For as long as I can remember, I've been sewing buttons back onto shirts for my dad and three brothers. It used to be easy when we lived in the same house. But as us kids have grown up and moved away, it's gotten a little ridiculous. "Merry Christmas! Can you fix this shirt?" "Happy Thanksgiving! This button fell off . . ."
If you're a self-sufficient adult with any talent for working with your hands, your day has come—the day when you learn to sew your own buttons, and a few other skills. Knowing basic sewing has the same perks as knowing plumbing, carpentry, or any other mechanical skill: You can fix your own stuff, and save money and time while doing it. That includes clothes, bags, outdoor gear, and car upholstery.
Don't worry, it's easy. So easy that you'll regret ever paying a tailor (or begging your little sister) to do it for you.
A sewing machine, like any other piece of equipment, requires time and research to purchase and use. So for these basics, we'll stick to hand sewing. Here's what you'll need:
A Needle: You'll want sewing sharps, a type of needle with a pointed end that glides through fabric without damaging it. Pick up a at a craft store or in the homewares aisle of the grocery store.
Thread: Polyester or all-purpose thread works for most projects. Pick up a few spools or buy an , which includes needles and miniature spools of thread.
Sewing Shears: Dull scissors make cutting fabric messy and difficult. Spring for a new, sharp pair of sewing scissors or , available for as little as $7 online and in craft stores.
Seam Ripper: with a blade in the crux, used to remove unwanted stitches. To use, slip the pointed prong underneath a bad stitch, then pull upward to cut the thread.
How to Thread a Needle
Snip a length of thread, then thread it through the eye (the hole) of the needle. To sew a button, use 24 inches. For other projects, measure the length of the area you want to sew, double it, and then add a few inches. Pull your thread through the needle until you have equal lengths on each side, then tie off the ends by looping the threads into a circle and drawing the ends through the loop. The knot will stop the thread from slipping through the fabric as you sew.
Two Simple Stitches, Infinite Possibilities
The Running Stitch
Description: Used to bind two pieces of fabric together. Handy for shortening clothing, fi a falling hem, or adding a patch to a bomber jacket.
Instructions: Poke the needle through both pieces of fabric, then push it back through the fabric a quarter-inch over. This creates one stitch. Continue to the end of the seam. To close the stitches, push the needle through the fabric without pulling the thread all the way through to create a loop. Run the needle back through the fabric and loop to create a knot. Repeat two to four times.
Use it to: Shorten a pair of pants. Turn the pants inside out and cuff to the desired length. Pin to secure. Poke the needle through the topmost edge of the cuff. Then, use the needle to pick up just a few threads of fabric on the outer layer of the pants. Bring the needle back through the cuff, and create a normal-size stitch on the inside. Repeat until the whole leg is sewn, then tie it off.
Description: Creates a strong, flexible bind between two pieces of fabric. Use it to mend the busted seam of a dress shirt, reattach a backpack strap, or attach a patch over a hole in your jeans.
Instructions: Make one quarter-inch stitch, like you did in the running stitch. Then bring the needle back toward the first stitch, poking it through a quarter-inch away from the start of the first. Bring the needle back down through the fabric to close the gap.
Use it to: Repair a ripped dress shirt seam. Take the shirt off and turn it inside out. Trim any frayed edges off of the fabric, then pinch the pieces flat against each other with your non-dominant thumb. Begin the backstitch about a quarter-inch below where the tear starts, and work your way to the end using small stitches. Continue the stitches about a half-inch past the top of the tear before tying it off.
The Essential Skill: Button-Sewing
Starting at the inside of the shirt, poke the needle through the fabric and thread it through the button. Bring the needle downward, and thread it through the opposite buttonhole and the shirt. Repeat three times, then do the same on the other two holes. Once the button is secure, poke the needle up through the fabric at its base. Loop the rest of the thread around the stem of the button six times, then poke the needle through that stem a few times and cut to secure it.
If you don't have the time or skills to sew, there are a few great alternatives that will work in a pinch.
Iron-on fusing web: Used to bind two pieces of fabric together. Place the webbing between two pieces of fabric, then apply heat with a clothes iron to bind together. This product is especially useful for hemming pants in a hurry. Try .
Seam sealant: Keep a tear from disintegrating into a million threads by applying seam sealing liquid. We like .
Fabric glue: Comes in handy for embellishments, like when you're attaching a patch to a jacket or shirt. Just make sure you give the article of clothing several hours to dry before wearing it. We recommend .
Three Things You Shouldn't Try To Sew
Specialty outdoor gear. You're better off using a waterproof patch or sealant.
Your favorite suit. Leave altering important, expensive clothing to the tailor.
A leather jacket. If you mess up, you've left permanent needle holes behind.