Introduction: How to Patch Your Clothes

Make your clothing funkier and more functional with this simple method for making and stitching down quick iron-on patches.

I tend to wear my clothes until they start to disintegrate, and once I've got a shirt or a pair of pants that is broken-in and perfectly comfortable, I don't want to throw it out just because it has a few holes. This method for patching won't work for fixing your "nice" clothes, but it's great for fixing up (and adding a bit of color to) your casual gear. It's also perfect for adding screenprinted patches to anything.

The patched-up shorts featured in the photos here are ones I've owned and worn often for 10 years, and they were a thrift-store find to start with. At this point, they're more than 50% patches, including at least five distinct classic paisleys. That counts as art, right?

Step 1: Gather Supplies.

What you need:
- piece of clothing you want to patch up
- patch fabric
- double-sided fusible interfacing (I've used Steam-a-Seam 2 1/2" wide tape for my patches.)
- iron & ironing board or towel
- sewing machine or needle-and-thread
- scissors

For the patch fabric, pick something of similar weight and color/pattern to the clothing you want to patch, if you want the patch to blend in. If you want it to stand out, pick something bright and colorful.

Generally, knit fabric and some woven natural fabrics tend to not fray too badly. Synthetic or otherwise slippery wovens (like the heavy woven tie-silk I'm using here) tend to fray pretty badly. Using the double-sided fusible web tape helps keep those fabrics from fraying.

Step 2: Measure Twice, Cut Once.

To patch a hole, locate the hole and measure the area you need to patch. Rectangular patches are easiest to deal with, and it's important to make sure that the patch is large enough that all sides of the patch will be sewn to solid fabric. This means that your patch should be at least 1/2" larger on all sides than the hole you're patching.

If the hole has very rough or uneven edges, you can trim the fabric around the hole so that the edges are clean and even. Remeber to measure out your patch only after you've trimmed out the edges of the hole, since that'll make the hole bigger.

Once you've measured it out, cut your patch to size. I usually use bright colors or patterns for my patches, but if you want something more subtle, choose a fabric that matches the color and weight of the cloth you're patching.

Step 3: Make It an Iron-on.

This is the trick that makes it easy. I don't have patience for all that careful fiddly pinning-before-you-sew business, so double-sided fusible web rocks my little haphazard-seamstress world. I use double-sided 1/2" fusible web tape, which you can find at most fabric or craft stores.

Cut strips of fusible web tape such that you can line the edges of your patch. The tape has one side that's exposed and slightly sticky and one side that's covered with paper; press it sticky-side down onto the back side of your patch. Run a hot iron over the paper-covered tape for 5-10 seconds to bond it to the fabric, let it cool briefly, then peel off the paper.

You should now have a DIY iron-on patch.

Step 4: Iron It On.

Spread the piece of clothing you're patching out on your ironing board with the hole facing up. Lay your new iron-on patch sticky-side-down over the hole you're patching, making sure that the hole is entirely covered, with the edges of the patch overlapping solid fabric by at least 1/2" on all sides.

Take a hot iron (set to whatever heat is appropriate for the patch and clothing fabric) and iron over the edges of the patch for 30 seconds to a minute, until the fusible web sets and the patch is firmly attached to your clothing.

Step 5: Stitch It Down.

Now that the patch is ironed in place, you can stitch around the edges without pinning or worrying about fabric stretching and misaligning.

If you have a sewing machine, sew with a zigzag stitch around the edges of the patch. Once you get all the way around the edge, overlap the stitching by an inch or so to keep the thread from unravelling. (I often just sew all the way around the edge twice.) The zigzag stitch helps keep the edge of the patch from fraying or slipping out.

If you're sewing by hand, stitch all the way around the edge. Use small stitches and overlap them if the patch fabric is prone to fraying.

Step 6: Done!

Voila! Less-disintegrating clothing, more color, and so easy!

You can use this same technique to add screenprinted patches or interesting bits of fabric, even if you're not covering over a hole.