How to shorten sleeves using elastic

Sometimes it is very small things that stop us wearing items of clothing. Take this jumper for example. It sits in my wardrobe, I pull it out to wear it and every time I put it back as I remember that it annoys me. The arms get too long and baggy. I’m forever pulling up the sleeves for them to fall down seconds later.

There are many ways to shorten sleeves of tops and shirts but it is a bit trickier when it comes to jumpers. No problem if you can knit, but sadly I lack this skill. Knitwear and jersey (fabrics that have a knitted, stretchy construction rather than woven), can unravel if you cut them. Useful on a T-shirt as the fabric doesn’t fray. But on knitwear, the knitting would come undone and my jumper would be ruined.

This jumper had a little secret on the side seams that gave me an idea. A length of elastic at the bottom of the sides of the jumper are stitched with elastic. This creates a ruching effect.

In this video I demonstrate how to create the same effect on the sleeves to make them shorter.

This trick can be used on woven fabrics too. I’ve added elastic to shoulder seams to created a ruched cap sleeve. Or one of our workshop participants added elastic to the side seams of a mini dress to turn it into a long top.

Where to buy sustainable elastic

Generally elastic isn’t good for the environment. Made from rubber and plastic it takes years to biodegrade. There are some sustainable alternatives. Buying second hand is sustainable as we are using materials that are already available. We are not using the earth’s resources to make new products. They will not biodegrade but they have been produced so it makes sense to use them rather than throw them away unused. Charity shops are an excellent source of unused haberdashery. Usually stored in baskets amongst the homewares. I often collect elastic and darning yarn whenever I see any in a charity shop.

James Tailoring sells sustainable haberdashery including organic elastic that will biodegrade. Along with sustainable thread, fabric (including denim) and buttons. All available online.

FIVE tips on how to get more wears from your Christmas Jumper

Selection of Christmas jumpers on offer at SCT charity shop on Roman Road, London

Today is Christmas jumper day, wear a festive jumper and donate money to Save the Children. Fantastic! If you have taken part, please wear your Christmas jumper more than once. It was estimated that 12 million Christmas jumpers were bought in 2019 despite 65 million lurking in the back of the wardrobe according to charity Hubbub. Speaking in The Daily Telegraph, the Charity’s project co-ordinator Sarah Divall suggests customers:

‘Swap, buy second-hand or re-wear and remember a jumper is for life not, just for Christmas.’

Sarah Divall, Hubub

Last month we wrote about the ‘30 wear rule‘ when buying a new item of clothing. Why should a Christmas jumper be any different? Here are our top tips on how to get the most out of your Christmas jumper and prevent it from becoming textile waste.

1. Start wearing your jumper early

Libby started wearing her Christmas jumper at Halloween

I visited my family in Scotland in October, where they have more reason to wear jumpers for longer. It was Halloween but my niece Libby was wearing the above red sweatshirt adorned with snowflakes and an image of a cute black cat and the words ‘Meowy Christmas’. Do you know what, it looked fantastic! The black cat ticked the Halloween box and it was genuinely a warm and item of clothing that she loves and will wear throughout the winter.

2. Worn it before? So What?

My husband went out this evening for his annual Christmas curry club wearing a Christmas Jumper he has owned for 7 years and it is still going. Do you think anyone really remembers if you have worn it before? And if they do, then explain it is your favourite and you are saving another piece of clothing from reaching landfill.

3. Upcycle your Christmas jumper

If tip 2 isn’t quite for you and you want to update your Christmas jumper each year, then add a few embellishments. We love this tip from our friends at the Ealing Repair Cafe. Maria added a Christmas hat to her daughter’s non-Christmas jumper. Add some pompoms, ribbon, sequins. Any small change will make your jumper feel like it is all new again. Of course you can create a Christmas jumper from a plain jumper. As we did at our workshop with The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine back in 2019.

