When was the last time you picked up a sewing needle and fixed a worn out hole or missing button? I know for many years of my life I opted to throw any damaged item into the donation pile or garbage and just buy a new one. Repairs felt daunting and time-consuming. It was much easier to replace rather than repair.
Fast-forward to now - I am still not the best seamstress or clothing repairwoman, but I understand the importance of extending my clothing’s life as long as possible. This is because so much more than meets the eye goes into producing our daily outfits.
The materials and energy required to make the average t-shirt include the labour, water, pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers used to grow the cotton, the fuel for transporting materials from farm to factory to store, the fabric dye and the packaging for each stage of production. This infographic from CNN illustrates the process.
Once I understood how truly valuable my clothing is, no matter how much I paid for it in store, I realized it was my responsibility to choose wisely and keep my clothing in good condition for as long as possible. Research has shown that “extending the average life of clothes by just three months of active use per item would lead to a 5 to 10 percent reduction in each [item’s] carbon, water and waste footprints.” This means the longer we keep an item of clothing in use, the less impact it has on the planet.
Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to manage small repairs to our clothing once we have the basic supplies and skills. As repair is one of our 7 Rs of Zero Waste, we wanted to share some beginner tips and tricks to get started. I don’t claim to be an expert myself, so I’ll be leading you towards the tutorial videos (all around 5 minutes in length) that helped me learn my beginner skills.
The first step is to gather the supplies you’ll need to keep up with repairs. These will be what you’ll need for manual repairs - no sewing machine required.
- Scissors - to cut fabric and thread
- Spools of thread - grab three or four in neutral colours or colours that match the main pieces of your wardrobe
- Variety of needles - different jobs may call for different sizes (and let’s be honest, you’ll probably lose a few of the tiny buggars so it’s good to have backups)
- Tape measure - for measuring alterations or hems
- Seam ripper - this is very helpful but scissors can be used in most cases if this is hard to get your hands on
- Spare buttons - they always come in handy!
It’s great to start with this list of basics, but at my house I really just have some thread, needles, and a pair of scissors and I make it work. Also, it is very easy to find almost all of these items secondhand on Facebook Marketplace or through friends and family. For every new sewer, there is someone out there with an overflowing sewing kit ready to share!
2. Learn how to patch a hole
Repair a hole in a t-shirt by Professor Pincushion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vvDdzD5pF3M
Repair a hole in knitwear by Repair What You Wear: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVVawL1LD6Y
3. Learn how to replace a button
Sew on a button by Nicki Callahan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MjmUaWkzF-I (I love this tutorial because she uses a very large button in her tutorial so it is very clear to see the steps)
4. Learn how to mend a tear
Mend a tear by JWo Designs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ynBWa5ej1Q
5. Learn how to darn a sock
Darn a sock by Professor Pincushion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yi_J8YeQkww
I’ll be honest, this is a skill I haven’t mastered yet! But as the cold weather creeps in, I don’t want to let any of my sock collection go to waste.
6. Learn how to sew a hem
Hand sew a hem: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1riAAPyzEc (this video shows three different methods so you can choose what will work best for your fabric and garment)
This one has come in handy the most for me when buying thrifted or second hand clothing. I’ll fall in love with an item that’s too long or not exactly my style.
If you prefer to read rather than watch a video, this article by Elizabeth Cline shares how to patch up a tear in jeans, darn a sock and sew on a button.
Tradle takes on the responsibility of repairing our clothes between families to keep them in the best shape possible. Babies and toddlers are on the move and oftentimes clothes need a bit of upkeep. We have partnered with Hello Beautiful to manage our repairs in their local Vancouver studio. Hello Beautiful works with recycled fabrics and employs people with barriers to work to service repairs for companies like Tradle and produce their own high-quality products like activewear and accessories.
No matter if you need to mend your clothes once a month, or once a year, these basic skills will help lower the environmental footprint of your clothes, save you money, and maybe even bring some joy in the process!