A Stitch in Time- Part 1, by a Florida Mom

On a practical note, are you including a basic sewing repair kit in your preparations? Whether you’re aiming towards self-sufficiency or a large scale disaster, there are some basic tools that you need to keep on hand. I’m talking about more than a few pre-threaded needles, a button, and two safety pins! I keep a basic sewing repair kit with the above items in my emergency bag, but my supplies at home provide a multi-purpose repair kit, as well as supplying what will be needed to make and repair clothing and pack items. Are you ready to repair, reuse, recycle, and re-design?

Basic Repairs

What needs repairs?

  • Backpacks and straps
  • Tents and tarps
  • Leather items- belts, shoes
  • Clothing- patches, buttons, zippers, rips and tears

Backpacks and Straps

Depending on the construction, this could require carpet or nylon thread and a heavy duty needle; or, if a nylon webbing strap pulled through, you’ll need a butane lighter (or a candle) and pliers to melt and crimp the end before re-stitching. You can re-stitch through the same holes if they haven’t pulled through.

Tents and Tarps

Again, you’ll need heavy duty carpet or nylon thread and a heavy duty needle and a thimble. Tent zippers can be replaced and resewn by hand. (I’ve done it, but it’s not easy.). Seams can be re-stitched; grommets can be reinforced and redone. If your tarp grommet fails, reinforce it, and put in another one. If you have a heavy duty machine that will sew the seams or zipper, make sure the tent is brushed as clean as possible, or hosed down and dried. Sand in your sewing machine can ruin it.

Leather Items

Those with animals that use halters and saddles probably have plenty of tools around. For the rest of us, a good multi-size hole punch is great for leather belts and straps that need another hole. (Are you anticipating losing weight or gaining weight in a grid down situation?) Do you have a leather needle, awl, slotted punch, lacing, and/or waxed thread to repair shoe/boot stitching and strap problems?


Children grow. Seams and stress points wear out; damage happens; and holes will appear. Socks get holes, buttons break and fall off, and zippers fail. Are you ready to repair by machine or by hand?

What is needed in a home maintenance/repair kit?

  • Sewing scissors. Get them in embroidery size and also fabric scissors. Never use them on paper; the wood fiber will dull them quickly. Include a scissor sharpener, if one fits your scissors.
  • Needles. For basic sewing, have multiple sizes; and yarn needles, both sharp and blunt.
  • Home repair needles. This is an assortment of heavy duty needles of different shapes and sizes for repairing items in your home. (Some are labeled: curved mattress, carpet, packing, sails, upholstery, bookbinding, tapestry, …)
  • Extra machine needles of different types and sizes.
  • Thimble. This is especially useful for heavy duty work!
  • Thread. Have basic thread in neutral colors for repairing rips and tears and sewing on buttons; monofilament thread or light fishing line, floss, and heavy upholstery/carpet thread, waxed thread for leather and shoe repair.
  • Pins and safety pins. Obtain these in multiple sizes (including diaper pins).
  • Grommets. You’ll also need the grommet application tool for each size grommet you have, plus a hammer , hole punch, scissors, X-Acto knife, interfacing or extra fabric for reinforcing, and a 6” piece of 2”x4” wood for a work surface
  • Basic sewing book. When you repair items, it helps to know the steps that were taken for the basic construction. If you can’t figure it out from the directions the seams run and which ones overlap, you’ll need a book with basic instructions. Most books will cover basic home decorating instructions as well as how to follow patterns for clothing construction.
  • Ruler/yardstick/tape measure.
  • Seam ripper. This makes the work much faster than picking stitches out with scissors. There’s also less damage to the fabric than just yanking it apart and hoping the thread is weaker than the fabric.

Planning Ahead

Consider having a treadle machine cabinet, and a machine (straight stitch Singer) that works (and fits the cabinet), plus extra belts. The older sewing machine models included instructions for adjustments, oiling, and lubrication. (Newer machine models aren’t even made to be opened easily!) Don’t forget tools and supplies: small screwdrivers, oil, lubrication (for gears), and bobbins that fit your machine.

Clothing Repair

When repairing or patching an item, make sure the fabric you apply to cover any holes has been washed and won’t shrink again. Iron-on patches don’t seem to work as well now as they used to, so after using a hot iron on them, I stitch around the edges to reinforce. Patching seems to be needed more with knees and pockets. To reinforce knee fabric, rip out the simplest seam (not the doubled-over flat fell seam) on the jeans, so you can sew on a flatter surface; add a patch layer; then re-stitch the seam. When you’re repairing a pocket, you’ll need to re-inforce the area behind the pocket first. Then try to match your repair stitching on the other (not torn) pockets, so it looks like style more than repair. Speaking of pockets, add a new one to cover a split side seam!

