When Should You Mend Clothes?

Weigh the cost when it comes time to altering or repairing clothing.

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These days, it's hard to know whether it's time or cost-effective to mend clothing. High repair charges versus lower clothing costs weigh against mending, lower-quality clothing is harder to mend, and we may not own the sewing tools or possess the sewing skills necessary to complete the job. Consider these questions to determine whether to mend or alter clothing:

Is the garment in good condition? Repairing a slight tear in a new pair of child's cotton overalls makes sense but the identical repair will be hard to justify if the garment is worn and the fabric is thin. Mend garments only if they're in good condition because worn fabric won't hold a repair for very long.

How extensive is the needed repair? Taking up a frayed hem or reinforcing a split seam is a quick and easy job; removing and replacing a broken zipper is difficult and time-consuming. Save major mending jobs for expensive clothing that will justify the effort.

Do I know how to make this repair? Even a simple mending chore will weigh heavy if the task is above your skill level. Nothing can be more frustrating than struggling at sewing, so take a reality check when it comes to sewing skills. Some of us have them; some don't. So be honest with yourself about your sewing competence when you contemplate making repairs.

What tools will I need to repair this item? A simple hem requires only needle and thread, but repairing a broken invisible zipper may be impossible without a special adapter foot for the sewing machine. Be sure to factor in the cost of any tools you will need for the job when you evaluate whether to mend an item of clothing.

What would a professional charge for this repair? To get a true grasp of the economics of mending clothing, find out what a professional would charge to do the repair. Balance that amount against what the garment is worth for a good rule of thumb on the question of to mend, or not to mend? 

Make a Mending Center

The mending basket can be a black hole that swallows garments for years, giving them back only when time and styles have passed forever. Make mending chores fly by creating a mending center for your organized home. The center's focus: a one-stop place to store garments in need of mending and the tools to complete the repairs.

Locate a mending center in or near the laundry room or laundry center. A quick stitch to a sagging hem before washing makes sure the problem isn't exacerbated. Set aside a hanger area, or designate a basket or hamper to hold items in need of repair. Store mending tools in a basket or tote with a handle.

A Basic Kit Should Comprise:

  • Scissors
  • Needles and thread
  • Measuring tape
  • Thimble
  • Seam ripper

When a mending job needs more than a minute or two, the tote makes it easy to relocate to a comfortable chair with your sewing. Choose one with good light, and your eyes will thank you; make it near a television or radio, and you'll enjoy your sewing more.

Mine the Mending for Clothing Cash

Let's face it: few of us look forward to mending clothes. As a to-do list item, "empty mending basket" ranks as a lower-than-low priority. Think again! Clothing that is already purchased but in need of repair represents a hidden asset in terms of time and money. To change your thinking (and free your clothes), try this method to keep mending in bounds.

Get real. If you're using the mending basket to avoid decisions (or even just stall ironing chores), you're misusing it. Use the tips on this page to be realistic about when and whether to mend.

Shop at home first. Before hitting the mall, check the mending. Often, those "new black travel slacks" on your list can be found in the basket and it takes less time to shorten them than it does to drive to the shopping center.

Check when the seasons change. Some garments bought at season's end never see closet space because they've been tucked into the mending basket for a quick alteration to make them wearable. Hunt them out when the seasons change and new wardrobe needs are fresh in your mind. 

Mastering Mending Basics

These simple sewing jobs require very few tools and will keep clothing on the job and functional:

  • Sew a button
  • Mend a straight seam
  • Patch a hole
  • Take a hem
  • Darn a tear or a rip
  • Replace hooks, eyes and snaps

Excerpted from Houseworks, by Cynthia Townley Ewer

Text Copyright © 2006, 2010, Cynthia Townley Ewer, extracts from Houseworks, reproduced with permission from Dorling Kindersley Limited

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