4. Take the Christmas out of your jumper

I’ve seen some really over the top Christmas jumpers, which might be difficult to update to an all-season jumper. In this case, I refer you to points 1 and 2. If your jumper is a bit more subtle, then hide the Christmas references. Eleanor updated this semi-plain sweatshirt by cutting strips of a lightweight fabric. Thread a needle with a double a length of sewing thread approximately 45cm. Knot the end. Fold over the fabric at approximately 5cm folds. Sew through the centre of all the layers. Continue with more lengths of fabric, changing the colours if you wish. Pull together and secure with a couple of back stitches and a knot. Repeat until you have enough ruching to cover the message on your jumper. Alternatively, use the Boro and Sashiko technique to patch over the festivity on your jumper.

5. Swap with a friend

OK, you’ve worn your jumper for 7 years and fancy a change. Find a friend the same clothes size as you and swap your jumpers. Host a Christmas jumper swap with a group of friends or colleagues. Best to do it soon whilst everyone remembers where their jumper is and can wear it over the holidays.

Maybe you haven’t bought a Christmas jumper yet and still thinking about getting into the popular craze. I spotted the jumpers at the top of this post in the window of my local charity shop and they had lots more inside. Buy from a charity shop-wear-donate-repeat. Use it like a form of rental and the money all goes to charity.

Join us on the 20th December at The Remakery in South London. Bring along a plain jumper to update into a Christmas jumper and we will provide some festive trims. Bringing your regular clothes mending is fine too. Book via Eventbrite.

How to re-patch jeans

Jeans are probably the most popular item people bring to our workshops. It is really tricky to find jeans to fit perfectly and once you find a pair you don’t want to stop wearing them. We have helped many people repair their favourite jeans to be worn again and again. However, it can happen that the repair needs repairing.

I fixed my nieces favourite jeans about two years ago. She has worn them continually and they need repairing again. I know I should be encouraging her to repair her own jeans, that will be the next step! Patches are great but they do weaken the fabric and can rip again after lots of wear. There is no need to unpick the original patch, just patch on top.

Here is a video to show how I got on – but I will admit that the legs of the jeans are narrow and it was tricky fitting them onto my sewing machine.

Which threads to use for mending?

a box of sewing threads in bright colours mix of shapes and sizes

We’ve enjoyed meeting lots of people for our online clothes mending workshops and mend-a-longs. We miss meeting everyone in person but online has the advantage that attendees can join from all over the UK, Ireland and even as far away as Canada. It has been a real positive of being in lockdown helping people mend their clothes. The chats as we mend have been varied and a theme that has come up often is what type of thread to use. We have pulled together a our top tips to help…

Reuse

Our philosophy at Fast Fashion Therapy is to re-use threads and other materials where ever possible. There are millions of supplies out there that someone doesn’t want that is useful for someone else. Why use up the Earth’s resources creating something new when the chances are what you want could be thrown away by someone else? Many of my threads of all colours, substrates and qualities have been donated by family and friends. I inherited my nan’s sewing box when she died and it brings me comfort to know she mended her clothes with these same threads. Including some beautiful wooden reels with the Woolworths price sticker still intact.

Charity shops are a fantastic source of haberdashery when they are back open. I always head to the back of the shop and hunt around baskets on shelves hidden behind vases and picture frames. Often picking up a bundle for £1.

Ebay and Gumtree are great if there is something particular you are after or it isn’t possible to get to a charity shop. I picked up these used industrial reels of thread in various blues for our denim patching kits. I then transfer them onto plastic reels that have also been reused. I put out a request on the Facebook group The Fold Line, used by dressmakers. Many of them had kept the reels but didn’t know what to do with them. They were happy to post them to me knowing that they were going to be reused rather than thrown away.

It is important to note if your thread is particularly vintage and has been stored in sunlight or heat it could become brittle and break easily. Try the thread before you use it. It should be difficult to break between your fingers. If it snaps easily it is best not to use it for clothes mending otherwise the stitches will not hold.

What thread should I use to mend my clothes?

