Emily Settle is a designer and repair specialist with a deep-rooted passion for preserving garments. Informed by the art of repair, much of her work considers the practical elements of clothing, whilst retaining the unique stories and narratives attached to them through visible darning, stitching and mending.
“Mending to me means care,” says Emily from her live-work space in Cornwall where she resides with her family. “In a multitude of ways mending is a helpful practice, extending the life of an item for its practical purposes but also adding value,” she says. “Through restoring, caring and tending to damaged areas, these items become a beautiful portrait of life.”
As part of our Time to Make series, Emily talks us through two textile repairs that can be easily achieved at home with just a few simple materials.
How to alter a hem with a slip stitch
To alter the hem on a pair of trousers, the first thing you will need to do is measure the desired amount that you wish to either remove or turn up from the bottom. To do this, the simplest thing you can do is source a few safety pins and fold the current hem outwards drawing it up towards the waist line and safety pinning where you would like the new hem to appear. This will be the folded part nearest to your ankle. The best place to stand is in front of a mirror so you can clearly view what the new trouser length might look like. When you have secured a few safety pins in place make sure you sit down, get a sense of the new length and most importantly, if you are intending to wear particular shoes with this item you are altering (particularly ones with heels) make sure you have these on at this stage so that you get this measurement right. Leave the safety pins in place and remove your garment, setting it aside.
If you are intending to remove a portion of fabric to shorten the item, you will need to measure the amount you have folded over. Make sure you leave enough fabric to create a hem (this is the turned in portion that will be secured on the inside) with the addition of a 1.5cm seam allowance that will be tucked in to make it nice and neat. You can cut off the excess.
You should now have a section of material that you will fold inwards and secure. It is often easiest to turn your garment inside out and neatly press this new hem fold into place.
To fasten a hem you can use a machine, but it is often practice with wool or more delicate fabrics to create a discreet slip stitch to secure.
Once your hem is neatly pressed and you have also tucked in the 1.5cm seam allowance to the top edge (fig 1) you are ready to stitch. For finer fabrics, the use of a thin dressmaking sharp (needle) is best as this will allow you to pick up just a few fibres on the inside of the garment, without puckering or holes on the outside.
As in fig. 2 the slip stitch is a small stitch that starts on the inside picking up just a portion of fibres, not wishing to push your needle through to the front. You will then aim your needle towards the folded edge (where 1.5 seam allowance has been tucked in) and draw your needle through the very top edge of the folded fabric and then repeat the process in a continued line.
Once you have run the entire way around the hem and all is secure you can then tie off your thread with a simple knot and your new hem or repaired hem is complete.
How to add a patch
When a garment has suffered a tear there are a multitude of ways in which you can repair it but adding a patch is probably one of the simplest and most creative ways to do so. If you choose, you can source a patch piece that is in keeping with the colour of your garment, or you could select a contrast fabric or bright, bold print to draw full attention to your repair.
The first thing you will need to do is map out where you want your patch to cover, such as in fig 1. Make sure that you have encapsulated all the damage that can be seen, so all the frayed edges and any wear that extends beyond the hole. Sometimes it is helpful to use a piece of dress making chalk to draw this area, in the shape of a rectangle or square.
Measure your chalk square and transfer that to the fabric that you are choosing to repair with. You will then need to add to the edge at least 1cm which you will fold in towards the middle. Snip carefully from the corners to your chalked line and fold, fig 2. Trim off any excess. At this point give your little patch a good iron so the folded edges are nice and crisp and place this over the original damaged area. Add a few pins or a tacking stitch to hold the patch down. The final step of this repair can either be done on a machine or by hand. Add a small running stitch along the patch edge. This will fully attach it and complete your repair. If doing by hand, make sure the stitches are nice and small, only 3mm apart.
Portrait by Jessica Herbert.
Illustrations by Emily Settle.
For more information on Emily’s work with repair and design, see her website.