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Threading the Needle: Garment Repair with Bloggy

It happens to the best of us; you order a new garment from one of your favorite parkour brands (definitely Motus) and during your first outside session in your new gear, you snag on a bit of poorly placed metal, or enjoy a slip and fall, tearing the knees out of your trousers. Money is tight for many of us, and it’s much more difficult to replace garments than it is to repair them. The skills of sewing and mending are largely lost on our generation, despite being an incredibly useful and lucrative pursuit. Thankfully, we all have Bloggy, the parkour seamster, to motivate all of us to learn this crucial skill and set ourselves apart as self-sufficient parkour athletes.

Me: What are the benefits of learning to mend clothing?

Bloggy: I think the main benefits of repairing your clothing are, firstly, increasing the lifespan. You get a garment that you really love, and you have it for a really long time, or you wear it in a way that doesn’t fit the purpose, and you can maintain that garment. You aren’t going to have to replace it as often, you won’t have to spend as much, and you won’t have to consume as much. Also it adds character and history to a piece of clothing. You can look at a repair and know exactly how the initial damage happened, like a tattoo or a scar, it will remind you of something that happened whether it’s good or bad. Clothing can have that same effect, and depending on how you repair it, you can really accentuate that. Sometimes it can totally be just “bish-bash this is working and I can get on with my day,” you know?

Me: What tools are absolutely necessary?

Bloggy: I think the basic tools that you need at the bare minimum are a needle, thread, and depending on the material, maybe some type of adhesive. For waterproof jackets they make this tape that adheres to the jacket material and seals the hole, for shoes I’d recommend glue, but specifically shoe glue which is flexible. Patches as well, which are just cut squares in different patterns and weights of fabric. The shirt I’ve been repairing, I’ve been using a lightweight fabric so that you don’t notice a “stiffening” around the repair area, because otherwise it will drape differently. Which is something you can do on purpose, but I chose not to for this particular shirt. 

Me: Can you break down the basic repair process?

Bloggy: Well, there’s not really a basic process, because it depends on the tear, and the material. But I’ll give you a few examples. Let’s say you’ve got shoes that you love, but the upper and midsole are separating because you’ve been in the rain and the glue has gone a bit funny, I would get a clamp and shoe glue, and abrase the surface that you’re gluing so that the glue sticks, then clamp the shoe into place for 24 hours. With a jacket, a mixture of sewing on a patch, and then maybe a waterproof layer over the top, like a bonding glue. With the shirt I’m repairing, I’ll cut a patch from a fabric that is a similar weight, so that the the fit of the garment doesn’t change too much, then I’ll put that underneath the tear, and tack that down with some stay-stitching (a single line of stitching meant to stabilize the fabric and prevent distortion or stretching), then I’ll start reinforcing the areas. Say there’s a rip on a bit of a right angle, I’ll reinforce the bottom, top, and midpoint of the tear so they don’t spread. Then I’ll do some box-stitches, cross-stitches, and things like that to make it secure. Once I’ve done that, then I’ll flip it inside-out and trim away any excess fabric, so it isn’t flapping around and also so that you don’t feel any of the areas you’ve repaired. You can still see them if you look closely, but it’s quite subtle. Repair isn’t a blanket term, and it can vary depending on anything from the damage, the material you’re repairing, the placement of the tear, etc. I don’t do hand sewing most of the time, partly because I’m shit at it, but also I just can’t do it as well. A sewing machine is mainly what I use, which means that I’ve got to factor in how I repair a garment. Sometimes I have to deconstruct the garment so that I can access the damage and repair it, and then I can work backwards from that. It’s a lot of, “How do I solve this problem that I’ve created?”    

Me: Can tears be repaired without sewing?

Bloggy: Absolutely! I mean arguably you can just stick a bit of duct tape over a broken part of a garment and that would be a repair. Repair, ideally, means that something is fixed and won’t be damaged in the same way again, but also, you could just want it not to fall apart for a certain amount of time. Tape is fine, you can do bonding, where you use a heat glue and iron it on. You can get iron on patches, and I’ve seen people do repairs with just those. During my bike tour, my waterproof jacket delaminated slightly around one of the seams; I took it to a laundromat and used the iron they had there, managed to rebond it and completely patch it up. Now that was technically a failure of the garment, rather than damage caused to it, but I still think it was a successful repair in the field. I really think that, if we’re talking about parkour specifically, then sewing is the way to go in terms of repairs. 

Me: What is the most difficult section of a shirt to repair? What about trousers?

