Mending knee holes with sashiko

I love repairing things. For several years I’ve hoped to take up sewing to extend my fixing skills to clothing. Sheltering-in-place during COVID-19 has provided opportunities to try my hand at mending ripped knees in my family members’ pants. It feels good to sit in peace and make something whole again. Apparently I’m part of a trend, with mending and in particular visible mending gaining in popularity.

I asked my friend Cassie where to start in mending holes in knees and she pointed me to the book Mending Life, which had steps that were thorough, clear, and seemed doable – with handy illustrations (pp. 96-103). So I took a shot at it. So far I’m 3 of 3! None are perfect but all three exceeded my expectations. Below are photos.

Specifically, I have been trying to emulate sashiko, a Japanese decorative reinforcement stitching technique. I sewed the first patch with a piece of thick thread I found in my sewing box. The next two I did with proper sashiko needles and thread I ordered online. (As with most of my things, if you live near me and want to borrow them, just ask).

I chose contrasting thread and patches to emphasize the repair jobs. I’m proud of my work, it normalizes repair and reuse, and frankly I think the unique & visible mends leave the clothing looking better than it did new.

Sashiko patch #1: women’s jeans

The ripped fabric at the knee was exploding outwards. It was begging to be patched with the “exposed edge technique” (Mending Life), with an interesting pattern poking through.

Patch scrap pinned in place
Origins of this giant needle and thread are unknown
Sewed the patch loosely in place with brown thread (to be removed later), used a ruler to draw chalk outline for the sashiko stitches
Outer box done, now sewing the inner box
Finished!

I’m not sure how well the inner box of stitches will hold up, but the patch looks great when worn.

Sashiko patch #2: wool long underwear

Same patch material (a stretchy fabric from a shirt that was sadly ruined when it was new), different technique. Here there are no exposed edges. The hole was oval-shaped, so I used the “tucked edges” technique from the book. No in-process photos of this one since I sewed it while watching a movie.

I sewed a whip stitch around the edge of the hole with regular thread, then a circle of sashiko stitches around the perimeter. The patch fabric got bunched up on the inside, but this defect is only felt by the wearer.

Finished. I ought to save material for a future matching patch on the other knee…

Sashiko patch #3: kids’ leggings

These have been handed down several times and the knee finally wore out. I dug in a scrap bin and found a synthetic wool sock with space patterns on it. A few snips later and I had a planetary patch. It may have been a bad decision to patch with a relatively weak weak material… we’ll see how it holds up, but it looks good. I used Mending Life’s “exterior patch” technique.

The leggings with the hole and the sock I’ll patch them with
Patch in place
I whip-stitched around the outside with regular black thread, then turned it inside-out to take a look
Then a box of yellow sashiko stitches for strength & decoration. I sewed it right-side-out, then inverted it to tie the knot.
Finished
It works!

Patching knees with sashiko was a good entry point to garment repair. It was easy, quick, and practical, with results that gave me confidence. Now I just need to wear some more holes in my clothes so I can practice. Maybe next I’ll finally learn my way around a sewing machine.

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