A Seamstress Should Be Able to Solve These Common Clothing Mishaps. Can You?


By: Zoe Samuel

7 Min Quiz

Image: Vesnaandjic/E+/Getty Images

About This Quiz

It used to be the case that everyone had to know how to knit and sew simply to get by. Whether you were male or female, urban or rural, no matter what your job, if you couldn't fix a tear in your lining or darn a stocking, you knew how to move a needle. After all, you couldn't just pop around the corner to the dry cleaner and have the resident seamstress fix it up for you, and only the wealthy had a maid or servant to handle such matters.

Times have changed, for a number of reasons. Clothing is immeasurably cheaper, and modern materials are both stronger and weaker in ways that make it not worth mending many items. For example, nylon stockings last a shorter time than silk ones, but they're cheap so you can just buy new ones. Polyester is flimsy compared to wool, but it's also cheap. This means that often it's easier to get new clothing than mend the old, and with fashion changing seasonally, many people do this. 

This means that some of the most common clothing mishaps today require a more lateral style of thinking and all sorts of wisdom about stains, clips, pins, and more. Being a seamstress was never just about needles, after all - it's a lot more than that. It means being able to improvise intelligently and maintain valuable garments and fabrics, as well as being able to put on a button in just a few moments. Let's see if you're equipped to be a modern seamstress!

When making a shirt, how do you avoid shrinking it?

If you want to make a shirt from scratch, washing the fabric first will ensure that if it's going to shrink, it does so before you cut it, instead of after. This will ensure first that it doesn't shrink overall, and second that it doesn't warp by shrinking unevenly!


Your zipper has entirely removed itself from your dress. What's the top trick to replacing it?

Putting in a zipper is a challenge as it is obviously important that it is perfectly straight. It's best to line it up then put in a few big stitches. Double check that it is straight, then add the more precise small stitches you need.


How can you prevent a seam that sees heavy use from tearing?

Certain seams undergo more pressure than others. For example, the seam where a sleeve meets the bodice moves a lot more than the seam around the neckline. Double-sewing it is a great way to reinforce it to prevent a badly-timed hole forming!


A button has has come off and you have no time! What do you do?

You can pull the twist tie from a loaf of bread and put it through a button, then feed it through the hole where the thread was previously. Twist it at the back and voila: Your button is on! You can use a safety pin if you have a shank button (with a small stem), and you can also use a paperclip. However, the latter may poke you, so consider putting a blob of nail polish or eraser tip on the end.


If a heel breaks at noon, what's one way to make it functional enough to get home at 6 p.m.?

You can temporarily mend a shoe by chewing gum, then sticking it between the heel and the sole. Make sure to let it dry before you try to wear the shoe! It's only temporary, so it will need to be replaced with better glue later on.


You've scuffed your beloved leather jacket. What's a handy fix?

Just as Vaseline can fix chapped lips or very dry skin, it can also fix leather when it's not in a great state. It won't handle a major tear or serious issue, but it will heal a little scuff. After all, if it can fix your skin, it can fix calfskin!


A blazer has acquired a certain bodily fragrance that no amount of dry cleaning will dislodge. What will fix this?

It is thoroughly counter-intuitive, but if you add a little vodka to water then put it in a spray bottle, it will remove bad smells from clothing! You don't need to wash the clothing first, just spray on the alcohol and leave it. A little while later, the nasty odor will be gone!


You're out and about, far from your lint roller, when you spot a sweet puppy and cannot resist a cuddle! How do you get the hair off in the office?

This is pretty much like creating a lint roller around your hand. Wrap the tape backward, in order to avoid sticking to your skin or any hairs on your hand! Once the tape is all used up, just add another layer!


What will unstick a stuck zipper?

There are a few ways to ease a zipper. Graphite will handle less challenging situations, but for a more dramatic jam then something more elaborate will be needed. Soap and Windex can work, but if things are truly snarled, it can be best to go for a Chapstick!


How do you mend a torn hem when you're out and about?

