Money-Saving Book. Mending Clothes.

Another excerpt from my Money-Saving Book, currently subtitled The Good Housekeeper’s Guide to Economizing”. Still no clue on the main title. Working on a cover picture though.

The previous excerpts were on supermarket grocery shopping and time management. This one is on mending various items of clothing, from the chapter on clothes.

-Holes and tears (cotton, linen and thin synthetics).

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Some jogging trousers suffering from run-in with an unexpected hawthorn bush, a vengeful door taking a bite from your shirt or kids being kids and wrecking every item of clothing they own; we’ve all been here at some point. Usually a thin tear, though sizes and shapes may vary. And you’re unsure how to deal with it. Well, here’s how.

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For formal-wear: If a smart shirt, school shirt, tie, dress, blouse or scarf gets a tear, the first thing to assess is where it is. A torn pocket can be easily sewn back on, but a tear at the ribs is harder to deal with. The best solution for a small hole which is already near a seam is to undo the seam a bit and fold it in. If it’s really quite small, you can often fix it with small, even stitches done from the inside of the item. Some of the best solutions, however, are to customize it, which I shall go into in greater detail below.

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For informal/kids wear: Cut out a piece of fabric into a nice shape and simply patch the item. If that’s a bit adventurous, you can always buy iron-on patches online, that come in pre-made shapes. Iron them on, then stitch them a bit, to secure them. A knee-patch on some baggy trousers or a kids’ blouse covered in cool patches can actually look pretty awesome and individual.

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For practical clothes: If you need the item to be sturdy again, such as with gardening clothes, jiu-jitsu outfits or heavy-duty work gear, the best solution is often to get some thick thread and just stitch it as securely as possible. It may not look as nice, but in these cases a patch may not quite do the job.

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Holes and tears (denim, canvas and wool).

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Heavier, woven materials tend to tear in a different way to lighter ones. It usually involves some rubbing-away of the material, which can make it hard to just stitch back together or patch over. Eventually, the material wears around the stitches and comes undone again. This can happen with scarves, hats, gloves, jumpers, socks, coats, jeans, jackets and cardigans. The solution to this is to darn them. If you don’t know what darning is: no I didn’t just swear and, no I didn’t just suggest giving up. Darning is a process where you replace worn or torn fabric by sort of weaving, sort of knitting, sort of sewing the hole shut.

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A simple darn is suitable for denim, socks and canvas. You usually need nothing more than strong cotton or thin wool thread. Here is where you sew from right to left and left to right, up to down and down to up, weaving the needle in and out of the threads you’ve just sewed. It sounds more difficult than it is, but is easy once you’ve got the hang of it. You’re basically sewing across the hole until your threads are so interwoven and so densely packed that they’ve filled it in. Depending on how big the hole is, this can be a quick task or a very long one.

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Some forms of darning, especially those used on wool jumpers and other Winter-wear, is to follow the pattern created by a knitting-needle to fix the hole almost imperceptibly. For this you usually need wool of an appropriate colour and thickness and a wide-eyed needle. It may take a while to identify the knitting-pattern and get the hang of replicating it, but it is worthwhile to know and, plus, you have your favourite jumper back!

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Holes and tears (plastics, leathers and furs).

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As they are not thread-based materials, a plastic or animal-derived fabric is often hard to fix. This is because most threading would be very obvious. So, here are different approaches for different types of ‘unsewable’ materials. I will list the plastic-based ones first, so that those who wish to escape discussion of leather and fur can do so.

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Pleather: Often, the thin upper layer of pleather breaks and lifts away from its backing, looking like something has been peeling it like an orange. Not a good look. The best way to fix this is to insert fabric glue beneath every side of the tear and press it down. Start at one end and be sure not only to glue the part that lifts up, but also the main fabric. This is so the pieces can’t be pulled apart again. As fabric glue dries slowly, you can adjust the lay of the tear until it’s just right and looks like a natural fold in the material. Hang it up away from other clothing, dust and damp for a few days. After this, find a polish suitable for pleather (make sure it’s colourless or in the right colour) and gently polish around the area with small dabs. This should re-blend the colours and lessen any scuffing. When scuffing is severe, it’s best to dilute fabric glue with suitable polish and “brush” it in, making sure to keep strokes going in one direction. This minimizes the damage.

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Meltable plastics: The best solution is usually to use fabric glue on the tear. If you can warm the tear area so the fabric is more pliable and likely to bond with the glue, then do so. Just be EXTREMELY careful not to overheat it or use a naked flame, as it will melt and some can catch fire. Holding it to a radiator or using a hair-drier on it for a minute or so would do the trick. Avoid using irons, candles, matches…etc Once the area is warmed, add the fabric glue and press both sides together.

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Non-meltable plastics: Trim a small, ½mm-deep fray along both edges of the tear. Apply glue and press them together. Flatten with your fingers, a spatula, a butter-knife or a similar heavy, flat-edge instrument. Leave to dry.

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From here until the next material category I am discussing animal-derived materials.

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Smooth leather: Use the pleather trick, except, as leather doesn’t have a “backing”, insert some strong fabric beneath it to glue it onto. Make the fabric as close to the leather colour as possible, but a shade darker is better than a shade lighter. Gluing so it overlaps is also fine, but remember to polish out the marks around the edges once the glue is dry.

