Sunday, 15 June 2014

How to repair torn armpits in a vintage dress

When I went to Vintage Nostalgia recently, I bought a dress. (I'm pretty sure it's 1960s.) I got it cheap because the armholes were torn, something that most vintage lovers will be familiar with. They were those horrible rips-across-the-fabric and had been badly repaired.




Yesterday I set about repairing it, and I'm so pleased with the result that I thought I'd share how I did it. This technique will work if your dress has a long fabric belt, a deep seam, or some other area you can steal a bit of cloth from. My dress had a long belt, and as both armpits were damaged I took a matching inch off each end. To be honest, in a situation like this I'd always sacrifice the belt; it's easier to get a new belt than a new vintage dress!
To begin with, I took out the earlier 'repair'. The problem with using long stitches like this - apart from the fact that it looks messy - is that it puts stress on the horizontal strands of the fabric, pulling them towards and off the torn ends, eventually ruining a much larger area of fabric. If your fabric is damaged in that way, I recommend stabilising it with iron-on interfacing before patching. Once I'd looked at the condition of the remaining cloth, I carefully retacked it together so it would lie flat while I repaired it, but I wasn't going to rely on these stitches to hold it together.
Next I looked at where around the damaged area would be a good place to start patching. The back and front of the dress didn't line up at the seams, but as most people meet me face-on, I knew it was more important to make the patch match up at the front than the back. I took my little belt fragments and ironed a fold in each one at a place that matched the pattern about three-quarters of a centimetre below each tear, and another fold about a centimetre and a half above the first. This isn't essential, but I find it's easier to match when you're stitching down a tightly folded edge.

I carefully aligned the bottom of the patch with the fabric, and stitched it down using very tiny stitches as close to the edge as possible. More stitches means the patch is fixed down more firmly and spreads and future stresses better, and close to the edge means the patch won't catch on things or stand out from the dress. You could begin at the top, depending on where your tear is, but as the area round the armhole was going to be tricky, I wanted to get the easy straight sides and bottom in place before tacking the possible curves at the pit.


I hadn't ironed the side edges of the patch under as I wasn't sure exactly how wide I wanted it; once I'd got the bottom to almost the right length I trimmed the patch, folded under the side edge, and stitched up the side.

And here's a finished patch for you. It's virtually invisible, looks better than longstitching, and will last better too.

If you like this how-to, I've also written about How to wash a dry-clean-only pleated skirt, and How to repair vintage enamel jewellery.

10 comments :

  1. Good job. I always think of the various old women who taught me to sew who called that sort of messy "repair" cat's teeth!
    I have a favourite old dress that has gone at the sleeve seam at the back, it's
    getting quite fragile. It's not particularly old, but the material is not the best.
    Man made, probably actually 80s, but 50s style, shirt waist with a big skirt.
    It fits perfectly at the bust but was way too big at the waist, I had to take it in, but that stressed it a bit too.
    Something tells me it might have been home made, but I'm not sure as it has been serged in some parts, but others look most definitely home made.
    I'd love to have it copied, it's a very flattering design, but although I can sew I'm no dressmaker, at least not at that level.

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    1. Splendid Stitches (they're on Twitter) can copy dresses, though it's not a cheap service because of the work involved.

      Could you use iron-on interfacing to stabilise the seam at the back?

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    2. Oh, thanks for that! Hadn't heard of them. Perhaps a Christmas/birthday combined might be on the cards here. Ta very much.
      I have tried to stabilise it, but because I'm afraid of it going again I don't wear it very often, now.

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  2. What a perfectly neat job you did, very good sewing skills there Mim! I'm impressed. I'm always interested to see how other people tackle repairs. x

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    1. I've got a horrible eye for detail. I don't think I ever look at anything in its entirety, it's all detail, detail, detail. Which is why I can't drive a car but can manage teeny handcrafts.

      Torn armpits seem a common problem, so I thought sharing the repair method might help someone else.

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  3. That looks really neat. I probably would have avoided armpit repairs before but wouldn't mind having a go now.

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    1. It's just a matter of taking your time, and matching the pattern as best you can (not always possible with larger-scale prints). That said, I'd hate to do it on a more friable fabric like silk; that'd probably need stabilising at the back with iron-on interfacing first.

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  4. That's a very neat repair Mim, so much better than the original. By the way, thanks for the Habanita decant - there's a thank you letter being sent off to you soon :-)

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    1. No problem! It doesn't look like much, but it's the pure parfum and I find a little goes a long way with that stuff.

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  5. Such a neat repair! I have few real vintage pieces but all that I have are in very good condition so thankfully I've never had to tackle such a repair x

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