Five simple fixes to keep your clothing around longer

More wear, less tear.

a tailor man sewing cloth on a sewing machine
Repairing clothing might seem intimidating, but once you learn the right tricks, it's not so bad.AllaSerebrina via Depositphotos

Somewhere in your home there is a pile of clothing that you keep telling yourself you’ll repair or alter when you finally have a free afternoon. Occasionally, you might move this pile from one place to another, maybe even unfolding the garments, looking at them, and trying them on again.

We’ve all got our reasons for neglecting our pile. Maybe you’re not quite sure how to efficiently carry out some of those fixes. Or you can never quite make them look as good as you’d like. Maybe you’re waiting for the pile to get big enough to justify a trip to the dry cleaners, where you’ll pay someone to do them for you. You want to be able to do them yourself but you’re a little hesitant, and you especially don’t want to waste a bunch of time.

If this sounds like you, stop worrying and second-guessing your abilities. If you know how to operate a sewing machine, you can easily (and successfully) complete the following alterations and repairs. As a tailor and pattern-maker for film and television, these are the most common sewing-related favors people ask me for. I’m not opposed to helping someone out, but I get more satisfaction from showing people that they’re perfectly capable of doing these kinds of repairs themselves.

What you’ll need:

Materials

  • Safety pins
  • Straight pins
  • Thread that matches the cloth you’re sewing

Tools

Shorten your jeans with the “Hollywood hem”

jeans shortened using the Hollywood hem technique
With a proper "Hollywood hem," your jeans will look as good as new, but they'll fit even better.Vanessa Nirode

Most jeans arrive at the store pre-washed, pre-distressed, and pre-faded. The hems, in particular, display evidence of all of the above: fade marks, frayed edges, and the telltale buckle of multiple layers of fabric that have been washed a bunch of times.

When shortening the length of a pair of jeans, the last thing you want to do is simply cut off the bottoms and re-hem. This method produces a glaringly obvious and un-distressed new hem. Thankfully, there’s an easy way to shorten your jeans while keeping the original hem; a technique known in the film industry as the “Hollywood hem.”

1. Determine how much you want to shorten. With the jeans right-side out, cuff or turn under the desired amount and secure it with a safety pin.

2. Measure the amount you’ve pinned, from the new bottom of your jeans to the top of the original hem (the stitched edge where it meets the wrong side of the denim), then divide by two. For instance, if you’ve pinned 2 inches, you’ll end up with 1 inch. Easy.

3. Reduce the cuff in half, using the number you got when you divided by two. Following the example, there should be one inch between the bottom of your pants and the edge of the original hem. You’re essentially planning a tuck right above the existing hem, so you’ll want to keep it intact. Pin the fabric in place, lining up the side seams.

a photo of jeans being hemmed in the Hollywood Hem style, with a ruler
When you fold the pants again, the new "bottom" of your jeans should be the proper distance away from the edge of the original hem, and the side seams should line up, as pictured.Vanessa Nirode

4. Turn the jeans inside out for easier sewing. Place them under the foot of your machine as shown, lining up the center of the presser foot just right of the hem edge. The needle, sewing machine foot, and thread should all be inside the pant leg and the edge of the original hem should be visible and right-side up. Sew.

5. Unfold the bottom edge of the jeans and push the fold you just stitched up toward the top of the pants. Pin in place to keep it flat while sewing if needed. Sew another row of stitching in a good matching thread color on the folded edge (right side of the fabric) of your new tuck. This will keep the tuck folded upward rather than down. If the tuck is folded down toward the bottom of the pants, it could extend past the hem.

a sewing machine stitching jeans in the Hollywood Hem style
This is how your second round of stitching should look.Vanessa Nirode

6. (Optional) Trim. If you shorten your jeans a considerable amount and the tuck you just made is more than 3/8 of an inch or so, trim off the excess with a pair of pinking shears. These shears leave a jagged edge, which prevents fraying. If you don’t have any, you can use scissors instead, going back to zigzag along the cut edge.

7. Machine tack at the side seam as an added measure to keep the fold in place. A machine tack is either a couple stitches long or two stitches forward followed by two stitches in reverse.

8. Done. Turn your jeans right-side out, press the new hem with an iron, and wear.

Reattach a patch pocket on a jacket

a handsome man in a puffy winter jacket with a patch pocket, dress shirt, and pants
We can't promise you'll look this good one you fix your torn patch pocket, but you should at least feel like you look this good.kiuikson via Depositphotos

We’ve all had it happen. Whether from chronic overstuffing, getting caught on a door handle, pulled by the eager hand of some small human searching for snacks, or just general wear and tear, the patch pocket on your jacket has come partially undone.

The simple, rather awkward method of reattachment is to just shove the whole thing under your machine and stitch through all the layers at once, including the lining. While this method will absolutely work, there’s a much more subtle and professional way to achieve the same result.

1. Carefully open the side seam of the lining on the same side of the jacket as your wayward pocket. The first time you try this, you’ll probably want to open it up at least five or six inches.

2. Pin the pocket in place. Make sure not to catch the lining on the pins.

3. Carefully and slowly, using one hand to pull the lining open, slide the pocket and jacket under the machine’s foot. This could take a bit of maneuvering and pulling of the fabric to make sure the lining is not caught under the foot. Your objective is to sew the pocket back in place while not sewing through the lining at the same time. You may have to lower and raise the foot a few times to make sure everything is in the proper place.

4. Slowly sew along the edge of the pocket. Follow the lines left by the previous stitching. You may want to go over it a couple times to strengthen the hold and hopefully prevent it coming loose again.

