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What is invisibly mended cloth? (and how to do it)

 
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Truly invisible mending of cloth, how it differs from modern-day fabric repair, and how to do it.

If it's a choice between invisible or visible mending, I'll choose visible almost every time.  If I love my clothing (and wallet, and environment) enough to repair a tear, then I will wear that patch as a badge of pride.  

So why worry about invisible mending at all?

Well, to start with, it's highly profitable.  The first example that leaps to mind is someone with a cherished heirloom blanket, a new puppy... and a grandparent coming to visit next weekend.  

And yet, invisible mending is far more common than that.  There was a time when every dry cleaner.  Every laundry.  Every tailor shop.  Every seamstress.  Every shopping mall.  All over town, you could find someone who could quickly mend a tear or rip or cigarette burn (because that happened) and had giant signs in the window advertising "Invisible Mending"



Throughout most of the 20th Century, invisible mending was the common thing.  Clothes got worn, burnt, torn, ripped.  And for much of the 20th Century, clothes were expensive!  One couldn't afford to go out and buy a second sweater or jacket.  But unlike other times in history, one did not want to admit that they weren't affluent enough to buy new clothes every week.  So they had clothes mended or even fixed them at home (because invisible mending - or "mending" as it was called in the early 20th Century - was taught in school in the UK until at least the 1950s).

Clothes needed fixing, and those repairs needed to be invisible.

 
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What is Visible mending?

Visible mending is when we repair a hole, tear, or weakness in the cloth in a way that is obvious.  Mending can also apply to altering clothing for a better fit, but I'm going to ignore this aspect at this time.

The repair may or may not intend to be obvious, but visible mending is when you can look at the cloth and say "oh yes, that's been fixed right there.  Cool.  This person really cares about their clothes and the environment.  I want to be their friend."

Some examples of visible mending include...

  • Sashiko



  • sloppy darning



  • patching


  •  
    r ranson
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    What is Invisible mending?

    Invisible mending is, when done correctly, 100% INVISIBLE.  The repair is not distinguishable from the rest of the cloth.

    Invisible mending is repairing cloth or clothing in such a way that there is no obvious evidence of the hole, rip, tear, burn, or warn area.  It is done in such a way that reproduces the original cloth structure, colour, and textures so that you cannot see it.  It's INVISIBLE!  

    Invisible mending is not easy.  One has to have an understanding of different cloth structure including woven, knitting, crochet, felted, ... as well as an understanding of different materials and how they age.  If one cannot source the original threads or yarns (more on that later), one needs to have a good understanding of colour theory to combine the repair materials in such a way that it is not obviously different.

    The reason why I'm taking so much care to say the same thing over and over again in different ways, is that we have some invisible mending badges in the PEP Textile curriculum and I want it to be very clear that invisible mending is REPRODUCING THE SAME STRUCTURE AS THE ORIGINAL CLOTH.

    So for example.  If one has a knitted sock and one uses a woven style to "darn" it, then this is NOT INVISIBLE.  With a knitted sock, darns in the technical sense of the word - which means to reproduce the knitted cloth with a needle and yarn.  


    NOT invisible darning!

    It's also important to match the kind of weave or stitch.  If a sock is knit in knit stitch, that's one thing.  If it's knit in garter stitch, that's a very different look, structure, and stretch (the way the cloth stretches and moves).  Same with woven cloth.  There are THOUSANDS of different kinds of weave and one needs to know the difference between Twill and Damask.  

    When we look at it this way, it's kind of obvious why invisible mending fell out of style as clothing became more affordable.  It's a highly skilled skill.

    What does surprise me is how much demand there is for Invisible mending.


    Examples of invisible mending include...
    (please note, the photos I choose are visible examples of invisible mending techniques)

  • repairing knitted cloth




  • re-weaving



  • piece weaving (kaketsugi)




  • There are other techniques depending on what kind of cloth.  Is it crochet?  Felted?  Fulled? Tatted?  Bobbin lace?  Understanding the structure of the cloth is the starting place to know how to repair it invisibly.




    I'll probably be talking about my Grandmother a fair bit in the next post or two, so I want to mention a bit about her history.  She trained to be a seamstress in the 1920s and early 30s.  Her speciality was to take existing dresses apart, take the pattern off them, and alter the pattern to fit unusually shaped bodies (asymmetrical, full-busted, flat chested, half-chested, hunchbacks...).  Coming of age in the depression.  Living through a war and the rationing that came after (yes, cloth was rationed as well as food in the UK - thus the rapid change in hemlines and fullness of the skirts...) - well, she was a woman who knew how to be frugal and how to make clothes last.  Mend and make do.  And she did.




