you used to the idea and help you make the most of it. There is no time-limit. Do one challenge a day or a week, do one at a time or several at once. Sew by hand, by machine or both. Start from Group A (the most basic) or Group D (the hardest). Whatever you want. But I challenge you to work your way through this list.

Of course, there are a few rules.

1: You can’t spend a day without sewing at least five stitches. It’s easy to sew five. If you genuinely have no time, sew five before you go to bed or start some work and then stop. But if you start sewing your five whilst watching TV it’s very easy to sew more, or to realize that you can make an hour or so for yourself to sew.

2: Carry your sewing everywhere, within reason. Keep in in a little bag or a purse. At least one item or a piece of an item alongside the sewing materials you can plausibly use wherever you are. On the bus, at work break or whilst cooking are all situations where having your sewing with you will come in handy. No more thinking “I’d sew now if only I had it with me!”

3: Log every completed task. Take before and afters, save the photos or even print them and stick them into a craft book. Where the items themselves will be reminders of your skill, the album will be a reminder of your progress.

4: Whether you choose to sew by hand or by machine, try the other at least once. It’s important to possess a variety of skills. One day your machine may break down, or your hands may go so you can’t sew with a needle, or the job may be too fiddly or too big. You needn’t hone the skill, just don’t let yourself become afraid of the alternative method.

5: Do everything on this list. You will not regret it. Everything here is incredibly useful to know and will ultimately be its own reward. Things may seem difficult or awkward or time-consuming, but these are the most rewarding sewing tasks. When completed, you will look back on them with pride. Plus, it’s cool to be able to show your skill off like that.

Group A: Mending things.

1: Darn socks.

No, I did not type a swear. Darning is the process of sewing over a hole or thin patch in order to re-create the original knit or fabric, hold the hole tight together and fill it in, basically making it as useful as new. Oftentimes this is done with socks, as getting matching wool is easier and a messy job is less likely to be noticed. Also, socks get holes and thin-patches in them in a matter of hours.

Here is a useful video and a guide on how to darn socks:

2: Sew small holes.

Again, a common reason for throwing out old clothes. Or just stopping wearing them. We promise ourselves we will fix it sometime, but are far more likely to replace or forget it. But this is the single simplest thing you can do!

Simply turn the item of clothing inside out, press the sides of the fabric together and put a couple of stitches in it, like so.

sewOnce this is done, turn it the right way around and observe your handiwork. It looks best on t-shirts and when done on small holes near seams, but eventually can reach a point where the mends are barely noticeable in other types of fabric.

Why not to put bras in your washing-machine loose with thin tees.

Why not to put bras in your washing-machine loose with thin tees.

After patching.

After patching.

3: Patch big holes.

So now you can handle the little ones, what about the big boys? Annoyingly, unless they’re more of a tear than a hole, sewing these up is kind of useless, as it scrunches and ruins the item of clothing. The only way around it is to patch.

Take a piece of fabric large enough to cover the hole. Look for something nice, that may look good. For chest-holes at the sides and thigh-holes, cut a pocket-sized patch; for centre-bust , centre-dead, elbow and knee holes, cut a cute shape; for under-bust, shoulder, hip of thigh holes, cut a band to go around the garment; for less visible ones, choose the same fabric as the original item and sew the patch underneath.

Then, sew the patch over the hole. Align it and pin it into place first. Then, as you sew, fold the edge of the fabric under itself so the edges stay smooth. You can leave them to fray a little, if you like, but make sure the patch is big and strong enough so that fraying won’t matter.

Group B: Adjusting things.

4: Shortening trouser legs.

Another important task. Oftentimes, especially with men’s clothing and suit trousers, it is better to buy something slightly long in the leg than slightly tight or loose in the waist. However, folding them in or out won’t always work, so it’s important to know how to properly adjust trouser lengths.

Firstly, get the person to put on the trousers. Fold the leg inside itself and roll up until the edge is the right height. Use two pins to hold the fold in place at the seams. Repeat on the other leg. Have the person walk around a little to make sure they fit properly.

Next you have three options. Firstly is iron-on tape. This is a sticky plastic tape that you put inside your fold and iron into the fabric so it holds both sides together. However, it won’t last forever and rips apart easily.