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Thick leather: This is your biker leathers, your leather shoes and your heavy-duty bags. Things you don’t want to just lightly glue back down. First step is to peel back the backing a little. Unstitch it as near to the area as possible and peel it back until you can comfortably work around the hole. Use the strongest super-adhesive you can find and some solid leather. Glue the leather firmly behind the hole, skin-side-up. Turn it over and glue the edges of the tear onto the under-patch. If you’re more bothered about function than cosmetic value, get a leather patch (maybe something plain, maybe something cool, whatever suits you) and stitch it firmly down over the hole. Next, apply leather polish to the top and a hardening mixture to the underside. Hang up to dry. A few days later, get it down and apply waterproof paint to both sides of the patching. Make sure to get it around the edges and under the upper-patch seams. Hang it up to dry. It ought to be good to use again after that. If the item in question is a shoe, consider waterproofing the entire inside of the shoe, in case of leaks. Water inside a leather shoe can spell disaster as, when damp, leather wears easily.

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Suede: Suede is basically inside-out leather. If you’re going through this step-by-step and have fixed a couple of smooth or thick leather items, you’ll have noticed how weird the backing looks once its been fixed. This is why suede shouldn’t be fixed with stitches, overpatches or anything stronger than normal fabric glue. Follow the same steps as with normal leather: insert an underpatch, glue the back of your suede down to it with fabric glue and press. As you’ll have to use very little glue, to avoid making stains on the visible parts, get a hair-drier and heat the area after the glue has been applied. This will make it stickier, so it will soak into the patch and the back of the suede and hold them more firmly together. Hang up to dry. Buff with leather protector and, if necessary, re-dye.

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Long-hair fur: Fairly easy to fix if the area won’t be seen. Simply get tapestry thread or leather-based thread, part the fur around the area and stitch the tear together. Be careful not to catch any furs or pull them out, as it may make a larger repair look more noticeable. Treat the tear with a tiny amount of vaseline to make it soft whilst the stitching beds in. Brush the fur back down over it with a soft-bristled hairbrush.

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Short-hair fur: Slightly harder to fix, as the fur parts more easily. This means you risk your needlework being exposed. To avoid this, follow the steps for long fur: part the fur, don’t pull any out. Next, overlap the tear so that the part that’s on top is coming from the direction the fur grows in. This should stop the fur from parting and exposing the stitches. Sew in a straight line (rather than from one side of the tear to the other) going through the upper and lower layer every time. Treat the stitching with a tiny amount of vaseline and brush the fur back into position with a soft-bristled hairbrush.

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Bust seams and scuffed edges.

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An open seam or a scuffed edge may seem unfixeable. But, with the right technique, this job can be made easy. For open seams, cut the broken thread out, sew any loose thread back down and stitch together from the back. If you can’t easily access the back, sew in a zig-zag line from one side of the seam to the other. Find the fold created by the seam. Put the needle into it, then straight back out a few mms up. Move to the other side and do the same. When you draw the thread tight, the stitches should be invisible.

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Broken jewellery (hooks, hoops, chains and wire).

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If you wear a lot of designer jewellery or are forced to wear largely gold because of metal allergies, it can be pretty annoying to find the hook or a link has bent out of shape or broken. Fortunately, a chain or connection hoop that has been bent out of shape or split open is easily fixed. It is worthwhile to invest in some jewellery pliers, as they do the job best and are often useful for many other tasks; but, if you’d rather not, hunt through your toolkit and find the smallest round-nosed pliers you have. They’re the ones that look like cones and end in points: no flat sides at all. You can use them to open, re-shape and close broken links. You can also use them to replace ornaments that used to be attached to the jewellery.

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Broken jewellery (rethreading).

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It’s best to catch something that needs rethreading before it’s too late and it falls apart. Many jewellers offer the service when you buy a more expensive item off them or when you pay to have it done, but, for your everyday jewellery, here’s a step-by-step: take an appropriate thread (metal-based threads are always preferable) and measure out twice the length you need it to be, add two inches and cut; thread it through a needle; even out the thread so it folds in half at the eye of the needle, tie the loose ends together tightly; unthread your beads carefully onto some fabric (the beads ought to weigh it down and the roughness of the fabric ought to stop them from rolling out of order); if you’re particularly worried about losing the order, then remove and thread one by one; save the original clasps if possible; rethread the beads; once rethreaded, tie off the end by the needle’s eye and cut it free; firmly attach the thread to the clasp. The best replacement clasps are the ones that pinch down on the ends of the thread, but remember to wrap the thread tightly in leather or faux suede before clasping, so it will be held more firmly. Another option is to add glue before compressing the clasp.

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Broken jewellery (earrings).

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Most earring involve some beads or charms strung onto something. This something can be a fine chain with a stopper, a hoop or a stem with a stopper. These parts are known as being in the category of “findings” and the ones with stoppers are called “headpins”. To fix a broken earring, you must first work out what part is broken. Is it the hook that goes through your ear, the clasp that locks onto your earlobe, the pin that goes through your ear, the backer for the pin or hook, the hoop that the pieces are strung on, the headpin the pieces are strung on, the pieces themselves or any chain involved? Usually the broken part needs replacing, but most DIY and sewing stores and any jewellery store that sells beads will be able to sell you replacements – sometimes these are sold in bulk and sometimes piece-by-piece.

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Once you’ve bought a replacement, then take apart the earring. Normally there are bent “eyes”, chain links and hoops that you can bend open with round-nosed pliers. Open all of them you have to until you reach the broken piece. Swap it for the replacement and reassemble.

You can apply this method to whenever anything fully breaks, but it’s usually necessary with earrings.

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5 thoughts on “Money-Saving Book. Mending Clothes.

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