Canvas Repair– Rips & Tears

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Even if you sew your own boat canvas, it’s still a large investment of both time and money. So when grommets fail or you get a rip or a hole in your canvas, you want to be able to repair it to prolong the life of your cover. To help you be able to fix any rip or tear on your boat canvas, we’re sharing a 3-part series on canvas repair. In this first installment, we’re going to focus on patching up rips and tears.</P.

Before you dive into any canvas repair, it’s always a good idea to assess the state of your entire cover. If the cover is old (over 10 years for Sunbrella) you may be better off replacing the whole cover instead of repairing a canvas that’s on it’s way out. However, getting another season or two out of the cover might be worth it. It’s really a cost/benefit analysis of the time and effort the repair will take you.

If you decide to repair, you first need to assess what caused the damage. If the chafing caused the rip (this is common around windshield corners for example), you’ll want to reinforce the area more than if the rip was caused by something external hitting or snagging the canvas. Then, depending on your tear, you have some options for how to patch it up.

Patching at Your Sewing Machine

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If your damage was caused by external forces, you can patch just the outside of your canvas using the same material the cover is made from. If your hole was caused by chafing, you should patch the inside of the canvas with a chafe resistant material like Shelter-Rite vinyl or Surlast to keep the damage from happening again. Use the same cover material on the outside.

For the most technical, sturdy and precise patch, here’s what you want to do. Cut out a rectangle around the rip in your canvas. Cut a slit at each corner and fold the edges of the patch under and sew in place. Then, cut a rectangle of your new patch material (top and bottom if necessary) larger than the hole in your old canvas. Hem the edges of the patch fabric and baste it in place on top of the hole in your cover. Sew around the perimeter of the patch to secure.

To make this even easier, you could use a hotknife to cut out the rip and the new patch fabric and eliminate any need for hemming. Then you would just sew the patch fabric over the removed rip in the cover. If the patch is vinyl it should not be cut with a hotknife, however vinyl won’t fray so it doesn’t need to be hemmed anyway.

Patching in Place

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Often we hear from customers that have a rip in a bimini top or an awning and don’t want to take the fabric down to take it to their sewing machine. If you want a quick, no-sew repair, try Tear-Aid Fabric Repair Patches (Type A). These adhesive-backed patches will create a solid, quick patch as long as they are properly installed. Be sure to clean your fabric thoroughly and let it dry completely before application and use the provided alcohol prep pad.

If you can get access to both sides of the fabric (like on an awning) you can also use the Speedy Stitcher Sewing Awl to sew on a patch without taking your fabric down from its application.

Be sure to check back for our next installment on repairing grommets & snaps. Find everything you need to patch up your canvas as good as new at www.sailrite.com.

What other questions do you have about patching rips and tears? What was your toughest repair job? Share your questions and stories in the comments!

8 comments
  1. Dave Fritz said:

    Sewing a rectangular patch in the middle of a large project can be a hassle rotating the entire project. However, it is possible to sew the patch rotating the material only 90° each way, even without reverse.

    Without reverse, use a manual back-tack to lock the stitch line — for a manual back-tack, needle up, raise the foot slightly, pull the material toward you about 1/2″ and sew over the stitches. In the description that follows, top, bottom, left and right refer to the original orientation of the material. Starting for example in the upper right-corner, manually back-tack, sew the right-side, with the needle buried rotate the material 90° counter-clockwise (CCW), sew the bottom-side, manually back-tack, with the needle up move diagonally back to the upper right corner, bury the needle, manually back-tack and sew the top-side, with the needle buried rotate 90° clock-wise (CW), sew the left-side and manually back-tack.

    It’s a bit simpler with reverse. Again, starting in the upper right-corner, back-tack, sew the right-side, with the needle buried, rotate 90° CCW, sew the bottom-side, with the needle buried rotate 90° CW, sew the left-side in reverse, with the needle buried rotate 90° CCW, sew the top-side in reverse and then sew forward to back-tack.

    Visualizing this might be difficult. Describing it certainly was. To help visualize, on a piece of paper draw a rectangle and label the top, bottom, left and right sides. With a pencil started at the upper right-corner, follow the directions which I hope are correct.

    • John Hughes said:

      Perfectly clear to me! Nicely explained. You might mention that you end up with a thread running from the lower left to upper right corner, which you’ll have to cut out (along with the starting and ending threads) when the job’s done. This technique is more or less what I did in sewing in some 5 x 6 foot patches on my winter cover…worked fine!

  2. Allan Cazaly said:

    Hi! I specialise in repairs of Acrylic and PVC fabrics in the UK (FB page – “Cratch Repairs”, as a small part time business to assist my pensions. Looking at the sample “Sailrite” picture of the Sunbrella tear with frayed edges, the way I would have done this, is as follows, (I am not saying it is correct, or preferable) but the job does end up nice and neat and can often be almost invisible, depending on your machine sewing skills, accuracy and sewing machine
    #
    I would back the tear with same material, (Often taken from the inside hem of the same cover), if I can get enough to have an edge about 1/2 to 3/4 inch all round the tear.
    On the face side of the tear, I pull the fabric taught, (End to end of tear and stick (Temporarily) double sided tape, leaving the back on, (Could use high tack masking tape for this). Then I turn over and look at the back of the fabric.
    With care, I straighten out the frayed edges, and make as good as possible each strand to coverup all signs, (Or as near as) of the masking tape underneath.
    I then apply double sided “Seam Stick” (That’s what I call it), to hold all the frayed edges in place, covering at least 1/2 all round beyond the damage
    Then I apply the reinforcing Acrylic material, so that the weave and weft all line up with the original fabric and the face side down. (Looking at the reverse side, one can see back of the original and the back of the repair fabric)
    The cover is turned over, masking (Temporary tape) slowly removed to avoid disturbing loose strands
    Using a small stitch, (On my walking foot machine a normal size stitch would be a setting of 5 or maximum 6) and the rep[air stitching I would use is number 3 in my case
    I would then stitch row on row of close stitching along the tear, starting outside to middle from both sided. I am able to do this by forward and reverse stitching, in order to hold all the strands together, almost forming a new surface with the same coloured thread, as the material. Depending on the accuracy, (Skill), one can make an almost invisible re[pair and from a few feet away, the repair cannot be seen. Unfortunately, I have no photograph to upload. Dark colours are easier to work with. If it was a light colour, as with many yachts, (English canal boats are mainly dark colours), I would probably make a neat patch rather than “machine darn” over the reinforced area
    This is an approach I have used successfully on several occasions
    On completion, I have used as near a match of material to replace the part of the hem where the reinforcing repair was taken from and as this is against the hull, it is not seen
    Regards, ~Allan~ (UK)

  3. Thanks for sharing such excellent information. Your blog will help me a lot.

  4. This is a wonderful post! Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us! I hope to read more of your post which is very informative and useful to all the readers.

  5. Don Mc said:

    To repair a very large rip in my semi dry rotted canvan pontoon cover I purchased Heat & Bond ultra hold fabric adhesive cloth at Walmart. I got the large roll (17 inches X 5 yards). I also purchased 4 yards of a thin canvas like material(cheapest I could find also in the sewing section at Walmart). I followed the instructions on the Heat And Bond patch making adhesive fabric. I layed the tarp, top side down, in my driveway with cardboard under the ripped areas. I use a regular iron with extension cord to iron on the newly made patches. It came out really good. No sewing (my dry rotted tarp could not have survived the holes for the stitching). My tarp is pulled very taughnt when installed. I has been holding for about 4 months now with no signs of failure. It had a jagged tear that was about 3 feet long then it ripped another couple of feet (“L” shaped tear).

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