Whether you're the DIY type or the complete opposite, experts say everyone should have these items ready to go for a clothing emergency.
Essential clothing maintenance kit
If you’ve ever lamented that things don’t last the way they used to, take note. We don’t care for our clothes and accessories the way we used to either. There was a time when clothing and footwear were so precious that they were protected against the elements and minor tears were repaired expediently.
No matter how much you paid for something, you should expect it to require a little upkeep. A seasonal cleaning for shoes or a periodic lint brush on jackets. Some things are more fixable than others; some things are worth more than others. You be the judge of how precious the item and how costly the repair.
We asked some experts for suggestions on what you should and shouldn’t bother stocking at home. You might not be the DIY type at all, in which case you can always rely on a professional, but some of these items come in handy in emergency situations, i.e. you’re late and your hem just fell out or your shoes are dull or there’s a painful spot inside the heel.
Here are the recommendations from Mary Jane Armstrong of Artistic Tailoring, 7933 Big Bend Boulevard in Webster Groves, Mo., and Randy Lipson of Cobbler’s Corner Shoe Repair, 44 North Central Avenue, and Cobblestone Shoe Repair, 1718 Clarkson Road, Chesterfield, Mo.; 13943 Manchester Road, Town and Country, Mo.; 11600 Olive, Creve Coeur, Mo.; and 8855 Ladue Road, Ladue, Mo.
You might think you’ll never need this if you don’t sew, but it’s cheap and comes in handy. If you shop online occasionally, you’ll need to know your inseam or the circumference of your waist, arm or calf. A simple retractable version version will cost around $3.
QuickFix Tape Strips
These are temporary, removable tape strips for fixing everyday problems. A revealing gap between shirt buttons, a wonky collar that needs to be immobilized, a hem that falls and you don’t have time to repair ($3.99 for set of 40 peel-and-stick strips) at Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Store. Remove before washing.
Get a few basic colors, including black, but look for quality threads. Cheap thread kits are fine in a pinch, but getting button craft thread will go a long way. Armstrong said: “I think the worst atrocity is when people sew on buttons using the wrong thread. They have a navy blue garment and use yellow thread or something, and they wonder why it looks horrible. ... You can get away with a lot of mistakes if you just use the right thread. I prefer the button or carpet threads.”
Heavy-duty button craft, quilting or upholstery thread will cost $2 to $6 at various craft stores.
They can be used to replace broken cord stops on backpacks, drawstring pants or purses. You might also like them on your athleisure shoe laces or apron strings. A set of 10 will cost you around $4 on Amazon.com or pick them up at fabric stores.
Safety and straight pins
So cheap and so handy. In fact, if you just save the ones that occasionally come on hang tags with your clothing you might have all you need. You can buy 200 pins for less than $5 at most craft stores.
You can get these for less than $1, but you should probably spend a few dollars more. Armstrong explains that a cheap ripper can be dangerous, much like a cheap dull knife. You’ll use more pressure and you’re more likely to slip and stab yourself. Why do you need it? “Stop opening pockets and cutting off tags using scissors,” Armstrong said. That’s what a seam ripper is designed for.
Singer Folding Seam Ripper ($6) at Target, but you can get a decent model at a fabric store for around $3.
A last-resort stop-gap rip repair for a clothing or fabric emergency. Don’t use this on something you treasure. It’s really best for an emergency situation. It’s a great option for rips in a knit sweater that will be difficult to sew, but it won’t look as good as new. Depending on where the rip is, you might want to add some applique to cover the area later. Don’t use it on seams unless you just can’t get to a tailor or do the job the right way. It’s a better option for repairs on canvas bags or items that don’t require a polished finish.
This is optional because dying clothing is tricky and messy, but if you’ve “ruined” something by washing it with the wrong item you can salvage many items with a dye job. Just be sure you have the right dye for the job. Natural and synthetic fibers need different dyes. Also keep a dedicated container for the job. Rit Dye ($2.99) at Michael's.
Think about simple projects such as making a pair of cut-offs, lobbing off long sleeves or crafting a mini-skirt. A self-locking spring-action model is not only compact for storage but it’s also easier to use and will help avoid accidents. And note, you should use this just for fabric to keep it sharp. Buy a smaller thread cutter to handle plastic tags strings or random cutting needs.
Fiskars Premier No. 8 Easy Action Scissors ($19.99) at Michael's.
If you buy a pack of quality needles you’re good for life. Share a few with your kids when they are old enough. You can purchase assortments from 25 to 100 for less than $5.
These are handy for knits. It’s a rough, porous stone with many divots. Brush it lightly over garments to help shave and pick up lint, pilling and fuzz. It’s an alternative to a fabric shaver that is easier to manipulate. You can use a lighter pressure or more precision with the hand tool than an electric zapper, which can have more appeal on delicate fabrics ($7.99) at the Container Store.
A great tool to refresh a sweater, jacket, pant, skirt that’s starting to pill or fuzz. Be mindful of shaving too closely on knits, but don’t hesitate to remove pilling, which can really age a garment. You can get pretty cheap versions, but Armstrong said that you get what you pay for. Smartek Deluxe Fabric Shaver ($29.99) at Walmart.
We should note that Armstrong called this product evil, but it’s not awful to have on hand for an emergency, especially when you’re out of viable options. It’s the product of last resort. It can work on fallen hems, but you should use needle and thread if you can. It’s best for rips when you’re bonding fabric to repair a hole that would be even more unsightly with needle and thread. So use with care and not with abandon ($2.70) at Michael's.
This is your personal butler and much more affordable. Sometimes you just need to dust off an item, including jackets, coats, skirts, etc. and if you have pets you should just stock up on these guys. It can also be used to spruce up suede. ($3.49) at Target.
Look for something to tackle oil, grease, ink, makeup, grass and blood or many garments will need to be retired in their prime. Grandma’s Secret Spot Remover ($3 to $10) at fabric stores.
Keep the buttons that come inside your garments. Even though it’s rare to use them, they might come in handy. Another tip is to take the buttons off of garments that can’t be donated to thrift stores because of damage or stains.
Alternatively, buy a random assortment of buttons now on Amazon.com!
No-sew jean buttons
Dime buttons ($5.99 to $6.99 for sets of six or eight) at Amazon.com are available in a variety of styles to match popular denim brands.
If the zipper breaks you’re probably better off taking it to a professional or purchasing the necessary size and zipper finish from a craft store after the damage. But if you just have a problem with the pull on a jacket, pants, purse or luggage a sturdy, innocuous zipper pull is a great solution to have handy. Ultimate Fixer for your Zipper ($5.49) for set of two on Amazon.com.