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Mending a Tear

Every now and again, bad things happen to good costumers. Usually, they happen at the worst time possible. I pulled out Ye Olde Disney Peasant dress for a Halloween party over the weekend, and being my normal timely self, I was done washing it about a half hour before my guy was supposed to pick me up. And that’s when I noticed disaster: a three inch rip up the center back bodice, through both layers, which had also loosened a few inches of skirt pleating. Oh, joy…. I love a last minute repair. Should you find yourself in the same situation, here’s how to fix it.

You will need:

  • Thread, to match your fabric
  • A small bit of muslin
  • Needle
  • Scissors
  • Patience
mending supplies
Supplies for mending. The cat is optional, but she really likes fresh laundry. You can see the tear at the waist.
3" long tear in bodice back
Hmmm.... Apparently, someone stabbed me in the back when I wasn't looking. I could fix this easier if I had seen it before it went into the wash!

In a perfect world, you’ll find your tears before you chuck things into the wash. The problem is that washing loosens the threads around the tear, and frays out any severed threads, thus making a simple tear into an active hole. A hole, being wider than a tear, is exponentially harder to fix nicely. Bother….

Pleats secured to each other
Since the pleating of the skirt was affected by the tear, I start by securing the skirt pleats to each other so that the skirt is once again the same size as the waist of the bodice.
loose threads to be snipped from tear
There's really nothing to be done to make any threads that have come loose go back to their original place in the fabric, so trim them off neatly.
checking length of muslin against tear
You'll need to cut off a bit of muslin about an inch longer than your tear, and about 2-3" wide.
muslin in place behind fabric
Place the muslin behind the fabric to be repaired. Notice that it goes all the way down into the fold of the seam allowance at the bottom of the bodice.
running a pick stitch around the tear
Using a neat pick stitch, start running rows of stitch around the tear on both sides. I sew in a U shaped pattern, starting 3/4" away from the tear and moving closer with each pass.

If your pick stitch is good, you’re only picking up a single thread of the fabric every time.  This results in stitches that are nearly invisible. (You can see a few on the left side of the mend – I was in a hurry!) The easiest way to make a very neat pick stitch is to push the needle through the fabric, then insert it one thread behind where you brought it up to make the next stitch. My stitches here are between 1/4″ and 1/2″ long – it’s not all too important, since you’ll want several rows of them going around the tear. In a perfect world, all of your stitches will be staggered.  Basically, you’re securing the torn fabric to the muslin, creating a new piece of solid cloth.  I start far away and work in because it’s easier to control, and to fidget with things if the tear doesn’t look all the way sealed.

inside view of pick stitches over muslin
From inside, you can see the lines of pick stitch running over the muslin. It's not as pretty on the inside, but few things are....
all pick stitches in place
By the time you've gotten all your pick stitches in place, the tear is nearly sealed. Now you just have to do something about the frayed-out edge.
overcasting the tear
I'm simply overcasting the tear. I'll trim away the fuzzies later. This will always look a little franken-dress, unfortunately, but if your thread match is good it won't be visible from an arms-length away.
a folded-edge mend
You might be wondering why I didn't fold the edges of the mend in to make it nicer. I've done that on the lining of the bodice, so you can see. There will always be a little pucker at the top, because the fold makes a tuck. I think this makes a shadow that's easier to see than a good overhanded join.

Now, let me be totally honest for a second: if you’re really in a screaming hurry and you can find the right tools, it’s a heck of a lot faster to fix a tear with iron-on interfacing (place it on the inside, straighten everything out, and iron like your life depends on it). I’m doing this this way because iron-on interfacing and I have some sort of tragical misunderstanding – I say “Stay, gosh darn you” and it say “Quoi? Peel off? Well, if that’s what you really want….” I just don’t trust it to make a repair that needs to be structurally sound, like the back of a boned bodice.  If this was a tear in a skirt, I’d be on that interfacing like white on rice.

So, total time to finish a tear this size is about 20-30 minutes. Fortunately, my date was running late as well….


  1. Aurora Wanda
    Aurora Wanda March 6, 2013

    What a information of un-ambiguity and preserveness of valuable
    know-how regarding unpredicted feelings.

  2. Deanna Garneau
    Deanna Garneau June 27, 2015

    Thank you for this tip. I’m going to use this when I’m not in a super hurry. Right now, I’m going to find my interfacing and iron like my life depends on it! Wish me luck!

    • missa
      missa July 1, 2015

      Lol! I have so been there! I hope it all worked out alright.

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