Hands stitching striped patch with wrist pin holder

Make do and mend

“Knowing a few simple repairs and alterations can keep your favourite clothes going for longer.”

The Make do and Mend movement began over 70 years ago when fabric was rationed during the war. However, making and mending clothes has always been the staple of the home-sewist, especially before we had access to off-the-peg clothing.

Times have changed and now fashion is fast and cheap. These days home sewing has moved on from a necessary chore to an enjoyable passion.

We might not be facing the same challenges our grandparents did, but knowing a few simple repairs and alterations can keep your favourite clothes going for longer. These tips and tricks will also help you create the perfect, bespoke wardrobe that will be the envy of everyone you know.

Hemming

For every sewist the time will come when you need to tackle a hem. Whether you’re finishing a homemade garment, altering a shop bought piece or fixing an item you (or your family) love; hemming is one of the most important skills needed.

four jeans legs with hem turned up and yellow measuring tape
Traditionally, many sewists have favoured hand-sewing for hemming, however modern machines mean that many hem styles can now be completed much faster and with a more professional finish.

Using specific hemming feet on your Brother sewing machine means it’s simple to create the right hem for your project. Whether that’s a blind, rolled or turned hem, an overlock or anything else, choosing the right style can make all the difference to your finished piece.

Pockets

These days, many clothing manufacturers create garments without pockets, or worse still with ‘false’ pockets to save on manufacturing and material cost. Learning how to create different types of pockets can quickly transform your clothes from useless to useful.

There are several types of pockets with different uses, so by having a few different styles in your sewing arsenal you should be able to find something that works for every project. And it can be surprisingly easy to add pockets to a premade garment.

A patch pocket – the type seen on the back of jeans or the front of shirts – is one of the simplest options. A patch pocket is nothing more than a patch of material sewn on top of your garment in the position you want it, with one side (usually the top) left open. With a few additions and tweaks a patch pocket can be used as a starting point for other pocket types.
Jeans on yellow background with pocket taken off
Another simple pocket style to master is a slit pocket, where the opening you see from the front of the garment is attached to an internal pocket bag. A slit pocket can easily be added along the seam of a garment – perfect for trousers or dresses.

Taking in/letting out

High street clothing retailers often differ wildly in their interpretation of standard sizing and it can be difficult to find a well-fitting garment without paying high-end prices.

Adding some simple darts to the front of a shirt may be enough for small alterations, but for bigger jobs you might want to think about trimming and re-seaming your project for a perfect fit. Using something that fits you well as a template guide is always a good way of ensuring you get the look you want, as is pinning and trying on before yow cut or re-sew.

With fast growing children letting out can be a great way to make clothes go further. Many parents buy slightly larger sizes of clothing, knowing their child will grow to fit them over the year. However, walking round in very long trousers or baggy shirts can make your child feel self-conscious. By learning how to take in, keeping the spare material within the garment, and then letting out when needed means you’ll save on clothing costs, while your child saves face.

Tear repairs

Finally, being able to repair a tear is an essential skill for all make do and menders. A split seam or frayed edge needn’t been the end of a garment or soft furnishing.

For small tears, using mending tape or a stabiliser on the reverse of the fabric and then stitching with a straight or zigzag stitch should be an effective fix, as most tears tend to be straight or L shaped.

For split seams, repairs are again relatively simple. As long as your ripped edge isn’t frayed beyond your seam allowance, a basic straight stitch along the existing seam line starting and finishing slightly before and after the rip should suffice.

For bigger holes, either along the seam or within the body of the garment consider patching materials. You can either go for an exact match to the existing fabric or something contrasting that you build into the design of the garment.
Heart shaped denim patch with red stitching round edge
Better still, if you’re using a delicate fabric or the repair is in a place you’re not sure you can fix discreetly, why not use your damaged garment to create something brand new. For inspiration, check out or video on upcycling.

While the make-do-and-mend trend originated to help housewives make their restricted clothing budget go further, modern day sewists with access to new technology need only keep a few alteration skills in their arsenal to create a wardrobe of unique, perfectly fitting, long lasting clothes.

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