How to Repair Vintage Fur Yourself
Vintage fur can be fragile. Air, light, heat, insects and accidents all contribute to causing damage to your precious garment. Generally, most people will take their fur to a professional to be repaired. However, in my experience, I have not always been pleased with the “professional” results, even after paying quite a lot of money for it as well.
Being the type of person who thinks “if you want something done right, do it yourself,” I searched the Internet for any information at all on repairing/sewing furs. I could find absolutely nothing on the subject and couldn’t even find a book on fur manufacturing. The best I could do was buy a package of leather needles at the sewing store, which I figured would be effective when sewing through a very thick fur. I examined many furs to try to understand the construction, as well as studying the way they were stitched, from the seams, to attaching the collars, to the way the linings were hand-sewn into the garment. I also scrutinized the actual repairs that were done on my minks, noting how they were done and taking special notice of the things I thought could have been done more neatly. I really believed that I could do it better than a professional furrier, so I took a deep breath and plunged into the world of fur repair.
What I Did
To attach sable pelts to a coat, I threaded a huge leather needle with quadruple thread and, my fingers aching, I kept sewing until the job was done.
My first project was to re-do a repair that was done by my furrier. He was supposed to have re-attached the dangling fur pelts that were hanging from the ends of a Sable stole. He had sewn them on so loosely and unevenly that I was very displeased. I nervously cut out his stitches, leaving me with four Sable pelts on the table, completely separated from the main body of the stole. I threaded the huge leather needle with quadruple thread, since I had seen that the thread the furrier used was a thick cord type, rather than the usual sewing thread. I began sewing the first pelt to the end of the stole, blowing on the fur to get it out of the way of the thread as I pulled it tight.
I seemed to have some kind of instinct as to what to do to make the stitches invisible. It was very difficult, as the pelts were doubled and had some kind of batting inside them. The needle had to pass through four thicknesses of fur and batting in order to be attached. My fingers aching, I kept sewing until the job was done and was rewarded with a perfectly sewn stole with pelts so tight that no amount of pulling would loosen them. I was tempted to show the furrier but thought better of it, as I didn’t want to insult him or seem arrogant. However, I was extremely proud of my accomplishment, which gave me courage to attack other repairs on my furs.
What You Can Do
I was rewarded with a perfectly sewn stole with pelts so tight that no amount of pulling would loosen them.
When sewing a fur, here is how to proceed: Use a special leather needle, available at any sewing store. You will need a needle-nose pliers, thimble, thread and scissors. To attach one piece of fur to another, pin it in place to hold it while you sew. Insert needle and thread, pushing the needle through the pelts with the thimble. When you have enough of the needle to grab on the other side, take the pliers and pull it though. Before you completely pull the thread tight, blow and brush the fur out of the way of the thread so it does not get caught. If it does, use the needle to pick it out of the stitch, flicking the fur back and forth with the needle. Brushing the fur with the fingers will smooth it over and hide the stitches. Continue until you are finished and tie off the thread, again pushing on the fur and blowing it out of the way. You want the stitches to be buried deep in the fur so you will never see them. Cut the thread, leaving it long so you can separate the strands and tie them several times, then carefully cut it deep within the fur, but be careful not to cut the fur. Better to leave the thread a little too long than to cut the guard hairs because they won’t grow back!
If you need to sew a seam or tear, use a thin needle, as the torn skin is delicate and a thick needle will damage it further. Using a double thread, gently put the needle into the skin, but not too close to the edge or it will likely tear out and you will not be able to repair it at all. When you pull the thread, do so gently and very slowly to see if it’s holding. If the repair is in a spot that will have a great deal of stress, you can sew it lightly, then glue a leather patch on the reverse side of the pelt (which will require you to open the lining). Then you must re-sew the lining, copying the original method you will see when you examine the lining edges. The stitches of the lining are taken from inside the lining and attached to the fabric strip which you will see is sewn to the edge of the pelt. The lining is not sewn to the skin itself, but to the fabric strip. Make the stitches as tiny as you can and you should have an invisible repair.
If you are repairing Broadtail lamb, you should open the lining and sew it in from the back to hide the seams, and then close the lining back up.
Another type of damage you can easily repair is the wear on the edges of a Persian lamb. Very often there is fur worn off, resulting in the ivory-colored skin showing through. Simply get a bottle of leather/shoe dye in the correct color at your local shoe repair shop or shoe polish section of the supermarket. If there is no dauber in the bottle, use a cotton swab to dab the color on the ivory skin. Use it sparingly and let it dry completely before wearing. You will be surprised and pleased at how the damage blends in and it makes the piece completely wearable.
Persian lamb very often has little splits where the curls peel back from the skin. You can correct this by using glue. This is the only time I will recommend gluing a fur, since in most cases, it will show and you will permanently damage the hair if the glue gets on the fur. To repair the loose Persian lamb curls, use tweezers to hold back the curl from the skin. Take a dot of white glue on a toothpick and put a tiny amount on the skin. With the tweezers, gently press the curl back onto the skin. Voila! You have done another invisible fix. Persian lamb is one of the easiest furs to patch as well. If you find yourself with an actual hole in the fur, you can cut a piece from an old damaged garment made of Persian Lamb. These are easy to find on online auction sites and are usually titled “craft cutters”. Cut a piece a little larger than the hole, place it in the opening and sew it to the perimeter of the hole. The curls will hide the stitches. If you are repairing the flatter type of Broadtail lamb, you should open the lining and sew it in from the back to hide the seams, and then close the lining back up. Persian lamb is the most forgiving fur when it comes to repairs!
Yet another type of damage is something being stuck in the fur, like a spill or something sticky. Using a pet brush will usually correct this. Very gently brush the substance from the stuck-together fur and you will have a uniform nap once more.
Use Your Imagination
This fur had a monogram that had been horribly chopped out of the lining, leaving a huge, gaping hole. I used black satin blanket binding from the sewing store to make a patch and put my own monogram on it.
There are other types of damage I have fixed simply by using my imagination, like opening a lining, rolling the damaged edge of a mink stole inward and re-sewing the lining to the shortened fur edge. It totally hid the damage and no one would ever notice anything had been done. Another time, I had a fur from which the monogram had been horribly chopped out of the lining, leaving a huge, gaping hole. I used black satin blanket binding from the sewing store to make a patch (the edges were already finished on two sides), or you could cut a piece of pretty fabric to cover the hole. Machine hem the edges into a neat square or rectangle. You can decorate the edges by sewing on a fancy trim or brocade ribbon, as I did. You can then use iron-on initials to make your own monogram, then you can either hand or machine-sew the “patch” into the lining. Again, nobody would ever know there was a hole there before you did your magic! Make the patch as pretty as you can, embellishing with trims and pearls and it will become a really special part of the garment, one which you will actually want to show off rather than hide. If you are really into details, stencil your initials onto the patch, and then sew tiny pearls to the outline to actually make a pearl monogram! Talk about unique!
When you have a special fur that you love, find ways to make it wearable by repairing it yourself. You will have the satisfaction of saving money, acquiring a new skill, using your imagination and saving your prized fur in the process.
Sharon Maxwell-Yamamoto is a Worthologist who specializes in vintage clothing and accessories.
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