Double-sided tape is a great way to avoid a looser neckline causing a fashion malfunction. Thus, while it can adhere to skin without causing damage, it can also adhere to fabric. In an emergency, a hem can be created by putting a piece of double-sided tape on the inside of the sleeve or leg, then folded over the hem onto it.


Which of these will make a zipper stay up when it really doesn't want to?

If you have a zipper that simply doesn't want to stay closed, this can cause all sorts of embarrassment! Fortunately, simply hooking a keyring over the pull and then the button will keep it in place. Just don't forget it's there, because it will take slightly longer to unfasten it should the bathroom call!


Your iron has disappeared. What might take the wrinkles out of a shirt at home?

Anti-wrinkle spray is a great option when you have the opportunity, but if you've run out and the the store is closed, you can replicate the effects somewhat. Simply steam up your bathroom with a nice hot shower, then hang the shirt on a hanger in the room (but out of the water). You can then enjoy the shower while your shirt irons itself!


What will help remove a lipstick stain from clothing?

Hairspray has a variety of uses, and not all of them are about grooming. You can spray it on a lipstick stain and let it harden, then wait approximately 15 minutes. Dab a sponge with water and it will lift the sprayed lipstick off!


A very unfortunate seam has split on the seat of your jeans! What's a temporary hack to fix it?

Turn the jeans inside out, and hold the seam together, using clips if they are available. Simply find the biggest staples on which you can lay your hands, and put them in! Be careful to staple strong fabric instead of doing it near the frayed edge, otherwise you may make a bad situation worse.


What's the best way to get rid of deodorant marks?

Pantyhose used to be made out of silk, which was very pretty but sadly prone to tearing, as it lacked elasticity. Modern-day hose are not only stretchy thanks to their nylon content, they are also great for removing deodorant stains from clothing!


Which item is invaluable for getting dirt off suede?

Just as leather is ultimately a kind of skin, so is suede. This means that a lot of the items you use to groom yourself, or similar items, can come in handy. For example, if your suede turns spiky after getting wet, you can use a suede brush. Similarly, a nail file can be used gently and carefully to remove caked-on dirt.


Your pencil skirt keeps riding up! How do you stop it?

Our friend hairspray is back! Spraying your thighs helps create a little friction that prevents fabric from riding up. It's an invaluable trick if you are in a warmer environment where you also want to look more professional.


You sat in gum. How can you fix it?

You can achieve this effect by putting your garment in the freezer; the gum will peel right off. However, sometimes you don't have time to do this, or it wouldn't be appropriate to remove the garment. Simply rub it with an ice cube and it will eventually freeze enough to peel off.


A flared skirt keeps putting you at risk of a less glamorous Marilyn Monroe moment. What's a useful item to help prevent this?

This fix may cost a couple of pennies, but it works! Don't use more than a total of around six coins, however, as they will warp the fabric or drag it down. Any fabric tough enough to take more coins than this is probably too heavy to blow around much.


You skipped the prevention and shrank a sweater. How can you revive it?

Conditioner is magical stuff when it comes to making your hair lie the way you want it to, and it is also transformative for a woolly sweater, given a little warm water and 15 minutes to soak. After all, wool and hair are not so different at the chemical level. Baby shampoo can also work, so try either!


What will fix a tiny bleach dot on a black T-shirt?

This would not be a good option for a fancy piece of clothing, but it is just fine when it comes to a basic tee that you plan to wear out and about or while exercising. Get yourself a black Sharpie and simply cover up the bleach dots. Is it elegant? No. Is it good enough for a quick fix? Sure!


After a big lunch, your jeans are a smidge too tight to button. How can you make them stay?

We have all had those moments where we discover that a pair of jeans that fit perfectly well that morning - or perhaps yesterday or last week - have suddenly decided that they won't close. All you need is a hair tie. Loop it through the buttonhole, then slip it through itself like a little noose, and hook it over the button. Arrange your shirt over it and nobody will be the wiser!


