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You probably have a few choice words when there’s a tear or two in your rather expensive canvas tent. After all, you bought a canvas tent for its weatherproofness, sturdiness, and durability.
But it’s only natural for a canvas tent to sustain some damage with regular use (and if you don’t properly maintain the tent).
To extend the longevity of your canvas camping tent, you need to repair holes, tears, and rips in the fabric. The good news is that you don’t need to be a professional seamstress or pay an expert to fix your tent for you (unless you want to).
Here’s how to repair your canvas tent so you can continue to enjoy your camping trips with your trusted tent.
How Can You Repair Your Canvas Tent?
Follow these easy 10 steps to correctly repair your canvas camping tent:
- Find the damaged area on your canvas tent. It can be a hole, rip, or tear.
- Clean the area around the hole, tear, or rip.
- Choose your repairing method.
- Small holes in your canvas tent need to be glued with a polyurethane glue.
- Other rips and tears should be firstly and preferably stitched by hand, with a sewing machine, or a Speedy Stitcher.
- Alternatively, patch the rip or tear, or patch it in addition to stitching for a longer-lasting fix by first finding a suitable patch (DIY the patch or buy ready-to-use/self-adhesive ones) and the best adhesive or glue.
- Size 2 patches to be 4” (10.16 cm) larger than the rip or tear so they fit over the damaged area and there’s an overlap.
- Cover the damaged area with two patches (one on the inside of the tent and one on the outside) and glue, and then place a heavy object on the patches so it can dry properly.
- Optionally, use a seam sealer to waterproof the area you just repaired on your canvas tent.
- Inspect the repair job, properly maintain your canvas tent, and safely store it until your next camping trip.
Tools and Supplies You Need for Canvas Tent Repair Work
There are a few basic tools and supplies you require when you need to repair a canvas tent. And let’s face it, it’ll be cheaper to repair the tent so you can continue enjoying it than it is to replace the tent. Canvas tents are quite pricey!
See what you have at home, or buy what you need online or at your local outdoors supply store.
Canvas Tent Cleaning Supplies and Tools
- Sharp scissors
- Medium bristled brush or vacuum cleaner with the upholstery attachment
- Wet cloth
- A cleaning solution: water and vinegar, or salt and lemon juice
- Solution of rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol and water
Canvas Tent Repairing Supplies and Tools
- For gluing: Polyurethane glue and sticky, waterproof tape, a flat wooden spatula or glue applicator brush
- For stitching or sewing: sewing awl, bobbin of heavy-duty thread, seam tape, and Speedy Stitcher or sewing machine
- For patching: DIY patches (canvas patches, scissors, measuring tape, glue or adhesive like rubber cement, latex cement, or contact adhesive, and a flat wooden spatula), iron-on patches, or ready-to-use patches (canvas repair tape)
- Seam sealer (optional)
Pro Tip #1: Invest in a canvas repair kit that has everything you need to repair your tent. The biggest benefit of a repair kit is that while you can repair your tent at home, you can also fix any rips and tears during your camping trip.
10 Steps to Repair Your Canvas Tent
Now that you know exactly what you need for the repair work, you can get started.
Pro Tip #2: Ensure your tent is clean, free from debris, dust, and dirt, and dry before you begin. Excess dirt and moisture can affect the quality of your repair work.
Follow these steps to quickly and easily repair your canvas tent:
Step 1: Find the Rip, Tear, or Hole
The first step to repair your canvas camping tent is to find the area you need to fix. Look for a rip, tear, or hole on all sides and parts of the tent.
Different types of canvas tent damage you may find include:
- Small pinch holes caused by sharp, pointy objects. These holes are usually round and don’t grow in size. You’ll also find that water doesn’t seep through because the canvas cotton fibers swell when they get wet and thus cover the hole. It’s like your tent seasons or weathers all on its own.
- Medium and large pinch holes are big enough that you stick a finger or two through. These holes need to be repaired ASAP since they can grow in size, and they make your tent less weatherproof. Wind and water will make their way to the tent interior.
- Rips and tears are cuts in the tent ceiling, floor, or walls, and these can easily rip or tear further, creating an even bigger opening.
- Seam tears occur along the seams of your canvas tent. These can also quickly grow in size because tent seams are high-stress areas.
