3 Basic Sewing Skills Everyone Needs to Know

Maybe those sewing skills your grandmother had skipped a generation or so, but what happens when you pop a button or your step through the hem in your pants?  

In my grandma’s era, it was common for women to not just mend clothes, but to make entire outfits. When I grew up though, home economics was on its way out; heck, I didn’t even have to take a home ec course. Sure, it’s easy to run your clothes to a dry cleaner for alterations, but why waste the time and money when these fixes are easy enough for anyone to do?   It wasn’t until I took a costume design class in college that I learned some simple skills that helped me in the future.  So, why not pick up and needle and learn the basics? The next time a button falls off your favorite shirt, you’ll have it fixed before you can say, “whip stitch.”

The Basic Button


(Photo: sewmccool.com)

One of the simplest of sewing skills is replacing a missing button.  Tchad Elliott of Tchad Sewing Classes in Chicago suggests that the trick is “something in between your button and fabric that supports the button up off the fabric and makes it so that there’s a little bit of room under the button to make it a little more functional and fit it through the button hole without stressing the fabric.”

To start, you’ll need roughly 18” of thread — any more and you’ll end up a tangled mess!  To make the button super-secure, use a double thread and securely knot at the end of your thread.  Place a toothpick or safety pin under the button, and center the button of the top of your safety pin/button.  

“For a button to sit properly, it should not be sewn tightly onto the surface of the fabric” says The Guardian.  Sew in and out through the button hole 4-5 times to make it extra secure.  Create a “shank” behind the button by wrapping your thread several times around the stitches between the button and the front of your piece of clothing.  Remove the toothpick or safety pin and knot off when finished.  

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Just Zig It


(Photo: rawrdenim.com)

Josh Le of RawrDenim has the perfect solution for your favorite pair of jeans that suddenly burst a hole in the crotch.  He warns that prevention is key:  “Fix the hole before it becomes a major problem and you’ll save yourself a lot of worrying…there is at least a four week period  (usually longer but very variable) when a hole first appears before it fully matures into a rip.

His suggested repair requires a sewing machine, but never fear, it’s really the simplest of stitches.  If you’re afraid of a sewing machine, this is a great place to start.  Instead of a simple straight stitch, you’ll be using a zigzag.  

First, tidy up the hole in your jeans by clearing away any frayed yarns. Thread your machine and bobbin in a shade of blue that closest matches your denim and put your stitch length on a wide setting.  Sew zigzag patterns to recreate the broken yarn in your jeans.  Continue the zigzag pattern back and forth (don’t be afraid to re-trace the areas you’ve just done) until your hole is completely covered.

For a complete step-by-step with detailed photos, check out Josh’s website.

Fallen Hems


(Photo: salihan.com)

A fallen hem might seem a bit of a disaster for the inexperienced sewer.  Carrie Kamerer, a Broadway and off-Broadway wardrobe supervisor for over a decade, says that “this skill is one of the best to master.”  The trick to having the perfect hem?  Take the extra time to pin and iron out your hem before you start stitching, this will ensure that you have a really crisp, professional looking hem when you’re finished.

If you have a fallen hem, turn your garment inside out and measure the existing hem; use straight pins to match the fallen part to the exact measurement as the rest of the hem.  Once you have the hem evened out again, iron it in place so it will hold the hem as you sew it back together. 

The preferred stitch to repair a hem is the catch stitch, which allows for a bit of movement and strength.  Be careful to only prick the side of the fabric that will show on the inside.  You’re aiming to have a stitch that looks like little “x”s.  Craftsy has an excellent step-by-step of this stitch here.

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