Learn How to Mend and Recycle Clothes

Mending lets you give new life to old clothes the old-fashion way.

| March/April 2010

  • Sewing on a Button
    Quick work with needle and thread reattaches a button.
  • Mending Blanket Binding
    Blanket binding can save a tattered or frayed edge.
    illustration by Rebekah Sell
  • Sewing a Jean Skirt
    An old pair of blue jeans easily turns into a skirt of any length you want.
    illustration by Rebekah Sell
  • Mending Bell-bottoms
    Add a bit of color to make kicky bell-bottom jeans.
    illustration by Rebekah Sell
  • The Craft of Darning
    Darning, while easy, does take a bit of thought.
    illustration by Rebekah Sell
  • Get Creative with Buttons
    The ribbons-and-buttons section of the fabric store is outright fun.
    iStockphoto.com/Jill Kyle

  • Sewing on a Button
  • Mending Blanket Binding
  • Sewing a Jean Skirt
  • Mending Bell-bottoms
  • The Craft of Darning
  • Get Creative with Buttons

Making repairs to clothing and small household appliances of all kinds was once a proud part of life in North America. Most households at least knew how to mend. But when manufacturing efficiencies and inexpensive labor brought the cost of goods to record lows, mending and recycled clothes fell out of favor. In many cases, repairing an item now costs more than simply buying new. This phenomenon has sent to the landfill many a shirt missing a button or pair of coveralls with torn knees. In many instances, learning how to mend is the answer.

It may be true that you can’t buy the parts to fix your broken toaster for less than you’d pay for a new one, but you can still save a basket of money by giving old clothes a new life.

I’ll admit it. I’m a glutton for the satisfaction of making things last. I grew up watching my mother patch the knees of my brother’s corduroys and hem up my skirts to make hip little minis. On her family visits, my grandmother would take over Mom’s mending basket and help catch up on the backlog of buttons that needed replacing; she might convert an Oxford-collared shirt, after I’d outgrown the sleeves, into a pert sleeveless blouse that would get me through the summer. Mine was a family of savers determined to honor an object for the service it had provided. For us, it was disrespectful to throw a thing away when you could take a tuck in it or glue it back together and extend its useful life.

Today’s economy requires that many of us do more with less. Here’s a secret: less really is more. Less money spent on new stuff makes for more creativity, more satisfaction in extending the lives of useful and well-loved things. Read on for some specific mending tips that’ll help you make useful new things out of old and keep favorite old items performing. 

What You’ll Need:

  • Storage container or sewing basket
  • Straight pins and pin cushion
  • Tape measure
  • Tracing wheel
  • Thread
  • Sewing needles of different sizes
  • Thimble
  • Needle threader
  • Small scissors for snipping
  • Large scissors/shears
  • Pinking shears
  • Seam ripper
  • Steam iron (often available for next to nothing at thrift stores and garage sales)
  • Ironing board (often available for next to nothing at thrift stores and garage sales) 

Mending Instructions 

Blanket binding:

Buy pre-folded binding sold by the spool. Flatten out the end and iron a hem along one side of the binding; refold with the hemmed edge turned under, and iron again to “set” the first end of the binding. Cut binding the length of the blanket to be mended, with a generous (say 4-inch) piece left over – this is to allow for the blanket “relaxing” as you stitch on the binding, which often takes a little more binding than your initial measured length of the blanket.

Enchanted SilverBroom_1
3/30/2010 11:10:37 AM

BRIGHTEST OF BLEESINGS This is a great article. After letting a friend borrow the GRIT with this article, I never got the magazine back. I am a member at a local Senior Center, and the youngest, I might add, never thought at this age in life I qualified for "youngest" at anything. I just took a pair of ratty, shaggy, denim capri pants that were destined for the rag bin, found a skirt with the same destination and made a nice skirt. Got a lot of positive comments the best one being "Aren't you to old to be a Hippie?" To which I replied "Hippie's don't get old they join Senior Centers." Thank you so much for this article and keep more of these types of articles coming. I haunt the mail box when I know the latest issue of GRIT is due!!!!

Holly Azevedo
3/4/2010 8:29:17 AM

As I read your "Mend It!" article, I half expected to see another old technique to keep shirts useful -- turning collars when the edges got scuffed and thinned from a man's beard. As a high school girl, I honed my seamstress skills turning the collars on my grandfather's shirts; he wore a white or light blue button-down daily. It was a laborious job, ripping out the old seams and painstakingly aligning the collar for restitching. But when it was done, there was the satisfaction of being thrifty, and of doing a small favor for a man who was always generous to me. Holly Azevedo

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