MT: Sewing Basics for Mending

This is an installment in a series on mending techniques.  For a full index of posts in this series, please click here.

Seams and Stitches for Hand Repairs

Running stitch— This is the simplest stitch, the one most people learn as children with lacing cards.

Back-tacked running stitch– Work a basic running stitch, but sew a single stitch backwards every few inches.  This helps to keep the tension smooth across a long seam and will also function to slow down the progress of broken seams.

Backstitch— This is a firm, strong stitch.  It’s great for topstitching, applying trim, or edging an appliqué.

Whipstitch— This is traditionally used to assemble felt toys and for embroidered edgings, but it’s also a great choice for hand-seaming on knit garments because it is strong and slightly elastic.

Ladder stitch— This is usually the best choice for fixing a seam when you no longer have access to the wrong side of the garment, because it’s totally invisible on the right side.

Elizabethan seam— This is a time-consuming technique combining two running stitch seams and a whip stitch seam, but it creates comfortable, strong, flat seams.  I like to use it for highly-stressed seams (like in the crotch of pants or the shoulder seams of a heavy coat).

Blanket stitch— This is mainly a decorative choice, but it also helps to stabilize the edges of fabrics that would otherwise tend to distort (wool felt, knits) and can be used to join two pieces of firm, non-fraying material while keeping the seam totally flat.

Specialty Knots

I most often sew with square knots (with and without bights) because they are strong and simple and get the job done, but sometimes you will need something more specialized.

Tailor’s knot— This can also be worked flat, against the surface you’re sewing from, instead of at the end of your thread, and is therefore a great choice for when you need the knot to be snug against the work, like joining old and new thread ends (like this).

Quilter’s knot— This is a good choice for making an unobtrusive knot that can easily be tugged to the inside of the piece, which is a useful technique when there is no wrong side (like, unsurprisingly, on a quilt).

Burying Thread Ends

This technique works best with fairly long thread ends and a long, sharp, large-eyed needle such as a dollmaking needle.

  1. Insert the tip of the (empty) needle into the seam, as near to the knotted-off thread ends as possible without catching them.
  2. Wet or wax the thread ends and thread them through the eye of the needle.  Depending on how long your thread ends are, you may have to put more of the needle’s shaft into the work before the ends can reach the eye.
  3. Push the tip of the needle back out through the surface of the piece several centimeters away from the seam, and pull the stitch through.  Trim flush any thread ends that protrude from this spot.

The thread ends are now buried: they are enclosed between the fabric surfaces.

Once more, in pictures:

Pulling the thread ends through to the inside of the piece, with the needle entering as close to the knot as possible.
Trimming the thread ends flush where they protrude. I like to stretch or wiggle the fabric a bit after this step, especially if I’m using a thread color that contrasts with the surface color (like here), just to guarantee that it doesn’t show.
Done! Totally invisible knots and secure and hidden thread ends.

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