Clothing Alteration Hacks 101

Two words: Sustainable fashion.

In the world of climate change and progressive environmental justice, sustainable fashion is called into action. This is a movement which advocates a system of products and processes to shift towards greater ecological integrity as well as social justice. Though this is a movement that addresses the whole  fashion industry and its system from the social to cultural to ecological and financial systems, it also considers fashion in the lens of the brands and consumers.

For brands, sustainable fashion is the creation and design of clothing items that is most considerate of both humanity and the environment, careful not to leave any negative footprint along the way. Sustainable fashion on the consumer side or your side means knowing the philosophies and the causes of your purchases, that is mindful thinking where your money goes because it’s not just simply a garment you’re buying. When you buy an item, you buy and support the concept and the process that goes with it. At the same time, it’s knowing if an item is really necessary to purchase or just an addition to the tons in your closet you can’t really let go. 

Clothing alteration, the process of taking clothes to a new fit, recycling pieces to recreate another piece, and amping up clothes to ride with the trend, is one of the sustainable fashion hacks that we can use in combating the world of fast fashion consumption. 

What is fast fashion?

Fast fashion is what we call the linear fashion model of buying, wearing, and quick discardment of clothing which deliberately impacts the people and the planet’s resources in a negative way. This is the production of clothes that are sold at increasingly affordable prices to consumers encouraging people to wear a garment only a few times. Not to mention that there are also shorter fashion cycles. It’s just like how most gadget companies operate wherein they release new models in a gap of a few months or years urging people to ride the trend and discard a rather very functional phone for a new model which basically does the same thing. 

Fast fashion statistics in the economic level shows an approximate doubling of clothing production in just over fifteen years which was driven by the growing middle-class size as well as the increased per capita sales in developed economies. In numbers, if we put value into the prematurely discarded clothes promoted by fast fashion, we’re looking at $400 billion.

In terms of societal impacts, although increased clothing production had spurred the growth of many developing countries, it has also been a road that promoted labor exploitation. For example, women garment workers from Bangladesh only make a mere $96 a month which is 3 times to 5 times less of what they should be making in order to live a decent life. In addition, this rapid consumption of apparel to catch up with fashion cycles has also forced child labor in the fashion industry and evidenced in many countries like Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Turkey, Vietnam and tht’s just naming a few. Fast fashion has resulted in an industry that caters to the profits before human welfare. 

And in the context of fast fashion, we can never skip the discussion about its environmental impact. A few of the negative impacts of fast fashion is that there is an excessive textile production causing an overwhelming increase in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emissions which damage the planet. Did you know making one pair of jeans produces just as much greenhouse gases compared to a car driving more than 80 miles. Aside from that, there’s also the effect on the planet’s water resources. For that one cotton shirt you’re wearing, production needed 2,700 liters of water equal to two and a half year’s worth of drinking needs for an average person.

And dumping your garments especially those made from non-biodegradable fabrics after just a few times? They’re just going to sit through in a landfill for up to 200 years. Technically, they’re still “alive”’ years after you. 

What is the role of clothing alteration in sustainable fashion?

Clothing alteration plays a major role in slow fashion which is obviously the opposite of fast fashion. It’s an environmentally-friendly way encouraging lesser production of new items. There’s not an actual consequence here as this can actually control your spending by sticking with what you have for a long time. You can always go with the basics and if for some reason that you want to change your style, you can first explore altering your clothes to suit your needs before actually dumping it. 

This also plays out well in minimalism. Since you’re sticking with what you have and that is the basics, you’re also going for less in the closet. Again, learning how to alter your clothes can help you build a sustainable fashion closet and also sparks your creativity. 

Clothing Alteration Hacks

Clothing alteration can be a very fun activity and it also helps us save money instead of buying new clothes every time there is a hole or a seam you can’t just seem to stitch. Check out these tips and hacks to help you out on your adventure!

Altering clothes without the knowledge of at least some basic stitches is like going to a war without a gun. Though there are a lot of DIY clothing alteration techniques that do not require stitching, it still pays to know a bit. You will never know when it comes handy! 

Back Stitch

As they say, if you have zero knowledge on sewing, learn this stitch to get you through. A back stitch is a hand utility stitch which is used to strongly and permanently attach two pieces of fabric. Not only is it a strong hand stitch for repair, it can also be used in embroidery stitching to outline shapes and add fine details. This is done in a “two-steps forward, one step back” fashion neatly worked in a straight line and easily done in even-weaev fabric to ensure regularity. 

Running Stitch

This is one of the simplest stitches and is often used to join fabric at the seam. As a utility stitch, it is used in gathering fabric by making up a line of stitches in equal lengths. In embroidery, running stitches are used to outline and fill. 

Bast Stitch

This stitch is a running stitch except that the stitches are longer and is mainly used to gather fabric and pin. 

Whip Stitch

This stitch is mainly used for hemming which is one of the most used stitches when altering clothes. It’s a simple sewing stitch wherein a needle is passed in and out of the fabric resulting in a chain of stitches encircling the fabric at the edge.

Blind Stitch

This is one of the popular invisible stitches used to join two fabrics together without showing the stitch thread by hiding it under the folded edges. This technique is often used when attaching pockets, facings, and trimmings to a garment.  

Repairing Old Clothing

It sucks to have your favorite items get dumped just because of one tiny stain or a worn out button. To make fashion sustainable, it has to start from repairing what we already have and turning these into clothes that we can comfortably use in our daily lives. 

