Visible Mending: How to Sew a Broken Backstitch

17 February 2021

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Ad description: Cover of the book Sheep, Shepherd & Land, and the words, "THE book about Canadian Wool, by Anna Hunter. Photos by Christel Lanthier. Buy now."

Ad description: The words, "The socks you knit won't last forever, but you can make them last for years and years. Shop now." Also featuring the cover image of the Sock Mending Guide.

We’ve all been wearing our cozy sweaters and socks around here so much that they are getting well worn. February is definitely the month for giving my wool clothes a good look-over to check for areas of wear. Catching them early avoids many headaches and the prospect of pulling things out of rotation to do more complicated mends down the line.

For reinforcing worn areas, I like to use a modified (broken) backstitch. The shorter top stitch creates an attractive seed pattern, especially when made with contrasting thread. The backstitched underside is a sturdy stitch, and the extra thread provides reinforcement.

I use this darn mostly for socks, sweaters and coats. That being said, and see my note about thread selection below, I would apply this stitch to a lightweight fabric like jersey, cotton or linen. Denim is a tougher call. On denim jackets and skirts, this mend would be fantastic. Denim jeans often have areas of wear that are tighter fitting, and you’ll want to avoid adding too much bulk to a pair of skinny jeans. If you wanted to use this stitch on a tighter pair of jeans, I recommend choosing a thread that is strong and not too bulky. When I mend jeans I am more likely to use a sashiko thread and stitch, but that’s just me.

A note about thread selection: I learned the hard way that the wrong thread can do more damage to your garment than existed before. Delicate fabrics, especially, need a thinner, lighter thread to be able to support the mend. Thread that is too bulky or heavy can weigh down or distort the mended area, creating a “bubble,” and possibly ruining the line of the garment. Whereas bulkier sweaters and heavier fabric can “eat up” the mend—making your stitches not be visible or, in the worst case, be unsupported by thin threads and the mend will fail.

Ed. Note: One of the values at the heart of Digits & Threads is sustainability – in all its contexts, from the environment to our business model. At a time when cheap, fast fashion and disposable electronics seem unavoidable, revisiting and relearning the skills to fix our possessions is as much an act in the interest of saving items from the landfill as it is a radical opposition to disposal being the norm. This is the first of what we intend to be many features on skills we can use to mend and repair not only the handmade objects we’ve created or received, but also the store-bought textiles we wear and use.

Image description: A flat-lay photo of mending supplies including a wooden darning mushroom, needles, embroidery scissors, and thread.

Mending supplies, including a wooden darning mushroom, needles, embroidery scissors, and thread.

All photos credit Willa Bradshaw.

Copyright © Willa Bradshaw except as indicated.
Image description: Woman, close up and holding a cat, with an evergreen tree in the background.

About Willa Bradshaw

Willa Bradshaw has come full circle. Born in Tofino, B.C., Willa grew up in a community of crafters, makers and builders. She left to pursue a career in science and art in the big city. In 2019, Willa returned to her hometown with her husband and cat to care for her parents and teach the skills she learned from them. She started Creative Tofino to offer locals and visitors workshops in visible mending, embroidery, watercolour and sketching.

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