Three Easy Ways to Mend Fabric, Inspired by Japanese Textiles

by Jessica Marquez

Ever since I started embroidering I’ve had a growing love for textiles. Surface design, pattern, texture and embellishment have crept their way into my everyday work. Fabric is also everywhere! From the clothes we wear, to the blanket at the foot of the bed, we use and need fabrics for daily living. I wanted to share some ideas to help keep, care for and mend our clothing and other textiles in heavy use, inspired by century-old Japanese textiles.

On a cloudy afternoon I visited Stephen, the owner of Sri Threads — a showroom specializing in antique Japanese folk textiles, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn — and pretty much touched every piece of fabric I could. There are kimonos and other clothing, futon covers and weavings, painted and indigo-dyed textiles beautifully worn with use, layered over time with careful repairs of patches and stitches. The repaired textiles with many patches and stitches are called boro, or ragged, and are often built up of many layers of stitched-together cloth and scattered patches as needed. At the time of repair they were not meant to be an aesthetic enhancement, but purely functional and even hidden.

Instead of throwing away a torn piece of clothing, or paying the tailor to hide the repair, I love the idea of seeing a flaw as a chance to playfully enhance the beauty of the garment. Using these Japanese textiles as inspiration, here are three ways to easily repair your own clothing and textiles, with minimal materials and fuss, in tried and true methods. The stitches are very easy, a running stitch or backstitch, and you can be as loose or precise as you like with the stitching — as you can see in the various example pieces. —Jessica

Fabric to repair
Sashiko Thread (embroidery thread or thick thread will work, too)
Darning or sashiko needle
Fabric scraps (denim and canvas make great patches)
Fusible webbing (optional)
Chalk wheel and ruler (optional)

Patching with fabric

Mended futon cover with a pink safflower dyed patch and hemp stitching. Late 19th century.

Patches in a Sakiori, ragweave, work coat. Early- to mid-20th century.

A boro futon cover featuring chrysanthemums dyed with a stencil-resist technique called a Katazome. Late 19th century.

Often made from scraps of old cloth, an Obi shin was placed inside of an obi, a kimono sash, to add fullness.

Mixing patterns and adding color is a great way to immediately transform your textiles. As the examples above show, you can patch on top of your fabric, use several patches in layers, or patch from the reverse side, so that the patch peeks through. I chose to patch from the reverse. First, I cut the frayed edges of the tear. Then, secured the reverse patch with sewing pins and stitched an outline of running stitches around the tear. For added strength, stitch rows of running stitches up and down the patch as well and you can also add another layer of fabric. I added a layer of sturdy canvas behind the striped linen fabric. Start and end threads with a knot. Cut around the patch to remove excess fabric.

Note: If you’re worried about fraying fabric edges, you can also use fusible webbing to adhere your fabric patch with an iron and then stitch over, dab a bit of Fray Check on the fabric edges, or machine sew around the patch. For a more authentic look and stronger patch, leave the full square patch intact, don’t trim it and hand sew or machine sew around the outline.


Decorative reinforced stitching

Mended child’s jacket. Early 20th century.

Mended trousers. Combination of hand and machine sewing. Early 20th century.

Farmer’s or fisherman’s jacket with sashiko stitching. Early- to mid-20th century.

In areas of greatest wear to garments, like the elbow or knees, adding tightly placed rows of running stitches helps to reinforce the fabric, adding lots of strength and a killer decorative pattern. Add a patch underneath the worn or torn area before stitching. I used a thick canvas. Mark rows with a chalk wheel and ruler. You can also eyeball this, which I did in between rows in an alternating pattern of stitches.


Patching with solid stitching

This sakabukuro, or sake bag, was once used to filter sake. Great pressure is applied during the process and heavily used bags often required mending. To strengthen the bags, the cotton sacks are dyed with green persimmon tannin, or kaki shibu.

First, create a patch of fabric a bit larger than the tear. I used a thick canvas again. I wanted my stitches to be the focus so the patch is on the reverse side of the garment adding strength, but out of sight. Then I used the backstitch in tightly packed rows to create an area of solid stitches. Leave your thread tails long when beginning a length of thread, so you can weave your beginning and ending threads underneath your stitches for a seamless finish, without knots. Cut excess fabric around the patch.


Thanks to Stephen at Sri Threads for sharing these amazing pieces with us! I highly recommend visiting Sri (pictured below) if you get a chance, so many beautiful, inspiring pieces to explore.


