Sometimes your tights get damaged and there’s nothing you can do about it. No hope for the patient. Either you toss them out, or cut them up into cleaning rags (which by the way, can be terrific for all kinds of things where minimal scratching is essential, like an LCD screen). Yep, I’ve cut up the leg of some microfiber tights and used a swatch as a laptop screen cleaning rag, with nobody the wiser as to what the material’s previous life was.
But what if the damage is minor and there’s some hope left for the patient? Certainly you’ll want to do what you can to save your tights, especially if you spent a relatively small fortune on them (like a $59 pair of Falke or Wolford tights).
There is hope. I’ve had a little experience in this matter, so I’ll share with you some of my tips. I don’t guarantee that they’ll work for every situation, and longevity is always subjective. However, if 15 minutes of repair work extends your tights for at least a few more wearings, that’s time well spent.
What do you need? Three things: glue, repair patch material, and an applicator (optional–flat toothpick, cotton swab, or similar object). One of the best repair material donors is the control top panty from a pair of “dead” pantyhose. So, if you get a run in your control top pantyhose, DO NOT throw them out. Save them for future repair material. They can donate two things: the panty material (cut to suit the repair) and the gusset.
What Glue to Get
Not all glue is created equal. Some brands perform better than others. Some claim to be better, while being no different than others. The brand “Aleene’s” offers something like 7 different fabric glues. Why? I think it’s mostly marketing. You make a bottle of glue with a certain repair in mind imprinted on the bottle, and perhaps someone will buy that over a more generically named glue. I checked out 3 different Aleene’s glues meant for fabric work and they all looked the same to me, like a typical white glue. They may all do the same thing. However, I also tried another fabric glue by Aleene’s that appears clear in the bottle, and found it dries harder/firmer with very little flex (fine for applying decorative applique, but not for hole repair). Also, what glue is available to you will vary depending upon your location. You may be best to visit a craft store and ask the sales help for assistance.
This is one of the more frustrating, but reparable problems. The material along side a seam, such as the gusset, has begun to separate. You can clearly see the yarn fibers showing more space between them, or there’s a definite gap already present due to a fiber having snapped. If you have a very well made pair of tights, most of the time a snapped fiber should not automatically induce a run. Some textiles are weaved in such a way as to resist runs to a reasonable degree.
Hole or Run
The start of a run is a small hole. If the hole turns into a run and enlarges more than 1cm, you’re probably out of luck. If the material is run prone, with no run resistance, this is also a major strike against an effective repair. A small hole has the potential for successful repair, depending upon where it is located. If out in plain view, you will always have a “patch” appearance at the repair site. Darker colors will hide it better. The inside of the leg is the best place, as it will be less noticeable. A hole on the foot can be a good thing from an aesthetic point of view (meaning you won’t see the patch), but it’ll also present a lot of stress to the repair. If you’ve got a nice hole on the bottom of your heel, you may be able to repair it with minimal impact to comfort, but the condition of the surrounding material will make a huge difference. Cotton tights do wear out faster than nylon ones, so a notable hole in the heel is generally a death sentence for the tights.
(This run has gotten away — these tights are done for)
In some cases, a dab of nail polish will do the trick. There are fabric glues on the market that will help as well, as long as it dries clear and flexible. But in other cases, you will require some patch material to glue into place. This will fuse the material surrounding the damage, so that the hole/tear/run cannot spread. When using a patch material, it is best to secure the tights to a piece of smooth snag-free cardboard using small clamps (I use miniature $0.35 ones with rubberized ends, bought at Home Depot).
If you see some material separation happening on both sides of the gusset seam perimeter, your best bet may be to cannibalize the flat-seam gusset from a “dead” pair of tights or pantyhose. Or if you see fit to do so, cut thin strips from the donor panty to use as miniature patches along the material separation. Clamp the tights to a firm piece of smooth cardboard (or similar firm material) so that the repair area is smoothed out and fixed in place. After extracting the gusset from the donor (with the outer flat-seam intact), match it up to the target gusset. You can try cutting a “V” shape to cover just the seams, or use a triangle shape with the center material still present (recommended). The trick is for this shape to stretch about 1-2mm over the outside edge of the gusset needing repair. You can position the repair gusset a little higher to get sufficient overlap. Apply glue to the repair piece, not too saturated but enough to penetrate the material and still have enough left to sink into the target gusset. Follow the directions of the glue that you use. I prefer Aleene’s Stop Fraying glue. It dries clear and flexible, and can survive numerous washings. The only drawback is that the dried glue turns white when exposed to moisture, although it does not loosen. It will become clear again after drying. Let the tights dry as long as recommended by the glue maker. Once dried, test your handiwork. You may find that you’ll want to strengthen the repair by stitching up the material with thread color-matched to the tights, so that it doesn’t easily show on the outside.
Seams are the strongest part of tights. However, sometimes there is a manufacturing defect and a hole can develop. You’ll want to repair this as soon as possible. More commonly, there will occasionally be material separation along a seam, just as described with the gusset repair. Instead of using a donor gusset, you’ll cut a thin strip of panty material and use this as a patch. When cut, the material has a tendency to roll up. That’s OK, as long as you can press it flat. The glue will help do this. Or, you can try cutting extra thin for a flatter piece. Secure the repair area so that it lays smooth (use clamps as described in the previous section). Slide a thin piece of thick plastic (like a sandwich bag) underneath the repair site. Apply glue directly to the damaged area. Cut the repair material to just cover over the glued area. Apply the material over the glue. Press down lightly. You may want to let it set for a few minutes, then press down firmly (this allows the glue to dry a little, so it doesn’t ooze out much when pressing firmly). Allow the repair to dry as long as recommended by the glue instructions. I usually add more time to this, and find that letting it set overnight is the best thing.
Larger Hole Repair
If you’ve got a hole larger than a pin head, it means that a dab of glue will probably not do the trick. You need to employ repair material to help fuse the hole from growing larger. You can cut a small circle of panty material a little larger than the hole diameter (maybe 2mm), and glue it in place on the inside of the material. If you can try to match the patch material color to the fabric being repaired, or at the least match for minimal contrast (dark to dark, light to light). Apply the glue and patch in the manner already described. Afterward, you may wish to apply more glue sparingly to the outside of the material, so that it looks even. If you’re lucky enough to have material that color matches, you can also try adding another layer of patch material on the outside (so you have to patches sandwiching the material to be repaired). This would be the strongest kind of repair.
Obviously these are generalized guidelines, not precise step-by-step instructions. Each situation is slightly different. You may also find that you haven’t done a good enough job after your first test and may need to apply more glue. You may want to try this repair on a cheap pair of tights first for practice. I did so, found the results to be acceptable, then applied the technique to a more expensive pair of tights. The Pierre Mantoux Veloutine 50 tights I’d bought were being a little over stressed in the gusset area due to being two sizes smaller than usual. The repair held fast though, and after a few wearings and a washing, it seems to be holding.