The rule of thumb is to match the composition of the thread to the composition of the garment. For example use 100% cotton thread for cotton jeans. However, with so much stretch being included in our modern day garments, this rule doesn’t always follow. You can find technical tables online that tell you which threads to use for which fabrics. We like to keep things simple at FFT so have summarised the threads below

100% Polyester Thread

Gutterman 100% recycled Polyester Thread from James Tailoring

This is an all purpose thread and will work for pretty much all fabrics. It can be used on the sewing machine and for hand sewing. Polyester thread is particularly good for fabrics that have some stretch in them and will stretch with the fabric rather than fighting against it. A downside of Polyester thread is it will not absorb domestic and natural fabric dyes. So if you want to dye a piece of clothing the stitching will stay the same colour. I have done this and it can look quite effective. If you are looking to buy new Polyester thread rather than a reused thread then we recommend sourcing one that has been made from recycled materials. Such as the Gutterman thread in the photo.

100% Cotton Thread

Olive green sewing thread on a wooden reel
Scanfil 100% organic cotton thread from Offset Warehouse

This thread is great for topstitching jeans and other cotton and linen garments. It tends to be slightly thicker than regular Polyester thread. It doesn’t have any stretch and isn’t recommended for stretch fabrics. If you can’t find what you are looking for pre-loved then we like these organic cotton threads from Scanfil. Boro stitching is a decorative method of clothes mending that derives from Japan. Traditionally thicker cotton thread is used in white. We found these cones of 4-ply (4 strands twisted together) on Gumtree to include in our jeans mending kits. We use other colours too but white against dark denim is traditional.

Nylon Thread

A bit more unusual, this thread is useful for sewing highly stretched fabrics such as swimming costumes, leggings and other sportswear. It is also waterproof so works well for mending showerproof jackets. It is widely available in black and white, other colours might be more difficult to come by in small reels. We bought a large reel from eBay to re-wind onto re-used reels for our sportswear mending kits.

Silk Thread

The only time I’ve use this is to mend silk garments but it is also useful for wool garments. It has a slight stretch to it so could be useful for jersey fabrics if you wanted a natural alternative to Polyester.

Darning Yarns

The sewing threads listed above can be used to darn T-shirts and thinner jersey fabrics such as leggings but we recommend thicker yarns for darning knitwear. The same rule applies that it is best to match the fibre content of the mending yarn as much as you can with the fibre content of the knitwear. Mending yarn is usually sold in a variety of colours but is nearly always a blend of wool and nylon. This is a good all purpose yarn, great for socks, jersey stretch fabric and most jumpers. However there are some special items that we recommend using specific yarn. Maybe a merino wool fine gauge jumper. Or a thick, cosy cashmere cardigan. We have sourced a variety of yarns for our darning mending kits from eBay and Gumtree that we have repurposed into smaller bundles for mending.

It is also important to mend the width of the yarn with that of the jumper. For example, I would use a 2-ply (two threads twisted together) yarn on a fine gauge knit jumper. I would use a thicker 4 or 6-ply yarn on a chunky knitted jumper.

An old tin, plastic box with a lid or a shoe box is useful to store threads in. I have heard of people wrapping the reels with elastic bands to stop the threads coming lose and matting together. Maybe I’ll save that job for another time…

Follow our tips on how to build a clothes repair kit

How to darn | How to Patch

Join one of our online workshops and learn how to mend your clothes. Try an introduction to both darning and patching or a specialist masterclass for each technique. Each workshop includes the price of a clothes mending kit worth £10.

Virtual | Online Workshops




£5 discount if you book a darning and patching workshop together. They don’t have to be the same date.

Booking ends 5 days before the workshop date so that we can get your kit to you in time. Kit is worth £10, as seen on our Etsy shop. The workshop will take place via Zoom, joining details will be sent a few days in advance of the class.

Each workshop lasts 90 minutes (except the Slow Sunday event, which is 60mins). It includes live demonstrations, time to practice and ask questions. Please get in touch with any queries.

