Tag Archives: denim

Recycled Jeans

In 2020 I began to receive what I have been laughingly calling “commissions”. It began with some socks and some mending, but it seems to be increasing in a rather interesting and pleasing way!

It is a rare kind of person who asks if you will reproduce their favourite cotton shirt, but in denim from old jeans. Yet, this happened! I admit, I was a bit intimidated at the thought of constructing plackets from denim, for a start. But I called to ask the questions I needed to reassure myself about attempting the task, and then I began. I ripped a LOT of jeans into component parts. I ran out of those I had been given and called out on the local Buy Nothing group, and got a pile of someone’s husband’s cast off jeans.

Step 1: draft a pattern. This is not my first attempt to draft a pattern from a finished garment, but it is always instructive to make things for other people. It tells me about the limits of my confidence, for a start. And, it is fair to say I don’t make perfect things! After a lot of checking and re checking (I love how I’ve written my reasoning on the pattern as I go here), I had a pattern. Step 2: cut out the component parts from jeans, and then patchwork jeans together to create pieces big enough for the bigger components. This is not a small shirt, it’s a really big one.

Eventually it started to come together. One of the big design decisions was settling on how to finish seams inside, to prevent fraying and ensure strength–but also, given the huge number of seams–to ensure they would not be too bulky. Solution: zigzag the layers of the seam allowance together, then topstitch flat. Honestly, another design decision was taking the person whose shirt this was to become seriously. Taking seriously what they wanted and what they cared about. Surely this is at the heart of a bespoke garment…?

Then began the construction process. I have never made a shirt with this kind of front placket, but I figured it was essentially just like the one on a cuff, only larger. Reverse engineering the plackets gave me a lot of pause (by which I mean, anxiety!) But succeeding in generating the pattern and then creating them made me feel highly competent. Just as well I’m not too convinced my emotions should be in the drivers’ seat of my life, or I’d stay in bed every day and sew only simple stuff forever, apparently.

I warmed up on the sleeve plackets.

Then the front placket and the pocket and such…

On with the sleeves… then on with the cuffs. And pretty soon, it was all done. The time consuming jeans-acquiring and -ripping part was a significant part of the entire time I spent making this garment.

I can’t say that I managed a good image of the whole thing. I’ve struggled with images at times on this blog: the things that take most time and effort to create in sewing and knitting are the hardest to photograph well. But here are attempts. I have to say that I admire the grunt of my machine (and the effectiveness of a jeans needle) in getting through pleats set into a cuff in denim and other similar feats.

Happiest moment of all was the review from the recipient, however! What a grin.

And I am all the more confident… because he wanted a second one. Here it is from the back…

And from the front.

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More little shoes…

The “DIY baby shoes that are too cute to pass up” pattern from Spoonflower is just as good as its name. My daughter is so keen, this is my second attempt to grade it up a little to fit growing little feet. Also, she loved this fabric so much, this is #2!

This attempt was a better fit (despite them looking so little alike, *cough*), so here is another pair, made from pre-loved jeans fabric.

I did a little embroidery, and raided the stash of leather scraps and samples for two more different-coloured soles!

Progress shot of the hardest part, getting them right-side-out.

Out in the thyme patch.

In the sand pit! (this pair came to an early and appalling end, but they did their job, protecting precious little feet)…. the denim pair are clear favourites at the moment. I have been highly entertained to hear my daughter refer to them as “the Van Goghs”!

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Soft shoes

I made another pair of soft shoes, with leather scrap soles from the stash, and a nice old pair of tracksuit pants providing insulation. I guess-graded up the Spoonflower pattern to the growing foot of the grandbub…

These seemed to be some kind of sample–each labeled with a colour, like a paint swatch card! I figured the bub wouldn’t care. The outers are little scraps from a hand printed table runner I bought at Oxfam and converted to a beautiful bag. Now the final scraps have gone to a lovely use too.

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Boomerang bags: the first ten

At an early point in lockdown, a passing superstar delivered patches for a new round of bags. They came with a hand folded envelope of marigold seeds! And it was quite a big pile. I decided to deal with it ten bags at a time. Sometimes I lose my mind and have dozens of part finished bags lying around for extended periods.

Then I started in on a friend’s mother’s stash. Her dear and lovely mother has now been gone for long enough that her stash can be passed on.

This also has allowed me to use up some of my offcut pile, pieces so small even I usually don’t use them for patchwork. Some is becoming interfacing for bag straps.

So there it is, the first ten. It might have been eleven at some stage….

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Bike Bag

My friend requested a replacement for his much loved bike bag. I was happy to oblige! One day the bag arrived in a post pack with two pairs of black moleskins/jeans, the sleeve from a high vis shirt complete with the reflective strip, and some added fabrics for good measure.

I set to work drafting a pattern from the original and applying my wits to reverse engineering it. The strap goes all the way around the bag. Zipper on top, zip pocket on the side. I found two zips that I thought could do the job from the stash, ripped the sleeve and scavenged the reflective strip, and cut the jeans up ready to go. I’m quite proud of that pocket, which uses things I’ve learned about how to create a welt pocket.

