Upholstery Repair by The Art of Blind Stitching
Upholstered items often require repair for seams that fault or minor cuts in the fabric. A blind stitch is a viable repair.
Quite often a small tear or seam separation is included in a service request. "Oh No! An upholstery repair! I don't do upholstery repair". "Thank you", they say, and away go a client that most often has other work.
These days clients prefer one stop, especially in the moving claims and warranty, or service for mfrs. and stores. These repairs seam impossible and when they are done to the point of "invisible" and you think its magic.
Some people say invisible is impossible. That's not true. Invisible IS possible, but it depends on the damage, the location, the material, and your skill level.
As with all things, the more you do it, the better you get. A simple blind stitch repair can be 10 minutes onsite, but could take much more.
These are some of the tools you would use. A curved needle (I prefer diamond point), some upholsterers pins, scissors and some thread. Now there are all manner of needles, scissors, pins and threads! The smaller the stitch, the finer the material, and the smaller the needle you'll want to use. They go from 1" up to 10" and serve various purposes.
Any upholstery supply house can provide you with a curved needle assortment pack, for under $20 that will give you a selection from 1" to 3" or 4". I generally use a 2.5" or 3" curved diamond point needle. (for fine weaves, I will use a 1 or 1.5"). As to pins, any straight pin will do. They're not needed on every repair. Just some as in doing a seam or patch type repair. On seams I only use pins if it's a long repair. This helps keep the fabric in line as I progress through the repair. Any scissors will do or even a razor blade. You just have to cut the thread. DON'T try to just wrap the thread around your fingers and pull. You'll just cut your fingers! Shown here is "button tufting twine". It's too thick for blind stitching. It just so happens this is where I keep it on my bench next to my pin cushion.
You can use any type thread for a blind stitch. Any color too. Theoretically you're supposed to be able to see the stitch anyway (that's why it's called BLIND stitching. :-) Most furniture mfr today uses Conso S-69 nylon thread or its equivalent. It's a multi-filament super strong thread. As long as the filaments do not get cut it won't unravel, come apart, or snap (except under severe strain, >much more than sitting on a cushion could ever do). Threads come in all colors. They also have blind stitch twine which is over quadruple the thickness of the thread. Twine comes in about a dozen colors. I don't use it, I use the thread I can buy a box of style G bobbins (what my sewing machine uses) for less money per box and have more lineal feet anyway.
Besides that, it comes in about 60 colors, and I can carry 20 different colors of bobbins (if I wanted to) in the same space as a small roll of blind stitch twine. I just carry black and beaver or natural. DON'T use clear nylon monofilament or polyester thread. It does not last, it is not easy to work with manually, it has less tensile strength, and if it kinks, that is a weak spot that will break, and probably before you finish the repair. Polyester unravels too easy and likewise lacks the tensile strength.
This is a 3" needle (needles are measured (point to point). My needle of choice for my sized "paw". The scissors are Weiss 10" right hand knife edge shears. Rather than having normal scissor blades one side is sharpened like a knife. These shears run about $50-$60 last I checked. You get what you pay for. Mine are 5 years old and have never been sharpened. I use them to cut upholstery fabrics of all type including denim, and for thread, and to do upholstery. That's it. I won't even cut paper with them (Even paper dulls the blades. after all it's made from wood pulp). In my tool box for road jobs, I just use a razor blade.
Take a length of string about double the length of the
repair on small repairs like 4-8", I'll still use a 2' section
of thread, if it's too small, it's hard to work it). Thread the needle and make it "lopsided" with one thread “leg" longer than the other. It's not like "mom" used to do with double the thread. You are sewing with only one thread. Makes for less confusion and tangle in the stitching process. The thread is slim. Don't bother trying to tie a knot in the end, it would just pull through the fabric weave anyway. Besides this, it's tons faster.
Wet your finger tip and wrap one end of the thread around it 4 or 5 times off your finger allowing your "wrap" to roll over itself and jumble the threads together, then hold this knotted jumble and pull the thread tight. It knots up fine and will hold as well as a planned tied multi-knot, but it's done in a couple of seconds this way.
Grasp the needle as shown and let the thread trail through your fingers. During stitching, you apply and release pressure with your last two fingers, as needed, to apply tension to the thread and stitch. It also keeps the thread in the eye of the needle.
Notice the "lopsided" legs of the thread. I let about 6: or so dangle on the free side. The long side has the knot and is the stitch side.
