Repair and rehabilitation of sheets

I've repaired and rehabilitated bedsheets for years but how many people do that anymore?

However, good quality sheets are very expensive so it's a good idea to make them last.
Poor quality sheets are still expensive and eventually, you can't repair them anymore.

Some background: I've got sheet sets that are decades old. The oldest sheets are, not surprisingly, the best quality. Sheets my mother bought at Sears -- before the days of fitted sheets! -- still look good despite being slept on and washed for forty years. That heavy percale lasts and lasts.

Sheets that I bought within the last ten years have worn so thin, they're ripping.

I repair or repurpose sheets various ways.

Patching. When you patch a sheet, it's best to use another used sheet, preferably the 'good' portions of an otherwise useless fitted sheet. In my experience, it doesn't work as well to patch cotton sheets with regular dress fabric or quilting fabric. The patches don't seem to hold up as well. Flannel does work on flannel sheets but new cloth sewn on old cloth doesn't wear evenly.

You'll normally only patch the fitted sheet as they get far more wear than the top sheet. Sew the patch on the fashion face side, to further protect the wear spot. You can attach the patch with iron-on adhesive like WonderUnder or just pin it in place. I don't fold under the raw edges. I pull threads and trim until the raw edges are clean and perfectly on grain. I use my sewing machine's darning stitch and go around the patch's edges twice. Then I darn over and over and over, around and around and around the worn spot. I have to flip the sheet in the machine to do this; first the patch and then work from the underside. Make the patch much bigger so you're sewing it to undamaged cloth.

Turning flat sheets into fitted sheets: Sheets in ye olden days were only flat. This evened the wear since you could alternate which sheet you put on the bottom of the bed. That said, fitted sheets are really nice and easier to use. To turn a flat sheet into a fitted sheet, you'll need a sheet that is large enough to cover the mattress top, the thickness of the mattress all around and an additional six inches all the way around. Thus, the sheet will cover the top, sides, and have enough fabric to hug the underside of the mattress. Measure the volunteer sheet carefully. If it's not long enough to cover head to foot plus wrap around, you'll have to make it bigger by splicing in another sheet section. Once the rectangle of fabric is large enough, cut a square out of each corner the thickness of the mattress plus the overage. Sew this seam, boxing the corners. Then, turn under a 1/2 hem all the way around. Insert 3/8 elastic the length of the mattress times two. Pin but don't sew. Test fit. Is the elastic long enough? Too long? Adjust as needed.

Repairing fitted sheet elastic. Rip open whatever hem the sheet has and discard the dead elastic. Iron the raw edges flat so you salvage every inch. At this point, you can splice in extra fabric to make the fitted sheet fit better. Otherwise, sew a casing all around the raw edge with extra-wide bias tape. Measure the elastic, insert, pin, and test fit. Adjust the elastic as needed.

Turning unneeded flat sheets into pillowcases. Easy! Measure an existing pillowcase and add enough fabric for hems and the turnover at the pillowcase opening. Using chalk and a yardstick, mark your sheet, cut and sew.

Turning flat sheets. Sheets used to be turned to even the wear since no one sleeps on the part that wraps around the mattress. Rip open all the hems and press them flat. Tear the sheet right down the middle. Resew the old sides together, leaving the worn out center as the new sides of the sheet. Rehem and finish the seam down the middle so it doesn't unravel.

Turning fitted sheets. This only works downward. That is, you can make a larger fitted sheet fit a smaller bed. Rip out the elastic and iron everything flat. Measure the sheet very carefully. You'll be cutting out a strip from top to bottom in the middle of the sheet; the most worn out portion. Resew the two halves together, finishing the raw edge. Resew the casing with bias tape, add elastic, test fit, and adjust as needed.

I can't be the only person who repairs sheets.

Does anyone else do this? What do you do?

lathechuck's picture

My experience has been that as a sheet ages, it wears so evenly that there's not much strength left in the fabric around the tear, to which a patch could be applied. I save the edges to use as shop rags, but we actually just don't wear out a set of sheets very often - 10/20 years?

I sew on really big patches; two feet by two feet sometimes. It depends on the sheet.

Why make big patches? What is your thinking on this.

I'm rebuilding the sheet's structural integrity. The sheets don't just have a hole. They can have large worn-out portions that are almost transparent. If I patch only the hole in the middle, the sheet will tear apart at the edges of the patch.

Thus, a much larger patch that covers the hole and the worn area around the hole until I reach sheet fabric that's in good enough shape to go it alone.

I don't do this with some sheets. They're of such poor quality fabric that the entire sheet goes bad at once. But better sheets, like from Land's End or L.L.Bean, are worth patching this way. I'll get a few more years of wear out of them before they fail completely and turn into shop rags.

Nice. Are you using similar aged fabric or new? I can imagine that you could find good used sheets in a thrift store to use for patch material.

I use used fabric. I save the good portions of old sheets for this purpose. I don't need much and I don't care if the patch doesn't match. I do match flannel to flannel and percale to percale.

Used fabric wears at about the same rate as what I'm sewing it to. If I used new cloth, the patch would be still be good after the rest of the sheet becomes shop rags but I wouldn't be able to reuse the patch sewn on a patch.

Goodwill Bargain Bins are the best place for large quantities of used sheets.
They sell by the pound. You have to root around but it's amazing what you can find.

I bought lots of white sheets and used them to line all my drapes. Drapery lining should always be white or cream so they look correct from the street and reflect sunlight. Percale is tightly woven and works a treat as drapery lining.

I have repaired my store bought ones as they need it. I have also made my own flat sheets (I am not a fan of fitted sheets as they don't wear like flat ones and are harder to repair. Every now and they I can pick up extra wide flannel or non-flannel quilt backing fabric at a really good price and that is what I usually make my sheets from. However If the price and quality of the fabric is right, I will use narrow fabric and just put a seam down the middle. Works like a charm.

I tried repairing a fitted sheet with a patch from an old t-shirt once. Not a success, the sheet was thin over much of its area and it ripped again within a month. That sheet is now masks, a lightweight tote bag, and a patch on a different sheet. The latter was a sheet that was still in good condition and looks like it managed to get snagged in one spot with a tiny tear. I'm not sure how it will do long-term, as I only patched that a few weeks ago.

Speaking of easy and obvious fixes... a while ago I had a fitted sheet die thoroughly, and was thinking I needed to buy a new set of sheets. Then I realized that I had two non-fitted sheets from different sets. Problem solved, if you don't mind that one was green and the other blue and neither are fitted. That lasted at least a couple of years before one of the sheets died. And I ended up using the surviving sheet last week to repair a quilt that was completely falling apart.

My repairs have a bad habit of being inexpert and rather messy, but they have saved me a fair bit of money over the years, and I've gotten better at them over time.