Sock Darning

Does anyone remember how to darn (repair) socks? If you get that desperate, use a bottle inside the sock to provide the shape, then weave your thread/yarn back and forth across the hole from side to side to maintain the shape, catching the loops on either side before they fray more. (Every home used to have a sock darning tool. They look like maracas, but they’re solid!)

Zipper Replacement/Repair

Zippers are usually one of the first items sewn, especially in pants or a skirt, because it’s done while the fabric is still flat, and it’s usually reinforced with a bar tack at the bottom. This means the item must be deconstructed carefully to get to the area. There is no easy way to replace one; hand sewing is one option since it’s hard to fit constructed pieces under a machine needle, but the look will be dramatically different. In considering replacement, one must weigh the time spent versus the value of the item. On the other hand, a zipper with teeth missing at the bottom can be stitched together above the damage if it still allows body access when the length is shortened.

Securing Stitches

To secure your stitches by hand, if you don’t think a knot (hidden between the layers) will hold sufficiently, start out several inches and sew back to your starting point and then forward. At the end, sew back over your stitching again (just like using the reverse/backstitch on a sewing machine to lock your stitches).

Re-Use and Hand-Me-Downs

When you read about colonial living, you hear that they “turned” (or replaced) cuffs and collars to extend the life of a garment; remade the father’s old coat to fit the son; and passed on a lot of hand-me-downs. Any pieces left over were made into quilts or rugs. Extra buttons were never thrown out but were saved for the next garment. That’s why Grandma always had a button jar in her sewing basket.

Recycle worn clothing into area rugs. In a grid-down situation with no vacuum power, carpet will be pulled up and throw rugs (which can be shaken out or beaten) will be the norm. They can be made from woven fabrics or even old t-shirts cut in strips and braided together and stitched or crocheted.


Have you ever visited St Augustine, FL? The period clothing was simple for women: a (neckline) drawstring loose garment (similar to peasant blouse styling) with long sleeves, and a vest or jumper with a lace up front. The garment could be worn as a nightgown, or with the vest/jumper, for the daytime. It also adjusted sizes easily for all stages of pregnancy, and the drawstring made it suitable for nursing. The sleeves could be rolled up or worn down. I’m sure we’d all want more options than the garment offers, but with several garments (one to wash and more to wear) you’d have enough. Of course, aprons were also worn for animal chores and kitchen work to keep the clothing clean longer.

Items For Advanced Sewing

For more advanced sewing, you’ll need:

  • Dressmaker scissors and tailor shears (for working with heavy fabric/canvas or layers)-
  • Rotary cutter, clear rulers, extra blades, and mat. (As long as I have sharp blades, I will use them! They are such a time saver, and the fabric stays flat.)
  • French/fashion curve. (These have built–in curves that work for re-drawing armholes, crotch lines, and neckline curves.)
  • Sewing notions, such as dressmaker pins, tape measure, marking pencil and pencil sharpener, tweezers, pattern weights (2-3” washers work well), elastic (1” and ¼” at least), and closure items.
  • Interfacing. This is very important in collars and cuffs; learn how to use the variety available
  • Paper. This can be newsprint or grid paper for tracing patterns
  • Extra machine needles of different types and sizes for basic woven, knit, denim, and leather.
  • Seam ripper. You rip what you sew! My sewing improved immensely once I decided to rip out mistakes and re-sew instead of giving up on an item.

A collection of multi-size basic patterns will help immensely, especially for children and basic dress, shirt, and pant patterns in several sizes. Don’t cut up the multi-size patterns. Instead, trace them onto newsprint or other paper before using.

See Also:

SurvivalBlog Writing Contest

This has been part one of a two part entry for Round 73 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:

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  1. Excellent advice. I would add that a person who wants an even more durable repair with straps or leather could use wire to as the binding material. Stronger and if the holes are pre-drilled, don’t even require a needle to thread though them. A small pair of jewelry pliers does make this much easier to accomplish.

    Thanks for the article.

  2. Good stuff. And it’s important to start sewing by hand or treadle machine now if you don’t have experience.
    We have lived in our bug out location for 3 years using everyday the skills we’ve learned. My wife has used only a treadle machine for two years. She’s gotten pretty good.

  3. Every Sewing Kit should include a Sewing Awl https://www.amazon.com/AWL-SEWING-KIT-STEWART-MfrPartNo/dp/B0049W6XRE/ref=sr_1_1?s=sporting-goods&ie=UTF8&qid=1510929614&sr=8-1&keywords=SEW110-BRK/?tag=survivalcom-20 It’s the easiest and fastest way for small repairs on leather, tarp, and other heavy material. Every family member above the age of ten should learn how to sew with an awl. Young teens really enjoy mastering this skill. Sewing awls have even been used by DIY veterinarians to stitch up cuts on cattle and horses.