Some times it's okay to just use a sewing machine and top stitch a cushion closed. But it's not very custom nor is it attractive. Here I am going to close one side of a cushion. The same stitch is used for this purpose as to repair any seam or tear. For the purpose of this article this was the job I was working on at the time is all.
As mentioned, I prefer upholsterers pins. I get them 3" with the loop head. Without pinning the fabric together it will move and shift, stretch and pull, so when you get to the end, both pieces of fabric may not line up. Also, on larger repairs it's much easier to handle the task. Small repairs I don't use them much if at all.
Here, I fold my seam in and push the pin down through all layers then lay it down and push it into the cushion. Don't worry about trying to keep the seam and fold perfect, this is just a temporary hold and you remove the pins as you go ahead of your stitches. Seams should always be 1/2". Rarely will less be okay and sometimes a little more is desirable. Unfortunately, in repairs, you don't have the luxury of excess material to work with and often have to make do with 1/4" for it to work. Smaller seams get more stitches that are smaller in order to hold up better. In some cases, the fabric itself will fall apart with anything less than 3/8" or half inch fold under.
Go ahead and pre-pin the repair area together. If it's a small repair you won't be doing this step.
Now the repair begins. First push the needle from the backside of the fabric through the face. You want the point to come out exactly in the folded edge of your seam. Exactly across from it on the mating edge you will enter the point of the needle but not push all the way through. Instead you would use the curve of the needle and turn it | so the point travels along under the fabric about 1/4" to 1/2" and let it poke out at the edge of the seam. Apply pressure to your last two fingers to hold the thread tight then pull the needle all the way out and the stitch tight.
Repeat again going back into the first side of the repair exactly opposite the exit point. Turn the needle and move it down another stitch length. Stitch length should be uniform. Most repairs will use 1/4" stitching. This is a heavy fabric in a good seam and half inch is enough. Generally, you will need to go several stitches then be able to pull the stitch side of the thread tight. This will pull the seam together. While you sew, you must maintain and reapply tension to this line to keep the seam together. After you get a little into it, the stitches further back will stay tight and only the most recent ones will loosen during the stitch process. I will generally go 4 or more stitches and pull tight. I will also pull the thread perpendicular to the exit hole, lay it across the repair and locate my entrance hole on the other side as shown in this photo.
When sewing a seam next to a welt cord, do not stitch to the welt cord. Instead, stitch at the bottom inside the welt cord just above the welt cord stitch. This will pull your repair down beside the cord. Most cushions have a welt. Sometimes, as shown here, a bit of padding fiber will poke through. DON'T just try and pull it off. These things often grab and bunch together trying to pull more fiber through, so you either tear the fabric, make the hole wider or have a heck of a time cutting fiber and not the thread later. When it does poke out, just take a pin or the needle head and push it back in. A few hairs are easy to pull or trim later. IF you pinned your repair, remove the pins every few inches ahead of where you are going to stitch. DON'T try and stitch around the pins. It will pucker and just be annoying to work around.
Every few stitches, pull it real tight. The first part of the repair may buckle and pucker, that's okay. Before you continue stitching, hold the repair tight together and the stitch exit thread in one hand, pull the beginning of the repair with the other. It will stretch it back out without pulling your repair apart. Eventually you get the hang of how hard to pull most of the time.
Here is a photo showing the trail of the needle along one side of the "repair". The needle enters and exits in the folded edge of the seam about 1/4" to 1/2" apart. It then goes exactly across from the exit hole and enters the "repair" area on the opposite side and moves forward in that side to the next exit hole.
Notice there are no pins in my repaired area. I'll pull the next pin out now and continue forward.
Another close-up of the example. Note: I'm using blue thread here, however, I could use any color. I happen to have blue in stock. >Black works for all darks like blue, green, purple, and some dark browns, maroon or brick works for all reds, oranges, wines, and mauves, sand or natural (beaver) works for everything else usually. As I said earlier, the stitch is supposed to be blind even if the repair itself is not. You don't have to be perfect or quite so meticulous if your thread matches the fabric better.
Here's a close up showing the thread coming out of the exit hole in the top part, entering the bottom part down along the bottom edge of the welt, following it and exiting. From that exit point it would go exactly across and enter the top part again.
You can leave several inches loose as you gain experience, and then pull them taught. Notice the uniformity of the stitch length and distance from cut edge of fabric to the entry point? Both are about 1/2".
I don't measure the stitch at all. I just go by eye. Any woodworker or person used to measuring can do it by eye.
