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The sheer amount of clothes that end up in landfill is shocking, especially when much of it can easily be repaired. Here, Emily Mae Martin, an expert repairer at Toast’s renewal service, explains how you can easily mend holes in your clothes and support sustainable fashion.
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Every year in the UK it’s estimated that £140 million worth of clothing goes into landfill. With the average lifespan for an item of clothing only 2.2 years, it’s possible that much of this waste could be avoided by repairing our clothes.
Only a few generations ago, we would routinely mend and patch up our clothes and pass these skills on. More recently, a survey found that fewer than one in 10 people in the UK attempt to repair or restore items when they’re broken. This is despite the fact that extending the life of a garment by an extra nine months reduces its environmental impact by 20 to 30%.
“We’ve become accustomed to just throwing something away when it’s damaged,” says Emily Mae Martin, a garment repairs specialist at Toast’s Edinburgh store. “Being able to repair your clothes isn’t just a handy skill, it’s also a way to be able to cherish and appreciate what you have.”
What’s more, Emily says that just learning “small and simple sewing skills” can quickly make clothes functional again.
Clothing brand Toast has made a commitment to reducing textile waste. Emily is one of the expert repairers who mend people’s damaged clothes and extend their life in Toast’s repair service, Toast Renewal.
“It’s wonderful to be able to give people’s cherished belongings a new lease of life,” Emily tells Stylist. “It’s really interesting to hear the stories behind people’s clothes and help them keep wearing them. We all have those special pieces in our wardrobe that have huge sentimental value; it’s wonderful to be able to cherish those things with a few small repairs.”
What you’ll need to darn a hole
- A darning needle – these tend to be bigger, thicker needles usually around two inches in length.
- Mending yarn or wool
- Darning mushroom (you can also use a tennis ball, a satsuma or even a book)
How to darn a hole in your clothes
1) Before you begin mending the hole, it’s important to have a good feel of the fibres and try to match your mending thread to the piece you want to repair so it will mesh well with the actual garment.
Mending yarn often comes in many different blends and textures. “If you’re in doubt, take the piece of clothing you’re mending to a haberdashery and they’ll be able to help you find the right yarn,” says Emily.
2) Turn your piece of clothing inside out, so you are working in the back of the garment. Put a darning mushroom or book under the hole you’re working on to make sure you don’t thread both sides of the piece of clothing together. Then thread your needle.
3) Begin mending the hole by framing it with some running stitches, you want to create a patch of stitches that is wider than the hole itself, this will reinforce the area and aid the stress and tension in the fibre. Start at one end of the hole and make a couple of horizontal rows of running stitches above it to frame the damaged area. These are short in-and-out stitches.
4) Carry on making lines of running stitches downwards, “I do a finger or two fingers’ width of stitches around the side of the hole,” says Emily. When you meet the void of the hole (where there are no fibres), make a very long stitch over the top to the other side. Finish off with a few running stitches on the other side. (See diagram).
5) Continue this all the way down the hole until you reach the bottom. Keep the stitches close together, but not so close that they become bunched up. Try not to put too much tension on your thread and keep your rows in line with the natural step of the garment’s stitches.
6) When you’ve come to the end of the hole and stitched a couple of lines of running stitches past the bottom of it, cut off your thread leaving a tail of around 2 inches.
7) Now it’s time to make the vertical stitches. Stay within the damaged area. Make one or two stitches above the hole and then do a crosshatch stitch by going over and under each of the long stitches you made before. Once you get to the bottom of the hole, make one or two stitches below it before going back up the stitch to repeat the process. (See diagram).
8) As before, try to keep the stitches nice and close. If you find they are drifting too far apart, put your needle into the thread and pull it towards the other stitch.
9) Repeat this cross-hatch stitch process of going over and under, over and under until you reach the other side of the hole. It should slowly build up to create a cross-hatched area that fills the hole.
10) Finish off by cutting your thread to leave a 2-inch tail. Thread both this tail and the tail you left earlier to the back of the garment. Weave the tails in and out of the stitches you’ve already made and then snip them.
Emily’s expert advice for darning your clothes
Practice makes perfect
As with all crafts, practice really does help improve your ability and thankfully, with darning “the technique you’re using is very repetitive, so you improve your skill really quickly,” says Emily. “Once you’ve done a few repairs, you’ll really see the difference between the first one and your fourth one.”
While you’re building up your technique, it’s important not to get too bogged down with what your repair looks like. “Repairing is like handwriting, everyone has a different style,” says Emily. “It might not be perfect the first time you mend something, but it will be unique and there’s a real charm to that.”
Emily recommends looking at YouTube videos to see how other people repair things and picking up tips from there. They also recommend a book called Mending Life: A Handbook for Repairing Clothes and Hearts by Nina and Sonya Montenegro, which covers a lot of basic mending skills and has really clear instructions.
Think about tension
“Getting the tension right is probably the trickiest part of darning,” says Emily. Making your stitches too tight can affect the shape of your clothes, so it’s best to go looser and put less tension on the garment you’re mending.
“When I’m mending, I’m constantly pulling and readjusting the stitches. That’s why it’s useful to have a book or something flat underneath the hole so you can keep the shape of the garment.”
And don’t be tempted to stitch the sides of the hole together. “The number one rule is do not stitch the hole together,” says Emily. “This makes more tension and ruins the shape of the clothes. It’s also much harder to repair once you’ve done this.”
Trim if you need to
“Don’t worry about trimming a hole back to make it neater,” says Emily. “You want to trim back any loose ends to make it nice and clean so you can see where you’re sewing and make a cleaner repair.”
Use an iron
If you find that your stitches are becoming wobbly or a bit unruly as you’re stitching your hole then use an iron to calm the fabric.
“The iron is your best friend,” says Emily. “Press it down on the patch as you go and it will help to settle the fibres back, which helps as you’re stitching.”
Embrace visible mends
Visible mends are patches of darning in a contrasting colour to the clothing you’re mending, or mends that have their own pattern. This turns the repair into a statement rather than making it blend in.
“It’s like a mini artwork, almost like wearing a little brooch or a badge,” says Emily. “With fast fashion, there’s millions of the same thing, so it gives your clothes that little bit of individuality.”
If you’re making a visible mend, Emily advises thinking about the placement of the repair: “You might not want a bright pink armpit, but a nice square at the front of a jumper that really pops would work nicely.”
You can also tie the repairs to your sense of taste. “If you wear red lipstick you could use a red darn. You can also do embroidery on wool repairs, so if you think your edges are a little bit scruffy you could make a nice embroidered design around the edge,” Emily adds.
Emily advises beginners to start with visible mends so it’s easier to see where your stitches are going. “Once you get used to the basics down you can be really creative,” says Emily. “You can start changing the colours, doing one colour vertically and another horizontally. You can also experiment with different patterns. My favourite is a gingham, which is four rows of one colour and then four of another, alternating all the way down and the same the other way.”
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Emily Mae Martin, repairs specialist at Toast
Emily is a garment repairs specialist at Toast’s Edinburgh store. They studied textiles at undergraduate and master’s degree levels with a focus on slow fashion and using traditional crafts such as patchwork, natural dyeing, embroidery and quilting.