    One of the biggest struggles we have with invisible mending is that the words have mutated with time.  Many words that specifically meant invisible mending (like the word "mending") in my Grandmother's day mean something entirely different now.  What's more, the words and their meanings are still regional. It's very easy to get confused.  For these posts, I've chosen words that are common from my past, which is East Anglia and the Left Coast of Canada.  

    "Darning" is a good example of a confusing word.
    To my grandmother, this would be re-weaving. re-knitting, or recreating the structure of the cloth exactly as it was before the break-in way that is not visible.  
    In my knitting circles, darning refers to recreating the knit stitch - you only darn knitted cloth.  
    In my weaving circles, it means knitting repairs.  
    Among my everyday humans, it means throw some yarn at it and hope it fixes the hole.  Who cares if it's visible.  It's only possible to darn socks.  

    For the most part, I'm going to try to stick with words that reflect the structure of the cloth.  Re-weaving = woven darning.  Stuff like that.  



     
    r ranson
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    How do we do Invisible mending?

    How to choose/find materials for invisible mending?

    My grandmother taught me, "if you are sewing clothing for yourself, make sure to have a large seam allowance of an inch or more, so that you can easily alter the garment as you change size, and you have spare fabric if you ever need to make a mend".  It was amazing advice.  If we need a patch or to take some threads of a hem, not only does the colour match, but the fabric and thread has been through the same amount of wash and wear (although it may have less light fading, but nothing's perfect).

    What sort of materials do we need to do invisible mending?  It depends on the damage, but it usually involves matching thread/yarn or a bit of matching fabric for the patching.  

    If possible, get the threads from a hidden part of the cloth.  Usually, the turned-up portion of the hem is the best place to find spare fabric or thread.  If the threads are too wavy to work with, you may need to steam them before working with them.  

    Clothing used to come with a bit of spare thread, button, and occasionally a patch, just the size for covering up cigarette burns (I keep mentioning this because it was one of the most common things that needed mending).  Sometimes they still do.  That's a lucky find and if you get it, put it in a small box in your sock drawer or sewing kit so you can find it when you need it.  

    If you cannot get a thread from the fabric itself (think socks), then it's important to match the fibre content and thickness of the materials as closely as possible.  If it's wool, use wool.  If it's cotton, use cotton.  If it's a mix, try going for the more natural component, ie, wool-nylon blend, go with wool for the repair.  Natural fibres blend in better with the old cloth than smooth, synthetics and psudo-synthetics (bamboo nylon).  I choose a little bit thinner thread if I can as it is less obvious, but I suspect this is more personal preference than any hard rule.  


    some methods for fixing woven cloth

  • Re-weaving


  • Take some matching thread.  Put it in a long darning needle.  Weave the warp threads over the hole.  Then turn, and replace the missing weft threads.  Making sure to work at least one inch into the good cloth.

    This method works for small and big holes in woven cloth.

    The key is to match the existing cloth structure.  If it's twill, weave twill.  If it's not twill, don't weave twill.  Don't know what twill is... it would be good to look it up before embarking on this mend.




  • Piece Weaving (kaketsugi)


  • This is a great way for patching bigger holes or covering smaller holes.  It can also be good for covering stains.  

    Take a patch in matching cloth and fray the ends.  Then weave these frayed ends into the cloth making sure to follow the weave structure and keep the ends on the wrong side of the cloth.  It's tedious work, but worth it.





    some methods for fixing knitted cloth

    A couple of ideas from this entry on Mending Knits.  The first one is a visible mend, so we skip it and look at the other two examples.  

  • recreate the knit stitch with a darning needle


  • This is useful for small holes or better yet, for repairing a worn area before it breaks.  



    If the area is larger, you can use this method, to create some structure to the hole before darning with the needle.

    Use some larger running stitches (note how they still follow the basic knit stitch shape) back and forth across the hole and build the knit stitches on these.  It keeps the same texture to the cloth but helps match the new stitches to the old.

    various ways to mend knitted fabric invisibly



  • knit the hole


  • This is good for larger holes where we pick up the stitches and knit a new fabric where the hole is.  