You discover the butterfly back on your earring fell off, moments before you have to give a talk! What is the solution?

Losing a butterfly back at an inopportune moment is something that can happen to anybody with a pierced ear. While the best way to fix it is simply to have extra butterfly backs with you at all times, this is not always possible. Cutting the tip off a pencil eraser and sticking the earring through it will serve as a temporary fix.


A button hasn't come off - yet. You just know it's going to. What can you put on it to keep it in place for now?

When threads are fraying, a little dab of clear nail polish can be much more effective than you'd think! It works on a ladder in your hose, and it will also hold a button in place. It's not a cure-all, so you will have to break out the sewing kit later on.


How do you de-pill a sweater that has gone all bobbly?

The bobbles that form on woolly sweaters are the result of a process called pilling, and they make a garment look shabby. While you can't take them out and restore them to their smooth previous shape, you can remove the worst pilling with an electric razor or beard trimmer.


A shirt collar is crumpled at the back. What will fix it?

A hair straightener is a fearsomely hot device, and that means it has the necessary power to heat the starch in your collar and give you the chance to reset it. Sure, collar-stays help, but there's no substitute for a crisp, starchy collar!


What can you put on the arms of your glasses to stop them sliding down your face?

If your glasses keep sliding down your face, you can spend all of your time pushing them back up your nose, but that's going to get annoying. A blob of dried hot glue on the inside of the arms will create a little more friction with your head. What do glasses have to do with seamtresses? Well, a good seamstress uses more glue than you might think!


How do you loosen a slightly too-tight shoe?

Quality shoes are typically made of leather or fabric, which is prone to warping just like any natural fiber. That means that while you probably can't do anything about a slightly-too-tight shoe made from synthetic substances, a hairdryer and your own foot for a mold will work wonders on some shoes.


You bought some jeans you fear are not colorfast. How can you test?

Color bleed from your denim used to be a lot more common, as most jeans now genuinely are colorfast. However, not all jeans are up to par. You can check with a simple piece of white paper. If you don't like what you see, set the dye by performing an overnight soak in vinegar and water.


How do you make sure you're never missing a button, without affecting the line of your clothing?

A lot of clothing comes with an additional button, either in a little plastic baggie or sewn in a seam someplace. However, just because your coat didn't come that way doesn't mean you cannot embrace this idea! Just sew on a few extra buttons at seams or inside the sleeve where they won't affect the way the garment hangs on your body.


What's a great option for sewing buttons onto thicker fabrics?

Dental floss is so strong that you can use it to saw through metal if you have enough time. It is thus a great option for putting on a recalcitrant button. Kevlar thread is also a great way to do this, and unlike floss, it comes in more colors than just bright white!


How do you remove water marks from leather pants?

Vinegar is magical stuff, and can be used to clean a variety of things. A seamstress won't try to fix leather pants with a needle unless they tore at the seams; you can't patch leather without it being very obvious, after all. However, water marks can be fixed, and that's where our friend vinegar will help. A soft old toothbrush is all you need, and a gentle circular motion.


Where do you put a cashmere sweater to stop it shedding?

Freezing your sweaters sounds crazy, but it's actually a great way to stop them shedding. You probably spent a lot of money on your cashmere, so you want to keep it looking its best. Just remember to bag the sweater if there's also food in the freezer, because day-old pizza is not an attractive scent for a sweater.


You've snagged a thread in your lovely woolly sweater. How do you fix it?

You can fix a snag by pulling it back and forth. Sometimes you can do this with your fingers, but a crochet needle is the best way to be precise without creating an additional snagged piece of yarn. Just don't cut the loop off, as you will certainly create a much worse situation!


The drawstring of your comfy sweats went AWOL. What can help you put another one in?

If the drawstring disappears somehow, there's a handy trick to getting a new one in place. Add a safety pin to each end, and attach one end to the front of the pants. Then feed the other safety pin through the hole one inch at a time. Once you get it all the way through, even up the ends, then remove the pins!


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