Master Denim Repair & Jeans Restoration with Indigo Proof

Is anything worse than a non-intentional hole in your favourite pair of jeans? Having the crotch essentially explode (especially when those jeans are me-made) is always a heartbreaker. It’s for this reason that I fell in love with Rain of Indigo Proof. Based in Portland, Rain is a denim conservationist in the finest sense of the word. Her business gives jeans a second life; she isn’t just repairing, but actually restoring and making the clothing her clients send her stronger and better than ever. She’s known for her practically seamless thread matching; she essentially re-weaves the damaged fabric with a darning machine, and does it with such skill the repair becomes almost invisible. Her Instagram account is a catalog of true magic; the before and afters blow my mind every.single.time.

Making a pair of jeans is a big time and labor commitment, so we want to help you get as much life out of your me-mades as possible. Today we’re interviewing Rain about her process and business; whether you hire her for your next jeans repair, or just take some inspiration from her truly astonishing work, I hope you enjoy what she has to say about the art of denim restoration.

How did you get started with denim repair?

I studied Fashion Design at MassArt in Boston, and right after graduation I moved out to San Francisco in search of my next step. I loved design, but I always felt the traditional trajectory of getting a fashion degree to go work for some huge company doing flats on a computer never fit me – I wanted to get my hands dirty and sew for a living. While doing contract sewing work around the bay area I got the opportunity to “try out” on a darning machine at the men’s denim store Self Edge, and ended up spending 3ish years repairing hundreds of jeans and experimenting with new and better ways over the course of time. The longer I did it, the more ways I would try to achieve better results. I’d get back jeans I had worked on the previous year, and I could see where the repair failed, how the repairs I did lasted, and I’d try more ideas for how to do it better. Two years ago I started Indigo Proof, to be able to further push the limits of what a high-quality repair can be and to accept repairs from all over the world via mail-order. Now I’m growing my business so I can handle the increasing demand and share a little bit of what I’ve learned over the years with an apprentice; it’s a new phase and I’m excited for the future!

What do you love about what you do?

There are so many things I love about repairing denim. I have become so obsessed with denim as a textile, and being able to see the denim innovation from brands like Naked and Famous and Pure Blue Japan firsthand really makes me geek out. Then the fades! I always say I have the best collection of worn and faded denim that I’ve never worn! Most jeans I repair start raw, so the way the jeans have faded is completely personal to the one wearing them, no two fades are the same for two different people – even on the same brand and model worn and washed the exact same number of times. What’s really cool is seeing multiple pairs from the same person; the unique fade patterns are the same across different fabrics and fits. I also love connecting with my customers and learning the stories of why they choose repair, and what is so meaningful to them about that one pair of jeans. A lot of my customers keep a “denim diary” written on the jean itself on a pocket bag, which could be a wear count tally, major life events that happened while wearing them, dates of washes and repairs, or even personal notes to themselves. Getting to be a part of the lifespan of those jeans and knowing they can continue it after repair makes doing this worth it.

What are your favorite jeans and denims to work with?

Like I mentioned earlier, probably one of the coolest things about my job is how much unique denim I get to work on, and I get to stay up to date with what’s new in the denim scene. I love heavyweight denim; Iron Heart’s flagship 21 oz denim uses such thick warp and weft threads that the darning I do sinks into the weave really beautifully and it makes the repair super seamless. I get to see a lot of crazy irregular weave, colored weft and slubby selvedge denim – and sometimes the faded colors are so beautiful I have to take a minute to just admire them. I also really appreciate the understated vintagey fades of a worn pair of shrink-to-fit 501’s; it’s a classic look for a reason. I’m also not a snob though! I work on all kinds of denim, from pre-distressed to stretch to rigid 25 oz denim, and love it all!

What is your basic process of mending a pair of jeans? Do you use patches or interfacing? Special thread?

I use a cotton wrapped poly thread; it has the softness of 100% cotton but doesn’t break like cotton thread does. I typically work on jeans that are mostly 100% cotton, but I use a poly-core thread for durability. Why repair something with a thread that’s going to deteriorate? I’ve tried repairing with a lot of different backings when I was starting out, but I’ve found using a quality cotton interfacing makes a huge difference in how the repairs apply to the fabric, and really makes them last. I remember when I was learning how to tailor a wool coat back in school, my professor asked us to hand her some interfacing (it was that gray non-woven synthetic fusible stuff) and she ripped the entire thing in half and as it became dust in the air and floated to the ground in ragged pieces said, “Do you really want to make your clothes with this??” Everything matters in construction, even the parts no one sees on the outside.

Our readers spend hours making their own jeans and want to make them last as long as possible. Do you have any tips to make jeans more durable during the construction process?

I think about this all the time when I’m repairing; I probably know all the secrets to making your jeans last longer! I can’t stress this enough but if you use your front pockets a lot, and especially if you’re making men’s jeans, you have got to stop using that lightweight poplin and switch to a medium-heavyweight twill fabric. Thin pockets are such a pet peeve of mine in production, it just seems like such an easy thing to do right in the first place. I’d also recommend seaming your jeans using a 5-thread serger because it’s so much easier to open it up and repair than a flat-felled seam. Also make sure you interface the fly button area, and spend a few extra bucks to get a nicer zipper, or try doing a button fly. If you’re making lower rise jeans, try sewing your belt loops so the spot where they are bartacked or secured on the bottom are over the yoke seam or are reinforced underneath – one layer of fabric is too thin for the stress of belt loops being pulled up a million times.

If you don’t mind sharing, what type of machine do you use for mending? Do you have any suggestions for someone who would like to mend their jeans using a home sewing machine?

I use an industrial Singer darning machine called the 47w70, a machine that was produced in the early 1900’s. It is no longer manufactured, and although there are other “darning” machines, this one is the heavy hitter in the denim world; you’ve probably seen lusty pictures of it on the internet. However, what most people don’t realize how similar it is to a typical straight-stitch machine, with just a few key elements missing like feed dogs, a fixed foot, and set stitch length. You can emulate a darning effect on a home sewing machine using a darning or embroidery foot and dropping the feed dogs. Try approaching repair with a mind to how you constructed the garment, and think about long-term wear reinforcement, not just fixing holes. Catch damage early before it grows catastrophic; it’s much easier to repair a thinning spot than an enormous gash on the seat, and the repair will lay more naturally.

I hope you’re feeling as inspired as I am to tackle that pile of jeans mending! If you’d like to hear more from Rain, I recommend checking out her website FAQ; there is some great info in there!

To help you on your way we’ll be back with a  few tutorials on visible and invisible mending over the coming week.