How to mend Jeans: Part 2

Sewing machine mending

Jeans are one of the most popular items to repair at our workshops. Many people bring along jeans that have worn away between the thighs and ask if they can be repaired – yes is the answer and there are two ways of repairing. By hand and a Boro style stitch as shown in part one of this jeans mending series. In part two we show how to mend jeans with a sewing machine.

Sewing thread

Usually people prefer to mend their jeans in this particular spot as inconspicuously as possible. Jeans come in so many different colours and shades try and match the sewing thread as close as possible. Mid-blue and pale grey work well on worn denim jeans. As part of our denim patching kit we offer 3 different colour blue threads on one reel. All are from larger reels of deadstock wound onto used plastic reels (thanks to a Facebook sewing group).

Sewing Kit

  • Sharp scissors
  • Sewing needle (sharp ended to get through the denim)
  • Dressmaker pins to hold the patch in place or safety pins also work well
  • Tape measure or ruler to measure the patch
  • Thread – I use a blue to match the denim (not white shown in the photo)
  • Denim patching kits available on our Etsy shop
  • *TOP TIP* save pieces of denim cut from taking jeans up or save old jeans to use for patches.

Denim patches

As in part 1 of this blog the first step is to measure the hole in the jeans. If the hole is on both sides of the centre seam then use one patch to fit over the whole area. Cut a piece of denim that is a similar weight, feel and texture to the jeans you are mending. Set your machine to a zig zag setting. Nearly all domestic sewing machines have a zig zag setting. Have a practice on a scrap piece of fabric and change the stitch width and length settings to get the shape of zig zag that you prefer. Zig zag stitch just inside the outer edge of the patch. Sew around all 4 edges to prevent fraying.

Keep the jeans the right side out and open the fastenings as far as they will go. Place the patch over the the holes. Usually the holes are on the back side of the jeans, keep the patch on that side of the centre seam. Use dressmakers pins to pin in place.

  • Working on the right side of the jeans, feed the jeans under the presser foot of the machine. Take your time and wiggle the jeans to get them in place
  • Before you start sewing, trace the patch with your finger to make sure it is still in place and hasn’t folded over
  • Starting at the point where the two centre seams cross, sew a zig zag line following the line of one of the centre seams
  • Stop at the edge of the patch taking care not to go over the pins otherwise you will break a needle
  • Put the needle into the denim, lift up the presser foot and pivot the jeans 90 degrees
  • You want to come back and sew in the opposite direction that you have just sewn. But don’t sew over the same line, move the fabric of the jeans over so you end up creating rows of zig zag stitching. They don’t have to be exact
  • Once you have gone one way, turn the jeans so that you follow the line of the other centre seam. Crossing over the zig zag lines you have just sewn.
  • Demonstrated in the video below *top tip* if your sewing machine is missing stitches and not sewing the zig zag properly, trying switching to a denim needle. It isn’t always necessary to buy one specially but it does help this error.

Sewing machine stitching vs. hand stitching


I’ve used both techniques on this one pair of jeans to demonstrate the difference. Both work well and are both secure. Personally I like the meditative effect of hand sewing but machine sewing gets the job done quicker. Both methods won’t last forever. If another hole appears or the patching has worn away, place another patch on top and repeat the instructions. Don’t remove the original patching, the new patch will make it stronger. Want to find out more? Come along to one of our clothes mending workshops

How To Repair Leggings

The clothes we wear to exercise are some of the most common garments in need of repair. Whether it’s tearing them when you’re stretching that bit too far, being worn down from lots of washing or falling off your bike (like in this case). The synthetic, non-woven fabrics that they’re normally made of can be some of the trickier ones to mend but classic repair techniques can still work.

I used an old pair of sports leggings (after a lot of years wear had seen better days), cut some of the fabric off the bottom of them and made two patches for patching the hole in the knees of my favourite leggings. Patches made from old T-shirts and jersey underwear also works.

I hand stitched the patches onto the leggings first to hold them in place, placing one patch on each knee. Only the right leg had a hole in but I felt it would look better on this style of leggings to make each side match.

