Sewing Repairs And Alterations

Even if you are not a dressmaker, it is useful to be able to repair or alter your clothes. Many jobs can be done either by hand sewing or machine, and you do not need much equipment. For darning, however, you will require a darning mushroom and a darning needle.


Mending and altering usually involves careful unpicking of existing stitching to avoid damaging the fabric. Use either small, sharp-pointed scissors or a seam ripper. Insert the point of the ripper or scissors under a stitch and cut the thread. You can then insert the point under the next stitch and pull the thread loose. Continue for about 2.5 cm (1 inch) and then try pulling the thread through the remaining stitches as if drawing up gathering. If this does not work, you will have to go along the row cutting stitches at 2.5 cm (1 inch) intervals.

Pull out any tufts of remaining thread between cuts.


This can be done if the slider is not catching the teeth on one side of the zip. It reduces the zip length by about 1.5 cm (½ inch).

1 With a sharp razor blade, carefully cut the zip tape 1 cm (3/8 inch) from the bottom of the zip on the appropriate side. Lower the slider on the opposite side until level with the slit and insert the tape above the slit into the slider (as if fixing an open-ended zip).

2 Close the zip in the usual way. Work oversewing stitches across the teeth just above the slit to act as a stop for the slider when opening the zip.


This has to be done when a zip cannot be repaired.

To remove the old zip, use small pointed scissors and carefully unpick the stitches. On skirts and trousers you may have to unpick some of the waistband in order to free the tape at the top. Note how any facing layers and flies are attached as you work.

When the zip is out, straighten and measure it along the length of the teeth only to learn its size.

Pin the new zip in position as it was for the old one, tucking the tapes into the waistband and ensuring that it is facing right side out. Tack firmly, then fix the facings and flies. Machine stitch, using a zip foot, or prick stitch by hand, following the original stitching line. Stitch down the waistband neatly.


Whether you are lengthening or shortening the garment, first unpick the stitches holding the original hem. Carefully press the fabric flat. Try on the garment, wearing the appropriate shoes.

The new hemline is most easily marked by someone else holding a rigid ruler. Decide the required level of the hemline and mark with a pin. Measure the distance from the floor and turn slowly so that pins may be inserted all around the garment at the same height.

Take off the garment and turn up the hem along the pinned line. Tack along the fold. Decide how deep you wish the hem turning to be and mark with pins. For a child it is worth having up to 10 cm (4 inches) or even more to allow for growth. For an adult about 4-5 cm (1 ½-2 inches) is appropriate. Cut off any surplus.

If you have let the hem down and there is less than 2.5 cm (1 inch) for the turning, you can make a false hem with tape. Or if there is no room at all for a turning, you could bind the edge.

Alternatively, neaten the raw edge and tack it to the main fabric. If the edge is fuller than the main fabric it will not lie flat unless you make tiny darts at intervals.

Hem edge in position.


This can be made with straight or bias tape. If there is almost no hem turning at all, use bias tape 2.5 cm (1 inch) wide.

If using straight tape place one edge over the hem edge for 3mm (1/8 inch). Tack and back stitch or machine stitch. Keeping the hem and tape flat, hem the free edge of tape to the main fabric.

If using bias tape, unfold one edge of the tape and place to hem edge with right sides together. Machine or back stitch along foldline. Turn tape right side out, keeping it flat on the main fabric. Hem along the opposite fold.

To finish off, press hem on wrong side.


A patch is the best way of mending a hole in non-knitted fabrics, A rectangular or oval patch can be inserted behind the hole for neatness. A patch in a decorative shape can be applied over the hole.

If you wish the patch to be as inconspicuous as possible, cut the fabric for it from a facing, hem or pocket of the garment, matching the direction of weave and any pattern. Otherwise you could use contrasting fabric of appropriate weight or buy a decorative patch. Leather patches can be used for elbows on jackets and coats, and denim ones are available for jeans, etc.

Inset patches Decide the shape of the patch and mark the area on the item, leaving a good margin round it. Cut out the area, leaving 1 cm (3/8 inch) fabric inside the tacked marking line.

Cut the patch to shape, making it 5 mm (¼ inch) larger all around than the marked area. Turn this 5 mm (¼ inch) to the right side.

Now place the patch, right side facing out, in position on the wrong side of the garment. Tack and back or machine stitch around the edge.

On the right side of the garment, fold under the edges for 5 mm (¼ inch), clipping into curves and angles. Stitch the folded edges to the patch.

Applied patch If making your own patch, cut it to the required size, leaving no margin for turnings. Place the patch, right side facing out, over the hole on the right side of the garment. Tack, then zigzag or blanket stitch around the edges.


One of the simplest ways to do this is with a piece of iron-on fabric made for this purpose. Following the manufacturer’s instructions for heat settings, place the iron-on fabric on to the wrong side of the fabric behind the tear and iron it in position.


You will need a darning needle and mushroom plus yarn to match the item being mended.

Place the mushroom under the hole and hold the mushroom stem in your non-stitching hand. Starting at the top right hand corner, about 1 cm (3/8 inch) from the hole, work close rows of running stitch up and down the fabric, turning them 1 cm (3/8 inch) below the hole and moving progressively towards it.

When you reacn tne note, lay the yarn flat across it and continue in running stitch on the other side. When the hole is filled in, work running stitch on the left-hand side to match the right.

Work in a similar way from right to left, weaving the yarn in and out of the strands covering the hole. Never pull the yarn tight. Finish with a few extra running stitches at right angles to the last row worked.


This method can’t be used for collars with stiffeners or for cuffs fastened by buttons unless you make a new buttonhole on the opposite edge.

1 Carefully unpick the cuff or collar from the garment, noting how it was attached. Turn it over so that the ‘good’ side will show when worn. Keeping the edges of the collar or cuff turned in, insert the edge of the garment between the layers of the collar or cuff and pin and stitch along the original lines. Refold and press carefully.

2 If the cuff fastens with a button, make the new button-hole on the appropriate side.

Close the old buttonhole with neat oversewing and sew the button in the correct position over it.


If the sleeves have a plain hem, follow the general method for shortening garments. If they have a cuff, the simplest way to shorten them without removing the cuff is to take a tuck halfway up. Two tucks, about 2.5 cm (1 inch) apart, can be made for growing children, so that one may be unpicked before the other.

With the wrong side of the garment facing out, fold the sleeve back into the armhole until the underarm seam measures about 5 cm (2 inches). Straighten the fold neatly and stitch around the sleeve half the required shortening amount from it.

Turn to right side. Press.