    These are some examples to get you started.

     
    r ranson
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    The Wisdom of Preventive Mending

    The Project Gutenberg EBook of Needlework Economies, by Various

    We do not, nowadays, spend long hours bending over fine stitchery that is destined for no really useful purpose. To efficiently understand how to mend and how to make is our more practical aim. A distinctive and imperative branch of this knowledge is the art of preventive mending.

    From the gracious days of our grandmothers, or our even more remote ancestors, comes a lavender-scented remembrance of patiently executed needlework, almost unbelievably fine; wonderful samplers were made and monumental pictures depicting Bible scenes were toiled over until the last of the innumerable stitches was filled in, and the triumph ready to be framed and hung up on the wall of the best parlour.

    Some of us possess examples of these forgotten arts, bead necklaces so finely constructed that, entirely handmade and needle-threaded as they were, they altogether surpass the pretty ornaments of the present day, made upon apache looms. Samplers, too, we fondly cherish, if we are fortunate enough to have had one or two handed down from mother to daughter in our family.

    The Day of the Ready-Mades.

    But life to-day is more strenuous; the pride of the needlewoman must, in the majority of cases, have a more practical aim. We do not despise the lavender-scented sweetness and tranquility—sometimes we even sigh for the qualities that can only come to perfection in days of unhurried calm—but we recognise the every-day usefulness of the modern needlewoman and applaud the sanity of her methods.

    mother teachign daughter to mend
    Children may be taught that darning is really quite an interesting occupation.
    Microscopic stitching is a delightfully interesting pursuit for the woman of leisure. The busy girl or the house-mother, harassed with many cares, would not find such sewing a sedative for tense and weary nerves; but the capable woman with quick, deft fingers and mind alert, finds it both interesting and exhilarating, in its practicality, to sit down and either make or mend something.

    Mending and altering are two branches of the great art of Needlecraft which no woman can afford to despise in these days of ready-made frocks and shop-bought costumes. Turnings may be insufficient, buttons sewn on with too scant stitches, hooks and eyes trembling to fall off, but these deficiencies very easily can be put to rights. And the business girl would find herself sorely pressed for time to do the necessary shopping, matching trimmings, and the travelling to and from the dressmaker for fittings-on, while not her time alone but her pocket also would seriously suffer if the ready-to-wear[42] gowns and walking-suits were suddenly to be banished from our drapery stores.

    A shop-bought costume that doesn’t fit, however, isn’t cheap at any price. Learn, therefore, how to make alterations in the most common-sense and practical fashion, and take preventive measures, before the garment is worn for the first time, to overcome the little deficiencies that we may expect to discover in the “ready-mades.”

    Tools for the Practical Needlewoman.

    Chief among the aids for the practical needlewoman, taking first rank among her valuable assistants, comes the sewing-machine. For hard wear and every-day use machine-stitching is generally much neater and stronger than hand sewing, and the pace, of course, is far quicker. Her sewing-machine is a good friend to the busy woman who has most need to practise the art of preventive mending, for strength and speed are two of her chief demands.

    It pays to understand one’s sewing-machine, and to treat it with tender care. Rough usage, or careless handling through ignorance of the rightful functions of the different delicate pieces may lead to dire disaster. A handbook of instructions is always given when the machine is purchased: cherish this book, for if it is mislaid you are at sea without your chart. The inexperienced girl who makes her early attempt to fathom the mysteries of the sewing-machine will find that a little personal instruction (which may be had at the depôt of her own make of machine) will be more helpful than an hour spent in trying to solve intricate problems by the aid of the printed page. Later on, however, the printed directions will read lucidly enough when her mind is conversant with the everyday workings of the machine, and an intelligent glance at her useful little handbook will disclose to her the cause and the remedy of the defective action.

    Keep the machine scrupulously clean and thoroughly well oiled. To do this is again to recognise the wisdom of preventive measures. An un-oiled, dirty machine will always cause trouble in working, for when the parts do not run smoothly, dropped and uneven stitches are a frequent embarrassment.

    woman at table cleaning machine
    Open and turn back, so that when the oil has soaked through the clogged dirt it may be carefully cleaned away.
    The Sewing Machine.
    Oil in every part, and open and turn back so that when the oil has soaked through, the clogged dirt may be carefully cleaned away.