I then used the zig-zag stitch on the sewing machine to sew around all four edges. Working from the front in a matching thread, I incorporated the edge of the patch within the zig zag stitch as much as possible. Jersey doesn’t fray so if a bit is missed it isn’t too important.

To sew in a square it is important to ‘pivot’ the needle. This is done by sewing along one edge of the square. Stop a few millimetres before reaching the end, place the needle in the fabric and lift up the presser foot. Turn the fabric 90 degrees. Put down the presser foot and continue along this line. Carry on using this technique until you reach where you started. Secure the stitch by a short reverse stitch.

I’ve already cycled, ran and done some yoga in the leggings since repairing them and the stitch has not come undone. Please get in touch if you have a sportswear query you would like some advice on repairing.

If you don’t have a sewing machine you could try to replicate the zig-zag stitch or try using an overstitch as explained in our video below.

online workshops – book via Eventbrite
Sportswear patching kit from our Etsy shop

How to mend Jeans: Part 1

Hand sewing, Boro style patching

We designed this graphic last year before the start of the Covid Pandemic. We had been running two workshops a week and people brought along their clothes to repair. We did an audit to find out the most popular items of clothing to repair and the main issues they had. Jeans were one of the most popular items to repair. Many of them had worn away between the thighs and needed repairing. Usually the rest of the denim is perfectly fine. Mending the jeans brings them back to life, ready to wear again!

With the hole being in between the thighs, I prefer to use a denim patch along with matching thread rather than making a feature of the mend. Not quite invisible mending but not as obvious as visible mending as the example in the how to video. The above photo is of my favourite jeans which have been patched several times. Rather than take off the original patching, I add layers to it and patch over the new holes. I’ve been asked if it makes the jeans uncomfortable to wear but I don’t notice the difference.

First step is to measure the hole in the jeans. If the hole is on both sides of the centre seam then use one patch to fit over the whole area. Cut a piece of denim that is a similar weight, feel and texture to the jeans you are mending. Sew an overstitch around all four edges to prevent the edges from fraying.

Keep the jeans the right side out and open the fastenings as far as they will go. Place the patch over the the holes. Usually the holes are on the back side of the jeans, keep the patch on that side of the centre seam so it covers the holes on both sides of the centre seam. Pin in place with safety pins or dressmaker pins. An embroidery hoop placed over the area you will be stitching is useful to hold the fabric taught. But it isn’t essential.

Step-by-step ‘how to video’ on Boro Patching

In the video above, Eleanor demonstrates how to patch using the Japanese Boro style technique. This technique can be used for all woven fabrics, not just denim. The below video is my husband (Craig) mending his jeans after I taught him this technique. He can sew on a button but usually leaves the clothes mending to me. This is the first time he has tried Boro style patching, I wanted to share the video to show you don’t have to be a sewing whiz to mend your own jeans. Hand sewing is great for mindfulness too!

Boro patching in practice

Sewing Equipment

  • Sharp scissors
  • Sewing needle (sharp ended to get through the denim)
  • Dressmaker pins to hold the patch in place or safety pins also work well
  • Tape measure or ruler to measure the patch
  • Thread – I use a blue to match the denim (not white shown in the photo)
  • Denim patching kits available on our Etsy shop
Denim patching kits available on our Etsy shop – COMING SOON

We are running monthly virtual workshops teaching patching and darning. Join us to learn Boro style patching with the opportunity to practice and ask questions. Book via Eventbrite on the button below. The class takes place via Zoom, instructions and a patching kit (worth £10) is sent in advance of the workshop. Hope to see you there.

