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Re-Make & Re-Use: Save Your Faves for Back to School

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Shopping for back-to-school is almost a rite of passage. You must have at least one new sweater to wear. Because even if the thermometer still reads in the 80s, the beads of sweat are worth the fashion statement. But before buying a complete wardrobe, give your budget a break, and check to see if there are some items you could re-make and re-use. Brush up on your fix-it skills with our basic sewing tutorials, then put a new spin on some rough-around-the-edges favorites.

Tighten up or change out loose buttons.

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Sewing on a button is about as easy as it comes, so collect all those buttons that have fallen off and put them back on. If there are too many missing, no problem, you can give an old shirt or sweater an entirely new look by changing out all the buttons with some fun, decorative options. Keep your eyes peeled at thrift stores or online outlets, like Etsy, for cool vintage buttons.

How to Sew on a Button

Warp Speed Button Sewing

How To Sew On Buttons By Machine

Button Kit Covered Buttons

DIY Covered Buttons (No Kit Required)

How to Make a Buttonhole

Repair broken belts, bags and other handles or straps.

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What could be better than expanding your sewing skills to include whacking something with a hammer or squeezing it with pliers? Fix heavy straps and handles while taking out your frustrations.

How To Attach Metal Rivets On Sewing Projects

How To Apply Metal Snaps To Fabric

How To Install Metal Grommets

Fix simple tears, ripped out seams or torn belt loops.


Sometimes the only thing wrong with a set-aside garment is a small tear or a seam that's come loose in the middle. These are easy, easy fixes, which can be done by hand or machine. An opened seam is especially quick to fix because you have a starting and stopping point to match. For those torn belt loops, just switch out to a jeans or denim needle and a strong thread to make sure you can stitch through the bulky layers.

Sewing a Basic Seam

Basic Machine Stitches

Hand Sewing: The Basics

Hand Sewing: Thread the Needle & Tie the Knot

And, take a look at our series on machine sewn finishes:

Most Popular

French Seams

Mock French Seam & French Wrapped Seam

Hong Kong & Bound Seams

Freshen up a jacket, sweater or coat with new closures.

On heavy outerwear, the closures are usually the first to go. Remove what's worn out and replace it with something even better than before: frogs, toggles and buckles are unusual options that are easy to find and inexpensive. Accent the opening with a trim for more eye candy.

Fascinating Fasteners

Terrific Trims

Terrific Trims Take #2

Adding Metal Trims To Sewing Projects

Do not fear the busted zipper – you can put in a new one.

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A broken zipper is probably the most common reason a garment lands in the giveaway bag, but that is such a shame. Face your zipper phobia, and simply pull out your trusty seam ripper. Carefully remove the old zipper, then open up the seam a little top and bottom and insert a new one (regular or invisible).

Invisible Zippers

Conventional Zippers

Mistakes Happen: How to Rip Out a Seam

Holes in your favorite sweater, jeans or whatever?

Have the moths had their way with an otherwise lovely sweater or other garment? A great way to cover up a hole and add a dash of color and texture is with appliqué. It doesn't have to be a big, clunky pre-embroidered patch (who are you, a park ranger??), you can create your own appliqués by fussy-cutting patches from your beautiful fabric scraps.

How to Appliqué

How To Fussy Cut Fabric Motifs & More

Stitch up falling hems... or turn long pants into shorts, long sleeves into short for a whole new look.

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I have friends who let the dry cleaners hem their pants. "Oh puuuhhhh-leeeze," I usually admonish. "A hem is one of the the most basic things anyone can do." I then usually force them to come over and try it. There is often a lot of grumbling, but once they find out how truly easy it is, they're hooked. I have one friend, who started with hems, and is now a way better sewer than me!

How to Make a Simple Hem

How to Make a Blind Hem Stitch

How To Make Flat Felled Seams

Cover up frayed cuffs and hems with bias tape binding.

There are some items I wear and wear and wear, until they literally start to fall to pieces. A great trick for frayed cuffs and hems is to bind the edge. I used a leather binding on the frayed cuffs of a classic jeans jacket and it looked cooler than before.

Bias Binding: Figuring Yardage, Cutting, Making, Attaching

Did something get too short or someone get too tall? Add a border of decorative stitching.

Extend the life and the length of pants or skirts by adding a border in a matching or complimentary color. Then, amp it up with a few lines of decorative stitching. This technique is a 1970s throw-back that feels new and cool today.

Decorative Stitches - Sewing Outside The Lines

Decorative Stitches: Part Deux

We have lots more techniques in our Tips & Resources section. Browse through the category or take a look through our full Project Index. Then open up your closet (or your giveaway bag) and think about your current collection in a whole new light.


Comments (10)

Nat said:
Nat's picture

These are great tips. I have bought my son a new blazer jackethose school this year. I didn't buy it from the official uniform shop, just on the high street which saved about £25. Problem is I didn't realise that the school logo is embroidered directly onto the pocket of his old blazer. Do you think it'd look bad if I cut around the old motif (it's a neat circle) and stitched it to the new blazer? Thanks a lot :)

Kristen said:
Kristen's picture

I have three boys and lots of jeans without knees.  I have seen many tutorials on how to applique a patch on, but it doesn't last but a few more wears, which seems worthless to me when I put all the time into sewing it on!  Any professional tips for knee-patches?  Can you use a machine to do it even with little kid jeans?  Thanks!

anne.adams said:
anne.adams's picture

@Kristen: I'm not sure why your patches don't last. If you use denim or a twill and stitch all around  it should be lasting more than a few wears. Are they wearing through the patch, or is the patch coming unsewn? Machine sewing is stronger than hand sewing, and a satin stitch would be stronger than a straight stitch. On little legs, it's easier to patch if you open the inside seam on the pants leg -- a couple inches above and below the patch, or enough so you can machine sew without too much difficulty. Then turn the leg inside out and resew the side seam. It's an extra step, but makes machine sewing feasible.

adnilmay said:
adnilmay's picture

Replacing old/broken zippers has always intimidated me.  Thanks helping out!.


willucci said:
willucci's picture

Terrific suggestions for common problems.  I would like to know how to repair a teensy hole in a tee shirt.  It's not very big, but big enough to notice, and in a noticible place.  Any help would be appreciated!  I'd hate to have to give it up as a garment.

Joy B. said:
Joy B.'s picture

I would love for you to do a tutorial on how to extend sleeves on a long sleeved blouse.  I have several blouses that are about two inches too short (I have longer than average arms) and don't have the slightest clue how to extend them without them looking, well, "homely". :)

anne.adams said:
anne.adams's picture

@Joy B: That's a tricky one, but we've added it to our "You Asked 4 It" list. 

DebS said:
DebS's picture

How about shortening the sleeves to make them "3/4 sleeves". I actually favor these types of blouses and tops because I'm always having to roll up my sleeves! Wonderful tutorials, by the way, as always.

anne.adams said:
anne.adams's picture

@DebS: We've added that to our "You Asked 4 It" list. Thank you for your idea!

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