A Tailor's Guide to Mending

by Mary Avant

Is that new skirt a bit too long? Experts give you advice on hemming.

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You know the story: You’re running late for work, and as you take a final look in the mirror, you notice your blouse is missing a button. Or, you’re five minutes away from hitting the town for a night out, only to look down and see your brand new pants are a few inches too long. Avert a fashion disaster with these tips straight from tailoring experts, so you can fix your most common clothing problems.

Don’t try to rush it super fast, because that’s when mistakes happen.

Kathy Cano-Murillo, creator of CraftyChica.com

Prepare Yourself

The most important part of making at-home repairs for simple clothing disasters is being prepared. That means having an emergency mending kit, complete with a set of must-have tools, on hand at all times.

Aside from your common sewing kit – which usually contains basic items such as needles, thread, a pin cushion, straight pins and scissors – you’ll need a few other tools to make simple repairs. This includes tailor’s chalk, a knit picker, doubled-sided tape and clear nail polish (to keep loose threads in place).

Krystal Savanella, owner and designer of Krystal Savanella Designs, suggests packing polyester thread – which she said is the most durable – in basic colors like white, black, gray, tan and indigo (for jeans), as well as any colors that you wear often.

But if you’re not a sewing pro, there are some additional essentials you’ll want in your arsenal at all times, said Kathy Cano-Murillo, author and creator of craft site CraftyChica.com. She advises carrying small bottles of fabric glue, as well as sheets of dry-adhesive fabric stickers that are permanent and dry-cleanable.

“When I travel or go anywhere, I have at least one sheet of those in my purse just in case” to fix problems like a loose hem or a button that’s popped off, she says. “Because there are so many blouses that are embellished with sequins and beads and things like that, I think if people can keep some kind of fabric glue on hand for when a sequin does come out or a bead comes loose, you can quickly add it back on so you don’t have to ruin your whole shirt."

To keep missing sequins or buttons from destroying an entire garment, always keep the extra buttons and embellishments that come with your clothes in your mending kit, advises Michael Andrews, owner of Michael Andrews Bespoke, a men’s custom tailoring shop in Manhattan.

Common Problems

Now that you’re fully equipped with supplies, it’s time to tackle the most frequent wardrobe problems that you can handle sans tailor. “The most common problems that are easy to fix at home are pinning a broken hem and replacing a missing button,” says Andrews.

To make or repair a simple hem – meaning you’re taking the garment up less than two inches – grab your trusty fabric glue (for a more permanent hem) or double-sided tape (for a temporary fix). Figure out how much you want to take up by trying on the pants or skirt, and mark it on your garment with chalk.

Fold up the material to the chalk mark, tucking it on the inside of the garment; apply the double-sided tape or glue to your garment, spacing up to two inches apart, instructed Michele Heidorn, owner of Evansville Sewing Center in Evansville, Indiana. If using tape, make sure to remove the tape before washing the repaired item..

If you have some sewing knowledge, grab your needle and thread to make a more professional hem. If you’re really in a pinch, you can pin the hem using safety or straight pins until you have a chance to make a more permanent hem. As for buttons (or sequins or beads), you can go the easy route by replacing them using fabric glue or tape, or you can use a needle and thread to resecure it.

Using at least two strands of matching thread, stitch through the buttonholes at least twice, leaving a little bit of slack in the stitch, instructs Heidorn.

“On the last pass of the needle, bring the needle through from the back without passing through the button,” she says. “Wind the thread around the stitches under the button and tie off to secure.” To prevent a lost button in the first place, Heidorn suggests using clear nail polish over button threads to keep them in place.

Quick Fixes

Have a hole in your favorite pair of jeans? Patch it!

“Start by cleaning the hole and trimming off any long threads. Roll with a lint brush and iron out,” she explains. Next, place the denim patch with the top side facing through the hole, and iron on. If you want a more durable hold, sew the freshly ironed patch in place with a needle and thread.

And if you have a snag in your most comfy sweater, grab a knit picker, Savanella says. “If the snag has made a slight hole, you can bridge it using a blunt needle and like-colored thread and do a simple mend. Knot off toward the outside and leave a tail you can tuck into the knit and trim off.”

If time allows, don’t rush the repair. “Take some time to take your garment," Cano-Murillo says. "Turn it inside out, look at the lining, find matching thread, get a needle, measure it before you do it, and take the time to put quality into it. Don’t try to rush it super fast because that’s when mistakes happen.”

Leave it to the Pros

As much as you may want to solve all your wardrobe problems on your own, the experts agreed that there are some fixes that should be left to an experienced tailor or seamstress. “If you have gained weight or lost weight and you want to try to tailor a garment to your new figure size, that’s always asking for trouble,” Cano-Murillo warns. She says taking in clothes requires knowing where the darts are and how the piece is constructed, and that means a lot of room for error for inexperienced tailors.

Fabric is important, too, when it comes to determining what you can safely repair at home. Cano-Murillo says it’s always simple to work with cotton, but stretchy fabrics like jersey can be a pain.

In addition, fine fabrics like silk and chiffon can be ruined when left in the wrong hands. And when it comes to knits, always take these to a tailor. “Working on knitted fabrics may need special machines and special techniques, so it’s best to take those to a professional,” Savanella says. “Working on curved hems or abnormal shapes also are tricky and best left to a tailor or seamstress.”

How to Find the Perfect Tailor

When at-home fixes just won’t work and you need the help of professional, here are a few tips to finding a great tailor:

Get referrals. Ask your friends, family and co-workers about their tailors. Michael Andrews, owner of Michael Andrews Bespoke, a men’s custom tailoring shop in Manhattan.also suggested checking online review sites, like Yelp, for feedback about tailors.

Ask for samples. Before you hand over your items, ask to see pictures of similar work that they’ve done in the past, said Krystal Savanella, owner and designer of Krystal Savanella Designs.

Branch out. “Don’t be afraid to take a cab outside your neighborhood for a great tailor,” advises Andrews.

Ask questions. Find out how much of the tailor's current workload is from regular clients and what percentage of new customers come from referrals, suggested Michele Heidorn, owner of Evansville Sewing Center in Evansville, Indiana.

Don’t settle. “Above all, avoid the corner dry cleaners that also do alterations for anything more than a hem or button,” Andrews says.

Photo Credits

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About the Author

Mary Avant has worked for several international, national and regional magazines and received a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has written on everything from fashion and health to business and food, and she specializes in women's style, fashion and beauty.