Hey guys! Our new team member Amy will be showing you how to fix ripped jeans with some great denim repair tutorials this month. Be sure to read our interview with master denim restorer Indigo Proof for even more inspiration!
There is a tradition in Japan relating to the mending and repairing of garments called “boroboro”. This obviously stemmed from necessity: patching old clothes, combining fabrics and creating new textiles out of old ones. Similar to the idea of patchwork, boro (as it’s popularly known) has become an aesthetic of its own, and you can find endless variations of the idea taken to all kinds of extremes. As a mother of two boys however, the basic idea of mending pants (mainly knees!) is far from a vanity project: it is a straight up necessity. Here I will show you some basic techniques and ideas to visibly mend your pants to add character while also preventing more damage; if you want even more inspiration I made a Pinterest board filled with incredibly beautiful examples of visible mending here.
For this patch job I thought I would try making my own. I simply cut a piece of denim slightly larger than the area I wanted to cover and zig-zagged the edge to prevent fraying (if you have a serger you could have an even tidier edge). Since this mend is more on the “slightly distressed” side I don’t mind a few strays.
Turning your jeans inside out, pin your patch right side down, placing the pins on either side of the hole. You just want to be sure you are only pinning through the top layer of pants. To do this you can slide your hand in and make sure you are pinning your hole more or less closed. We’re using safety pins here since we will be jamming our hands in and out and flipping these around. You can even use two different sized pins because… boro! If you have double sided fusible interfacing you can also make an “adhesive” patch by layering it between the jeans and the patch, although I would trim the interfacing so it’s not visible through the hole.
There are many options for needle and thread out there. Sashiko thread is supposedly smoother than embroidery floss and is wound so it won’t separate, but as I had a whole pantheon of embroidery thread available (friendship bracelets were huge in our house a while back) I thought I would go ahead and use that. This needle is a thick embroidery one but you want to be sure it has a sharp tip to get through that denim. You want to select a long enough length of thread so that you can finish your work in one shot but it’s not the end of the world to add more. Tie a sturdy knot in the end.
For this square of stitching around the patch you can start on the top or bottom. I found it helpful to roll the pant leg up (especially on these tiny legs) to have easier access from two sides. Run your needle through the inside and pull it through, tight to the knot. From here on you can work from the outside. The most basic sashiko (Japanese for embroidery) stitch is like a basting or running stitch. You can gather as many stitches as you can fit on your needle and pull them through periodically to adjust the tension of your thread. Since this is visible it is really up to you how tidy you like your marks and how uniform you want the overall look to be. I went in after with more stitches so feel free to play around here with what appeals to you.
Once you have run the length of your patch you can simply turn the corner by starting from underneath and coming up at the start of your next row. This way only the horizontal stitches are seen.
The charm of this method (and the strength) is the way you can indiscriminately run your stitches over hole and patch, so continue along not being too concerned with grabbing both fabrics with each stitch. You can stitch over the pin on the outside (since you can slide it out) just make sure you aren’t stitching over the inside part of the pin or you won’t be able to undo it!
Once you are happy with your mending, stick your needle through to the inside and flip you pants inside out. Secure your work by stitching a few loops through just the patch and tying a tight knot.
Once I had a look at this I decided I wanted a denser stitch; partly for aesthetics but also for longevity; this is a 5-year-old we’re talking about! It’s super easy to add stitches, just load up you needle and dig in wherever things are looking a little bare.
Happy with the look, I tied off my thread and called this one done! Obviously, this is not a perfectionist method but I love how versatile and easy this technique is. With kid number two growing into these clothes, it’s great how you can keep adding stitches, colors and patches. There is a beauty in how the layers build over time, and it’s so satisfying to make these otherwise perfectly good clothes last so much longer.
Another option is the store bought iron-on patch. With the addition of a blanket stitch around the edge, this is a tidier option and super strong. You will need an iron-on patch big enough to cover your hole and a piece of parchment paper in addition to your needle and thread.
My hole here wasn’t very big so I wasn’t concerned about the glue on the patch going through to the other side but if yours is bigger, just put a piece of parchment paper in the leg behind your hole. You want to make sure your iron is set to hot and no steam. Press for 30 seconds or until the edges are good and secure.
For this method I decided to use a contrasting thread, but of course you can do whatever you like! Again, tie a hefty knot in your thread and starting from the inside sew through the patch and jeans and pull taut to the knot. Here you can decide your stitch length. I wanted to have a fairly strong and tight finish but you can have more radiating stitches (with yellow thread! So sunny!) so play around on a scrap to see what suits your project.
This blanket stitch is made by sewing a loop and passing the needle a few needle widths away from your first stitch. You then pass through the loop and pull tight.
Continue around your patch with this stitch. I rolled up the pant leg and had a hand inside just to get a better grip on things.
With this stitch the thread follows the middle of the stitch. So you can change the stitch length, just be sure to make it the same on both sides so the crossing thread covers the edge of your patch.
Once you make it all the way around, finish your last stitch with the needle on the inside of your jeans and flip them inside out. Here you can finish them up the same way by sewing through a few loops and making a nice tight knot. Trim the ends and you are finished!
Et voila! You have a nice clean finish that will extend the life of your jeans and adds a cute, custom detail.
Now for the kid test…
As you can see, the options are absolutely endless for this. On these grey jeans I cut two matching iron-on patches into more of a square shape and stitched in a matching thread using a basic overcast/whip stitch. Since the patches are already secure this is just decoration but you could use a smaller, tighter stitch for even more durability. It was nice to have a project where I could watch some tv, snuggled up on the couch and not be trapped behind my sewing machine. It’s is such a fun way to customize your pants and add some flair while extending their life.