Thursday, April 12, 2012

Mending Jeans the Old-fashioned Way

I am going to show you how to mend jeans.

Recently Steven was wearing a still-pretty-nice pair of jeans and somehow ripped an L-shaped hole in the knee.

So I decided to mend them as I was taught by my mom, who over the years raised three boys on a farm and mended countless torn jean-knees. I think she even patched patches at times.

After I had a little boy who wore out knees, I asked her to teach me how to patch pants.

There's something very satisfying about taking a comfortable, torn, pair of jeans and making them all neat and mended.

It's even more satisfying when you can say, "I am mending pants," in Pennsylvania German. "Ich bin am hossa flicka," or "Eeehhh* bin ahm hossa flicka."

*deep H sounds from the back of your throat

So: a tutorial, in case you would like to learn this skill as well. And a note: there are a number of ways to mend jeans. This is only one of them.

You will need:

1. a stash of denim pieces. Start collecting these long before you have anything to mend. If you throw out a worn pair of jeans, cut out a few sections from the back of the leg--usually the fabric is still good there. Or save the bottom part of the legs when you make cut-offs.

2. A good sharp sturdy needle

3. A thimble, if you like. Mom ALWAYS used a thimble for "flicking" but I've never learned how to do it "chite," i.e., as it ought to be done.

4. Thread. Surprisingly, gray thread is the most invisible on blue denim. I used beading thread because it's so thick and tough, but it's also very obvious. But that doesn't matter if you're going to wear the jeans for sacking seed, and also the stitches show up better on pictures for a tutorial.

5. Scissors and pins.

This is what you do:

1. Turn the pant leg inside out and lay it flat on a table or ironing board. As you can see, this was a pretty clean tear, but this method works for worn-through knees as well.

2. Find a piece of denim from your stash that's close in color and weight to the torn pants.

3. Cut this scrap piece of denim about 2 inches bigger all around than your hole. The exception to this is side seams--it's much easier if you don't have to maneuver around seams, so in that case, less than 2 inches is fine.

4. Serge around the edges of the patch.

5. Lay the patch right-side-down on the hole and pin all around the edge.

6. Prep your needle and thread. You don't want a long tangly piece of thread, so start with a piece maybe 30 inches long and knot the ends together so you're working with a double thread.

7. Put one hand inside the pant leg and with the other, take running stitches all around the outside edge of the patch, just inside the serging. 1/4 inch stitches are fine. You can also go with tiny stitches on the right side and longer stitches on the inside, if you want it to look a little more discreet.
(Note needle in upper right corner. That fold on the left is my left hand inside the pant leg, holding things in place and making sure I don't sew through to the back of the leg.)

Keep going, all the way around the edge of the patch.

Unpin as you go.

8. Turn the pant leg right-side-out. I didn't get a good picture of what it should look like at this point but you'll get the idea from the next shots.

9. Next you get to play surgeon. Your patient got gangrene and you get to cut away the dead flesh. So snip away--all the frayed areas and worn-thin spots and loose threads.
Go ahead. Cut.

10. Now you want to turn under all those raw edges around the patch about 1/4 inch and pin them in place.
Turn under, pin. Repeat.

When you get to a curve or corner, cut a little snip so it'll turn under nice and neat.
You'll have to keep one hand up the pant leg to do the pinning. Every so often, pull your hand out and lay things out flat to make sure you're not bunching or twisting things as you go.

11. Thread your needle again and take little "invisible" stitches all around, sewing the edges of the hole to the patch underneath. Again, keep one hand up the inside of the pant leg. And pull it out every so often to make sure things are still on course. It's very easy to shift and tuck but it's not the end of the world if this happens.

This takes a while, so it's a good activity for when you're going somewhere and someone else is driving.

Finally you'll be all the way around. Take a few stitches on top of each other to secure the thread and snip it off. Make sure you pull all the pins or the wearer will never trust you again.

And you're done!
My mother would be proud of you.

Here's me and my mom.


  1. Great tutorial. Very clear. Thanks!

  2. Oh ya, hossa flicka! I sure did my share of that, with four sons. Patched many of my oldest son's "after school job" old jeans for work. I guess those patches made an impression on his boss' wife. One day the second son was at the gas station wearing a pair of patched jeans. 'This lady' came up to him and asked, "are you Dave Miller's brother? I saw the patches on your jeans and recognized your Mom's work." :)
    Mary, of the Southwest DEN-PDX flight. (and FB)

  3. I love it, Mary! I'm sure your work was high quality.

  4. My MIL was the queen of patches! Her sons threw hay bales and could go through pant knees quickly. She would put patches on patches, and then if that went through, she would put a huge patch from thigh to well below the knee. Your tutorial was so easy to understand. Thanks!

  5. With five boys in jeans, I learned to do it the quick way. Rip open the side seam, sew it all on the machine, and close up the seam again.

  6. Did you say tour mom is NINETY-something?! She wears it well! -PC in VA

  7. My mom taught me the same way, except that we just pin it initially, then sew it by machine instead of by hand. First right on the edge, then 1/4" from the first seam. Lots of tight turning, but a neat patch. It's still high on my list of distasteful jobs, up there with replacing jacket/coat zippers!

  8. Someone else patches pants, too! My Mom still is the queen of patches but I have done it her way a few times although she always cut the tear out more to make a nice square. I usually sew mine on by machine. But she still likes to patch pants and her being almost 78, I figure I better let her if she asks. It has to be one of my least favorite jobs to do, but gives me great pride and satisfaction.;)

  9. Thanks for telling how to mend the jeans at home itself. My most of jeans are get ragged.

  10. Neat to read the Oregon method compared to the Virginia method.Which of your tips will I try or recommend to the mothers of my 9 grandsons?!?!?

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  12. As many of you noted, there are a number of ways to mend jeans. Sometime I'll demonstrate one of the machine methods.