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How to repair vintage clothes

For many of us, the charm of vintage shopping is finding that one of a kind, rare item that elevates our style and we know will be unique to us. This quest for rarity also means that we need to deal with some flaws to avoid having to leave our newfound treasure in the store (or online shopping cart).


This post is your complete resource to repair holes, tears, missing buttons, beading and more in vintage clothes. If you need to clean your item before mending it, here is my post on how to clean vintage clothes.


First off - If you plan to sell your vintage items after mending them, keep in mind that any repairs involving alterations to the item or replacement of original pieces like buttons, zippers etc. needs to be stated in the listing.


A personal rule of thumb is that if your item was hand sewn when made, you should hand sew your repairs too. I will focus on hand sewing in this post but more modern pieces can be mended with a sewing machine to best match the stitching used when producing it.


Click the issue you want to learn how to fix:


Basic tools you will need for most clothing repairs:

  • 1 pair of scissors, small and sharp

  • 1 seam ripper, make this small and sharp too

  • Sewing needles, as thin and small eyed as possible

  • Wax to avoid knots in the sewing thread

  • Good quality sewing pins, small and sharp of course

  • Sewing thread, fabric for reinforcement, shoulder pads, buttons, hooks, beads etc. matching that of your vintage item

As you probably noticed, I recommend all tools to be as small and sharp as possible. This helps the pins and needles to penetrate smoothly and make the holes in the fabric as small as possible.


Holes

Can be quite tricky depending on the size of the hole as well as the nature and condition of the fabric. The best option is to find a small piece of matching fabric and stitch it from the back, aiming to not show any thread. Have a look at the seam allowance to see if you might be able to cut a piece from there to get a perfect match, and make sure you match the direction of the weave as well as the pattern. I wouldn't add a patch on the outside if the aim is to only repair and not change the look of the item.


This type of repair is time consuming and requires a level of meticulousness to get the best results, but it can really save an item you care about.

sub patch repair of holes in vintage clothes

Moth holes

Takes reweaving which is no easy feat. But there are some great instructional videos showing you how to do it in detail. Like this one:

Keep in mind that some fabrics can not be rewoven. Don't even try it with velvet, satin, organza, chiffon and organdy.


Tears

Small tears can be mended from the inside of the garment in the same way as a hole. You could also make small darts in the fabric to hide the tear but this will make the repair more visible. Clothes made out of cotton are usually darned to mend holes and tears. If you have the patience for it, here is an excellent tutorial (bonus - its vintage!):


Beading

Beading repairs require a special beading needle, beads, and thread matching those of your vintage piece. Not to mention a whole lot of patience.


If you are mending beading on an antique clothing item you really should start by making sure that the thread isn't rotting. If it is, your'e only going to make more beads fall off the more you handle the item and you should seriously consider leaving it as is. If the thread is still ok, remember to match the spacing of the beads to those on your item. Pay extra attention when repairing beaded dresses from the 1920s since these usually were stitched on with a chain stitch and can come loose with just a small tug.


If a lot of the beading is missing and you aren’t sure where they were sewn on, simply lift the fabric to a light and you will most likely be able to see the original needle holes.


Missing buttons and fasteners

First off, consider if you should actually replace missing buttons and fasteners. If you are dealing with a vintage piece with historical value you might be better off to leave it as is, unless all or a majority of them are missing. In that case, find replacements in a matching size and historical period and keep the original buttons with the garment as a document. I wouldn’t add modern buttons.


This video shows three ways to sew a button, and it's beginner friendly:


Buttonholes

These can be quite tricky for the beginner so I recommend practicing on a piece of cloth similar to the fabric of your vintage item. And don't forget to get proper thread for your buttonholes, like Buttonhole Twist. Using plain sewing thread can make the mended buttonhole look different than the original ones.


Here is a handy video showing you how to make a buttonhole hand stitch:


Reinforcing loose trims

This is one of the easier ones! Simply look at the way it was originally sewn on and replicate it. Many trims on older vintage and antique clothes are originally sewn on from the back with larger stitches. If it's a more modern piece with machine stitching, feel free to whip out the sewing machine to match the stitch. Just make sure that the fabric kan handle the rougher treatment.


Replacing missing shoulder pads

Shoulder pads go in and out of fashion a lot. I have found many lovely vintage jackets looking slightly saggy because of the previous owner removing the shoulder pads. They really change the look and structure of the item and aren't that tricky to replace.


This video shows you how to attach a shoulder pad to a garment:


Restoring hems that have been shortened or lengthened

First off - be careful with delicate and very old items (produced before the 1930s). Cut the threads in the hemstitching and remove them little by little instead of pulling on them, to minimize the risk of tearing. This is especially important when dealing with delicate fabrics like vintage taffetas and silks.


When restoring hems that have been shortened, check to see if the shortened hem has a worn in dirt line or visible wear. If that is the case, consider leaving it as is. Restoring hems that have been lengthened is easier, just make sure you match your thread and stitching to the original.


This tutorial shows you how to hem pants by hand step by step:


Did I miss a repair you need to make? Please leave a comment and let me know so I can add it to the post 😊

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