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Five Emergency Stitches and Clothing Repairs Everyone Should Know

Person hand sewing a button onto the front of a shirt
saltodemata/Shutterstock

When you lose a button, get a rip in your jeans, get a hole in your socks, or have some other clothing emergency, don’t trash the item. With these handy stitches and fixes, you’ll save money and get more use out of your clothes.

While you may still have to toss away a piece of clothing that is too worn down to fix, there are opportunities to mend some items and make them last at least a little bit longer. You don’t even need a sewing machine or any serious sewing chops. Hand sewing is pretty easy, and anyone can do it if you know the right stitch for the fix.

Below you’ll find both written instructions on how to perform each stitch as well as some handy videos we scoured YouTube to find on your behalf. When it comes to crafting, sewing, and other hands-on activities, you really can’t beat a good visual walkthrough.

Back Stitch

If your zipper is falling out of your pants or you have a seam coming apart in a shirt, the backstitch is the stitch you need to fix that garment. It’s a strong stitch that will hold up and let you enjoy that piece of clothing a while longer.

  • Thread your needle and insert it where you want the seam to begin.
  • You’ll bring the needle back through both pieces of fabric a little bit down from the previous stitch.
  • Insert the needle again through the area in between those two stitches, and continue doing this with the same distance between stitches.

This is called a back stitch because you keep moving back in between two stitches before continuing forward for the next one.

Slip Stitch

If the hem comes out in your skirt or dress pants, you need a stitch that will keep your garment from dragging on the ground or looking sloppy—That’s where the slip stitch comes in. It keeps your stitches invisible.

  • Pull your needle through at an area where the thread won’t be seen (like the inside of the garment or between the two pieces of fabric you’re hemming, putting it in through the piece that will be “inside.”
  • Instead of pushing the needle out the other side of the outer-facing fabric, you want to put it through just a few of the inside threads of the garment where the knot is; this will anchor your thread.
  • Start stitching at the hem edge, small even stitches that are under the edge of the hem.

Once you start working on this project, it won’t seem as difficult. Some hems have visible stitching, which you can do much the same way, but stitch the folded hem to the front part of the garment by going all the way through to the visible part of the pants or skirt. You’ll still want a clean, even stitch.

Replacing Buttons

Buttons are probably one of the most common things people lose off of clothing. If you’re lucky enough to find your button when it comes off, you can easily sew it back on. If you lose it, you’ll need to go on the search for a similar button or possibly replace all of your buttons if you want them to match.

Flat buttons with four holes should be sewn on by creating an “x” with the thread as you attach them. A flat button with two holes just needs about five stitches back and forth. The key to lasting buttons is using a thicker, stronger thread. Buy button or carpet thread. Tie off the stitch at the back.

Shank buttons, the ones with the single hole on the back of them, take a little more work to stitch on. For these, do the following:

  • Start by putting a few stitches into the spot where you’ll be sewing the button on—this is to offer a sturdy anchor.
  • Sew through the shank on the back of the button, about six times will be enough to keep your button sturdy.
  • Put the thread through the bundle of thread holding the button on a couple of times, and then keep a loop out to cross the needle through to knot it for security.

It always seems like a loose or lost button is something that always happens when you’re away from home. If you travel a lot, we’d recommend tossing a mini sewing kit in your bag.

Darning Socks

Even socks aren’t cheap these days, and they are one of the first clothing items to wear out. You cram them in socks, and they rub on your toes, and the next thing you know, there’s a hole. The odds are that you have nearly everything you need to fix that hole in your home right now.

  • Put a lightbulb in your holey sock. Use one of the old kind, not a curly one. Secure it in with a rubber band around the end of the bulb, over the sock. You want the sock hole open and snug on the bulb. A hard rubber ball will work in a pinch (you just need something your needle won’t poke through).
  • Trim away any fuzzies or loose threads
  • Stich the hole up using a heavy thread or a light yarn. Some people have fancy ways to do this that require a ton of steps, but it leaves you with a sock that is malformed. You can stitch from the side of the hole on one side (like getting stitches on a cut at the doctor’s office) and move across until there is no longer a hole. The style of stitch doesn’t matter as much as trying to keep the newly sealed area flat.

An interesting note before we proceed: there’s a common and technical use of the word “darn.” We’ve used it the common way here, to “darn a sock” is to patch up the hole somehow (in this case, with some stitches).  Technically speaking, though, actual darning is a much more involved process where you lay stitch back and forth over a large area to create a durable patch. If you’re curious what the looks like you can check out the process here.

Patching Jeans

Patching jeans is another pretty easy thing to do. Instead of tossing your jeans when they get a hole in them, pick up some iron-on patches and give them a quick fix. To be clear, we mean denim patches specifically intended for mending torn jeans from the inside out and not decorative patches sewn on the outside (but hey, go nuts, if you want to fix all your jean holes with flashy decorative patches you can do that too).

Even though you iron them on, using denim repair patches does involve some sewing though, as iron-on patches will start eventually to loosen up in the wash (although that’s not a problem if you take the no-laundering approach to premium denim).

  • Trim off any messy edges and strands of fabric.
  • Turn your jeans inside out so that you can place the patch on them from the inside to find out what size you need to cut it down to. You want enough patch material over the sides of the jean hole to allow you to put in some tight stitches.
  • Follow the instructions on the patch package for ironing it on (make sure you have the proper side down).
  • Once the patch is on, you’ll need to stitch around it to make sure it stays there. The back stitch will work fine.

With a secure patch job in place, you’ll get even more mileage out of your favorite pair of jeans.

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow has been a professional writer for almost two decades. Yvonne has worked for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and much more as a writer and editor. She's also a published poet and a short story writer. Read Full Bio »

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