There is a famous saying from the Great Depression:
“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without!”
As a frugal gal, I try to live by this as much as possible. I’m the lady who is driving a 10 year old Chevy Blazer and when my mechanic asked me how long I planned on keeping it I said “until it stops running” 😉 I think that “wearing it out” or “making it do” are lost skills for many people~and something I need to talk about and encourage more often here on Frugal Upstate.
Part of “Wear it out, Make it do” is a mentality–taking the time to consider making something last or fixing it before just running out and replacing it. But there is also a skill component–have the actual know how! Sewing and mending are a great skill set to develop that allow you to use your clothes until they “wear out” by making repairs and “making do”.
I’m a fair sewer. I can make repairs and use patterns to sew just about anything (ok-I’m not up to making a wedding dress or doing a sofa slipcover). I started sewing by taking classes from a local 4H lady back when I was in 4th grade. While you might not have any interest in sewing your own clothes (seriously–fabric is expensive and you can frequently buy items cheaper) being able to make small repairs or alter clothing to fit can save you time and money!
With just a few basic techniques and a couple of supplies you can easily learn how to:
Sew on a button
Take up a hem (or repair one that is falling down) on pants and skirts
Fix a split seam
Patch a hole
Add darts (to make something fit better)
Think of how many times you could have used those few skills to save a garment that you either tossed out or paid someone else to fix! Of course you do need a few things in order to make sewing/mending repairs. Over the years I’ve put together a nice sewing kit:
The basket was a gift from my sorority “Big Sister” back in college. I really can’t tell you where or when I picked up everything else. It’s collection years in the making! You can tell how old some of the stuff is by looking at some of the thread I’ve got (probably inherited from my mom)–when was the last time Walmart sold thread for $.20 or $.50??
If you are new to sewing then you’ll have to put a few things together. When Walmart gave me the opportunity to choose any topic I wanted for a blog post, I thought that showing you all what items you could pick up for a basic sewing kit from Walmart would be a great idea! You really don’t need to spend very much to have everything you need on hand for basic repairs. Here is what I suggest:
Basic Sewing and Mending Supply Kit
Walmart carries a basic Sew Repair Care Kit for just under $10. This includes a a flower pin cushion, a full size set of scissors, a seam ripper, a measuring tape, a hem gauge, a few buttons, safety pins, pre-threaded needles, a lint roller and some double sided tape (for emergency repairs). If you wanted the absolute bare minimum, this kit covers it.
Thimble. Trust me, if you are trying to push a needle through wool, denim, or even just several layers of fabric you are going to need a thimble!
Stitch Witchery. Sometimes you just don’t have time to sew (or it just isn’t worth it–like on a kids costume). That’s when you need Stitch Witchery. You put the tape (which is like a thin webbing) between the items you want to stick together, use a hot iron and viola–they are stuck together. Great for quick hems!
Singer Ball Head Pins. Sometimes you are going to have to hold something together with pins while you work on it. I personally prefer the ball head pins because they are easier to grab and pull out. Also the colored heads makes them easier to see when you drop them accidentally on the floor. I’d rather find them with my eyes than my bare feet!
Thread. To start with I’d pick up the basics, black and white, in “all purpose” thread. If you know you’ll be doing a lot of hemming/patching on jeans you might want to start out with a blue like I show above. Collect other colors as necessary for various projects rather than trying to “guess” what you will need. I would also recommend picking up a spool of “Button Thread” in black. This is a much thicker almost cord-like thread that can take a beating. Not only is it great for sewing on buttons, but I’ve used it on coats, bags and upholstery. Anything you need strong thread for. If you aren’t sure what kinds of thread to buy, Coats and Clark Thread Advisor to help you decide what type of thread is best for the job at hand.
Favorite Findings Button Variety Pack. It’s a good idea to have some basic buttons on hand for repairs-and this variety pack has white and black buttons in the most common sizes. I don’t know about you, but I tend to notice a button is missing when I actually want to wear the items. That’s not when I want to run out to the store to buy a new button. A tip–sometimes if you lose a button the only way to make the repair look right is to replace ALL the buttons so that they will be all the same. If you have to replace multiple buttons there are plenty of pretty ones in the sewing aisle at Walmart for just a few dollars.
Singer Fastener Variety Pack. Just like with buttons, having a variety of hooks and eyes on hand is great for repairs. This little variety pack has several sizes and colors.
Singer Iron on Patches or Dritz Patches. Iron on patches are great for repairs on functional clothing. Sure–a patch might not look the best, but it can help you keep a pair of pants in use, at least for gardening, painting or work around the house. And if you are really on top of things (and you have a boy like mine who puts holes in all his knees) you can stay ahead of things with a little pre-emptive patching on the inside of the knees!
While you are putting together you mending kit, make sure you have a few resources available to help you make those repairs. the University of Kentucky has a free downloadable 10 page “Clothing Repair” pamphlet. Print it off and keep it with your supplies!
Here’s another tip–keep your big sewing kit safely stored, but consider making a tiny “mending kit” like I did to keep in the laundry room so you can make those small spot repairs as you see damaged items come through the wash.
For those sewers out there–what other items would you suggest for a basic sewing/mending kit?
I think these are all great items. The only thing I want to add is about the iron-on patches. I use them to mend the inner thigh “chub rub” on my jeans that most people don’t even bother to tackle. I put them on early, as soon as I notice the thighs are even thinning. The key is to sew around the edges of the patches once you iron them on; that’s the only way for the patches to be truly durable.
I used to work outdoors leading hikes and whatnot, and this saved me a great deal of money. I bought work jeans from thrift stores and used the patches to extend their life.
Jenn @ Frugal Upstate says
What a great idea for the patches Leah. And I agree-for long term stitching around the patches rather than counting in the iron on glue is good insurance!
I’m not sure if this count technically as mending, but a thread picker (similar to a yarn picker for yarn pulls on sweaters) I quite handy. It makes any knitted or woven clothes look so much better by hiding or getting rid of fabric pulls.
Jenn @ Frugal Upstate says
Great tip Nancy!