3 Sewing Skills for More Sustainable Living


Anyone who’s known me for more than a few minutes knows that I love crafting. I find it immensely satisfying to keep my hands busy in a productive way, and my leisure time always feels most restorative when I’ve used it to make something.

Not everyone shares this interest, and I get it—certain skills continue to evade me, too (just ask the cake I recently tried to decorate). But even if this will never be a hobby for you, there are a few sewing skills everyone can, and maybe should, have.

Being a competent crafter means that I’m able to take better care of my things, and most especially my clothes. Care for what I have is a way of expressing gratitude and of caring for creation. Mastering a few basic sewing skills will enable you to mend things that once would have been destined for the dump, and might even make you the hero at a wedding or two.

As I’ve gained confidence in my mending skills, I’ve felt better about investing in higher-quality, ethically made pieces. These clothing items are made to last much longer than much of the fast fashion available at the mall, and with my own needle and thread to back me up, I can feel better about spending a little more money up front.

Before you get started with these skills, you’ll want to make sure you have the supplies on hand. You can find an emergency sewing kit just about anywhere: it will come with needles and thread, and possibly a needle threader, thimble, and a few spare buttons. You may need to visit an actual craft store (or, you know, Amazon) for this one, but I also recommend finding some stick-on or iron-on patches for repairs. And If you already have sharp scissors around, you’ll be all set.

Sew on a button

You don’t have to keep a whole button jar like some of us do, but start saving the spares that come with your shirts, especially if they’re unique. Mismatched buttons really take a piece of clothing down a notch, so keeping these around can save you from the loss of something nice.

Now here’s the thing about buttons: they’re supposed to be raised a little bit off the fabric. That way, the fabric with the buttonhole has room to lie flat under the button when it’s fastened. If you’re a beginner, by all means start by just stabbing some thread through the holes to get a button back on, but learning to do this the right way isn’t very difficult.

For seam repair: learn to backstitch

I have fond memories of learning this one from the old-school American Girl craft books, and mastering it was a total game-changer. It is the second-easiest stitch there is. The running stitch is probably what you’ll do intuitively with a needle and thread if you’ve never used them before, but backstitch is stronger and won’t cause any puckering. This is the basic stitch you want to use to repair seams that have split (that is, when the stitching that joins two pieces of fabric has broken).

Applying a patch

If fabric has torn or worn at a place that’s not a seam, applying a patch is the easiest way to fix it. This one’s kind of fun because you can start to add some character into your repairs, experimenting with patch color and thread color. Pro tip: if you buy paper-backed fusible web (the most common brand name you’ll see at a craft store is “Wonder Under”), you can turn any fabric into an iron-on patch!

Patches come in stick-on and iron-on varieties, but both kinds will start to lift off your fabric over time. To ensure a really strong repair, you’ll want to whip stitch around the edges.

As with any skill, you’ll feel better about these if you’ve practiced before you actually need them! For practice material, check out the remnants bin at your local craft store, where they sell the ends of fabric bolts of fabric at a nice discount. Or buy a couple of “fat quarters” in patterns that make you happy, and try out all of these stitches until you feel ready to pull them out when it matters most.

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