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  • Such a beautifully photographed and informative article! My mother taught me to embroider as a child, and I’ve been thinking of mending a few things with decorative stitching. This article is perfect timing for some inspiration!

  • What a brilliant story. Thank you for sharing. I think the mending makes the pieces more beautiful.

  • Thanks Jessica! I’ve a sweater that I can’t part with that’s worn at the elbows. This is a great way to extend its life.

  • I have an old sweater that I love but has been slowly falling apart over the last few years so I use it as my “mending sampler.” Thanks for giving me a few new techniques for next rips / holes!

    Pretty soon there won’t be much left of the original fabric…

  • This is wonderful and really useful! I have a huge stack of clothes waiting to be mended and have been needing some inspiration to tackle this project.

  • This is such an awesome post! I love how it blends DIY with learning something new/culturally specific about a certain craft. Now if only some clothing of mine could rip a little so I could try this out :)

  • I just (today) ripped my most favorite pair of jeans… so this post came at just the right moment! I am going to go through my scraps of fabric to find something fun to use to repair them. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • A wonderful article! It makes so much sense on a planet with dwindling resources to make everything last longer…..especially if it can be done beautifully!

  • Breathtaking stunning and fundamental my belief in how I choose to live love and adore thank you

  • The founding mothers, grandmothers, sisters and daughters of the United States as well as European countries have been mending clothing for centuries also and when an article could no longer be patched or darned it was turned into quilts with other fabrics from worn clothing. But thank you for the article bringing back the idea that just because it maybe worn you can still salvage it in some way.

    • Sally

      Yes, their thriftiness and skill is also worthy of much praise. These particular techniques are more common in Japanese textiles, which is why we referenced that here.


  • This is so beautiful!! I almost wish I had more holes to mend now!!!! I am definitely going to apply this inspiration to my own items!!!

  • Finally a bit of sewing that doesn’t involve the sewing machine which I can’t use and never had the time to learn!
    It is very interesting I will give it a go and make a cushion for the sofa even if jeans doesn’t have the same deep shades of blue of Japanese textiles.

  • I love the unique design elements and techniques you’ve featured to help mend clothing. Green Issues by Agy did a similar post and I loved the embroidery featured in it. These are great inspirations!

  • Great post!! I visited with Stephen in his glorious shop about 3 years ago. I, too, could not keep my hands off all the fabrics. He had some boxes with scraps of material that I really enjoyed going through and purchased some of them. They’re still waiting for something to sew them onto.

  • Love, Love, Love this idea! I have a 2 yr old granddaughter and think this would be so cute to do this on purpose on some secondhand clothing! I am going to try this.

  • Thank you for all these wonderful ideas! Yes, so inspiring for artfully reinventing and carrying the value and preciousness forward!

  • We are such a throw-away society – thank you for such a great reminder of a beautiful way of saving clothing. I only just learned of this method, it is beautiful, thank you for the detailed photos. I will work on learning how to incorporate it into my own clothing and those for my family.


  • As a tailor, I’m always looking for lovely lasting ways to mend and patch clothing, especially with vintage. I agree, careful mending should be celebrated as it adds to the wisdom of the garment x x

  • Have been in a lifetime of love with MENDING. Also sewing alterations gives My stash of scraps a big boost. Boro has inspired my passion that I use in Repairing & Restoring quilts and other comforts. This information and photos are wonderful ThankYou. Velia Gutierrez Lauerman, 108 North street, Hudson, Michigan, 49247 USA

  • I’ll look for some adult courses about embroidering or stitching here in Virginia. Though there are courses on YouTube but I prefer with interaction. Boro inspired me to take a new hobby and I love patches of blue or indigo this is more sustainable than buying new clothes every other year or so. This is an eye opening.

  • Thank you for this article, it is time to patch the knees in a few pairs of jeans for the children and this looks like a fun way to do it!

  • There’s a similar notion with pottery called kintsugi. Look it up, worth a read!

  • You should also check out the amazing work of Katrina Rodabaugh. She teaches, lives and breathes the movement. Taking her sashiko class last Fall was inspiring and has changed my entire approach to worn fabrics.


  • I just sighed a big sigh of relief after reading this amazing article. Last year my favourite (and almost never worn shirt) was “ruined” when I left it in a plastic bag too close to a heating unit. The plastic melted and I thought it was all over–but not any more! I will now use the “boro” method to repair and enhance. Thank SO much!