Some guys like fast sport cars. I prefer umbrellas. Writing this article leaves me open to jabs about how I live in a city notorious for its rainfall. Let me just say, in defense of Seattle, that we get less annual rainfall than other parts of the country (how do you like them apples, Big Apple?). However, we generally incur more than the average number of rainy days per year.
That said, I accepted this assignment not because of my place of residence, but rather because I've felt what many others have felt strongly as well - attachment to a favorite umbrella, and a helpless sense of loss when that rain umbrella finally falls apart. Okay, maybe it is a Seattle thing after all...
Regardless, how you repair an umbrella (and, indeed, its capacity for being repaired) depends on the type of damage.
Whether you are lamenting the premature demise of a cheap new umbrella or the dilapidation of an umbrella that was once your grandmother's, here are some tips and ideas for your repairs.
- Spokes and stem of the umbrella. Rain umbrellas can develop a host of mechanical problems - some that are receptive to repair, and others that will prove more difficult. With determination, however, you can work wonders.
- Broken stem. This is not a difficult malady to cure as long as you repair with an emphasis on strength. An umbrella's stem is like a human ankle - it must repeatedly support the entire weight of the body (not yours), and then some. If the break is clean, then you can fit the two pieces back together using an adhesive. Visit your local hobby and crafts store, buy the appropriate adhesive, and apply as per the directions on the package. Pick the strongest adhesive you can find; it has to stand up to significant weight, wind-force and moisture. Make multiple layers around the break once the two parts are fixed tightly to each other. The more you layer, the stronger the stem will be. If the umbrella is light in weight and your weather temperate, this may be the extent of your necessary umbrella repair.
Further options depend on the stem's material. If it is metal, consider using wire to provide stability from the outside. If it is wood, then you have the even cooler (but challenging) option of drilling a straight, narrow hole in both directions of the stem from the break. Then insert a dowel of the proper size (it could be wood or metal) with some glue before bringing both parts together and gluing once more. The challenge is to drill your holes so that they enter straight into the stem and line up perfectly when fit together. Otherwise, your stem might end up crooked. Using a ruler and pen to mark where you will bore the holes, you can reduce the likelihood of mistakes. Though challenging, this technique results in greater stability than glue alone; I recommend it.
- Broken or weakened spokes. Weak or broken spokes can cause an umbrella to invert when you need it most. A trusty umbrella must stand up to the wind. Fixing a broken or weak umbrella spoke involves strengthening the umbrella around the spoke so that its weakness is of no consequence. When you see a spoke that no longer has the strength to resist wind, invest in some thin wire (a less obtrusive alternative would be fishing line). With the umbrella open, use the wire to anchor the end of the broken spoke directly back to the point at which the spokes all meet at the stem. Afterward, walk confidently through the wind and rain... but watch your head.
- Fabric canopies are receptive to sewn patches. For them, you have a wealth of options at your local fabric store. All you need is a needle, patch fabric and thread. Choose fabric for the umbrella that will be most resistant to water. Be equally selective when buying thread; though regular polyester threads will work, the strongest choice for standing up to water would be nylon thread.
- Plastic umbrella canopies don't afford you the kind of aesthetic flexibility of fabric canopies, but they won't cause you to prick your finger with a sewing needle, either. The only requirement is an adhesive patch of the same variety you use to patch an inflatable or an inner-tube. These patches can typically be found at sporting goods stores or in the outdoor recreation section of your local superstore.
Remember, no patch will last forever. To ensure you stay as dry as possible in the meantime, sew or affix your patch onto the top of the umbrella's canopy so that there is an overlap surrounding the entire wound.
- The nexus. So, how strong is your attachment to this small or large umbrella? Ask yourself, 'Would the umbrella want me to undergo extreme mental and emotional duress in order to resurrect it?'
Umbrellas often suffer damage at the critical junction between spokes and canopy - the tense meeting of mechanics and style. Problems in this region often involve missing caps to keep the spoke anchored to the canopy, or a spoke that has torn right through the canopy itself. For both of these ailments, your best bet is to create a reinforced hood for the spoke. To save the umbrella in this way, you must be an adept sewer and work with strong, durable material. You might also want to find some sort of bead or tiny knob-like item at your local craft store; fit the end of the rebellious spoke into that bead or knob and bind them together with glue. That way, the force of your spoke digging into your newly fashioned pocket will be spread out more than a single pinpoint.
- Aesthetics. Given your devotion to this umbrella, I probably don't even have to mention that you should take steps to minimize the aesthetic impact of your repairs. When the broken stem is made of wood, then use wood to reinforce it; if matching wood-stain can't be found, then opt for a pleasing contrast of light and dark stain. Similarly, when patching a hole or tear in your umbrella's canopy, you might not be able to find exactly the same color, so choose a patch whose color and sheen complement that of your umbrella, perhaps even bringing out the color of the stem.
- Seek help from the pros. In my experience, these repairs can consume a lot of your time. Unless it is a labor of unremitting love, you might consider seeking the services of a business that repairs umbrellas. They do exist! Search online for "umbrella repair" in your local area; you may be surprised to find businesses that sell and repair umbrellas. Their skills often compensate for their lack of personal connection to your umbrella.
At a certain point, of course, you'll arrive at the realization that - much as Darth Vader was no longer the same person as Anakin Skywalker - your small umbrella, through frequent and ambitious repair, has ceased to be the umbrella that you loved so dearly. Having been patched and braced repeatedly, your once-buoyant umbrella has more an air of indifference now - "bitterness," you might even say. At times like this, it's best to drown your sorrows in a glass of beer and finally retire your beloved umbrella. Don't be too sad; remember the good times, bearing in mind that they always must come to an end.