From designers looking at sustainable sources for fabrics to production innovations that cut waste, the industry is on a mission to clean up its act.
However, there’s still a looong way to go and ways we can all step up – and checking in with our wardrobes is a good place to start.
An estimated 350,000 tonnes of used but wearable clothes – valued at £140million – is dumped in landfill every year. Add to that the £30billion-worth sitting in drawers unworn – four in five of us own clothes that lie idle because they don’t fit or need altering. And, well, it could be time to pick up a needle and thread… if nothing else, that’s a lot of wasted cash.
“Even if we just focus on our most-loved garments and find a way to keep them in circulation it adds up,’ says Alison Smith MBE, an industry expert in couture, author (her The Sewing Book, is regarded as a dressmaker’s bible [LINK 5]) and founder of the School of Sewing. On average, a garment kicks around for just over two years but can last long enough to make ‘old favourite’ status by checking care instructions, storing on decent hangers, getting creative with styling and fixing the inevitable wear and tear.
The problem, Alison says, is that we often don’t know where to start with repairing even minor issues like a lost button or a fallen hem that write a garment off.
“There’s a huge knowledge gap because sewing – if it’s taught at all – is not taught properly in schools. Many people never learn the basics and there’s a lot of bad information out there.” And while you don’t need to be a couturier to attempt bigger revamps, “there’s an art to it,” says Alison.
“Unless you know something about fit, altering clothes needs a bit more skill but there are plenty of alteration shops around and often they charge is a lot less than buying something new. What anyone can do is learn to do basic mends.” Here’s Alison’s guide to the essential garment repair skills.
Repair a dropped hem
When sewing your hem back into place, make sure to keep the stitch on the outside as small as possible so it’s almost invisible.
- Always use a single thread in the needle – a polyester all-purpose thread is ideal for hemming.
- Check the raw edge to make sure it’s tidy and ready for stitching. Secure the area you need to fix with loose stitches that you can remove when you’ve finished.
- Sew the hem back, making sure to start and finish the hand stitching with a double stitch,
- Make a small backstitch – ie, a stitch backward to the direction you’re going in – every 10cm or so to make sure that if the hem does come loose in one place it will not all unravel.
Reattach a button
- Most clothes now come with spares attached to the label or in a bag – always keep them in a safe place in case you need to do this…
- Double thread the needle (ie, knot both ends of the thread so it’s doubled up). Position the button on the fabric. Start with a double stitch into the fabric to secure the thread.
- Place a cocktail stick on top of the button. Stitch up and down through the holes, going over the the button has four holes, make an X shape as you stitch.
- Remove the cocktail stick.
- Wrap the thread around the thread loops under the button to make a shank.
- Take the thread through to the underside of the fabric.
- Stitch over the loop of threads on the back to tidy them up.
Fix a busted zip
- If only a few teeth have been broken and they’re far enough down so that the zip can still be opened (and you can still get the garment on), you can make this repair.
- Where there are broken teeth, the zip pull might be attached to one half only. Move the puller up so it is alongside the gap.
- Carefully feed the teeth on the broken side into the top of the puller so you’re zipping up as normal.
- Just above the broken part, hand stitch over the zip teeth using double thread. This makes a stop for the puller so it may be a bit shorter, but it will have a longer life.