Sewing 101: 2 Basic Clothing Alteration Techniques

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Sewing needle and thread


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Whether you’re interested in sewing so you can work towards making your own clothes or you just want to take care of the clothes you already have, I firmly believe that everyone should have some basic sewing skills they can pull out in a pinch. You never know when that perfect pair of on-sale pants will be just two or three inches too long or when your favorite coat will mysteriously lose a button. With some basic skills, you can fix your clothes and edit them to fit you better.

Below, I'll explain two basic sewing techniques step by step:hemming and sewing on a button. Both techniques are much easier than they look, I promise!

1. Hemming

Hemmed pants


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If you’re short like me, chances are you’ll have to hem something at some point. Although you can pay someone to do it for you (or use hemming tape for a temporary hem), it’s easier and cheaper to do it yourself. Whether it’s a dress, skirt, or pants, you want to make sure you gather all your supplies before you start, including a needle, thread that matches the fabric, a tape measure (or ruler), iron, scissors and pins. Here’s what you do:

1. Put the garment on inside out. Have a friend pin the hem up where you would like it to be and make sure that the pins are perpendicular to the edge you will be sewing. Take it off carefully so you don’t stick yourself!

2. Measure to make sure your hem is the same all the way around and to make sure pant legs are even. Take your time with this so that you don’t end up with an uneven hem!

3. Iron the hem down where it is pinned. If you have cut the edge you are hemming, as with a shortened dress, iron the hem down with the pins, but then remove the pins and fold the edge 1/4-1/2" under and then pin and iron again so that there will not be an exposed edge that can fray. Always leave your pins in until you’ve sewn the hem!

4. Now it’s time to sew. I find that the easiest, strongest, and most reliable hem stitch is the vertical hem stitch, which is illustrated below. As you can see from the picture below, the stitch goes through Layer 2, comes up and barely catches Layer 1 before repeating the cycle.

hem stitch


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Tips and Tricks:

  • Triple knot your thread ends and begin by sewing from the inside of the fold to the inside of the garment as shown below.
  • Catch as little of the outer garment in the stitch as possible so that your hem doesn’t show through.
  • Make your stitches small and as invisible as possible. This will get easier and easier with practice and will help insure that your hem will be strong and durable.
  • For more help and other hem stitches, check out this link.

2. Replacing Buttons

Multicolored buttons


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One of the best ways to change the look of a garment is to sew on new buttons. In order to do this, it's important to know how to sew on a button.

We've talked about how to sew on a button here at CF before, but if you found our basic guide confusing, this one is more detailed and should help your button stay on longer.

1. Thread your needle with thread the same color as your fabric and pull it through until your thread is doubled over. Tie a triple knot, holding both strands together so that your needle is in the middle of a giant loop.

2. Starting on the outside of the garment (where you are going to sew the button on) push the needle through from front to back. This way, your knot will be hidden by the button.

3. Sew back up through the garment, this time putting the needle through the button loop or one of the holes. If your button has just two holes, sew up through one and down through the other 6-8 times. If your button has four holes, sew in an X for 3-4 passes and then, if the button will not be visible, sew in an square around the outside for extra strength.

how to sew on a button

4. Push the needle back up through the fabric, but NOT any of the button holes. Wrap thread around the stitching between the button and the garment 2-3 times. Sew back down through the fabric and knot it off.

What do you think?

Do you know how to do these sewing tricks already? Do you sew regularly? Are there any other sewing techniques you'd like to learn? Let me know in the comments!