How To Help Your Garments Age Gracefully

Antique linen jacket by Oliver Church with hand-sewn buttonholes. Photo / Supplied

With his eponymous label focused on thoughtful and enduring design, traditional methods and a one-off approach to garment-making, Paris-based New Zealander Oliver Church is well-versed in the handwork required to mend and maintain clothing. He also lends his skills to his partner’s secondhand store, Em Archives, which sees him repairing premium and luxury vintage pieces.

An ardent believer in the importance of mending, Oliver sees value in an item that has lived. “Why should worn-in, well-loved, and old garments be appreciated? By holding on to something and taking care of it well (washing, repairing, dyeing) you will inevitably have a garment that is more interesting or original than those bought new,” he tells us from the French capital. “I think it is also important to put value in the things you buy regardless of the price tag.”

Oliver documents the slow, intensive making process of his singular garments on his Instagram being transparent about the amount of labour and love that goes into each one. "Generally speaking, any piece of clothing is the result of a lot of work."

“I can be quite sentimental about certain items of clothing," he admits. "It is also interesting wearing something worn for a long time by someone else and feeling their knees and elbows in a garment. I love workwear and taking the most durable fabrics and seeing how they break down and soften through time and wear.”

However, ensuring your garments reach that stage takes time, care and attention, so Oliver shares some of his tips.

Keep your spare buttons

“I always keep my spares, and as someone who makes clothes, I buy deadstock and antique buttons often. These days brands are generally using a much smaller range of button styles, and it’s easy to find something that passes or is similar to your lost buttons.”

Learn to appreciate imperfection

“There is [beauty in mismatched buttons] and I use a lot of reclaimed buttons in my work. Generally, within the same type of material and size, shell with shell or horn with horn but noticeably different shapes. I tend to keep 4 holes together and 2 holes together. If it’s a nice button, it can be charming or beautiful. I have noticed many luxury brands offering mismatched antique buttons over the last few years.”

Buttonholes need attention too (and can be fixed)

“Like the buttons themselves, sometimes the machines for buttonholes are not kept up to standard and loose buttonhole threads can come undone quite easily. A hand-sewn buttonhole stitch is one of the most simple stitches, and though hand stitching buttonholes takes time, it beats giving up on a garment. If you’re worried about the quality of your hand stitching I can almost guarantee no one will notice it, if you match the colour well. Most people are not looking at your buttons or buttonholes.”

To stop small holes from becoming big ones, be ready to darn anything

“I think it’s good to have a range of different colours and types of yarn and thread on hand for the best results. You can often find a fairly decent range of different wool and cotton yarns in different weights at your local sewing or craft stores and it’s definitely a worthy investment.”

Darning doesn’t have to match

"Colour matching can be difficult and this leads to a good chance for some visible mending. I learned everything I know about darning from Hikaru Noguchi she is an expert and artist, and has several books online."

Dyeing can breathe life back into an old garment

“I think for me dyeing is always the most simple way, either in a pot or in the washing machine. I prefer natural dyeing and enjoy the variations and surprises it creates. I’ve seen recently that Draper’s fabrics are doing some eco-friendly dyes that look decent and easy to use. Make sure garments are properly sodden before dyeing, I often leave pieces in a bucket of water for over an hour before introducing them to mordant or dye.”

Do some research

“For people interested in learning about repairing or clothes maintenance there are always books of this genre in charity stores across Aotearoa. The last time I was home, I bought 10 old volumes on dyeing, embroidery and stitch work. If you are not someone who likes digging through shelves, I’ve also bought several from @Long_distancebooks on Instagram, I know that they currently have some for sale. Sewing books have the best diagrams and reading is often optional.”

Oliver creates beautiful one-off pieces from his studio in Paris follow his work on Instagram (@Oliverchurch_singulargarments) or visit

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