The top zipper is pretty stout too.

And there you have it, ready for the road. Or ready to post back, as the case may be!

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Gardening Jeans Mending (Again)

I see a lot of pictures of mending on instagram and some of them are so pretty. My gardening jeans are not like that. I may have mentioned it! And they are not getting prettier. But I was a bit shocked when I happened to look inside one sunny day and realised how much of them has become translucent!

The much mended area above isn’t looking great, and the cuffs are sad too.

For the curious, here is how those hand stitched mends are faring on the inside.

Mmm. Well, I’ve decided that given how much time I’ve been spending in the garden lately, I need two pairs of gardening jeans, and there are lots of choices at the bottom end of my wardrobe. This pair have gone from one torn knee to two.

So here is the second knee mend on the other pair–the hole, the patch pinned in place–and the patch finished and pulled a little too tightly (at the bottom of the picture, in case you can’t tell). I loved the look of the larger stitches but they were a bit vulnerable. And all my gardening wear has had a lot of use since we have been spending so much more time at home!

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DIY Yoga Bolster

After a very painful injury that took a long time to recover from, my physiotherapist impressed upon me that I should be doing yoga. It was harder than I thought to get myself into a class, and once I’d done that and finally made it to my first class, a series of unfortunate events occurred, and one of them was a global event that has closed yoga studios! (Yes, first world problem).

So, one beginner class in, I was back to my own devices. I tried an online class run for free through my council with an actual teacher on Zoom. I discovered the other participant did not have their video or sound on. I can only imagine that was a bit tough for the teacher, who was running her first or second Zoom class and had children in the house. I, on the other hand, felt a rush of surprise and relief, as my memories of doing yoga in my jeans in the 1980s when body shame was my constant companion and I could not afford yoga specific clothing, and the comments people made… rose up and then receded. No one can see me! Not great for guidance but very relaxing otherwise.

Next I tried some YouTube classes. Not bad. But probably not the level of explain-y a complete beginner like myself might need, especially when I’m not going to a live teacher for correction. So I went to the www site of the place I had hoped to go to in person, and they recommended a couple of sites. I did the trial video and signed up. I need a bolster for this! Happily I’d had that one live class, so I’d seen one in the touch-and-feel world; and happily the internet is full of proposals. And my sewing room contains a number of pairs of secondhand jeans. Perfect.

I started with a pattern from Instructables and decided I wanted a drawstring at one end rather than stuffing the thing and closing it up for good. I made some modifications and started cutting up jeans and patchworking them together. As usual, I was finished before I thought too hard about the design of the patchwork. Next time!

Once I had the denim all stitched up and I’d constructed the bag, I raided the blanket cupboard and rolled up one of the ancestral (and very tatty) wool blankets and one of the cotton op shop picnic rugs and packed them in. I’m pleased to say that I trialled this with my new yoga class last night and all went well. No one complimented me, no one suggested that I might need a better one either. No feedback at all. It’s all pre recorded video with loads of explanation at beginner level, so zero interaction. There was a moment when I realised that it wasn’t just that this was the final pose and it was going longer than I could enjoy. The internet was groaning and buffering was occurring. No wonder the commentary had stopped. I called a halt eventually and rolled off my bolster. Totally fit for purpose, nothing new, no plastic. Win-win-win.

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Gardening jeans mend

I do follow people who do lovely mending. I read their books and follow their blogs or instagram accounts. I admire Tom of Holland. I appreciate Katrina Rodabaugh. I’ve enjoyed Jessica Marquez and Hikaru Noguchi. I love that mending is coming back into regular use, at least in some circles. But I am definitely not an upscale mender of my own clothing. My own clothing gets worn out in places I’d rather not show off. My gardening jeans get worn fulsomely, and because my back is a weak point, I kneel in the dirt to garden and dress accordingly.

It follows that you wont be getting styling advice from me!

On the left leg here, you can see indigo dyed thread (look closely) which was the first mend of the knees. The white thread is a second mend. And I seem to have taken this photo in the driveway as I set out guerilla gardening some months back, having recently completed a second mend on the right leg, because the fabric had worn through there.

I’m not entirely sure why I’ve stuck with these so long and mended them so much. I often decide that if I’m up for the job then I’ll do it and who cares why. These jeans are like a catalogue of my hand mending skills over a period of time (definite improvement, in case you are wondering). They are comfortable because they are stretch jeans, something I bought at the time and might not choose again. They are also a cotton polyester blend, which I remember being appalled at when I first washed them and realised–I had been too naive to read the label back then. So the longer they stay out of landfill the better–but the bottom end of my jeans drawer has plenty of contenders for gardening jeans in it. Just not quite yet. I am not yet ready to lose these.

And in this picture, a quiet celebration of guerilla gardening success. Ruby saltbush that has made it through a scorching 40C + heatwave, between a concrete path and a corrugated iron fence. Council have begun to trim it like a hedge, bless them. And bless you, ruby saltbush.

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Mending adventures

One day, some time after the conversation that triggered it, the mending arrived. A LOT of mending! In fact, I’ve taken to calling this “a big mending commission” just for fun. Friends handed over their mending pile and I’m working my way down through it gradually.