Bloggy: I think it varies, but I like to think of it in terms of friction points. So let’s say you blow out the crotch of a pair of trousers. If you put a patch there, then you’ve added thickness to that point. If those trousers were tight before, they’re only going to feel tighter. Sometimes clothing can’t be repaired, and needs to be upcycled if you can, or harvested for resources essentially. It varies between trousers and shirts. On a shirt, one of the most difficult parts to repair is a rip going down the front or back, because you’d have to add a patch and the shirt would be heavier in the front or back.

Me: How would you reinforce a problem area? For example, trousers that keep tearing at the bottom from being stepped on.

Bloggy: In this instance, you could add vertical lines of webbing or tape to add some tension strength and take some of the strain; instead of putting force through the cross grain of the fabric. You can also adjust the fit of the garment so that the pants don’t drag. I remember like 2010 when people would wear super baggy joggers and the backs of them were all soggy and torn, hahaha gross. I would say to adjust the fit, or you could do what GUP do, and just add a little clip to the front of your shoes. Other problem areas are like shinning and sliding points on trousers. If you’re not too worried about the garment protecting you as much as the garment getting mashed up, you can add a piece of fabric, like an elbow pad, to the front. It adds a little thickness of fabric to provide a layer of protection. And it can look quite clean and cool sometimes, it doesn’t have to look like patchwork repair.  

Me: How would you suggest home tailoring ill-fitting clothes?

Bloggy: For home tailoring, I think the best course of action would be to take your body measurements, compare them to the garment, and then think about what shape you want to address. For example if you’ve got some trousers– this is the first thing I ever did with sewing, I bought some flared Adidas joggers for 50p, and I turned them inside out, and drew a chalk line in a very small amount, from about the knee to the cuff, like a centimeter from each side. It’s very important to take from both sides, otherwise the trousers will bow either out or in, and it’s important that they fall fairly neutral with the line of the leg. I suggest people learn to sew first, to get it right. But you can do something like a “dart” which is a simple way of changing the shape of a garment, and you can undo that dart, or remove the fabric that’s been shifted essentially, completely changing a garment’s fit. 

Me: How can you add character to a garment by mending it?

Bloggy: I think a simple way to add character would be to use contrasting colors, threads, fabrics, or things with graphics even. Let’s say that you’ve got a hoodie, and you do a fucking gnarly dive roll over a fence, and there’s barbed wire that snags and tears the hoodie. You could use some sort of stitching to create a jagged, almost barbed look to the repair that not only makes the hoodie wearable and look cool again, but adds to the storytelling that you create and, at the risk of sounding pretentious, allows your training garments to kind of grow with you. I think it makes it rich, and your connection to that garment is reinforced by those situations. 

Me: Why do you think people avoid learning this skill?

Bloggy: I think a lot of people are put off because of the levels of it. You can dabble and know how to repair something, but sometimes it’s a lot of trial and error, fucking up, and learning to enjoy the process of it rather than focusing on achieving something. Being able to enjoy the process of learning is important just like any skill. I think a lot of people in parkour get that particularly well, because half of the time we are just trying something, and sometimes getting the skill is secondary. I think sometimes there are stigmas around sewing as well. The whole idea of sewing being something your mum used to do is very dated now. I think for anyone getting into it, it is just a case of doing it. It’s easy to get stuck in that, because a lot of the shops that sell sewing supplies are geared for elderly people. Like all the patterns are for “how to make a Labor Day dress,” or, “how to repair and crochet your own mittens.” We want things that are more apt for our generation and our age, and we have to apply the knowledge of sewing to create the garments that we want to see.

Me: How does the ability to mend clothing translate to parkour?

Bloggy: I think the ability to repair parkour clothing as an athlete is great, I mean there’s athletes who need to wear highly polished clothing from working with brands, etc. but sometimes it’s nice to have the skill of sewing, because it translates the story of their parkour through their garments the same way an injury would. Giving athletes the power to repair their clothes is an invaluable skill, especially on the long trips common to our sport. It gives you flexibility and self-sufficiency on the road. It’s an invaluable skill for anyone to have, just to have cadence over your own life and be able to get shit done. I find it quite empowering being able to have a problem and solve it in a very hands-on way. 

I’m sure it’s of no surprise to anyone that I myself am completely ignorant when it comes to garment repair, or sewing of any kind really. But I’ve been inspired by Bloggy, and the other fantastic parkour athletes-turned-designers like Jack Milnes (@garmgoblin), to pry myself away from the constant consumerism of fashion, and work towards living a more sustainable and self-reliant lifestyle. I’m going to learn to sew. I would insist that anyone who wants clothing that speaks to your sport, lasts as long as you make it, and only builds in sentiment and style, make the effort to learn to wield a needle and thread. 

All photos in this article provided courteously by Bloggy himself.