Holes and Seams 

Sometimes, we encounter shirts that through constant washing has deteriorated and has caused the fabric to tear and open up holes. Before repairing, assess the fabric type and thickness and the size of the hole so that you can determine what kind of needle to use and the length and color of the thread.

For the thread color, you can choose between getting a color closest to the fabric color or a color that complements it well. Denim, leather, and multilayered cloth will need sharp and heavy needles so that you can pierce through garment with ease. Lighter needles can be used for cotton, nylon, silk, and other thin fabrics. To measure the length of thread, lay your thread over the torn area and you can use that as reference. Put an allowance of at least 10 inches to the actual length. Take note though that thicker fabrics will need twice or thrice the length as you need to make the stitch stronger to repair the hole.

For the seam, common occurrences are holes in between or torn seam thread. To repair, turn the garment inside out and iron the fabric to make sure that it’s on its actual length – not stretched or shrunk. Pin the fabrics then start doing a basting stitch to close it. There are times that the seam hole is larger and converging the fabric to stitch will cause unnecessary tightness around the area. For this kind, choose a same type of fabric to cover the hole and stitch it through. 


If the stain covers a large area, you can opt to dye it. There are plenty of tie-dyeing techniques to choose from depending on the type of stain and the fabric. 

You can also go creative and cut the stained part into a nice shape of your choice and cover it with a lace fabric. This way, you’re putting in a new style to your rather boring item. 

Color Restoration

Through a continuous washing process, fabrics can thin out causing it to fade. Most of these shirts could be your graphic tees that look too old to wear again. But hope is not lost, try adding half cup of salt to a drum of water after adding detergent and use it to restore your shirt.

And of course, there’s the ever issue of whites. White shirts are basic shirts that are good to keep around your closet and can be easily matched and styled. To restore your whites, combine four liters of water with one cup of baking soda. Drop your white shirt in and let it soak. And after a while, your clothes will feel fresh and new again. 

Shrunken Cotton

When a cotton shirt feels a little too tight, don’t go over and dump it just as fast. You can “upsize” it by soaking your shirt into a solution of 2 tablespoons of baby shampoo or conditioner and warm water then leaving it for 30 minutes. Afterwards, place it flat on a towel then roll it up and then lay it flat again to dry. Or if the shirt isnot yet to tight, you can try stretching them after washing. 

Refitting Clothes

You shouldn’t adjust your clothes. Your clothes should adjust to you. When it comes to refitting  or altering clothes to fit your size, it does not necessarily mean that you have to sew. Some can be answered with simple techniques and tools

If you’re having a problem with your jeans feeling a little too tight, try the elastic band technique wherein you loop the elastic band over the button then through the hole and then looping it back again to the button. Although this doesn’t seem so nice, if it’s covered down, it’s fine. After all, you’re giving yourself half an inch more to breathe. If for some time, the pants still don’t fit, you can use its fabric to repurpose it into something else. 

If your issue is loose pants, this can be easily fixed with safety pins. Just remember to balance out the pull of fabric and not adjust it to one side only especially with thick fabric jeans. 

If your dress feels a little too tight for your current size, depending on the type of dress, you can try opening up the seams and adjusting the stitching or add a fabric to line to make it bigger. You can choose between using a similar-colored fabric so that the adjustment is not visible or try to be fun and creative and use a different style. 

If your shirt is too long and you want to put in some attitude into it, you can try cutting it into a crop top. Don’t cut all the way at first because it’s better to do it gradually than end up with a super short top you can’t use now. You may also want to get rid of the sleeves or cut a deeper U line if the shirt has a high neckline. 

Recreating/Repurposing Clothes

This is where creativity takes its role. You can do many sorts of things to your old boring shirts and make them look new and fun.  

Add embellishments to your old denim pants or jacket by sewing patches or embroidery as design. You can try from floral to monograms to design. You can also use fabric paint to up your classic pants by adding some Van Gogh or sunflower painting to the pockets or the whole pants if you’re feeling it. You can also add some zippers to the side of your shirt or pants to add some style.

You can recreate an old shirt to a new and fun shirt by using iron-on transfers which can be bought in craft stores. There are tons of hacks to transfer designs. You can check out tik tok if you want to know more. 

You can also add some flair to your shirt by cutting vertical strips into the entire bottom of the shirt. Most fringe shirts have a fringeline just above the natural waistline. If you’re not so keen on showing some skin you can opt for a lower cut.

A popular repurposing of clothes is creating a dress out of a men’s button down shirt. You can cut off the sleeves entirely or just cut down a part of it to expose your shoulders.  Put on a belt to tighten it around the waist and you’re good. 

Off-shoulder tops are popular casual wear and you can repurpose an old button down shirt to one by cutting off the collar going all the way around the neck and then trim the hole to your desired size and how “off” you want it to go. You can sew in an elastic band to make it more fitting. 

You can also bleach or die your favorite clothing items to rebrand them. One quick fix is by splatter method wherein you splatter bleach on the surface. This one is good for denim items as it creates one artsy effect. Another popular recreation is tie-dying your white or light colored clothing to colorful ones. 

If you’re into drawing, you can also use bleach pens to draw different patterns or write some calligraphy onto your shirt. Your pick. Make sure to not use light-colored clothing or white as the design won’t really show. After drawing you can let it sit for a few minutes or hours depending on how bright you want the design and also the color of the shirt. Also take note to put cardboard or any material inside so that the bleach won’t bleed out to the other side of the shirt.  Rinse your shirt in cold water after the bleach sets.