How to Repair an Unraveled Seam

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Michelle says:
When I first found out that I had been given the opportunity to contribute to Home Ec 101, my mind jumped straight to sewing.   You see, being obsessive precise comes fairly naturally to me, and I have always enjoyed working with my hands.  The very first time I saw my great grandmother hand sewing a quilt, I was smitten.  By the time I was 18, I was sewing my own clothes, curtains, slipcovers, and pretty much everything else I happened to need, so I figured I was well versed in the basics—until I sat down to write this post.

What are “the basics”?  Can I assume everyone in the world knows how to thread a needle?  Does every adult know how to repair a button or a fallen hem?  Do any Home Ec 101 readers own—let alone know how to use—sewing machines?  Is it common knowledge to check new clothes for loose threads before the first washing (to avoid having to repair the aforementioned buttons and hems)?  Based on my experience, many people will answer “no” to all of those questions.  This isn’t because they’re particularly challenging tasks, but because sewing has been forgotten as archaic domestic drollery, rather than remembered and taught as an immensely handy (and money saving!) hobby.

So, we’re going to start at the beginning, in this case, fixing a pillow with a hole on the seam.  Assuming you’ve never sewn, this post will teach you a straight stitch, which is the keystone for all of your future sewing endeavors.  If this is a review for you, feel free to put your head on your desk while the rest of the class learns with me.  (And, no, you may not start on your homework.)

  • Step 1: Tie off the offending unraveled threads.  There should be four of them in total, two on each end of the hole.

Step One

  • Step 2: Fold the fabric inward over itself about 1/4 of an inch so that it doesn’t unravel in the wash.  There should be a pretty well set crease if you’re repairing a store bought item.

Step Two

  • Step 3: Choose a matching thread (I only chose red for your eyes’ sake!); for this project, I used synthetic all-purpose thread, which you can find at any craft store and some big box stores.  Be sure to choose a needle suited for your fabric.  If you don’t know which size needle to use, peek at the back of the package for recommended uses—or check out this handy guide.  If all else fails, just use an “all-purpose” needle.
  • Step 4: Trim the end of your thread (trust me, it’s frayed), give the fresh tip a little lick to smooth down the fibers, and guide the thread through the eye (AKA hole) of the needle.  If you find that your thread seems to bend or split instead of going through the eye, try snipping off the top inch of the thread and try, try again.  Once you “get” it, it’ll become second nature.
  • Step 5: Fold the thread in half.  As you unwind the thread you need for your project (two arms’ length is my standard), slide the needle down to the middle of your thread.  Make sure the ends line up to avoid wasting any.
  • Step 6: Double (or triple!) knot the thread about two inches from the ends; use your index finger as a guide while tying the thread to ensure that the second knot is as close to the first one as possible.  Snip the ends off of the thread to keep everything looking tidy.

Step Six

  • Step 7: Since you want the knot to be invisible, start your first stitch inside (or on the “wrong” side) of your project.  I like to use the holes that already exist in many store bought items as a way to see where the needle needs to go.

Step Seven

  • Step 8: Start sewing!  You’ll be using what is called a straight stitch; you probably know it already.  It’s the basic over, under, over, under.  If you’re using the holes as guides, go over one hole, then under to the next; if you’re not so lucky as to have free guide holes, make each stitch about an eighth of an inch long.  Repeat until you have stitched the length of the hole plus an inch on either side (don’t want to do this again next week, do you?)  You’ll notice that the stitching looks like a dashed line.

Step Eight

  • Step 9: Turn your project over.   You’ll repeat your straight stitch, except you go “over” anywhere you see a blank space, and “under” anywhere you see a thread.  Repeat until you have stitched the end of the dotted line.

Step Nine

  • Step 10: Tie off your thread and trim the ends as close to the knot as you can (without cutting the knot, obviously).

Step Ten

Hey, look at that!  You fixed it!  Sew, tell me Home Eccers: what shall we tackle next?

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11 thoughts on “How to Repair an Unraveled Seam”

  1. Wow, thank you! I kind of know a few things, and I can even operate a sewing machine. But I don’t know so many of the basics (like this!). I am looking forward to the rest of your posts. Thank you!

  2. This is fantastic! I have a throw-pillow at home that this will be *very* useful for repairing. I’d love to see a post about repairing actual tears in clothing – not split seams, but a true rip in the fabric. My husband is terrible about catching his clothing on who-knows-what, and my clothing repair jobs are normally embarrassingly bad.

    • That sort of tear is the worst, Jaime! It usually requires a patch (unless you like the look of Frankenseams, of course.) I’m sure my husband has a torn something or other hiding in the dresser; I’ll do my best to find the offending item ASAP so that I can write the post sooner rather than later. 🙂

        • Oh my goodness!! Is he okay? Are you able to let him out of your sight yet? 😉

          At least on a boy a rugged, manly Frankenseam is cooler than a patch made out of flowered fabric, right? (Sorry, couldn’t help myself.)

          Hope he gets better soon!

  3. Would you believe I never learned how to flip my straight stitch over and go over the back? Oy. I’ve taken to backstitching my seams; it’s faster for me and just as sturdy. I can get a good 5-10 stitches per inch (more toward 10 if I’m trying) and I have to say, the one time I’ve had something rip? The fabric gave. Not the seam. 🙂

    So thank you for this tip, and I can’t wait to see more of these posts! Especially about the Frankenseaming vs. patching idea. My moth holes now have cute little darned flowers over them. [whistle]

  4. Love this! I was taught the basics but it was so long ago. I’d -love- to see something on how to hem by hand. My hubby’s short legs would thank you.

  5. Thank you so much for this!! I thought I had learned a few basics, but this makes me think I really do need to start at the beginning…as also evidenced by the fact I’m too scared to sew, to SEW! I have quite a few seams on my son’s clothes that could use this new knowledge. Thanks again, and look forward to more of these sewing posts!

  6. Thank you for the sewing tutorials. Repairing rips in jeans by either patching (but no iron on patching nonsense, thank you) or frankenseams (I WANT to use a bright color in contrast to the denim–I think it looks cool). Hemming pants by hand is also requested. How about darning socks? Making cafe curtains? Selecting one’s first sewing machine? Anything budget minded is appreciated: making do and using it up type lessons. And: how do I use a thimble?

  7. I want to subscribr to your tutorials/newsletter. How do I go about doing that?
    This would be ideal for my daughter to follow to as they are no longer taught this at school and well my mom fixed all my sewing…


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