Your sweat pants don’t have to be lazy or boring; dress them up with leather knee patches, secured with basic hand stitching!
Below are a few basic hand stitching techniques that can be used for this type of application, ranging from temporary to more permanent and secure. They also happen to be easy to learn and can get you through life if you’re not looking to invest in a sewing machine. For this project I used the good old cross-stitch, because it’s beautiful and classic…like the Audrey Hepburn of sewing. The cross-stitch also happened to be the go-to stitch throughout my childhood. Surprise-surprise, I often sewed my own clothes and toys as a child.
Basic Running Stitch
- Also called tack sewing or basting, this stitch joins pieces of fabric together less securely than your average stitch. This stitch is used on more temporary applications and is great if you want to apply a leather patch to be easily removed at a later time. Basting is also a very effective way to quickly hem a seam or to secure fabric prior to sewing on a machine.
- To apply a leather patch you will need to pre-punch holes in the leather, then insert the needle at evenly spaced intervals into both layers of the fabric several times (typically half the length of the needle) and then pull needle and thread through.
- Repeat for the next section. This stitch is basically setting the stitches and pulling the thread through in larger sections rather than pulling the entire needle and thread through stitch by stitch.
Basic Back Stitch
- This stitch will closely resemble the straight stitch made by a sewing machine. It is much stronger than a running stitch and is great for applying patches or hand mending clothes.
- To sew on a leather patch, insert the needle through the wrong side of the fabric and bring the needle up through both layers, near the edge of the patch. You will need a good thimble at this point if the leather is not pre-punched!
- Insert the needle back down through the patch and fabric about 1/4 inch to the right and thread it back up 1/4 inch to the left of your starting point. Each stitch overlaps the last by 1/4 inch; this is what creates a stronger seam.
- Repeat for the entire perimeter of the patch. Keep in mind that you can adjust the stitch length longer or shorter than 1/4 inch depending on the size of seam you’re sewing.
- This stitch will take twice the amount of time, however it’s one of the most secure way to apply a leather patch to fabric by hand. It also often requires marking needle points ahead of time (if you’re a perfectionist like me), as uneven crosses will quickly push your hand embroidery into amateur territory. My advice is to do this one right, or don’t do it at all!
- To sew on patches using the cross stitch, first stitch a row of evenly spaced diagonal lines that secure the patch to the fabric. You could technically stop at this step and the patch would be secured to the fabric, however not as decoratively.
- To complete the cross stitch, stitch diagonally back over the first row, using the same holes, creating and “X” pattern as you go. For a consistent and polished seam, the bottom stitches should all slant in one direction and the top stitches in the other direction.
Now that you have the basics covered, get patching with your stitch of choice! As you get used to hand sewing you can challenge yourself with new kinds of stitches, such as the blanket or chain stitch. One way to make this project much easier for any type of hand-stitch, is to pre-mark the stitch holes on the base fabric and pre-punch the stitch holes on the leather. This will not only make the hand stitching go faster, but it will also ensure that the patch stays in perfect placement while sewing. You can punch the stitch holes in the leather using a leather punch tool, but I often run the edge of the patch through my (thread-less) sewing machine to create perfectly uniform holes that are also close to the edge.
Voila! Same old comfortable sweats, with a durable yet fashionable face lift.