How to mend your own clothes : Life Kit There's no need to give up on a sweater with a hole in the elbow or a shirt with a tear in the collar. Visible mending is beginner friendly, highly creative and helps extend the life of your clothes.

If you want to fix your own clothes, try this easy style of mending

If you want to fix your own clothes, try this easy style of mending

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Tools for visible mending. Arounna Khounnoraj, Visible Mending, © BOOKHOU 2023 hide caption

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Arounna Khounnoraj, Visible Mending, © BOOKHOU 2023

Tools for visible mending.

Arounna Khounnoraj, Visible Mending, © BOOKHOU 2023

When Arounna Khounnoraj was growing up, her family didn't have much money, and her mother, a seamstress, made and mended Khounnoraj's clothes. "I remember when she would mend the clothes, she would make them very invisible because there was this association with shame, with wearing clothes that had holes and things [that] were mended," she says. "Kids would tease you because they would be like, 'You can't afford a new pair of jeans.'"

Today, Khounnoraj, a Canadian fiber artist, mends her own clothes. But not in the way her mother did. Instead of trying to hide the repairs, she fixes in a style known as "visible mending," where you use noticeable threads, fabrics and decorative techniques to show off your mend.

Visible mending is having a moment. A flurry of "how-to" books have been published in the last five years (including one by Khounnoraj), and social media has become a hub for sharing mending ideas that emphasize artistic flair and self-expression. Menders attribute the increasing interest, in part, to a growing awareness of ethical issues within the fashion industry: exploitative labor practices, significant carbon emissions and millions of tons of clothes going into landfills.

Khounnoraj says that visible mending doesn't require the accuracy of invisible mending, and anyone with very basic sewing skills can do it. "Some people have really neat stitches, some people have really messy stitches, but they all look good," she says. "There's no right or wrong way to do something."

Life Kit spoke with various mending experts and fiber artists for advice on how to extend the life of your clothes.

Gather your supplies (you don't need many)

(Left, from top to bottom) Worsted weight cotton yarn, cotton tapestry thread, embroidery floss and sewing thread. (Right, from left to right) A regular sewing needle, an embroidery needle and a tapestry needle. Christi Johnson hide caption

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Christi Johnson
  1. Thread. You'll probably use a mix of regular thread and embroidery thread and different thicknesses of yarn. Look for reuse options in thrift stores or secondhand craft shops, and if you have friends who knit, ask for their leftover yarn. If you want to buy new yarn, you don't necessarily have to buy a big ball of it. Mending wool and darning thread come in small amounts and tend to be thin and fine, which is good for repairing fine knits like cashmere. Tapestry wool is a thicker-weight wool you could use on heavier-weight knits, and it also comes in small amounts.
  2. Needles. You could get a variety for specific tasks. But you can also get by with just two: an embroidery needle that accommodates thicker thread, which you can use for patching and stitching work, and a tapestry needle for mending knitwear with yarn.
  3. Scrap fabric for patches. Get it at a fabric store, order scrap packs on Etsy, search thrift stores for clothes to cut up, or use old clothes you already have.
  4. Sewing pins to keep patches in place while you sew them down (safety pins work too).
  5. Bonus buys: Fabric scissors and thread snips are great to have, as is a darning mushroom for mending knitwear with yarn, which gives you a stable surface to work on.

Do some visual planning before you begin

It can be hard to visualize what a mend will look like and whether you'll like it once it's done. So taking a beat to think about what you want to do can save time.

Kate Sekules is a mender and fashion history professor who's finishing her doctorate in material culture and design history. She has also written an instructional book on mending.

She says that before starting any mend, she looks at the whole garment — its shape, texture and colors — then brings out her supplies, lays them on top of or near the damaged area, and plays with different combinations. "Don't just start — you might end up wishing you'd done a different color, or technique or placement," she says. "Contemplate ... then start."