Knowing what the damage type is helps you know how to repair the area so you can continue using your tent.
Step 2: Clean the Area
Once you know your canvas tent is in need of some TLC, you need to clean the area before you get to the repair stage.
To clean your tent, take it out of the storage bag or unpack the tent. Then, spread the canvas tent flat on a paved or grassy area. You don’t want any tension on the damaged areas like when the tent is pitched.
With sharp scissors, cut any fabric frays, and be sure not to further damage the hole, rip, or tear. Removing the frays ensures that the patch will stick properly when you get to that step.
Now, see if there’s any dirt or debris around the damaged area. With a vacuum cleaner’s upholstery brush attachment, clean the area. You can also use a medium bristled brush to clean manually.
You may also need a wet cloth and a solution of water and vinegar or lemon juice and salt to clean the area. Be sure to let the tent dry properly if you get the area around the tear or hole wet.
Lastly, you need to clean the area with a solution of rubbing alcohol (or isopropyl alcohol) and water. The alcohol will help remove any chemicals, minute dirt particles, and any dust that’s stubborn and didn’t dislodge with other cleaning attempts.
Step 3: Choose the Repair Method
Different types of canvas tent damage require different methods of repair. You also need to consider which method would be best for your tent.
If your tent is five years or older and quite used, sewing ensures the repair is stronger and will last longer. Sewing is also the best option if your tent fabric looks worn and thinner compared to a new canvas camping tent.
Here are the repair methods to choose from:
- For a small hole that’s 3/16” (about 5 mm or smaller), you can easily repair the pinch hole with polyurethane glue (like Gorilla Glue). If you have some glue in your camping kit, you can fix these kinds of holes while you’re out in nature.
- A tear of 1” to 2” (2.54-5.08 cm) can be sewn or patched. Patching the tent is easier, and if you have a canvas tent repair kit, you can even fix your tent during your camping trip.
- A rip that’s 3” or longer (7.62 cm) needs to be sewn.
Pro Tip #3: If you’ve never sewn anything before, practice before you just grab some thread and a sewing awl and get on with your tent. Get a sample of canvas or thick cotton, and practice on the sample.
Step 4: Glue the Area
If you have a small pinch hole, gluing the area is the best way to fix it.
Follow these steps to glue the small hole:
- When the area around the hole is clean and dry, get a piece of waterproof or sticky tape.
- Place the tape on the inside of the tent where the hole is located. The tape helps prevent the glue from spilling inside the tent.
- Glue the hole and about 3/16” (5 mm) around it on the outside of the tent.
- With a flat wooden spatula or the applicator brush, spread the glue evenly to help with the curing process.
- Leave the glue so it can cure overnight.
- Check the repair the next day. Your glue has cured correctly if there are no lumps or cracks and the glue is a transparent layer over the hole.
- If your glue has successfully cured, remove the waterproof tape since the hole will be repaired.
Step 5: Stitch or Sew the Area
For a clean rip that’s not too big and that’s on an older tent, stitching or sewing the rip or tear is the best way to repair your canvas tent. You simply need a needle and thread to get this done.
Ensure the stitches are short, close together, and neat for a proper repair. Make about 8 stitches for every inch of the tear or rip. To reinforce your stitches, add a row of lock stitches over the top.
You can also consider getting a tool like the Speedy Stitcher. It’s portable and easy to use, and it creates lock-stitches (like those a sewing machine makes). Or if you have a sewing machine or a friend who owns one, you can also sew your tent like you’d sew another piece of fabric.
To make the sown area waterproof, apply seam seal tape on the inside and outside of the tent.
Pro Tip #4: If there’s a rip or tear in your tent seams, you’ll need to stitch the damaged area.
Step 6: Choose a Suitable Patch and Adhesive or Glue
A patch is a circular, square, or rectangle of fabric that you use to cover the tear or rip. It may be the same fabric as your tent or something similar. The purpose of a patch is to redistribute stress points to a larger area so the tear or damaged area doesn’t grow in size.
Essentially, a patch is like a temporary bandage.
Pro Tip #5: Use a circular patch for the best results. The corners of a square or rectangular patch easily lose its adhesiveness, meaning you need to re-patch your tent. Alternatively, cut rounded corners in a square or rectangular tent patch.
Before you can just jump in and start patching your tent, you need to select the right patch and adhesive.
