Mending Hems and Seams
Two of the most common problems that arise are hems and seams that are starting to come loose. This is where the old saying “A stitch in time saves nine” has the most application. A tiny hole in a seam or a short loosening of a hem can be ignored. However, every time the garment is washed, these problems get just a little bigger. Fix them as soon as you notice them.
Don't assume that technique alone will make your stitches invisible. In order to hide your mending, you will need to make your stitches disappear on the fabric. When mending or altering, the trick is to mimic the stitches that are already there. Match the color, the size, and the style as nearly as possible.
Invisibly Stitched Hem
The hem you need to fix may have been stitched with a hemstitch, that is, every inch or so on the outside of the garment, you can see a tiny loop of thread. The best way to mend this kind of hem is by hand.
Hand hemstitch: Take tiny stiches in the garment and larger ones in the allowance.
The hand hemstitch consists of taking a tiny stitch — consisting of only a couple of threads — in the underneath fabric right above the hem edge, as illustrated in FIGURE 4-1. This is followed by a larger stitch through the hem edge, from the back of the hem allowance through to the top. This leaves visible vertical stitches over the hem edge that help to hold it in place.
Knot the end of the thread that is working loose, if possible, to prevent the hem from coming further undone. Trim off any hanging threads. Pin the hem into the position where it needs to be.
Use a single strand of matching thread with one end threaded through the eye of a sharp needle and the other tied in a small knot. Anchor your thread in the hem allowance a couple of inches before the open portion of the hem.
Bring the needle out at one of the remaining catch stitches. Make a tiny stitch through to the front of the garment along with theirs. Catch your thread in the allowance again. Be careful you don't pull your stitches too tight. When you run out of stitches to match, make your own. Try for the same size and spacing as the originals. When you've come to the end of the opening, copy a couple more of their catch stitches. Take several tiny stitches on top of each other in the hem allowance to keep your stitches from coming loose, and cut your thread.
Any time you are hand sewing, the beginning and end of your thread will need to be anchored to the fabric. Knotting the end of your thread before you start is the easiest way. At the end of your stitching, it's difficult to tie a knot flush with your fabric. It's easier to take several stitches on top of each other to secure the end.
The hem may have been stitched with a row of stitches that are visible on the outside. This is easy to fix. Cut away loose threads, pin the hem into position and stitch it with your sewing machine as nearly like it was as possible.
However, if the article is a knit and you can see two rows of stitches on the outside, you may have a little more trouble. The hem was stitched with twin needles in a special stretch-stitch your machine may not be able to do. Check your manual. If your machine has this option, and a pair of twin needles came with it, here's your chance to try it out.
If not, the next best thing is two rows of straight stretch-stitch. If your machine won't do a stretch stitch either, use a straight stitch and stretch the fabric slightly while you stitch. This will make the stitches loose enough that they won't pop the first time the fabric stretches. Don't overdo it, or you'll end up with a ruffle where your hem should be.
A seam that's opened up with no damage to the cloth itself can simply be stitched up the way it was. The only time this is tricky is when another seam or facing or pocket keeps you from being able to get to the opened seam. In these cases, you have two choices — either remove some more stitches, fix the seam and put things back together, or blind-stitch the seam from the outside.
The blind stitch: Try to make your stiches look like machine stiches.
The blind stitch might not be the best choice every time, but it is very useful in a lot of applications. If it's done properly, it's almost invisible. Refer to FIGURE 4-2, and follow the steps below.
Begin along the remaining seam about ½″ before the opening.
Hide your knot on the inside seam allowance.
Bring the needle out along the stitching line.
With the right side of the garment facing you, insert the needle into the opposite fabric and directly across from where it exited.
Bring it out again along the seam, trying to match the size of the existing stitches.
Take another tiny stitch along the seam line on the opposite fabric, being sure to enter directly across from the end of the previous stitch.
Repeat all along the open seam and at least ½″ into the stitched seam beyond.
Insert the needle through to the back and take three or four tiny stitches on top of each other through the seam allowance and cut the thread.
The blind stitch can be made even stronger by using a sort of half backstitch. When the needle is under one side of the seam, it progresses the length of two stitches. On the other side it moves backward the length of one. See FIGURE 4-3and FIGURE 4-4. The result is a seam with a little more give and two threads in every stitch. Be sure you still do all your movement along the seam on the underside and your stitches bridge the gap between the fabric directly rather than at an angle.
Half backstitch: Two steps forward …
… and one step back.
It's not uncommon to get a new article of clothing home and discover that one layer of fabric was missed in a seam. Or, after only a few washings, fabric that was only caught by a thread may have pulled away from the stitching.
If this is a simple straight seam, begin the repair by removing the stitches on either end of the opening where the loose fabric angled away from the seam line. Realign the two layers and stitch them together, matching the thread and stitches as closely as possible. Use a similar method if the problem is a hem.
If the loose fabric is part of a cuff or collar, it may be a little more difficult. In order to save money, some clothing manufacturers allow very little fabric for seams, which was the cause of the problem to begin with. This leaves you very little to work with.
Turn the raw edge under the best you can and blind-stitch it down, even if part of the seam underneath shows. If you leave it as it is, it will fray and look progressively worse, if it doesn't actually catch on something and tear. Fixing this flaw is usually a matter of making the problem as inconspicuous as possible without expecting invisibility.
What if the fabric has torn at the seam?
In that case, remove the seam stitches from about 1″ on either side of the tear. Patch the tear with an iron-on patch. Restitch the seam.