Hand sewing clothes repair? Using decorative embroidery?
May 2, 2019 10:31 AM   Subscribe

I have become fascinated by wordless videos on Facebook and Youtube showing people repairing torn and damaged clothes by hand, often by embellishing decorative embroidery designs over the rip or tear. I have intermediate sewing machine skills, but beyond button installation my hand sewing is pretty low. How do I start doing this for myself? Links to some sample videos inside so you can see for yourself.

While I think the cultural implications are fascinating, wouldn't mind hearing speculation about why Chinese crafters often choose American country music scores for their sewing videos, my primary goal with this question is get some advice on how to start doing this sort of thing for myself.

What needles? What thread? That plus the videos themselves and I feel like I can start repairing holes in t-shirts and jeans and so on. My wife says they might be using embroidery floss for the repairs? Would that be strong enough to use as a patching material? Are there any books or reference material with more information on how to do these stitches?

Anyway, here is one example video. Ones I see on Facebook (once you like one, they show up in your feed continuously) seem to be from a group called Hobi, which might be a sewing machine manufacturer? Again, my main interest is in repair, although I love the ornate embroidery designs and will certainly incorporate them. This video is actually a great start on the kind of tutorial I am looking for. Also, here is a video with more embroidery, and less repair of holes. And the obligatory Chinese sewing video with American country music soundtrack (there are a lot more.) Here is a video that is not on Facebook, if you don't want to/can't open Facebook from your computer.

Anyway, that is enough to give you an idea. I really want to start doing this. Did you ever see some craft or hobby or sport and it just sort of instantly speaks to your heart? And you know that you could do it and it would be fun for you? This is the feeling I get from these videos. Also, I have lots of t-shirts and jeans with holes in them, so putting them back into service and not a landfill is a double win.

Thank you for any advice you can give about needles, thread, getting started, or reference books, or anything else, really!
posted by seasparrow to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (9 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I've done some of this and it's so fun and awesome! I like to use needles that aren't very sharp - tapestry or cross-stitch needs are good. If it's just mainly for decoration, embroidery floss is fine. It comes with 6 strands and you can divide that up however you want to - for cross-stitch you usually use 2 strands at a time but for this, I like to use 3. Don't double up the thread. In other words, thread your needle and then put a knot in one end only - don't pull the two ends together and then knot them together. It's just cleaner this way and if you do the latter, the thread risks breaking at the needle and, while not a catastrophe, it's just not much fun when you think you've got 10 more inches of thread to use and then you have to start anew.

If it's for more of a structural repair, I like using hand-quilting thread. It's stronger and thicker than regular all-purpose thread.

There is another kind of embroidery thread that is more like a cord and that works great as well.

I think the most important thing about this is that you can't do it wrong! Grab some floss/thread/cord and go to it! You'll learn as you go along what works and what doesn't and you'll have fun doing it. It's such a good feeling to me to patch something up and send it back in the world with a little more color and character than it had before.
posted by dawkins_7 at 10:44 AM on May 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Here is a better Youtube video example. The one I put in earlier eventually devolves to sewing machine techniques, which is not what I want.
posted by seasparrow at 10:45 AM on May 2, 2019

I've done this and it was SUPER EASY and didn't require any youtube.

I bought some iron-on adhesive from a craft store and applied it to my "patch" (in my circumstance, I used floral fabric and cut out the outline of a handgun to cover the hole in my dress).

So iron the adhesive, cut out the shape you want, iron it onto the article you're repairing/upcycling and use a blanket stitch (I use embroidery thread and a regular embroidery needle) to stitch it onto your clothes. It's SO MUCH FUN and can really change an outfit!!

The iron-on adhesive keeps everything in place while you stitch, and it will keep jersey fabric from getting away from you. And adds some extra security to the patch.

I've also used this technique to apply hand-made felt patches onto really cheap hoodies for Christmas gifts. People loved them!
posted by Dressed to Kill at 10:50 AM on May 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

Sashiko is a search term that may help your research. And here are two recent books that look great (I've not seen in person): Mending Matters; Make and Mend.
posted by libraryhead at 10:58 AM on May 2, 2019 [10 favorites]

"Visible Mending" is a term I see a lot that might help your search.
posted by fiercecupcake at 11:10 AM on May 2, 2019 [7 favorites]

Sashiko how-to.
posted by MonkeyToes at 11:56 AM on May 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

Pick one of the projects and do it. Let's say you have pretty fabric or lace and want to sew a patch of it on to a tshirt. On fabric, I'd fold over a small hem all the way around and use an iron to set it. Then some embroidery floss or thread. Floss comes in a bunch of strands, and mostly you'll pull out 2 strands or so and cut to length. Use a simple stitch. The hard part is making even stitches; gets easier with practice.

Maybe get an embroidery hoop to practice stitches. I seem to have half a dozen emergency sewing kits. Great for sewing on a button in a hurry, but cheap needles, crappy thread. Fabric stores are spendy and always have coupons and sales, so be prudent, but get good needles and thread. Walmart has basic sewing supplies.

Do you have a dress with a hem that ripped out? A sweater that would look nicer with prettier buttons? My nearby Salv.Army thrift shop has a bin of buttons, and I've also bought an ugly cheap item just for great buttons. Buttons are easy. Hem repair is not hard. Pillows are pretty easy to make. You can practice stitches by salvaging some nice fabric from a worn item of clothing - linen or cotton - and hemming the edges nicely. I have bought stuff at thrift shops just to make dish towels. Fabric is not cheap, and slightly worn fabric is more absorbent. Have fun.

It's tempting to use a long thread, but start with thread no more than 18" or so. It tangles and knots itself.
posted by theora55 at 12:56 PM on May 2, 2019 [4 favorites]

I recently repaired jeans using sashiko type stitching but I backed it with some worn flannel for strength. On the other leg I darned a smaller hole. In both cases I used all six strands of embroidery thread and needed a sharp needle to go through the denim.
posted by Botanizer at 1:54 PM on May 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

N-thing that you should just try it out as it's something your hands have to learn as well as your eyes. And you will have preferences among the kinds of darning!

Details I have found useful : If you need strength -- like, anywhere on jeans that it would be embarassing for the hole to reopen -- use a patch plus darning. Also, more crossings with lighter thread are better than few crossings with heavy thread, because strong heavy thread on worn fabric can just rip right through like perforations in paper. Patches should have similar `hand' as the mended fabric, that is, be about as dense and stretchy and drapey, or they will add stress at their corners or even change the way the garment hangs.

But this is art as well as technique, and sometimes doing it the wrong way is right for that garment.

For book inspiration, Gail Marsh's Early 20th C. Embroidery Techniques . Utility, art, tradition, modernism all interwoven threads'-length by threads'-length, and many would be great for embellishing modern garments. Some beginners' instruction, too.
posted by clew at 10:42 AM on May 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

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