Once upon a time, I was a Girl Guide. It was so long ago, that I was a Girl Guide who camped out in the bush under canvas. Yes, in tents made of cotton canvas, and held up with guy ropes made of natural fibres that did not have cleats and required some sophisticated knot tying, to be adjusted into a nice taut surface. In tents that were not waterproof, so that they needed to be taut, and to have a separate (taut) canvas fly also held up with actual rope, to help keep the water off, and a nice trench dug around them to redirect rain if rain fell. In tents that did not have floors sewn into them. In that time, long ago and far away, I learned how to mend tents with hand stitches, and the kind of mending we most often did was to repair rips in the canvas that needed to have their edges drawn together. The canvas was so stout that I don’t remember the kind of wear that creates a bigger hole.
Maybe someone can set me right about the name of the stitch I learned to achieve this: I have always called it tent stitch, probably because that is what my Guider called it!
This stitch has many uses. I most often use it these days to pull together the edges of tears where there is no real amount of fabric missing, or hardly any “hole”. The fabric is still all there, it’s just that it has been torn in some way. Three corner tears can be repaired this way. Jeans that have torn along a seam can be repaired in this way. I like to start with tent stitch if I want a tear repaired to minimise its visibility, even if I will also apply a patch on the inside for strength. Using this stitch means the fabric is returned to something approximating its previous shape and pattern.
Example 2: this is a wheat bag made of corduroy that has begun to split along the wales and leak wheat. I’ve used tent stitch to mend it in sashiko thread. It’s just late night hasty mending really but it makes the stitch a lot more visible.
How to: begin with your torn fabric.
This is perfect (looks like someone cut it!!): the fabric is basically intact–but there is a tear there that needs the edges brought together to be repaired.
Choose your thread. Thread needs to be strong enough for the job, but not so strong that it will pull through your fabric. I remember mending a sarong that had been hanging on a wall from some map pins. One pin tore through, creating a three corner tear which I repaired with machine sewing thread to match the weight and colour of the fabric.
Here, on medium weight cotton drill, trying to make what I am doing obvious, I’m using sashiko thread (quite thick cotton thread). In the jeans above, 2 strands of embroidery thread, allowing for a strong but colour matched mend.
Knot the end of your thread, and pull it up through the fabric to the right side, beside the end of the tear. You can even “make believe” that the tear is a bit longer and do some reinforcing stitches that extend past the end of the tear, if the fabric needs reinforcing.
That’s basically all there is to it. Keep going. The needle comes up through the fabric on the right side, on one side of the tear. Then down through the tear and up to the right side again, on the other side of the tear. To spread the load on your mend, alternate between a long stitch and a short stitch (optional but fun). If you want to make this very neat, draw or tack two lines on each side of the tear and parallel to it, and use them as guides for where to push your needle up on the right side each time. I turn the work each time.
You can make it decorative by creating a shape with your stitches. It doesn’t have to be a rectangle (sort of) like this one–you could create an oval or a leaf shape, for example. Just draw the outline on the fabric, or tack it on and use as a guide for your stitches.
Tips for success: as you put your needle in through the tear, shuffle the previous stitch up against its neighbours. Keep the stitches close together for a neat, effective mend. Keep an eye on your tension. Too tight and you will have a permanent pucker in your fabric. Too loose and the edges will not be pulled together, when pulling them together was the whole point.
Finishing off: once you reach the end of the tear, take at least one stitch where you put the needle through the fabric beyond the end of the tear, so that you can tie off on the wrong side and the knot will not pull through. Congratulations! That’s tent stitch!