Home Sewing: Repairs, Alterations and Cost Savings


Gracie Daw (she/her) explores the return of The Great British Sewing Bee and the benefits of sewing at home

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Image by Gracie Daw

By Gracie Daw

The summer months bring with them sunlight late into the evening, days spent reading in the garden and the all-important resurrection of the floral midi dress. For me, they also mean The Great British Sewing Bee is back on TV.
For those unfamiliar with the show, it is simi-lar to The Great British Bake Off in format: home-sewers compete in three challenges each week to produce garments which are then judged by two industry titans, Esme Young and Patrick Grant. The three challenges consist of the ‘pattern challenge’ where the sewers make a garment using a pattern given to them at the beginning of the day, the second is the ‘transformation challenge’ where the sewers have to make a garment out of a pre-existing garment or unusual fabrics, allowing them to demonstrate their creativity. The third is the ‘made to measure’ challenge, where they make a garment which is made for a model and is meant to fit them perfectly.

Whilst Sewing Bee does not have a built-in student audience, I believe that lessons can be learnt from it which will ultimately lead to better outfits and cost savings. At its most basic level, sewing is relatively easy and requires little to no investment. There are many little fixes which can be done with just a needle and thread: remember that button that fell off last summer so you can’t wear that shirt anymore? It will only take you about ten minutes to re-attach it, so it isn’t a reason to discard that shirt.

Last summer, I had a dress which I loved, but the buttonholes were slightly too big, so the buttons kept coming undone. With a needle and thread, I was able to put some stitches over the bottom of the buttonholes to make them slightly smaller, meaning that dress is now much more comfortable for me to wear as it stays done up.

Quick fixes aren’t limited to buttons though! One of the best things in sewing, in my opinion, is interfacing. This is a layer of fabric which provides reinforcement to fabric, making it stronger and stiffer. The best thing about it is that can be iron-on, so there isn’t even any sewing involved! Therefore, if you have a garment which is wearing and getting weaker, you can iron on a patch of inter-facing which will provide reinforcement and get you longer wear out of it. You can buy interfacing from your local haberdashery, and it should cost less than £5.

If you’re looking for something more challenging, it is time to introduce the sewing machine! First and foremost, if you don’t already own one, it is a significant investment. It is possible to get a basic sewing machine for around £100, but as with anything there are far more ex-pensive models available too. I will say, though, that I’ve never known anything last longer thana sewing machine and have never come across someone saying that their sewing machine has completely broken down – they seem to last forever, so consider it a long-term investment.

A sewing machine can be used for all sorts of odd jobs which are fairly easy to do without any serious training. Practice on some scrap fabric, but most of the following things just need a straight running stitch which is easy to complete. There are of course many YouTube videos providing quick instructions. As soon as you have your sewing machine, you can shorten trousers, skirts and dresses, opening up dozens of outfit options if you’re used to limiting your-self to the petite section like me! Measure the fabric that you want to remove, cut it off, ensuring it is straight and then re-hem the bottom by folding over the fabric, hiding the raw edge and securing it in place with a stitch. You can do this by hand-sewing, but it will take much longer, and it is harder to ensure it is strong and neat.

Another quick fix is when you rip some-thing along the seam, providing it is not a tight-fitting garment, it is possible to re-sew the seam, giving those floaty trousers you caught in your bike chain a whole new life! Some words of wisdom include: at the beginning be wary of stretch fabrics because if you stretch them as you sew, they can end up looking an odd shape; always pin before you sew, it is a bit of faff because it can take some time, but it does help and finally, your best sewing friend is an iron – it is incredible how much easier an iron can make your job, and a simple press changes the look of a garment. Is wear, I spend half my sewing time ironing!

Of course, if you don’t fancy doing the repairs yourself, then remember that you can go to a high-street dry-cleaners and repairs shop, which will often complete them for you. The main message of this article is don’t just throwaway an outfit because it no longer fits quite right, has a hole or is looking a bit worse for wear. Also, watch Sewing Bee to get endless inspiration! If you’re anything like me, you will get obsessed with the outfits and start to dream about what you might be able to make.

Home sewing takes some time, and it can be daunting – I’m always scared before I cut into fabric – but it is fun, sustainable and ultimately can save you money.