posted by Becca Thomas

mending masterclass

Bring your old clothes back to life with costume designer Sophie Barclay's top tips

Mending a jumper at a Repair Cafe event in Amsterdam

Sophie Barclay has sewn many a pocket and patched a fair few pairs of jeans in her time. As a freelance costume designer and maker, she has become her friends' first choice when their clothes are in need of a quick fix. But she assures me that there's nothing too sophisticated going on  “Anyone can do this – it’s fun and it’s easy. I do it in front of the TV!”

When she's not fixing things for friends, Sophie works with one of the choreographers at the Ballet Rambert Dance Company, and is currently juggling the launch of a new handmade hat collection. Each feather will be individually sewn, but it’s not how long it takes that seems to be her biggest challenge. “For me, it’s finding the right balance between quality and price. The challenge at the moment is to change people’s thought processes about buying cheap. You need to pay for quality.”

But Sophie's partial to a good bargain too. “I love charity shops and using people’s unwanted cut-offs in my designs.” You can often find good quality clothes for great prices in charity shops and buying second-hand is another easy way to save some carbon.

And if you’ve stopped wearing that once-lovely shirt with the worn out elbows or that dress you bought that's gotten too short, don’t bin them, fix them. Every stitch saves you the expense of buying something new, keeping your carbon footprint down and giving your favourite things a new lease of life. 

So take a seat, get creative and add value to your unwanted garments. You’ll definitely feel rewarded afterwards. And, “it’s personal, no one else will have it,” says Sophie.

Sophie's mending masterclass

Most mending jobs can be done by hand, but you will need a few basic tools to hand. Your basic sewing kit should include:

  • A selection of needles

  • A range of different coloured threads

  • Sewing scissors

  • Pins and pin cushion

  • A tape measure

It's also good to have a collection of materials and accessories stashed away so you've always got something to work with. So if something's completely worn out, make sure you salvage any buttons, zippers and decorative trim before you get rid of it.

Tricks of the trade

Ready to start? Use these tips and tricks to make sure your repair goes smoothly.

  1. Study the garment before you repair it to see how to match the buttons, thread and stitch patterns
  2. A clever trick for threading your sewing needle: stiffen the thread end by moistening it and rolling it back and forth between your thumb and forefinger. This will make it easier to push the thread through the eye of the needle
  3. Know your sew-through buttons from your shank buttons
  4. Match your stitches to the stitch design of other buttons
    sew-through button and shank button

    Photo: picture of sew-through buttons and shank buttons

  5. Buttons should be sewn on loosely to allow for the overlapping garment layer containing the buttonholes. And be sure to wrap the thread tightly around the shank that has been created between the button and the cloth to keep it strong and tight
  6. Stitch through each pair of button holes three to eight times, depending on how much stress the button will receive
  7. Before cutting & hemming - Let the garment hang for a day to let the fabric settle
  8. Cut straight - Draw on your clothes with some chalk. This will also make hemming easier
  9. Press as you go - Lift an iron up and down (rather than sliding it back and forth) to help keep folds flat and in place
  10. Trim away excess thread below knots.

If you’re still struggling and don't have a professional costume designer on hand to help, check out these video tutorials for some extra help. Happy mending!