(Clockwise) A pair of jeans mended with a variety of patching techniques and sewed with a visible running stitch, a lightweight cotton shirt fixed with interior and exterior patches, a wool cardigan whose threadbare elbow was mended with leftover wool yarn, and a vintage denim jacket repaired with fabric scraps using a technique known as English paper piecing. Arounna Khounnoraj, Visible Mending, © BOOKHOU 2023; Nina and Sonya Montenegro, The Far Woods; Minttu Wikberg; Lily Fulop hide caption

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Arounna Khounnoraj, Visible Mending, © BOOKHOU 2023; Nina and Sonya Montenegro, The Far Woods; Minttu Wikberg; Lily Fulop

Consider the content and weight of your materials

Whatever sort of mend you're doing, both Sekules and Khounnoraj recommend following a guideline known as "like with like." It's the idea that the fiber content and weight of the materials you're mending with should match your garment.

Khounnoraj says one thing you should take into account is whether your mend is in a "high traffic area," meaning it gets a lot of wear. That could be elbows, knees, inner thighs, or back pockets where people often carry a phone or wallet. If so, it might be more important to choose a fabric that's a closer match to the original for maximum durability.

Another thing to think about, she says, is how your garment will wash. Different fabrics react differently to washing — they might shrink different amounts, which could result in puckering — so if that's something you care about, it's another argument to match materials.

Start your mend: Learn a basic patch and darn

(Left) A tiny hole in a cotton sundress, darned using embroidery floss. (Right) Denim jeans mended with denim patches using various threads and stitching techniques. Lily Fulop; Katrina Rodabaugh hide caption

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Lily Fulop; Katrina Rodabaugh

At this point, you're ready to embark on your first mend. And to fix that pair of ripped jeans, or moth-eaten sweater, you need to know only two basic techniques: patching and darning.

For patching, sew another piece of fabric over or under a hole, rip, or threadbare area. Darning is more or less a patch you weave yourself, using thread or yarn.

There aren't hard rules about when to choose a darn or a patch. It's more common to darn knits like sweaters and patch woven material like jeans, but Khounnoraj says you can patch a sweater and darn a pair of jeans — it's up to you.

For entry-level patching and darning, you need to know only one simple stitch: the running stitch. It's that classic dotted line made by just pushing the needle up and down in a straight line across the fabric.

(Left) A simple patch sewn to the garment with running stitches. Sekules says to cut a patch larger than the hole by at least an inch on all sides, then stitch columns of running stitches back and forth across it. (Right) A basic darn known as a "weave mend," where you move your needle across the fabric around the hole, and the hole itself, in a straight line, horizontally and vertically. Kate Sekules; Arounna Khounnoraj, Visible Mending, © BOOKHOU 2023 hide caption

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Kate Sekules; Arounna Khounnoraj, Visible Mending, © BOOKHOU 2023

No matter what you try, remember that it doesn't have to look perfect. It can be wonky and flawed and your own.

"That makes me feel a little more connected to it," says textile artist, mender and teacher Christi Johnson. "We want to be able to understand that somebody has put their hands on this and that somebody has invested their time into it. And that beauty can be seen whether or not a stitch is perfect or not."

Level up by seeking out inspiration

(Left) A patchwork patch made from cotton scraps. (Center) Duplicate stitch, also known as Swiss darning, is a more advanced form of darning. (Right) Sashiko is a type of Japanese embroidery that involves stitching intricate geometric patterns onto fabric with a running stitch using a specific kind of cotton thread, reinforcing and strengthening the fabric. Christi Johnson; Arounna Khounnoraj, Visible Mending, © BOOKHOU 2023; Atsushi Futatsuya hide caption

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Christi Johnson; Arounna Khounnoraj, Visible Mending, © BOOKHOU 2023; Atsushi Futatsuya

You can stick with the basic versions of these techniques or experiment and explore beyond them. For example, there are other, more-advanced types of darning you could try, such as scotch darning or Swiss darning.

You could also put together a small collage of fabric instead of opting for a single patch. That's a favorite of Johnson's.

Then there are easy embroidery stitches that can cover stains and blemishes or add ornamentation to a patch. Some people have also adopted elements of the Japanese embroidery tradition Sashiko in their mends.

If you're looking for "mendspiration," as Sekules calls it, search "visiblemending" on Instagram, or check out some menders who have inspired us:

The audio portion of this episode was produced by Clare Marie Schneider and edited by Meghan Keane.

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