Patch And Mend: Sewing And Darning

2 August 2010

Patch and Mend Sewing

I have no idea how to patch and mend clothes. Nor can I sew a hem, or work a sewing machine. None of which bothered me at all, until I became a parent. Now I look at my son's favourite t-shirt, with the little hole that's appeared near the shoulder, and I feel deficient. It came from the Disney store and cost a (to me) whopping £16. Sure he's got his money's worth out of it, wearing the t-shirt constantly. But I'm faced with two options - throw it out, or buy a replacement. Neither of which makes sense considering the money involved!

Darn it!

Patch and Mend 3So, with a hazy memory of my darning badge earned in Girl Guides at the age of 11, I got the needle and thread out. My clumsy effort did the job, and while I was there I spotted that the seam under the arm was coming loose too so tidied that up. I felt pretty good, and it got me wondering. What about all those pairs of trousers worn at the knee but otherwise OK? Or the expensive cut off's I bought to go on holiday with, and ripped at shin by walking into a concrete plant pot? Then there's the blouse that came out of the washing machine with an inexplicable tear in the arm. These both sit at the bottom of my laundry basket. I spent too much money on them to simply throw them out, but have no idea how to fix them.

First stop was, of course, to ask all the PlayPennies parents I know. The answer was either a resounding silence, or the not so helpful explanation that it was something they were taught growing up by their mum. As mum of two daughters, Sho, says "I learned it at my mother's and grandmother's knee." That doesn't help me very much as my mother was never good at the whole teaching thing. We weren't even allowed in the kitchen when she was cooking.

Sho went on to explain that "anything knitted is pretty easy. Jeans are easy with a machine (easier with my spiffy old one which could sew sideways". Eeek enough with the jargon! Sewing sideways? I think that maybe I need to learn at a far more basic level than that.

Patch and Mend 5

Video Lessons

Ideally perhaps, an inexpensive course at the local college in sewing would probably be best. But I have no time in the evenings, and working full time in the day eliminates that option too. So I looked for the next best thing - lessons on the internet.

This video on How to repair a rip was a HUGE eye opener for me. So that's what that extra square of spare material you get with many items of clothes (particularly delicates like silk, and boys trousers) is for! I had absolutely no idea although I have dutifully kept every square. They're in a box with all the spare buttons you get, and the little sewing kits they leave out for you in hotel rooms.

If you don't have a spare bit of material, you can use some from a pocket or the extra bit if the trousers were taken up. Boys trousers are often made extra material at the bottom, so they can be let down as the child grows. Might as well use it to patch a hole in the knee if the only other alternative is to throw them out.

Patch and Mend 1Mending can in fact often make the trousers even more attractive for boys! Pictured here are a pair of my step son's favourite trousers from when he was 11 years old. I should point out that his grandmother mended them, and what an amazing job she did of it too. Plus, the overall effect was such that my step son and his friends thought they were 'totally cool'.


If you've no material to hand, or the hole is beyond your skills to mend, the simple option is to put a patch over it. Something that's been pre-made specifically for the purpose. I seem to remember these being in abundance when I was a kid. We all had patched up clothes, especially on the bum of our jeans! It was fashionable to do. This option seemed easy enough even for me to do. So out I went to buy some. And couldn't find any!

Patch and Mend 6I tried every Google search I could think of. I went into every haberdashery I could find (and was sad to find there's not too many of these left. Even the one in our local Alders deparment store seemed to have disappeared). No-one could help me. Eventually I found a small packet of assorted patches in various colours aimed at children. They're a bit baby-ish though, and I haven't as yet found any that will suit children aged over 5. If anyone can point me in the right direction, please let me know!

Glue And Wonderweb

For sticking the patches on, I tried the quick fix of fabric glue. This works, to a certain extent. I have found it starts to wash out after about three or four washes. Sho recommends Wonderweb, which you should find in stores like Morrisons. I'm told that it is also the same as Vilene. Personally I've no idea and am relying on the advice of others. Yet one more item that I need to get familiar with!

Our sewing expert Sho recommends that "for T-shirts etc, it's sometimes easier to put a small piece of material behind the hole and use something like Wondaweb to hold it together."

And Finally

At this time of the year, it makes sense to turn trousers with worn out knees into shorts. I ran out of time to include that here, so look out of it in a couple Patch and Mend 2of weeks. Next week we'll look at what you can do to prolong the life of  school uniforms.

As you can see, my knowledge of how to patch and mend is pretty basic. I expect I'm not alone. If more knowledgeable PlayPennies parents would like to share their tips and expertise, please post in the comments here!

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  • Yvonne O.
    Loved your piece. I think the only advice I can give you is to keep one pair of really old jeans and use them for patches. I did that with one of my sons. The material is already worn down in color and will match most pairs that need repairing.
  • Lynley O.
    I love that idea! Thanks for sharing. I'd never have thought of it, but it makes perfect sense! Plus different hues of denim can actually look quite funky. I might actually do that with my own jeans. You want to know something - my guilty guilty secret? I bought a One Stitch. It is a little machine from someone like JML I think. It just does a straight stitch, nothing else. Meant for doing take ups, hems that sort of thing. I've never used it. Why? Because despite reading the instructions every which way I can, I blimin well can't figure out how to thread it!
  • Sho
    Excellent article - if only my daughters would show a bit of interest in learning to patch at my knee! Oh yes, definitely keep an old pair of jeans or a denim skirt/shirt/jacket for patches. Wondaweb is like Vilene interfacing, but it is sticky on both sides which makes it pretty useful. One other thing I've done is to keep hold of old, soft, leather (or leather-look) handbags. They can be used to patch elbows and knees.
  • Lynley O.
    ha ha I read that wrong Sho and thought you were saying you wanted them to patch your knees. So therefore I gather that Vilene is sticky on one side only? What use is that? I have a technical question with regard to using or making your own patches out of old material. How do you do this? Create the patch I mean? How do you hem the edges so that they don't appear frayed? Or is that a moot point once the patch is on?
  • Donnie
    I discovered an excellent little product in a Singer sewing shop - hem tape. I don't think that's what it's called, but that's what it is. It's iron-on hem tape. It does start to detach after about 10 washes, but you can always stick another piece beneath the hem and iron again. And, as I recall, it's cheap - about £3 for a roll that can hem about 10 pairs of trousers! I've also seen iron-on patches - nice ones. I'm fairly sure John Lewis sells them in the haberdashery department.
  • Emma K.
  • Lynley O.
    I never get to John Lewis. Thanks for the link Emma. But it is that washing out bit that gets me Donnie. 10 washes sounds a lot but it can be just a month's worth of wear if it is a favourite item! Which means hemming again fairly soon. Whereas if you sew it, then it is done the once? I do have some of that hem stuff to be honest. I haven't used it yet though. I got it in the mega Woolworths sale when they were closing - that's how long I have had it! I am soooo rubbish at this sort of thing. I thought though I'd keep it and use it on the curtains. Son wants Buzz Lightyear curtains - I guess he has grown out of the teddy bear curtains we put up when he was born!

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