Save those jeans: 10 visible mending tips
I’ve been on a visible mending spree lately. It started when I tore a big hole in my favourite pair of jeans. This was not a stylish, carefree hole but a big and stretchy mess that ruined the jeans. I didn’t want to chuck my jeans out (what a waste!) or buy a new pair (eek expensive!), so I ordered some good quality thread online and decided to give visible mending a go.
The type of visible mending I’ve been doing involves cutting a patch of fabric which you put behind the hole in your garment. You then secure this patch by hand stitching it in place. It’s inspired by Japanese mending techniques, like sashiko and boro, which use decorative hand stitching to restore the structural integrity of damaged fabric.
After mending the hole in the knee, I moved on to other weak bits in the denim before starting on an old pair of my husband’s jeans which were also in a sorry state. I like to keep things very simple, so I wasn’t convinced I would want to wear visibly patched jeans – but they actually look better than I expected and I have been wearing them a lot.
I jumped straight into my first patch without doing much research other than a bit of Instagram scanning. I’ve now completed four different sorts of patches which certainly doesn’t make me an expert - but I have learnt a lot along the way. In this post I am going to share 10 hints for anyone just starting out. I hope they are helpful!
1. Cut away any stretched denim
When you tear your jeans, the denim surrounding the tear often stretches and distorts. This is particularly true of stretch denim which contains lycra. If you try and stitch over the stretched denim, it will bunch up and pucker which doesn’t look very good. To avoid this issue, you will need to cut away all the stretched denim. A good test is to iron the hole and cut away any fabric which will not iron flat.
2. Choose a patching fabric the same weight as the denim (or slightly lighter)
As you stitch over your patch, you will increase its weight. It’s best to use a fabric of a similar or slightly lighter weight to your denim so the finished patch integrates well with the rest of the jeans.
3. Finish the edges of your patch for extra durability
This step isn’t strictly necessary but I think it increases the durability of the patch. You can finish the edges with zigzag, overlocking or pinking shears.
4. Baste your patch in place
Don’t even try messing around with pins, they will only get in the way when you start stitching. Pin the patch in place on the reverse side of your hole then hand baste it in position with basic sewing cotton. Remove the pins and make sure your patch is securely attached and lying flat. Some people have an aversion to hand basting, but it is absolutely necessary when you’re doing this sort of patch because it allows you to make sure the patch is flat and the tension is correct.
5. Draw guiding lines
If (like me) you prefer the borders of your patches to be clearly defined, you will need to draw on some guiding lines with a wash-away fabric pen. Whatever shape you choose, make sure you stitch up to but never over these lines and you will end up with a lovely precise area of hand stitching.
6. Choose the right thread
I used Olympus sashiko thread for most of my patches. This durable thread is 100% cotton and tightly wound. I recommend using sashiko thread because it’s stronger than regular embroidery thread. I ordered my thread online from BeBe Bold which is a an Australian based online store (this is not an ad, I bought this thread myself and have no affiliation with BeBe Bold!). However, if you cannot source any sashiko thread you can use regular embroidery floss. It will still work well but it may wear out more quickly.
7. Experiment with different stitches
A lot of visible mending uses running stitch. I used running stitch for my large knee patch and a smaller patch as well. I was a little unsure to begin with because I thought the uneven nature of running stitch might look a bit messy – but it actually looks great. I think the overall effect is improved by having clearly defined edges.
But remember you can use any stitch you like! I also used chain stitch and stem stitch on some of my smaller patches and they looked great to. Once you’ve mastered the basics, why not try something different.
8. Avoid bulky knots
When you kneel down in you newly mended jeans, the last thing you want is bulky knots digging into you. There are a variety of ways you can start and finish hand stitching without using a knot. If you’re not familiar with these techniques check out this tutorial by Cutesy Crafts. All these techniques would work for this kind of project (although option 2 isn’t suitable for sashiko thread which cannot be divided).
9. Watch your tension
As you hand stitch your patch in place, you will need to keep the tension of your stitching just right. If your stitching is too loose, it won’t securely hold you patch in place – and it will look messy. If it is too tight, it will pucker the fabric beneath. As you stitch, pause regularly to smooth out your patch to make sure you’re not having any issues.
10. Keep you stitches small and close together
The hand stitching involved in this kind of visible mending looks good. But it’s not just decoration. When done correctly, your hand stitching should restore the structural integrity of the garment. The best way to do this is to keep your stitches small and close together. I also think that smaller, denser stitches also look much better so I recommend keeping your stitches and line spacing on the small side.
If you’re patching a hard to reach place like the knee, remember you can roll up the leg to make it easier to access the back of your patch. It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure this out…
That’s all from me for now. If you are jumping into your first visible mending project, I hope these tips have been helpful! I’d love to hear any discoveries or hot tips you come across along the way.