Sew by Hand: Build Your Own Sewing Kit

With a few basic skills and supplies, you can stitch new life into old garments.

| November/December 2011

  • Mending your own clothes is good for the environment and your soul—and you don't have to be an expert to do it!
  • Don't be tempted to use long thread lenths when you sew; it might tangle and knot. Instead, keep your thread shorter than arm's length.

You don’t have to be an experienced seamstress to mend your clothes. You don’t even need a sewing machine. The power to patch your favorite pair of jeans, hem a thrift-store skirt or swap out ordinary buttons with extraordinary ones lies in your hands. Mending your clothes is good for the environment and good for the soul—a simple, soothing pastime that allows us to slow down and save resources. And with our list of sewing kit essentials and mending tips and techniques, you’ll be sew savvy in no time.

Tools of the Trade

To start your sewing kit, pick up these basic supplies at your neighborhood fabric store. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a good place to start. As you sharpen your skills and refine your craft, your sewing kit will evolve to suit your needs.

Needles: A pack of assorted sewing needles will have a variety of thicknesses and lengths. Use fine needles for fine fabrics and thick needles for heavy materials such as denim and canvas. The shorter the needle, the easier it will be to make short stitches, which are stronger and don’t show as easily.

Thimble: It can be awkward to use at first, but a thimble will protect your finger from accidental jabs. They are usually worn on the middle or ring finger and should feel snug but not too tight. Metal thimbles offer the most protection; open-ended thimbles accommodate long fingernails and provide air circulation; and leather thimbles are soft and “grab” the needle better. 

Thread: Stock up on some spools of organic all-purpose thread in your favorite colors, as well as in white, black and navy blue. (If your local craft store doesn’t carry organic, check out Don’t obsess over finding the perfect thread color to match your fabric. Simply choose a color that blends with or is a shade darker than the fabric; it will “sew in” lighter.

Scissors: You will want at least two pairs of scissors: one for fabric and one for everything else. Invest in a good pair of stainless steel dressmaker’s shears. Unlike the cheaper, orange-handled aluminum varieties, they can be sharpened and will last well beyond your lifetime. Never use them to cut anything other than fabric—especially paper, which will dull them in an instant.

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