    A capacious mending basket is a necessity for the practical worker, and it is all the more convenient if it stands upon legs, table height, and can be carried about to be stationed[43] just within comfortable reach of the mender’s right hand.

    woman sewing with machine
    Her sewing-machine is a good friend to the busy woman who practises the art of preventive mending.
    Keep always some tailor’s canvas for use as stiffening, buckram for millinery, white leno, and fine black lining, rolls of old linen and flannel for patching, stray pieces of lace, and left-over lengths of embroidery or insertions. Roll up all oddments in soft, clean muslin with tape or label attached, on which is written a list of the trifles to be found within your treasury.

    If you frequently find your tape measure mislaid, try this plan, and thus prevent the long searching that interrupts your sewing. Cut as long a piece off your tape as will stretch from end to end of your machine, and paste it along the front edge of the stand. It thus will be always at hand when required, and will serve at any rate for all the shorter measurements required.

    It is a good plan to assemble your hooks and eyes on safety pins. Slip the opened pin through the separate hooks and eyes, then when they are all securely dangling, firmly close your safety pin, and they are ready for use when needed and will not get tangled and twisted together as so often happens if they are kept in a box.

    Keep odd buttons in glass bottles. No more hunting in the dark and dust! You can see the button for which you are searching, and by shaking the bottle can bring it near to the top, where it can be easily reached. Bone or pearl buttons for underwear, or any others that are not affected by exposure, may be securely fixed upon a hairpin. Straighten out one of the long hairpins, bend back one end about a quarter or half an inch, run the point through the holes, and when your buttons are neatly crowded together turn up the other end to hold them securely.

    Aids to Strength and Durability.

    We have heard that in China it is the custom to pay the family doctor to keep his patients in good health rather than to call him in only after illness has laid the sufferer low. Many of us applaud this system, but have neither the opportunity nor, perhaps, the courage, to defy conventions in England.

    But why not pursue the same wise course in dealing with household mending? It works admirably.

    Take that proverbial stitch that “saves nine” in very good time, even before there is any apparent need for for it, and you’ll find it will work miracles.

    Preventive Mending.
    Stockings, for instance. The toes and heels of children’s stockings may be neatly darned before they are worn[44] for the first time, for this purpose using crochet silk or mercerised thread, which is less bulky and clumsy than wool. Insist on frequent change of hosiery, and forbid the wearing of any stocking that shows even the tiniest hole. To prevent those long running ladders which are almost impossible to mend, sew a band of silk or cotton, or a border cut from an old stocking, round each hem of the new pair. Hose supporters (chief cause of these destructive ladders) will seldom cut through this double band. Or another excellent plan may be adopted. Take a round brass ring and double crochet closely over it to make a soft, firm covering. Sew this securely into position upon the stocking top with neat, strong stitches, and always insert the clip of the suspender within this ring. You will thus make it impossible for the tension to strain the stocking beyond the area enclosed by the ring.

    In the knees of children’s stockings small shields may be placed, pieces cut from other stockings and fastened in so neatly that they are quite inconspicuous and not at all uncomfortable.

    The “ready-mades,” whether visiting frocks, walking suits, or underwear, as was hinted in a previous paragraph, cry out loudly for preventive mending. For instance, sleeves should be stitched in by machine, for on ready-made clothes the machine stitching is not always carefully done, and a weak place in the sleeve seam will quickly give way under strain and start an ugly tear.

    Embroidery with scalloped or pointed edging should be machined strongly all round the extreme edges, the machine needle patiently following the circuitous course of the pattern. This will double the life of embroidered lace, preventing frayed untidiness and breaks, gaps and tears.

    To prevent an embroidery flounce from ragging out before the petticoat itself is any the worse for wear, neatly hem the edge as soon as it threatens to fray or gets torn by an accidental mis-step, and add a bordering of Valenciennes or fine Torchon lace.

    Buttons should receive careful attention when any ready-made garment is bought. The trimness of effect and the general prettiness of coat or costume may be entirely spoilt if one of a set of distinctive buttons is allowed to drop off and get lost. Therefore sew on all buttons at the time of your purchase. Stitch carefully with a strong thread; when you have sewn through and through the button half a dozen times, wind your thread round and round the strands which hold the button, between the button and the cloth, making a sort of shank. Treat boot and shoe buttons in the same way.

    It is wise to strengthen bed-linen with broad tape laid on at the corners, inconspicuously stitched into position, so that an added firmness is given to the sheets where the clothes-pegs might do most damage.

    Look closely into the wool-worked buttonholing at your blanket ends. You may, with advantage, stitch fresh buttonhole edgings that will keep the neat turn-over, when the blanket is in use, for a longer time than if the shop-bought edging were left to suffice.