5. Take the jacket out from under the machine and trim your threads.

6. To close the lining back up, pin the folded edges of the lining together with the seam allowances (the space between the edge of the fabric and the stitching line) folded inside, and stitch. This will look different from how the seam was closed before you opened it up in step 1 because you’ll be sewing the opening together on the outside of the lining instead of the inside.

Repair a ripped lining on a women’s coat

Silk linings are wonderful things, especially in wool coats. They do, however, often come apart at the seams after dry cleaning (usually because of fraying of the edges). You could sew the gaping seam closed in the manner described in the pocket scenario by opening a side seam in the lining, but if the garment is a women’s coat, there’s another method you can use.

This method usually won’t work with a men’s coat because lined women’s coats are always made with the lining mostly separate from the outside fabric. It’s only attached on the edges. Many men’s coats—specifically dress overcoats and suit jackets—are put together with linings that are also attached around the armholes.

1. Turn the sleeves inside out and locate the sleeve with the top-stitched lining seam. A top stitch is one that is visible on the outside of the garment. All women’s coats, including blazers, are constructed in this way. Undo the stitching with a seam ripper.

a women's coat with the top stitch visible
The seam visible at the bottom of this photo is the top stitch.Vanessa Nirode

2. Pull the entire coat inside out through the opening in the sleeve lining you just made. It’ll all fit, no matter how big the coat is. This is the way it was born. It’s usually easiest if you reach through the opening and grab the opposite shoulder and pull that through first (especially if the coat has shoulder pads).

3. Once your coat is inside out, you can easily sew whatever seam has ripped back together (except for the one you pulled the coat through, of course). If there is a lot of fraying on the cut edges, consider sewing two lines of stitching to help tame it.

4. Pull the coat right-side out through the sleeve lining opening and stitch it closed. Voila. Done.

Shorten the hem of a t-shirt

a blonde woman in a black t-shirt standing outside a building in a parking lot at night
How you may feel inside when the t-shirt you like is too long.Christian Mack via Unsplash

Do you have a drawer full of t-shirts that you’d love to make shorter but aren’t sure how to replicate the stitch? You won’t be able to reproduce the exact kind of stitch that comes from the factory without a coverstitch machine, which most people don’t have around the house. But, you can easily stitch a hem that looks and acts (stretchy!) pretty much the same with a basic sewing machine and a double needle.

A double needle, or twin needle, is exactly what it sounds like: two needles side-by-side that insert into your machine the same way a single one does. These needles come in different sizes (just like regular single needles do). They also come with the two needles varying widths apart.

1. Insert the double needle into your machine.

2. Modern machines have more than one spindle so you can load two full spools of thread. This is often a plastic piece that fits over your bobbin winder. If your second spindle is damaged or missing, you can also use a thread stand that sits on the table behind your machine. In all, you will be sewing with three threads, two from the top spools and one from the bobbin.

Load two spools and feed them both through the thread guides in the same way. When you get to the needle, insert one thread through the eye of each needle. The two top threads will work with the bobbin thread to create a stitch that has just the right amount of stretch for a knit t-shirt. This happens because the bobbin thread ends up in a zigzag. If you’re working with an especially stretchy garment, you may want to use the stretch stitch setting as well. Sewing machines manufactured after about 1990 will have this capability. The stretch stitch symbol usually shows a line of heavy or bold straight stitches. A slight zigzag stitch will also accomplish a similar result.

3. Mark the amount you want to hem the shirt, but don’t trim any excess fabric away just yet. Use something like a Frixion pen that disappears when heat is applied (from an iron, in this case). Fold the extra fabric inside the shirt.

4. Iron along the hemline mark you just made, pinning perpendicular to the edge.

a t-shirt pinned and ready to be hemmed
Before sewing, the hemline of your t-shirt should look like this.Vanessa Nirode

5. Place your garment under the machine’s foot with the right side of the garment facing up so the bobbin stitch will happen on the underside. Line up the hem edge with the 5/8-inch or 1-inch mark line on your machine.

6. Sew. You’ll see a wonderful, evenly spaced double stitching line appear. Make sure to keep the edge of the garment lined up with the same seam allowance mark on your machine the entire way. This will ensure that the stitching line is always the same distance from the hem edge.

a sewing machine stitching a t-shirt hem with a double needle
As you sew, make sure the edge of the shirt doesn't stray from the proper mark on the machine. This will ensure a straight, even seam.Vanessa Nirode

7. After sewing is complete, trim any excess fabric from the hem, as close as possible to the new stitching line you just made. Knit fabrics don’t really fray, but the bobbin zigzag will act as a stay stitch to ensure nothing unravels.

Properly sew a button on

Sewing buttons on is pretty straightforward, but there are ways to make the job more efficient and professional.

1. For your first stitch, push the needle through from the right side to the inside of the garment so your thread knot will end up underneath the button.

2. Allow for some space between the button and the garment (which makes the act of buttoning easier) by inserting a straight pin horizontally under the button as you sew.

3. If the button has writing or a design, make sure you position it facing the correct direction—the same way all the other buttons face.

4. Take note of whichever style of button attachment the other buttons display. The threads will either be in a crisscross design or from side to side.

5. Go through each set of holes four to eight times, depending on how thick your thread is. Once you’ve done so, bring the thread back up through the garment, but not through the button. Remove the pin and wrap the thread around the stitching a few times, creating a button shank. This type of knot helps hold the button in place and keeps it from wobbling back and forth. Knot the thread, again hiding the knot underneath the button. Trim the end.