When Textiles Go Bad: some information about mending them

This is a rewrite of a social media thread I put together about mending textiles.

All links work as of 8 March 2024; link for Scotch Darning added as of 17 March 2024.

Basic ways that things go wrong with fabric.

More detailed instructions are further down the page.

Seams come undone, or things that are sewn on, like buttons, fall off.

This is a matter of redoing the original stitching.

a stain that just won’t come out.

This is a great candidate for embroidery, or else sewing something on top of it, like a patch or some beads or something else decorative.

Another possibility is to cover it with fabric paint, block printing, or fabric stamps. (Still seeking out good links for instructions.)

The fabric becomes worn but doesn’t yet have a hole, or else there’s a hole

If possible, it’s great to make a mend before a hole appears. Otherwise, if you can, the sooner you mend a hole, the less likely it is to grow and become a really large one. The idiom “a stitch in time saves nine” is for this exact situation.

Darning (or otherwise filling in the hole with some kind of fabric in the hole), patches, and embroidery are all candidates for these situations.

How I think about Mending

The next thing is to consider what’s being mended and how it will be used in future.

Do I want to hide that it’s been mended? Can I? Mending can in fact be decorative. There’s also something to be said for making mending visible as a reminder that it’s better to make clothes last as long as possible.

If it’s something I’m just going to wear for doing yardwork or the like, or just around the house, I’m going to go for sturdy but not beautiful (except maybe as practice).

I do wear visible mending out and about.

If I look at something that can’t be mended, then I might turn the good parts of it into something else: patches for other clothing, patchwork quilts, rag rugs, absorbent rags to use instead of paper towels.

For knitting/crochet, I might unravel it to reuse the yarn (including for as yarn to use for darning!), or I might deliberately shrink it if possible. Fulled fabric is useful— I’ve used the results to make really effective tea cosies. I’ve made elbow patches for other sweaters. It could be sewn into bags.

But I digress.

Categories of Mending

My original thread was a little haphazard from this point on, with a mix of talking about categories of techniques and categories of fabric being mended. I’m probably still going to mix things together like that, but I’m going to try to make it a bit more coherent.

Sewing techniques

basic repairs

(Re-sewing seams, attaching buttons, things like that). If you’re just getting started: beginner stitches will still hold your clothes together or your patches on even if they’re large or uneven, at least for a while. Embrace the chaos!

This list of links is to pages that each list multiple techniques, so they don't fit well in the categories I have further down:

Woven Darning

The kind that's weaving with a needle. Some instructions only talk about socks, but holes are darnable in other clothes too.

This isn’t the Swiss darning method that looks like knitting from below. This falls into the visible mending category; go for it. As long as it’s smooth and keeps the stitches from running, you’re good!

There are devices called darning looms that make darning more accessible. I have a knock off Speedweve; they’re pretty handy .

This article lists some of the knock-off brand names:

Speedweves are available on eBay or Etsy or probably other secondhand websites. Katrinkles come well-recommended by several people I know.

Scotch Darning

I recently learned about Scotch Darning, and it looks nifty and ruable, though I haven't had a chance to try it yet. It combines running stitch and blanket stitch, so if you know those two hand sewing stitches, you're good to go. You'll want an embroidery hoop, darning mushroom, or darning egg, just as with any other kind of darning.

I haven't yet found a good written tutorial for this one, but this video tutorial is pretty clear if you know blanket stitch and running stitch already. It has no spoken instructions; it's just someone using the technique.


Note: sewn or iron-on patches will work better if you press the clothing with an iron where the hole is first to make it flat.

See also the sections below on knitting or crochet.

Iron on stuff

If you don’t want to sew, and it’s a small hole, here’s how to use iron-on interfacing as a patch from the back:

Sewn patches


More examples of covering holes with embroidery:


Knitted fabric that needs mending

Lightweight commercial knits like t-shirts
Mending hand knits or commercial sweaters

Patches and darns from the sewing techniques are helpful, but here’s some mends that have the appearance and structure of knitting.

There’s two versions of my favorite knitting mend. Duplicate stitch is good for places where you’ve got a worn spot or a stain you don’t like.

Swiss darning creates the same effect in places where there’s a hole.

Using knitting as mending

There’s several ways I know of to do this:


Crocheted fabric that needs mending

It's harder to find tutorials specifically about repairing crochet. However, if I search YouTube for crochet repair, I find a number of possibilities covering different situations. I’m not a video person, so can’t make specific recommendations. (Since I don’t want to watch a lot to find the good ones.)

Embroidery on crochet

Using crochet as mending

This is for patching any kind of fabric, not just crochet.

I liked this article showing how to repair holes in any kind of fabric by filling them in with crochet:

I bet nalbinding/needle looping would also work, and of course you could use either to make a separate patch and then sew it on afterward.


Check your library for books about mending, sewing, or needlework. Older sewing or needlework books are more likely to include mending instructions, in my experience. Also search for public domain books on Gutenberg.org, archive.org, or similar. Older books from when people mended things more often go into more detail than more recent ones. (If you’re just starting out, the more recent ones may be less intimidating and are more likely to talk about visible mending.)

Reviews of two helpful-sounding books about mending.

Copied by permission of Thora's Tooth, who is extremely knowledge about textiles.

Mending book review 1

I picked up a used copy of _Mend It!_ by Maureen Goldsworthy (1979) for under $10.

This slender book is by an Englishwoman who sewed from early childhood and served in the army throughout WWII. It is chockablock full of entirely practical, useful, thorough technical information. The chapter on #mending #knitting more than surpassed my hopes.

Profusely illustrated with helpful drawings, it neatly fills the holes in every mending source I'd looked at before it.

Five stars.

Mending book review 2

After she learned that most copies available are much more expensive than $10 USD, she recommended this book:

Thrift with a Needle: the Complete Book of Mending, by Mildred Graves Ryan.

My friend pointed me at this downloadable book from 1954; her mother was a home ec teacher and had this book at home. I downloaded a copy for my collection. It's pretty comprehensive on the basics; its main problem is that the advice is aimed at maintaining a 1950s wardrobe, i.e., a lot of info on keeping a man's dress suit in good order.