The next option is a slip-stitch. I’ll confess that I prefer these, as they’re easy to adjust and mend and are more easily hidden than straight stitches. Basically, tie your thread tight on four opposite sides of the folded leg, then, just feed the thread through, using a simple over and under stitch, until you’ve gone all around. Tie off and make sure it can be straightened.


Finally we have the solid stitch. A little more obvious, especially if the thread doesn’t quite match, and less adjustable, but more robust and attractive when noticed. Simply stitch along the actual crease or the original end of the trousers to hold your fold in shape.

5: Fitting shirts and t-shirts.

This isn’t as important, but can help make clothes fit that little bit better and feel more comfortable.

Take a shirt or a t-shirt that’s slightly too big or slightly too small in any area. Maybe a shirt that fits nicely but pulls apart a bit at the bust, or a t-shirt that’s just too tight on the arms. This is going to be our project.

Try it on and work out where it’s too tight and where it’s too loose. Do a sketch of the top and mark where you want it bringing in or loosening by a little.

Then, turn the top inside out and look at where you need to undo the stitches to loosen or tighten a seam. Make a tight stitch either end of the space you’re going to unstitch. Carefully snip and remove the stitches until all the thread is removed. There should be a fold of fabric that was held down by the stitches.

If you’re tightening it, make sure to fold the seam tighter. If you’re loosening it, use that loose fabric to give yourself more space. Stitch back up.

6: Top bust.

Another useful one. If the bust of something is too low cut, find a fabric that matches the top or dress and cut out a triangle that will fit inside the bust. Turn the item inside out, pin the fabric into place and stitch it in, following the seam lines of the original item so you can hide your stitches.

Group C: Customizing things.

7: Fashion t-shirt.

Get a plain T-shirt. Get some fabric scraps, ribbons, beads and shiny thread. Cut yourself patches, sew on bows, embroider it with beads… anything you like! Practising fancy stitches like the cross stitch on this one can look cool too.

tshirt and shorts5

Acrylic paint, denim scraps and fabric pens.

Acrylic paint, denim scraps and fabric pens.

8: Shorts from trousers.

This one is as much of a mend as of a customization. Best done with torn or stained jeans.

Put them on and use chalk to mark where you want to cut, or permanent marker to mark just below where you want to cut.

Cut off the legs, being careful not to catch the pockets!

Now you have three options:

-Leave it for the cutoff look.

-Fold the edges inside and stitch them down.

-Fold a strip of fancy fabric over the edges for a bit of style.

Guess which look I prefer?

Guess which look I prefer?

9: Accessories and trims.

Find yourself some lace, ribbon, threaded beads, feathers or anything you want to add to an item of clothing. Sew something on as a border and something on as an accessory. It may be a lace border with ribbon around the waist, or a beaded border, or leather patches. Just customize the neck, arms, legs, cuffs, everything.

Group D: Making things.

10: Bags and purses.

The simplest purse you can make is taking a square of fabric, folding in in half, sewing the small sides and adding a zip to the hole.

Something more complicated can also be arranged.


Just do what you’re comfortable with, what you think you can do. You’ll love every second of it and be amazingly proud.

11: Handy hangers.

These things are REALLY useful around the house.

One at work in the kitchen, keeping all the counters and surfaces clear of clutter.

One at work in the kitchen, keeping all the counters and surfaces clear of clutter.

They’re easy to make, too. Take a long strip of fabric and get 3-5 smaller pieces of fabric that can all sit on it at once.

Sew down the edges of the big strip where necessary. Add the others as pockets.

You could also add hoops to hang it with, or elastic to the pockets.

This is my kitchen one.

Made with an old hoodie and some yellow fabric.

Made with an old hoodie and some yellow fabric.

And this is my bathroom one.

Made with an old sheet, a swimming costume and a strip of stripy fabric.

Made with an old sheet, a swimming costume and a strip of stripy fabric.

12: Injury wraps.

One last thing that I must confess I haven’t made yet, but need to make for Jon for when he’s doing security work.

A tight bandage that holds a joint or injured limb in place, allows for flexible movement, is breathable, but also has space to insert and ice or heat pack.

It consists of a strip of firm, breathable fabric wrapped in light linen with velcro or elastic at the back and a pocket compartment at the front.


And that is the end of the challenge. I hope you enjoy working your way through it and seeing what you’re capable of sewing!

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