This is a heavy fabric and in a seam. 1/2" is the maximum to be sufficient. If this were a patch job or out in the middle of something, I would use 1/4" wide or less stitches. Or if it were a fine material (thin tight weave like a cotton print) (Oh, cotton print fabric is about the same thread count/weight of two sheets from your bed, in other words, it's THIN).
Now how do you end it? When you get to the end of the repair, just turn around and go back a stitch or two in the exact same manner but with smaller stitches in different entry/exit holes.
I go back one or two stitches usually, then leave the last stitch a little loose as shown. Turn around and go back and wrap one end of the loose stitch one way around the needle, hold it in place and wrap the other end around the needle tip in the other direction.
Hold the loop and pull your needle through. Now pull it real tight and it pulls the knot closed. Now poke the needle in again close to the not and run a couple stitches back.
Pull it real tight to pucker a little. Cut the thread close to the fabric face. Pull out the pucker and you pull the end of the thread back inside the repair. It will hang loose inside but that's okay since it's really held by the knot you did earlier. It's a bit tricky to do this but it works and gets easier every time.
This is the finished Blind Stitch repair of the seam with pressure applied to show you the separation or should I say lack thereof? Notice my finger tip at top of photo pulling fabric upward?
Extreme close-up of pulled blind stitch seam. You can't see it, but the top fabric pulls the welt cord with it and just lifts the cushion instead of the fabric at the seam.
This was a tough one. I told the client I could make it look better but not perfect as it could only be done with a patch. It would be invisible from all angles except the top and front, but the front gets covered by a cushion. He said fine. Dog ate it. Dog also chewed up a toss pillow.
I took some padding from the toss pillow and used that chewed rag as my patch. I trimmed the loose threads and used a fabric cement around the hole to keep the fabric from continuing to fray. You can get this from Michaels or anyfabric or craft store.
Next, I cut a patch about 2" bigger than my repair area. Then I folded it, pinned in place and began my "magic". I used 1/4" and 1/8" stitches the same as outlined above.
Here's the top, side and back angular view of the repair. Ratherthan patch across the side, I ran my patch down the "wing" and stitched it to the arm. I then pleated and stitched the top corner like the original factory job so it blended perfect from this angle.
It's more pronounced in the flash than it was in regular daylight in the client's home. But if you keep the stitch in a "grain" and follow the pattern it's just like in touch ups. It masks it. From all other angles this is invisible.
This view gets a cushion in front of it. I have patched geometric patterns on arms before and just cut a piece off the bottom back side (with client permission and then patched that with a neutral beige patch).
Just fold and follow a pattern line with the stitch and it does not stand out. Just like in touch up repairs, notice the "cross grain" seam shows much more than the other one? In any case, it's still a LOT better than the wood, cotton and string chewed hole that I started with.
The heavy texture and direction of tear on this brand new sofa (torn on delivery) made it easier to affect a "perfectly invisible" LIND stitch repair right out in the middle and in open view. Something people say can't be done. I love people telling me I can't do something and then I proceed to do what can't be done. They tell their client they can't do this upholstery repair and I end up going to the bank.
Good luck trying to find the blind stitch. Even the client couldn't see it and that's while rubbing her hand across it!
I had a hard time finding it to show her. You have to know where it is and even then, pull the fabric and knit away from the stitch to find the seam.
Invisible repairs are possible. I've been doing them for years, but it takes time to learn what can and can't be done. Set the expectations low, then meet or even better, beat them. Tell the client it won't be perfect but it will be a thousand times better!
By John Polgar of Florida
(republished 11/06 with permission)
We thank John for approval to use this excellent white paper.
About the author:
John Polgar has over 25 years experience both owning and operating businesses. He currently owns a Restoration & Refinishing Business in Clearwater, FL. Credentials: Developed his current business into the top 30 franchise rankings for North America, took over managing a company on the verge of bankruptcy thereby quadrupling business in 2 years allowing the owner to sell the business at a profit, 2001-2002 #1 expert in the nation in the Furniture category as ranked on AskMe.com, Jan.-Apr. 2002 #1 expert in the nation for Business Administration as ranked on AskMe.com, Currently ranked as the #3 expert in the Furniture category on AnswerWay.com AND the #6 expert in Business
Administration on AnswerWay.com. He is also Honorary Co-Chairman of the Business Advisory Council for Florida and recipient of the National Leadership Award from the National Republican Congressional Committee in 2003. Contributing member in good standing of the Professional Refinishers Group International. In addition his expertise and opinions in a consultancy aspect are sought by clients from around the globe to resolve specific issues from time to time.
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