Black jeans with ripped knee..
Finally, I get to mend jeans knees!
Black jeans with patch.

There is darning (and in this case, I took in the side seams and sleeve seams–gulp). First the side seams…

Then the actual darning.

Lots of jeans patching…

Skirt zipper mending….

Serious feature patching: on small jeans I rip out the side seam, apply the patch, turn the edges on the right side, stitch in position and then re stitch the side seam.

And yes! There is more! For another day…

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Sewing jeans, and imperfection

So, when my best jeans went through in the knee, I decided it was a sign from the universe–make some new jeans!  I had decided a while back to try the Morgan Jeans from Closet Case Patterns.  I settled on using up some topstitching thread I had from taking up Dad’s jeans (I needed to buy a second reel part way through), some traditional style Japanese cotton bought in Kyoto for the pocket linings and waistband facing, and part of a dead shirt for interfacing.  The denim came from The Drapery (yes, a local bricks and mortar store!) and as they had Closet Case jeans hardware kits, I invested in one of those too. The staff were kind and gave sensible though understated advice, like confirming my sense of which size to make. I like that place and the fine women who run it very much, even though in my heart of hearts I think I should just STAY AWAY and never buy fabric again.  Well.  I’m not going to be free of contradictions anytime soon.

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I made these while I was quite unwell.  Pattern assembly and cutting out took me 4 hours!  However I discovered that the extremely slow pace of my progress did result in some good looking topstitching and a lot of close attention to the pattern, and ill as I was, switching between threads for seams and topstitching did not trouble me like it often would.

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They came together really well.  I have made jeans before (with mixed success) and I have made button fly pants before, so that was a help too. I decided on washing the fabric three times prior to cutting, ten degrees hotter than I usually would–as my most successful previous pairs of jeans shrank to impossibly small after being made, despite pre-shrinking.

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Now, there are some things that I notice I am prone to when I make my own clothes, and I believe other people who sew might be prone to them as well.

It’s easy to notice all the things you did badly when you are the maker.  News flash: while some clothes are made in a factory far, far away by someone you have never met, mistakes do happen and imperfection results.  I have had plenty of purchased clothes that have defects, including some that required mending I could easily accomplish, and some that had a defect that became apparent after one or two washes that was not really capable of mending without wholesale reconstruction.  Needless to say, I’ve had loads of secondhand clothes that require mending as soon as they get to my place. Well, sometimes I make clothes that are imperfect.  And sometimes I do something stupid that requires mending soon after they are completed–in this pair I machine tacked the front pockets closed during making to prevent wiggling, and then managed to rip out the tacking and the top stitching.  Oh, joy.  But you know?  Imperfection is part of life and there is really no reason clothes you make yourself will or should be perfect.

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Then there is the question of fit.  I doubt I am alone in finding that jeans sold in stores don’t fit me all that well.  One fine reason to make your own is skipping the bit where you try on 20 pairs and hate them all, and maybe also notice you don’t like yourself much.  Oh, sexism, you make appearance the measure of a woman in a way my mind refuses to accept but that evidently has a grip on my feelings, and consequently you make self-kindness so challenging to accomplish. Oh, sexism, you make it seem that a woman should care more about how she looks than how healthy she is, and that alone makes me hate and resist you.

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The pairs of jeans I’ve bought over the years new and secondhand often don’t fit all that well, but for some reason they get a pass and my handmade clothing doesn’t. Nothing rational about that.  I measured myself up, selected my size and resisted the urge to make a size larger.  I made just one adjustment, right at centre back just below the waistband, where jeans normally stick out a whole lot, requiring a belt. I have been told by my mother that this is because I have a sway back, whatever that is, and by sales assistants it’s because I have a big butt.  Whatever, this minor adjustment meant these jeans were the right shape for my particular body, three cheers!  They did wrinkle under the seat, which my pants fitting book tells me is due to “thighus giganticus”.  Oh, internalised sexism, that has women talking to one another this way! I don’t like you much. If feeling bad about ourselves could make us better people, more confident sewers, or even slimmer, the world would be a different place.

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I was so happy about the fact these fit me better than any pair I’ve bought in years (that’s the test, right?) that I made another pair, very slowly and over several weeks.  This time, I decided on more ease, provided by making the same adjustment at CB but stitching the main outer seams with 0.5 cm seam allowance rather than the 1.5 cm allowed in the pattern.  They are even better, as I seem to have come home from Japan smaller than usual and returned to my customary more generous size since. I also decided on a different colour of topstitching thread.

And by this time I knew that I’d had a user fail on the hardware kit the first time and noticed another thing: why had I bought this (admittedly lovely and functional) hardware rather than using what I already had?  Still invested in consumption and overlooking the fact I never show my waistband off and I’m the only one who sees these fastenings?  On the second pair I used a hammer-on jeans button from the op shop (more in the pack if I have done a bad job of installing it) and some almost matching buttons for the fly, from stash.  And there we have it, the top end of my regular-wear wardrobe restored!

 

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