I'm a reformed shopaholic turned eco fashion advocate and charity shop addict who would rather repair a garment than buy a new one. I was fortunate enough to have studied textiles at school and I inherited some tips from my Mum so, despite my early fast fashion habit, taking care of my clothes comes quite naturally to me.
However, I’m all too aware that because sewing isn’t passed down through the generations in the way it used to be, we are losing the skills required to look after our clothes. So, a few years ago I launched Sew It Forward, a frock-friendly initiative that encourages people to share their sewing, knitting and mending skills. Having a few sewing skills enables us to prolong the life of a garment, alter our clothes to suit our own style and even make our own clothes. The learning these skills can a sociable affair and the finished result is not only hugely rewarding but it can save us money too.
I also believe that knowledge of knitting or sewing means we have a better understanding of the skilled work that goes into making a garment and perhaps we’re more likely to think twice before buying a top for a few pounds from the high street. With this comes a greater appreciation and respect for the social and environmental impact of our clothes; we can more easily understand the importance of Fairtrade premiums being paid to the people making our clothes.
I’m often asked for mending tricks and natural cleaning tips, so in the spirit of Sew It Forward I wanted to share a little wardrobe wisdom - just a few things I’ve picked up along the way…
A stitch in time
How to tackle a loose hem:
The best way to deal with this is to blind stitch the hem by hand. It only takes 5 or 10 minutes when you know how and it is by far the most effective in terms of style, practicality and garment care. Keep a needle and thread handy (those little kits in hotel rooms are great for your wallet, car or coat pocket). You can find tutorials online just search for ‘how to blind hem trousers’. Many sewing machines also have a blind hem stitch and a dry cleaner or tailor can often help. You could opt for iron on hemming available from haberdashery stores but trousers, dresses and skirts will hang and wear better when you stitch the hem. In a real emergency I’ve seen people carry out careful first aid with safety pins, but make sure you do a proper repair as soon as possible otherwise the fabric will get damaged.
Your button has gone astray:
If you still have the button then sew it back on asap – if you don’t know how then ask someone to show you as it’s a handy skill to have up your sleeve. If a shirt button has gone astray and you need one to match you may be able to use one from elsewhere on the garment, perhaps the cuff or the bottom button that sits below the waist if it’s usually tucked in. Alternatively, find a contrasting button and make a style feature of it.
Torn shirt or a hole in your knee:
If the tear is on a side seam and the shirt is big enough you may be able to have it taken in (or do it yourself) so that the tear will be in the new seam. For tears, rips or worn areas elsewhere on a garment made of woven fabric then you have a couple of options: some tailors or dry cleaners may be able to repair it for you, or you could have a go yourself. This ‘how to’ might help – it shows you how to mend a hole in trousers, though the same principal applies for other garments: www.thegoodwardrobe.com/mending-your-trousers
A hole in your sole:
Depending on the sole and the shoe, then a cobbler is probably your best port of call - if it’s a stitched sole for example you ought to have it properly repaired. There are some glues that are suitable for shoes and in a dire emergency you could try tape (I did once resort to sticky-taping my soles on just to get home – not a good look!)
©The Good Wardrobe
Natural(ish) laundry tips
Grappling with grease stains:
As with any stain, treat as soon as possible and try not to let the grease dry before you act! I always aim to use natural ingredients where possible but do I like Ecover’s Stain Remover which you can work gently into the grease mark with the brush. You can also try neat laundry detergent, washing up liquid or even hand soap but check the garment care label first - if it is made of silk or wool and / or is dry clean only then ask a pro first. If you only notice a grease stain once the garment has been washed and dried then there you can still try the above tricks – just work the soap in and leave it to work its magic before washing as normal.
Dealing with deodorant marks:
Use a damp towel, wet wipe or baby wipe (the more natural the better) to gently ‘brush’ off marks. Don’t rub as it could damage the fibres. Prevention is better of course so when putting on a t-shirt turn the bottom third of the shirt inside out and up towards the underarms. Hold the folded part of the shirt so that when you pull it on, only the inside is touching your skin and there’s no chance that the outside will get any deodorant on it.
For general maintenance keep a spray bottle of vinegar (not balsamic!) and treat shirts under the arms before each wash. For marks and more stubborn odours spray with the vinegar and put the shirt into a bowl with cool water and bicarbonate of soda. Leave overnight and wash as normal. Don’t attempt this with dry clean only garments and be careful with delicate fabrics as the vinegar might stain.
Righting rust marks:
A few drops of lemon juice on a rust mark should do the trick. Leave it on to work its magic (but don’t let it dry as you may end up with a lemon stain!) and pop it in the wash. Take care with delicate fabrics.
©The Good Wardrobe
I’m sorry to say that there’s no way to undo shrunken, felted wool. If a jumper has only shrunk a little then the next time you wash it you may have a bit of luck gently stretching it out before air drying it. But for more serious cases you are best of passing it on to someone who can appreciate its new cosier dimensions. This is definitely a case of prevention being better – here are some tips for washing woolens to avoid that dreaded shrinkage: www.thegoodwardrobe.com/ten-top-tips-caring-for-winter-woolens
Clearing out clothes moths:
Moths got your cashmere? Gently launder your treasured knitwear and once it’s dry, seal it in a plastic bag and put it in the freezer for a week or two. If you want to be doubly sure that your favourite cardy won’t get munched, when you take it out of the freezer, put it somewhere warm, let any remaining eggs hatch and pop it back in the freezer for a few more days.
I love darning. I don’t have much time to do it these days so I’m rather rusty but it is a wonderful skill to master. Have a google to find an online tutorial and get started. You don’t need a darning mushroom, a ladle will do. For visible mending inspiration check out my darning teacher Tom of Holland who celebrates holes by mending in contrasting colours. If darning isn’t for you but you’ve got holes in your knitwear, then try crocheting the edges to make a feature of the hole, or embracing a good old fashioned patch.
©The Good Wardrobe - finished darn from the inside of the garment
Zoe Robinson is founder of The Good Wardrobe, a free, award-winning online community hub mixing the best conscious fashion with services that prolong the life of your clothes. It is the antithesis of fast fashion.
The Good Wardrobe is currently crowdfunding to raise funds to grow the website and expand to Bristol. For more details and to find out how you can support and pledge, visit: www.crowdfunder.co.uk/the-good-wardrobe-bristol
Make your own clothes: www.permaculture.co.uk/issue/spring-2017