    Remember that half-an-hour spent weekly in preventive mending, will save the busy housewife hours of darning and patching later on.

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    r ranson
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    Some resources about invisible mending techniques

    Books
    French re-weaving (PDF)

    ENCYCLOPEDIA OF NEEDLEWORK BY THÉRÈSE DE DILLMONT - includes some techniques on repairing various woven and knitted cloth.  

    a few words on the value of invisible mending cloth

    Pleasent Valley Girls - repairing clothes and household linens (aka, cloth stuff)

    Websites

    Mending with reweaving and piece weaving

    Knitty article on invisible mending knitted cloth



    Videos




     
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    This is a Great topic.   I've sewn and mended since I was a teen. You do that once you know the work that goes into a thing. I have had to hire for darning, though I knit and crochet. Some of these videos may inspire me to give it a go myself.
     
    pollinator
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    I think perhaps another reason it's no longer widely done, is that a lot of modern clothing is made much more cheaply (as in poor quality) and is not worth mending.  Although I buy almost all my clothing secondhand, or make it myself, I remember browsing in a mid-market fast fashion shop several years ago, while waiting for a relative to conduct some business nearby.  As I was looking at the dresses on the rack, I noticed that many of their seams were so poor they were already coming apart, while still on the rack!  How can they justify charging £40 for a dress that's already coming apart at the seams before you even buy it?  But that's the reality of modern clothing, or at least the kind of clothing that most of us can afford to buy.
     
    pioneer
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    What a resource this will be for me! I was taught a few basics by my mother when I was a small child; just enough to squeak by.  I am bookmarking this so I can learn, learn methodically, and learn well.
    Knowledge, talent, and the ability to teach in this sphere is a rare treasure these days. Thank you for sharing.  I'll be visiting this post for help and guidance!
     
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    I just buy the iron on patches for pants repairs. Works great and after a washing hard to tell it is there. These are patches applied from the inside to repair rips and tears.

    I used "Liquid Stitch" permanent adhesive for gluing a piece under the front part of a straw hat to keep my nose out of the sun. I swear, it looked like that cloth was a part of the manufacturing process.

    I also use this glue on my paper back books that start falling apart and that works well if applied very lightly.

    Never used it on anything that has gone into the washing machine, but, the tube does say it is permanent but to let it cure for 24 hours before cleaning.
     
    r ranson
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    Jesse Glessner wrote:I just buy the iron on patches for pants repairs. Works great and after a washing hard to tell it is there. These are patches applied from the inside to repair rips and tears.

    I used "Liquid Stitch" permanent adhesive for gluing a piece under the front part of a straw hat to keep my nose out of the sun. I swear, it looked like that cloth was a part of the manufacturing process.

    I also use this glue on my paper back books that start falling apart and that works well if applied very lightly.

    Never used it on anything that has gone into the washing machine, but, the tube does say it is permanent but to let it cure for 24 hours before cleaning.



    These are good methods if one is in a hurry.  I've used them from time to time.

    The biggest problem I've found is that the repaired cloth doesn't wear the same as the original cloth, due to the different texture and movement of the glue or patch which makes it visible over time.  If I only need a few more months of wearing out of cloth, I might do this.  

    The other issue is the chemical smell bothers me.  But each person has different needs and these patches do extend the life of the clothes wich is great for the wallet and environment.  

    However, if we are talking about the PEP Textiles Badges, these patches don't qualify because of the chemicals and synthetic materials.
     
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    I have a friend from my college who currently performs invisible reweaving services for blaisers and jackets where such a service is more cost-effective than just buying a new piece of clothing. Usually, he draws thread from the inner hem of the cloth to perform the mend to reduce the risk of thread shrinkage when performing the mend. If the thread used to mend the clothing has not been shrunken before performing the mend, the thread will shrink more than the original fabric and tear out the rest of the hole. If anyone wants to see my friend's business site, here is the link to his Facebook page: https://m.facebook.com/julientosquesbespoke/?tsid=0.6177889641319448&source=result
     
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    I had a VERY nice, and pricey, suit in which I managed to get a tear in the pants. A company I've used for years for various things did an "invisible" repair and it was noticeable only if you knew where and what to look for. I was impressed: A good dress suit is not the sort of material or design that lends itself to repairs if not along the seam. They did a couple of other "invisible' repairs on very pricey leather dress jackets of mine and with equally stunning results. The company is Clothes Carpenters in Fort Worth, Texas.
     
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