Clothing Crisis: Can it be saved?

The change of the season is a great time to sort through your closet and clear your wardrobe of old, outdated clothing.

But getting rid of clothing can be a little more complicated than just putting something in the trash or donation bin—some pieces may have sentimental value, be great basics or truly one-of-a-kind pieces that are worth hanging on to. A lot of clothing has a longer shelf-life than people believe and a little basic sewing know-how can save some of your cherished favorites from the garbage bin.

But how do you know what’s worth saving and what’s just doomed? Below are some of the most common clothing crisis and some suggestions on evaluating their chances for survival.


Problem: It’s stretched out of shape.

Can it be saved? Most likely. If you’re dealing with a top that’s gone from fitted and fine to floppy, some simple sewing can give it a new shape. If it’s a pair of pants that have perhaps gotten saggy in the thighs or legs, a few simple tuck-and-stitch attempts may be all that’s needed to save it from the trash can.

Sewing Know-How Needed: Basic. A straight stitch along the garment’s seams usually do the trick. Turn the garment inside-out and use the preexisting seams as a guide. Take some tailor’s chalk and draw where you’d like the new seams to be and sew. Always start out with a longer, basting stitch that will be easy to take out if your first attempt doesn’t fit just right. You can go back with a tighter, more secure stitch once everything fits perfectly.

Problem: Holes, snags and other snafus.

Can it be saved? Maybe. If it’s a hole along the seam and the garment isn’t already skin-tight, then following the trick above and nipping the fabric enough to cover the hole can save it. However, if the hole is large and in the middle of the garment, or the garment is made of a thin fabric (and more likely to get caught in the gears of your sewing machine), then you might be better off tossing it. If it’s a piece you really love, consider exercising your creative bones and camouflaging the hole with patches, lace trim or some other decoration. Another last-effort tip to try is placing a piece of parchment paper, wax paper or newspaper under very thin fabric, sewing, and then tearing the fabric away when you are finished. The paper will protect flimsy fabric from getting caught in the machine gears and tearing further, but your stitches may be loose and pull when you remove the paper backing.

Sewing Know-How Needed: Varies, depending on where the holes are located, how big they are and how you choose to fix them.

Problem: Faded or murky colors.

Can it be saved? Most likely. If the fabric is cotton and nice and worn, then you might have some luck re-dying it. However, if the fading is spotty and uneven, take the time to bleach the item first before dying it, or your new color will also appear uneven (unless that’s the look you’re aiming for).

Sewing Know-How Needed: None, but a little quick research on the internet about dying your item’s particular type of fabric can save a lot a headaches (and maybe your bathtub) later on.

Problem: Too small.

Can it be saved? Not likely. Most commercially made clothing doesn’t have enough seam allowance to be let out without the use of inserts, which can often leave clothing looking shabbier than you started. If the piece has no stretch and is even an inch too small, you’re out of luck.

Sewing Know-How Needed: None. Time to let it go. However, if your favorite part of the item is a decoration or design (such as a logo on a t-shirt), then you can cut the design out and use the piece in a variety of other ways, such as a punk-rock style patch or stretched and framed as a wall decoration.

Problem: Too big.

Can it be saved? Most likely. It’s much easier to nip in a top that’s too big, than to try to let out one that’s too small. You can follow the suggestions for items stretched out of shape.

Sewing Know-How Needed: Minimal. Unless your item has hardware (buttons, zippers, etc.) that will need to be rearranged, a few straight stitches should get that item ship-shape in no time.

Problem: Uncomfortable.

Can it be saved? Maybe. If a top is now too short and makes you feel self-conscious, adding a wide lace trim along the bottom or playing with layering might be all you need to save it. If the fit is uncomfortable because of weight gain or a change in your shape, however, it might be less hassle to toss it. The trickiest parts of a garment to alter are waistbands and arm holes, so consider if the piece is really worth the work.

Sewing Know-How Needed: Varies.

Problem: Pilling on knits.

Can it be saved? Sure! Fabric shavers and lint brushes, while time-consuming, can be great tools to keep favorite sweaters and knits looking better for longer. For the best results (and to minimize accidents) press your garment so that there are no wrinkles and work on it section by section. A word of warning: the sharp blades of a shaver can easily create holes in your garment, so work slowly and stretch out the fabric as you go over it, so there are no wrinkles or bumps for the blades to snip off. Another option is to try “brushing” your sweater with a lint brush to tame mild fuzz.

Sewing Know-How Needed: None.


A little internet research can yield even more ideas to get the most out of your clothing, helping you enjoy your favorite pieces for years to come – or at least until you’ve found a new favorite piece to replace it.

Article by Ro Molina for Moxy Magazine, October 2012. Photo credit:

Ro Molina works as a freelance writer and general creative mercenary in the bright lights and seedy shadows of New York City. Her passions include food, gadgets and helping people with chronic illness kick life’s butt. Her current HQ is her blog, Life Despite Lupus (

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