You have a choice between 2 kinds of patches:
- Conventional patches: With a conventional patch, you need to DIY the patch. You’ll need to buy durable waterproof canvas material and then size it correctly and use glue to stick the patch to the damaged area of the canvas tent.
- Ready-to-use or self-adhesive patches (or canvas repair tapes): The name kinda reveals all. It’s ready to use, and these patches are widely available. Simply peel the cover on the adhesive side and place the patch over the tear. Rub over the patch to ensure it sticks to the canvas.
Pro Tip #6: If possible, find a waterproof canvas fabric that’s the same color as your tent so the patch repair will look inconspicuous. Or you can be funky and use different colored patches so your tent is completely unique.
When it comes to glue or an adhesive to apply the patch to your tent, ensure you use a liquid glue, like latex cement or a contact adhesive. You can also use rubber cement.
Pro Tip #7: Preferably, don’t use iron-on patches. They don’t last as long as glued-on patched; however, iron-ons can help you out in a pinch!
If the patch comes off or loosens, simply re-patch the tent.
Step 7: Correctly Size the Patch to Cover the Rip, Tear, or Hole
To patch your canvas camping tent, you need to size the patch so it properly covers the rip. You can patch a sewn area too and not just a “fresh” tear. You need two patches, so you can patch the inside and the outside of the tent for a better, more durable fix.
The patches need to be at least 4” (10.16 cm) bigger than the damage area, and cut them into a circle to prevent peeling.
For example, if the tear is 3” (7.62 cm) long, you’ll need a patch that’s 7” (17.78 cm) in diameter. But before you go ahead and cut the patch, measure it to ensure it’ll fit over the damaged area and then some. You want room to spare – if the area surrounding the tear or rip is weak, then the overlap will help protect the area better and prevent further weakening of the fabric.
Once you’ve cut the patch out of the canvas fabric, place it over the tear to ensure it’s a good fit. Now you can patch the tent.
Step 8: Cover the Area with a Patch
Now that you have the right sized patch, you can use glue to cover the rip, tear, or stitched area.
For the best results, apply the glue evenly to the patch. Use a flat wooden spatula to help you cover the entire area of the patch.
Place the patch on the inside of the tent over the damaged area, ensuring there are no air bubbles or wrinkles. Make sure the patch fully covers the rip or tear, and press the patch in place. If you apply too much glue, wipe it off.
Then you’d want to repeat the process for the outside of the tent.
Find a heavy object like a book, and place it on top of the patched area. This ensures the patch dries and stays in place. You’ll need to leave the heavy object on the patched area overnight. But check the label or instructions of your adhesive of choice to ensure the patch has more than enough time to thoroughly dry.
Step 9: Use a Seam Sealer
This step isn’t mandatory. If you want to waterproof the repaired area, use a seam sealer for extra protection.
You’ll need to read the instructions of the seam sealer you bought before applying it to your tent.
Step 10: Inspect the Repair Job
Once you’ve repaired your canvas tent, you’d want to inspect the job. See if all the rips, holes, and tears have been stitched, patched, and (optionally) sealed.
Also check to ensure the patches and sealant are dry before packing up your tent and storing it for your next camping trip.
Repairing a Canvas Tent FAQs
It may not seem like a big deal to leave small holes and tears and repair them later, but these damaged areas can easily grow in size, especially when they’re located in high stress areas or there’s heavy wind or rain. To ensure your tent will serve you for a long time still, repair holes and rips ASAP.
The first time you repair a canvas camping tent, it’ll take longer (between 30 minutes to an hour). But in general, bargain for 20 minutes to fix your tent. Remember, don’t rush so you can properly repair the damaged areas.
Iron-on patches are a quick fix, but it is better to stitch and patch rips and tears. Stitching and patching are more durable and reduce the chances that the damaged area will tear or rip further, resulting in more repair work.
The best way to prevent your canvas tent from ripping and tearing is to ensure you are properly maintaining and storing the tent. Store the canvas tent in a waterproof bag or container in a dry area. But remember, it’s normal for your tent to show signs of wear and tear.
The best way to fix your canvas tent is to identify whether there’s a hole, rip, or tear and the extent of the damage. For small holes, glue the area, and for larger rips and tears, sew, patch, and seal the area for the best results and increase the longevity of your tent.