  4. If you want your original pattern to last, buy tracing paper and copy pattern to it. You may have to tape several pieces together of the tracing paper. lay tracing paper on top and copy all to the tracing paper. And it stores easier than paper, but don’t give the paper up.
    Make sleeve garters. It will help keep sleeve up even when rolled.
    Learn all the hand sewing you can. As the ones on a low income budget can’t afford a treadle. French seems will be time well taken up to make a garment stronger.
    Do not loan your scissors out. Others, even good friends, do not take the same care as you do.
    collect as much as you can now.

  5. Great advice!! I buy a lot of my sewing stockpile from a store similar to Goodwill. I have found bags of zippers for $1, lots of partially used thread spools, needles, etc., for pennies. Also consider fabric glue!

    1. For heavier fabrics like canvas a sailors palm is invaluable,you can’t be strong enough to sew through multiple layers without one(sailed on a sail training ship that hand sewed all the sails,work was inpossible without one).

  6. I would like to play devils advocate when it comes to things like clothing. One only has to visit their local thrift shop to get a picture of the over consumption in our Country. I believe that coupled with the mass die off that inevitability will happen, there wont be any shortages of clothing, blankets, housewares, outdated electronics or children’s toys. They may not be the latest and greatest, or made of your favorite fabric, But you can be sure there will be mountains of outdated and discarded items, and with thinning crowds, the selection goes up.

    We live are a consuming society. and an unhealthy population. when we all start dying off, the selection will go up. yes its a bit of a morbid thought, But I think people will be focused on food, clean water, medical and energy.. the rest is low hanging fruit.

  7. With all the emphasis on high tech this, and night vision that, in the prepper community, it’s almost funny to point out that one of the mandatory components in every soldiers ruck sack, is a small sewing kit.

    We used them often. Even older winter BDU’s would get ripped on woodland patrols, and I can’t imagine how often such a kit would be needed now that much of our clothing and gear is being made in China at the lowest possible price point. Just having a small sewing kit with you might end up being priceless.

  8. I couldn’t agree more: Learn to sew then stock buttons, zippers, scissors, modern thread (not old cotton thread on wooden spools, it will rot), metal snaps and hooks and eyes, bias tape, etc. Browse a fabric store to get an idea of what are needful things. Someone in your group must know how to sew.

    A few years ago, I read the question: Which will last longer after 50 years? A pair of new boots that is saved and stored away or a pair worn frequently, cleaned, taken care of? The answer is neither, they both will rot out or be unwearable due to heat, cold, humidity, bugs, rodents, whatever.

    Maybe we should be growing flax for linen, cotton, raising sheep, learning to tan hides. In 50 years, the survivors will need more fabric.

  9. Two things. First – I repeat the recommendation for a sewing awl. You can do a lot more with one than you might think – just not as fast as a good machine. Second – I was shocked when I recently hit the local Hobby Lobby to get some “carpet thread” and nobody – even the supposed manager for that section – had never heard of it and had no idea what I meant, even after I explained that I needed to repair some gear. I ended up with the strongest thread they had, but it wasn’t carpet thread or anything close. If you find what you need, buy plenty.

  10. I do not like the modern sewing machines that are made of plastic and have a billion stitch options loaded into an internal computer. I shop thrift stores for the old metal machines and take them to a local repairman, which are getting harder and harder to find. I may need to learn how to repair them myself. The old metal machines may or may not even have a zig zag, but they are work horses. They will last for a very long time and take lots of abuse. I even have a treadle machine. I also know how to hand sew and have the materials to do so.

  11. Good stuff. Suggestion: keep a supply of 4″ high quality Zip-ties (aka Cable-ties) in your home maintenance/ repair kit and elsewhere, as an alternative or addition to the wire suggested by “anonymous”. Especially when time is limited, by using the awl you suggested to open or widen holes for the zip-tie to pass through you can make sturdy, long-lasting repairs in just moments. They might not make for the most beautiful or artistic repairs, but zip-ties work well and are relatively quite strong. A supply of 1000 of the 4″ black ones costs under $10 on Amazon, that’s about a penny apiece, and you’ll think they’re priceless when you need them. Stash a dozen of them in your sewing kit and wherever else you think you might need to effect a temporary repair.

  12. Mom, I just posted this on my facebook and added that if it wasn’t for my required 8th grade Home Economics class I would never have started sewing. That wonderful lady was Mrs. Cleaver. My second teacher was the Marine Corps and having to fix uniform blow outs and gear hiccups. Love this article and wish the link for part 2 did not take me back to part one.!!

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