How to Refresh & Repair Knitwear

It is that time of the year when my jumpers and cardigans swap their under-the-bed storage home with my summer clothes. Moths like to eat dirty clothes so I washed my knitwear before I stored them away in an airtight bag. Bringing them back out into the Autumn light, I can see their are in need of refreshing and repair…

Refreshing & Washing

I prefer not to wash my knitwear too frequently. It can cause more pilling (bobbling) and shrinkage. Instead I gave them a refresh. The most effective way to refresh your clothes is to hang them outside in the fresh air. I live in a flat without a balcony so this is how I refresh my clothes:

Boil half a litre (1 pint) of water and let it cool to room temperature. Once cooled, add 10 drops of tea tree essential oil and 10 drops of lavender essential oil. 30ml of witch hazel is also useful if available. Tea Tree oil is thought to work as a natural insect repellent, including moths. Lavender is a well known remedy to prevent moths and I also prefer the smell to Tea Tree, so this blend works better for me.

I added the solution to a rinsed out spray bottle that I had previously been an eco-friendly cleaning product. Any spray bottle will do but it is best not to use one that previously contained bleach just in case there is any residue as it will damage your clothes. I place my jumper over the ironing board, give it a generous spray then hold over a steam iron. Ensure the iron is on the wool setting, too hot and it will shrink your knits. I only pressed the iron very gently on the knitwear, more of a hover and using the steam to refresh (see video below). The jumper is still damp at this point so I placed flat over a clothes rack so the water didn’t weigh down and stretch the jumper.

When washing knitwear it is important to take notice of the care instructions in the label. I prefer to handwash my knits or if using a machine then I set it to the lowest spin cycle. A special wool detergent is recommended such as the one from Ecover.

Knitwear shouldn’t be dried on a hanger or a washing line / rack. The water in the knit construction will be heavy, causing it to stretch. It prefer to lay the knitwear flat on a concertina clothes airer with a towel underneath to catch the water.

De-Pilling or de-bobbling

Small bobbles seem to appear on jumpers out of nowhere. I am constantly de-bobbling! It is technically known as pilling and is caused by the friction of two pieces of fabric rubbing together. Under the arm is a common place or if you carry a bag regularly you will notice pilling where the bag is in contact with the jumper (or any type of fabric). Some fibres bobble more than others, I seem to always choose the bobbling type! The video above includes two ways of getting rid of the bobbles and the final refresh as described in the paragraph above.

Loose or Pulled Threads

I bought this jumper in a charity shop, perfect condition except for a long piece of yarn hanging from the sleeve. It had probably got caught on a clothing tag whilst in the shop. Here is a quick video on how to pull through the yarn or thread to the underside of the jumper to prevent causing a hole.

Darning

We love darning at Fast Fashion Therapy. The mindfulness of the stitching and the sense of achievement when repairing a hole. One of my cardigans had a hole directly under the button. I removed the button first, repaired the hole by darning with a matching yarn. I chose a matching yarn rather than making a feature of this darn as it is only a small hole that will be covered by the button. I sewed the button back on and voila! My cardigan is ready to wear.

Most of my jumpers had small holes in so I spent a bit of time darning before refreshing them (my tights too!). A darning mushroom is a useful tool that can be bought from good haberdashery shops and picked up in vintage and charity shops. How about following our tips on what to use around the house instead of a darning mushroom?

Or try an even more decorative method of repairing holes in knitwear as shown in our video below.


Darning Kits

We have pulled together a selection of darning kits to help you mend your knitwear, available on our Etsy shop for £10 including postage within the UK.

Clothing Maintenance 101: Overstitch

How to sew an overstitch

Overstitch is a simple and effective hand sewing technique. It is really useful when it comes to mending clothes. The stitch can prevent fraying, hold two pieces of fabric together or useful for patching.

Watch our video on how to sew an overstitch

Examples of using an overstitch

Repairing a rip on a pillowcase by cutting a square of fabric from inside the pillowcase
Using a thicker thread and a larger stitch has created a decorative effect when patching this leather bag with faux suede
Mending a bra by overstitching a piece of ribbon over the underwire channel preventing the wire from poking out and digging into the skin.
Creating an Elbow patch by using a thicker yarn and sewing the stitches very close together. Georgina from Pebble Magazine mended her tweed jacket by covering the elbow rib with the patch.