The Trials and Tribulations of DIY Projects: Sewing for Simpletons

The motivation

This Instructable was prepared as a project for the Fall 2018 offering of INTEG 375:Hands-on Sustainability, a third-year course in the Knowledge Integration program at the University of Waterloo.

Throughout the past few months, I have looked through trash cans, surveyed thrift stores, and begged family members to donate broken objects to me (much to their worry). This was all done in the name of DIY, or do-it-yourself. The final goal of this course was to take something broken/discarded and repurpose it so that others can use it - thus removing an element from the waste stream.

This proved harder than I had originally thought. I had managed to collect a ton of different items; busted phones, broken lamps, stammering headphones, and even a wonky office chair. I wanted to challenge myself in this project, so after doing some research on all these mini-projects, I right away started dissecting each. From taking apart the phone’s motherboard to testing the current directly on exposed headphone wires - I went all out.

However, after struggling to find the source of failure for each item, I started thinking about Occam’s Razor where “the simplest solution tends to be the right one”. After some current testing I sadly realized that the simplest solution was in fact, the right one. Both phones had dead batteries rather than malfunctioned motherboard components. The lamp had no frayed wires and just needed a bulb change, the headphones also needed a battery, and the chair was missing a screw even though I originally thought the inner components were completely broken. Technically I fixed the items, but without the challenge I wanted, I was let down and lost...

Step 1: Motivation (cont'd)

A few days after this DIY nightmare, I was sitting in class when to my shock, I looked next to me saw someone sewing his pants! The professor, class, and I had a good laugh - what a ridiculous thing to do during a lecture. As soon as the class resumed, someone entered the room. And with them, the cold winter’s air. That’s when I felt the breeze rush in through, ironically, my jeans!

It turns out the jeans I was wearing had a hole in its pocket. And after going home I realized that several other of my pants had holes too. Furthermore, a nice jean jacket I had was literally falling apart at the seams! Again, another instance of Occam’s Razor. After all the searching my object ended up being right on me...

Step 2: The Project

So I decided to take up sewing and try and repair my tattered clothes. I’ve had much of this clothing for years, 6 or 7 I think. Which coincidentally, was probably the last time I had sewn anything. The goal of this project was to take on something challenging and learn a new skill - learning to sew would add to add to my arsenal of hands on skills (soldering, woodworking, computer repair). This Instructable will be a basic guide to sewing for simpletons like myself; people with little or no experience with working with pins and needles.

Narrowing down my clothing to most necessary and least complex, I decided to sew two articles. The first is my jean jacket. On the left shoulder patch is a large rip that is currently being held together using a few safety pins. It’s a cool aesthetic, but lacks functionality in these winter months. Moreover, the buttons don’t fully button up as the holes have come apart. I need to sew each piece to close the gaps.

The second piece of clothing is a black pair of jeans. The left pocket has a few holes that makes it, well, not a pocket. There have been numerous times where I’ve almost lost my wallet or phone because of this. The goal for this then is to sew the holes up in this awkward spot.

Throughout this project I don’t shy away from my failures/poor quality attempts. One thing I learned at the end of this project is that practice is the key to success.

Step 3: The Process: Materials

To repair these two items I bought a small sewing kit at Walmart that includes:

  • Spools of thread (black, blue)
  • Small scissors
  • Needles of assorted length
  • A tape measure and a thimble (optional)

Step 4: The Process: Tying a Knot

In order to sew, you need to be able to put thread into a needle and stitch without the thread pulling away. In short, you need security; the thread has to stay in place. To do so you need to tie a knot at the end of you thread.

  • First you need to pick a needle. To be honest I just picked a random one as they all seemed to look the same
  • Cut off a length of the thread, can be any size as long as you’re sure it can cover the tear
  • Pull one end of the thread through the eye of the needle and join the 2 ends together to create equal length
  • Then pull the thread through and make an ‘x’ over your index finger
  • Roll the thread down your finger, then move your middle finger on top
  • Finally pull your right hand and form the knot

Note, this may sound confusing when written in steps, so I recommend watching this video and practicing.

Step 5: The Process: Practice and Playing Around

Because it was in an awkward spot and didn't require too much sewing, I started by practicing on the button hole.

I used these to just practice going back and forth with the needle, making sure I have the placements down. That is, pulling the needle through the fabric, going across the tear, and repeating. I managed to make a bit of an ugly mess but as the picture shows, I got the job done. In the future I’d rather do a different stitching pattern and possibly use a machine for awkward placements like this.

