Much modern clothing may not be built to last, but you can keep your items for longer with the correct care, mending and maintenance
In the era of fast fashion, it can be easier to buy a new cardigan when a button falls off than to take the time to replace it. However, with living costs continuing to spiral, there is a growing interest in taking better care of our existing wardrobes rather than stocking up on new garments.
Whether you’re learning to sew or simply want to extend the life of your clothes, we asked the experts what tools you need to properly mend and maintain your wardrobe.
With just a few basic skills, you’ll be able to tackle a variety of repairs, from replacing buttons and reattaching broken straps to fixing dropped hems and darning holes in socks. When starting out, our experts recommend steering clear of the ready-made sewing kits on sale in the supermarket.
“Normally they’re rubbish,” says Dublin teacher Maebh Walsh of Sew Easy with Maebh. “You’re better off buying them individually, because the pins in them don’t even stick into the fabrics, they’re terribly blunt.”
Zaria Jackson, who offers sewing classes in Dublin via TheCitySeamstress.com, adds that “The scissors and pins are rarely sharp enough and the thread quality is weak”, and notes that charity shops often have various sewing odds and ends at very low prices. There are sewing classes available across the country and online, or to save money, she says: “Try your local library for beginners’ sewing books — they have a good selection of titles to help you learn the basics.”
Some trusted haberdashery stores like Zaria’s top pick Cloth.ie sell their own beginners’ kits (€13), which include a pack of needles, tape measure, thread, stitch ripper and box of pins, or you can build your own kit.
Start off with a sharp pair of scissors, and ensure you only use them for cutting fabric and thread, as they will become blunt if used for cutting paper. Zaria notes that regular stationery scissors are okay so long as they are new or recently sharpened, while Bébhinn Flood, founder of TheDesignHouse.ie, recommends Jinjian fabric scissors (€15.90, Amazon). “It has razor sharp, high-carbon steel shears — it’s like cutting through butter with a hot knife,” she explains, adding that the scissors come with a thread snipper too.
For needles, Zaria advises getting a variety of sizes, “Some with bigger ‘eyes’ or holes for thicker threads or knitting yarn, plus thinner smaller needles for finer fabrics”. Pauline Gallagher, founder of TheKnittingClass.com, recommends John James hand sewing needles (€2.50 for six, LimerickQuiltCentre.ie). “They’re strong, straight steel and if you’re doing any kind of hand sewing, it’s nice to be able to use nice instruments — it makes a difference in how easily it flows through the fabric,” she says.
You’ll need a selection of different coloured threads, including black, white, grey and navy — Joanne O’Neill, who runs SewGreat.ie classes in Lucan, likes Amann threads (€2.65 for 1000m, SewStitchy.com), while Zaria favours the sustainable threads by Gütermann (€2.60 for 100m, cloth.ie), which “works beautifully” for hand or machine sewing. “Poly/cotton thread is the most versatile for all garments,” says Zaria. “Bonus points if you choose a recycled thread: Gütermann makes an environmentally friendly sewing thread from recycled PET (PolyEthylene Terephthalate) bottles.”
A fabric tape measure is another must-have, and Joanne advises getting one with centimetres and inches. Hemline’s retractable tape measure (€3.50, VibesandScribes.ie) has a stop-and-go function to hold the tape in your desired position, plus an automatic rewind button.
A seam ripper will come in handy for unpicking hems or removing broken zips, and can be bought for as little as €1 (TheFabricCounter.ie), and you’ll want a set of good pins. Maebh likes pearlised head pins (€2.50, TheFabricCounter.ie). “They are suitable for everything. The small little dress-making pins fall all over the place, they’re too hard to pick up, but the pearl-headed ones are just easier to deal with.”
If you’re branching out into alterations, Joanne notes that tailor’s chalk can be useful to keep things exact (€1, TheFabricCounter.ie), while Bébhinn prefers the Pilot Frixion Ball pen (€3.90, PenStore.ie). “The vanishing pens are much better as they are finer and you can remove by fiction or heat,” she says.
Wool experts advise cutting down on how often you wash your knits, as wool fibres often only need a good airing between wears. “If you do get dirt on them, maybe do a spot clean and then just wash them once a season before you put them away for the summer,” says Pauline, noting that dirt and skin flakes can attract moths during storage.
She adds that lavender can be useful for repelling moths, and recommends Eucalan wool wash (€5.50, CraftyBride.ie), a no-rinse formula. “Eucalan uses natural lavender essential oils, so that would be a good one because the essential oil remains and it can give some protection.”
The formation of fuzzy balls — or “pilling” — is inevitable with wool clothing, but it can be easily removed with the right tools. One of the most common options for getting rid of the pills is a sweater comb. “You draw that over the pilled part, and that should pick up any pills and brush them off,” says Pauline.
You can find these many places — Joanne likes the Restora sweater brick, which is mostly sold commercially (€15.95 for 10, dormer.ie), but she notes that cashmere brand Lucy Nagle offers one for €4.95.
The other popular depiller is a fabric shaver, such as the Minky bobble remover (€14.99, lenehans.ie), recommended by Zaria. “It allows you to easily and quickly remove fabric pills from all types of garments, from jumpers to blankets,” she says.
Sportswear and delicates
You may have also encountered pilling in your leggings, which requires an even more careful treatment, according to personal stylist Tess Purcell, who works with Clare-based fitness clothing brand I-Spy.ie.
“If you were using a comb on leggings, it’s actually going to pull the fabric, so you need to be very, very gentle with them,” she says, suggesting the Pilo 1 fabric shaver (€45, SteameryStockholm.com). “It can be used on all fabrics due to its three-blade technology, and it’s safe for use on delicate fabrics.”
Lint rollers are a popular choice for removing hair and dirt from clothes, but Zaria favours the Dosco clothes brush (€6.99, lenehans.ie). “Lint rollers can leave traces of glue, attracting even more lint. Clothing brushes are a great alternative as they do a cleaner job when lifting debris from your fabrics,” she explains. “Quality clothing brushes made of natural bristles will not only last you longer but also keep your clothes fresh without scratching them. You may want to invest in clothing brushes with bristles that vary in stiffness, as softer bristles are best for delicate materials and stiffer bristles are best for removing dry stains.”
For washing delicates, Zaria recommends the Guppyfriend washing bag (€29.75, EcoStore.ie). “A mesh wash bag is really useful for extending the life of your garments, especially delicates like tights and fine-gauge knitwear. It reduces fibre shedding and protects your clothes in the machine.”