There are few things more frustrating than discovering that one of your favourite pieces of clothing has been chewed by your pet – or even by your child! Fortunately, if you know what to do, you can still rescue such items most of the time. You will need to take steps immediately and then go on to make careful repairs that will support the damaged fabric over time.
Success in rescuing chewed clothing depends in part on how quickly you act. Sooner is better, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth taking quick action even if you find damage that has been there for a while. This is because the enzymes in saliva can go on destroying fabric after the teeth have done their work. They can remain active for hours, so your priority should be to wash them off.
Don’t do this by putting the damaged clothing in the washing machine. Stressed fabric won’t survive this. Instead, rinse it in lukewarm water in your sink. Be very gentle as you handle it. There may be more damage than you can see straight away. After rinsing, lay it out flat to dry. You can use a hairdryer on a warm (not hot) setting to help it along.
Chewing damage to fabric is often more extensive than it looks. It’s easy to spot holes but the real damage is done by pulling. This distorts woven fabrics and destroys their elasticity, so that they proceed to wear through or tear. It can damage an area several inches to either side of the bits, and can cause problems even when there are no actual holes.
Sometimes pets also let their paws get in on the action by holding fabric down as they chew it. This means that you should check the whole garment for damaged areas.
Repairing Chewing Damage
Because of the nature of chewing damage, any lasting repair will have to do more than just fill the holes. Strained fabric will either need to be supported or removed completely so that the damage doesn’t spread.
With most garments there is only so much fabric you can remove without making them too small to fit, so supporting the fabric is the better option. A good trick with minor damage is to apply clear nail varnish to the underside of the fabric. This will stop damage spreading. Don’t use this technique on nylon-based clothes, however, as it can harm them; it can also stain thin fabrics. If you’re not sure, test it on a bit of inner seam where it won’t show.
Where there is an extensive area of damaged fabric, you’ll need to patch it. You can do this either by sewing in a panel of fabric on the underside, which will take the strain when the garment moves, or by using a special quick repair patch from your local sewing shop. The latter will provide more flexible support but will sometimes show through the damaged area.
Whatever type of patch you use, you can go on to improve the appearance of the chewed fabric by adding extra fibres to the damaged area. This is a slow process, a bit like tapestry, but the results can be rewarding.
Mending an area like this is not the same as darning. Darning works well for small holes but tends to look odd over larger areas. For best effect, a repair like this should be done subtly. Concentrate on the worst areas and use a fine thread carefully matched for colour and shine. Where the weave is exposed, slide it carefully in and out of threads running in the opposite direction. Doing this just a few times can dramatically improve the appearance of the garment.
Finally, consider using external patches. Depending on whereabouts the damage is, you may be able to conceal it with an appliqué, a bit of trimming or even a new pocket. What you end up with won’t quite match the garment you had to begin with but it can still look good and carry on being useful.