Step 6: The Process: Onto Real Sewing - Jean Jacket

With more confidence, I moved onto the shoulder tear and started sewing for real. Here's how to do it:

  • Thread the needle through the hole with thread colour of choice and then knot the end as was shown two steps ago
  • Cut the straggling thread off the end of the knot
  • Stick the needle through the other side of the material, about a few cm's away from the edge of the tear
  • Then stick the needle through the denim, up, then through the denim.
  • Now go to the tear and pass the needle down through the material then back up. I like to think of this as "pinning a poppy".
  • Now go to the other side, make sure you’re sticking the needle a few mm’s to the side of the tear
  • Repeat by sewing back and forth the tear
  • Note, don’t pull the thread tight just yet, only pull to keep the thread going through the hole
  • Keep going all the way and continue for a few cm’s past the tear just like you did at the beginning
  • Next, stick your needle up through (but not back down)
  • Pull the thread so that it is taught. Make sure you don’t pull to hard or you’ll cut the thread
  • Then, go to where the end is, hold your finger down and pull. This is tying the end knot. It would be wise to do this multiple times so it won’t come loose
  • Cut the remaining thread

Right away I could see an improvement in my sewing as well as a difference in the jacket's looks. Moving forward however, I need to stitch closer together. I also need to get that finishing knot closer down to the material.

Step 7: Process: Sewing the Jeans Pocket

Finally, I tackled the jean pocket. I repeated the same steps as before but didn't have to worry about starting on the opposite side of the clothing as the looks don’t really matter here.

Again, I still need to work on tighter stitching but at least now no coins will fall out! There were three holes in this one pocket, and after finishing the final (and largest) hole I could see some improvement! One thing I’ll need to practice is the end knot - I always ended with about 2-3 cm of thread left.

Step 8: The Recipient

This project turned out to be a success. Being the recipient had its advantages as I could tailor the solution to my needs. I also was happy that the “rough” aesthetic of the jacket was still kept in place, but having the functionality made it so much better. These articles of clothing will now last longer and will not have to be thrown out. Furthermore, if I ever grow out of either the clothes or the style and decide to donate the pieces, I can feel at ease knowing that I’m not throwing away tattered/poor quality clothing. I can be comfortable with the fact that the clothes will last even longer and not feel guilty about donating un-wearable items.

Step 9: Conclusion

After completing this project I learned a few things about craft DIY that can be applied to my interest in computer repair/soldering. First, when tackling an issue, don’t just dive headfirst into the problem even if you’ve done “research”. You need to take a step back and perhaps try the simplest solution as it may be the correct one.

Second, patience is definitely needed in the DIY-space. Patience in finding broken items, patience in finding solutions, and most importantly patience in sewing. At times I thought that I could get some stitches done in a hurry but it usually took longer than I thought it would. Moreover, if you rush or become careless... you might end up injuring yourself. To my surprise, sewing actually turned out to be a lot of fun! You get a great sense of accomplishment, it’s relaxing, and you can do it and simultaneously listen to music/watch a video.

For future iterations or projects I’d like to build up this sewing “skill-tree”. Because I’m a student away from home, materials, space, money, and time is scarce. I have several pairs of jeans with large holes in both the knees and groin areas - but to fix these I would need to buy denim patches as well as an ironing board, and an iron. Additionally, to tackle these large projects I’d need to use a sewing machine. Strangely, I’ve always wanted to use a sewing machine - it looks really fun. Although it would take more time to learn, I would be able to take on more intense projects like the one above. Furthermore, in a third iteration of this project I could perhaps create a new pocket for my jeans using new material and a sewing machine.

So to you, the reader… no matter how big or small the project is - there’s always a chance you’ll learn something new. Anytime you observe an inconvenience, like me with my ripped clothing, rather than just tolerating it… take control and fix it! Also, sometimes to find a project, rather than looking outwards you need to look inwards… or in my case - onwards?

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    2 Discussions

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    BorisS43

    15 days ago

    Good tutorial, knowing how to sew is invaluable.
    In my experience, a sewing machine is not a necessary investment if you don't plan on doing it often. Having rebuild trousers that had split along seams from back to front and down to the
    middle of one leg in an unfortunate movement, I know it takes time. I wished for a sewing machine then, but after a few evenings worth of work it was done.
    A sewing machine will give you a better quality and regularity in the stitching and be much quicker, but a good quality machine may cost a bit and it takes valuable space.
    As to how to end a stitch, look it up once again on the net, you'll soon get the hang of it :)