Reweavers Take a Delicate Approach to Fabric Repair

By Lee Fleming
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, March 16, 2006

Say "reweaving" and most people think of repairs to burns and holes in clothing. But decorative pillows, duvet covers -- even curtains -- also can be rescued by this ancient technique of invisible mending.

Finding a reweaver is often the toughest part of the repair process. A number of experienced reweavers who have been plying their trade in the Washington area for many decades are about to retire. But select local dry cleaners and tailors still offer the service, subcontracting the work out to one or two remaining local practitioners or sending items off to other cities. Mail-in reweaving firms also do a brisk business.

The work is time-consuming. Using high-powered microscopes so they can see even the finest individual threads, reweavers work by hand with special needles. "You have to weave one thread at a time to get the invisible look," explains Susan Kim, owner of Beverly Cleaners in Alexandria. In this "French weave" process, the reweaver takes matching fabric from another area of the damaged item, picks it apart thread by thread, then weaves across the hole so it is no longer detectable.

French weave works for small holes, up to half an inch across. Larger holes in coarser fabrics such as tweed also may be mended invisibly. But for holes and tears from a half-inch to two inches square, "piece" or "over" weave (also called inweave) is the answer. "You take a small patch from another area and weave the edge of that material into the hole," said Sunder Daswani of Hong Kong Tailors-Rochee's in Alexandria. The patch needs to extend about a half-inch on all sides beyond the hole it is to cover. Reweavers usually find this extra material in hems and seams.

What if your beloved Aran throw has snagged and torn? Unfortunately, "wool knits and double-knits can't be rewoven," says Saundra Brown of Prestige Exceptional Fabricare in Silver Spring. "You need to reknit these items." In reknitting, new yarns are carefully matched to existing yarns, and the missing piece of the fabric is duplicated as closely as possible. Whether the mend will show depends on the item's color and complexity and the extent of the damage.

Plaids are the hardest fabrics to mend invisibly, since the pattern must be matched exactly. For this reason, reweavers may decline to try for a perfect match and opt to go for an almost-invisible mending, using just one color of thread. At Hong Kong Tailors-Rochee's, "when you have patterns or stripes, if the hole falls right on the edge of two or more colors, you must choose which one to reweave," says Daswani.

Be aware that hard-finish fabrics such as gabardine may show a tiny spot where the hole used to be. And you can forget about repairing polyesters and triacetates -- the structure of synthetics does not lend itself to reweaving. None of the area firms interviewed will work on fine-finished (smooth) silk. However, mail-in reweavers such as Without a Trace in Chicago do accept silk items; it's worth checking with an out-of-town service to see whether it can handle your sham or curtain.

Walk-in firms offering reweaving try to discuss the possible end results with customers before proceeding, to make sure they understand what to expect. Mail-in reweavers also make a point to communicate the limitations of their work. Without a Trace repairs silk, linen, cashmere, leather and other fabrics for Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and high-end retailers from around the country. To use its service, you go to the firm's Web site, print the shipping form and mail off your damaged goods. Experts will examine the piece and send you an estimate and an explanation of how the repair will come out. Online live-chat and phone representatives also are available.

"We'll discuss everything, even tell you where else on the piece we're taking the material for the French weave," says manager Linda Mrkvicka.

Without a Trace accepts all kinds of decorative household items, from heavy woolen throws to prized damask tablecloths ruined by a burn or spill. "As long as the client has a napkin from the same fabric to send along, we're fine," Mrkvicka says. "They just have to understand that we'll be cutting up the napkin to fix the cloth."

Reweaving professionals suggest that you decide how much the item to repair is worth -- and consider carefully whether you wouldn't be better off buying something new. Repairs for small holes (up to a half-inch) range from $20 to $50. Larger reweaving projects can run $70 to $100. Most jobs require at least a week, and complicated projects can take much longer.

To avoid having to use reweaving services for moth holes, Daswani recommends paying attention to how you store wool items in the off-season. "You can put mothballs and cedar blocks in the closet, but they will dissipate in the air. So you need to keep replacing them every three to four months or your best fabrics will get ruined," he said. Barring smoking from the formal table or living area is another way to ensure hole-free pillows, tablecloths and throws.

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