Monday, May 27, 2019

A Period Patch

Mending clothes in the early 19th century would have been a regular occurrence. Just because you had a hole or a tear didn't mean you went out and bought something new or had a new one made up.  Hand sewing a garment took time. Shirts were typically well made since they were considered an undergarment and needed to hold up to washing.

Recently my husband asked me to repair one of his linen reenacting shirts. The poor old thing (the shirt not my husband) had developed a hole in the back shoulder area. It's a high-stress point for him since he removes his shirt by reaching over his shoulder then pulling forward. Apparently, I'd patched his shirt before since the evidence was staring me in the face (see next photo).

If you study original garments in museum collections then chances are you've come across some patchwork. The patch may or may not match the original fabric. About twenty-five years ago I learned how to patch garments in a period-appropriate fashion. In truth, I enjoy mending our historical (reenactment) clothes. Patches give the garment patina, make it looked lived in, and provides a more realistic interpretation of the past. As a docent at a historic site or weekend reenactor, clothing should look the part to be believable. If you're portraying a working-class person then your clothes would have wear and tear. Don't misunderstand, not everyone was running around in worn-out clothes but they wouldn't have all look like they'd just finished a new outfit either.

In the event, your garb requires a repair, here is a historical way to mend it.

In this photo, you see the first repair I made to the shirt a few years back. It held up very well but the area around it did not. I gave some serious thought to just adding another patch to this area; essentially creating a patch on patch look which is very common on original clothing.  But, I decided to go ahead and cut out the worn area along with the old patch.

In my stash of remnants, I had the perfect piece of linen to match the shirt. I literally have three drawers full of scraps leftover from previous sewing projects.  The linen on my hand is the scrap piece to be used as the patch and the shirt to be repaired is underneath.

Here the worn section (and some extra) has been completely removed. I ended up making the hole much larger than the actual tears. Upon closer examination of the fabric surrounding the torn area, I found it was very thin. My husband wears this shirt a lot throughout the year. Constant sweat and stress to the area caused the fabric to 'thin' so I went ahead and cut out the weak areas in hopes that the mend would last longer.

NOTE: This view is of the outside of the shirt.

Lay the scrap piece on top of the cut hole. In this case, the hole is visible through the scrap linen.  If your fabric is not sheer enough then you'll need to measure the hole and patch more precisely...I prefer the highly technical "eyeball" method, as seen here. This hole is rather large so the patch needs to be larger than the hole by roughly 1/2"-5/8" all the way around. It can be smaller but you need enough fabric to fold over the patches cut edges about 1/4", as well as, fold over the cut edges of the hole 1/8"-1/4".

NOTE: This view is of the outside of the shirt.

My patch is cut out.

NOTE: This view is still the outside of the shirt.

Press all four sides of the patch piece over about 1/4". 
If this was a printed fabric, this would be the side to show through the hole (so the right side of the fabric)

Turn the shirt inside out and place the patch over the hole being sure it is centered over the hole. It is important the patch is centered!! Double-check that there is at least 1/2" distance from the cut edge of the hole to the folded edge of the patch. The pressed edge of the patch (previous step)  is now against the shirt.  Be sure that the shirt fabric (beneath the patch) and the patch are pressed flat. You don't want either to be bunched or wrinkled.

NOTE: The shirt is now inside out.  

Pin the patch in place from this side.

NOTE: Shirt should still be inside out.

Sew a small whip-stitch all the way around the patch. 
Catch the folded edge of the patch and a few threads of the shirt for each stitch. Only a small stitch will show on the outside of the shirt. It's hard to see the stitching in this photo so refer to example 1 (EX1) & example 2 (EX2) below.

Note: This is still the inside of the shirt

EX1. Detail of whip-stitch with green thread on a scrap of white fabric. Catch the folded edge of the patch and a few threads of the shirt for each stitch. Only a small stitch will show on the outside of the shirt. 

EX2. Detail of whip-stitch with green thread from the outside. Only a small inconspicuous stitch will be visible on the outside.

The whip-stitch around the patch is complete. Keep your stitches small for stability. Give it a good press then turn the shirt right-side out.

The shirt has been turned right-side out. You can see the cut edge of the hole with the patch fabric in the middle. Give the area another pressing with the iron.

Fold under the cut edge of the hole and press. Try to fold the edge under at least a 1/8"-1/4"....this may be difficult in some spots but do your best. I find using a large pin or tip of my scissors to fold the edge under helps. See the next image.

Using the tip of my scissors to fold under the edge. I'm not cutting anything, just using the tip to push the edge under.

Once the edge is folded and pressed,  pin it in place and press again. Below is a video of the stitch I used next.

NOTE: I'm big on pressing if you hadn't noticed....😀

The video above shows how I stitch the folded edge of the hole to the patch underneath. I call it a 'reversed whip-stitch' (there's probably an official term but I don't know it).  Basically, I'm doing the whip-stitch, as before, but I don't want the slanted stitches to show on the outside of the shirt, just the small inconspicuous I reverse it. It's hard for me to explain. I hope the video helps to make it clear. Try to keep your stitching small. The smaller the stitch, the tighter the seam.

The tiny reverse whipstitch is complete around the hole edge. Press again.

NOTE: This is the outside of the shirt.
Sew a small running stitch around the outer edges of the patch. It should be about 1/8" in from the outside folded edge of the patch. You can do this from inside or outside the garment. In other words, either turn the shirt inside out to sew along the patch edge or from outside of the garment if the patch edge is discernible. Since I could see my patch edge from the outside of the shirt, I chose to sew from the right side.

Once the running stitch on the outside edge is complete, do the same thing on the hole edge. Keep the stitches about 1/8" from the folded edge of the hole. Sew with the garment right-side out.
The period patch is complete. It will probably last longer than the fabric around it.

Here you see how much bigger I cut the hole due to the thinning fabric around the tear. Ultimately, the mend will be stronger.

It's not as pretty as 'new' but my husband will get a few more years out of it...hopefully.