Jeans mending advice

jeans drawing by heidi jergovsky on pixabay I’ve mended a lot of jeans over the years – my hubby tends to tear a knee out midway through the jeans’ lifespan, and my jeans simply wear thin before I feel like they’re done with this world. Here’s some advice from my experience.


The hubs’ jeans tend to get washed between injury and repair, so the edges of the tear fray out. My method is this:

  • cut out the frayed part
  • cut a large patch from matching material (saved from former jeans)
  • pin the patch onto the inside of the jeans (much less noticeable)
  • zigzag the edge of the hole onto the patch (prevents more fraying)
  • stitch with the grain of the fabric, in the ravines, with a somewhat shortened stitch length, in two rounds. First every 6 ravines or so in a large area centered on the hole (you’ll have to stitch across the ribs to get between ravines, but it will be minimally noticeable), and second every other ravine or so in an area that extends only an inch or so from the hole. This secures the patch out into good fabric as well as giving it a very sturdy connection in the weak fabric.
  • trim the excess patch fabric from the inside of the jeans.

Hubby’s jeans also tend to get holes just above the bottom hem, and I follow a similar but far less thorough method for those holes.


My jeans rub thin, mostly on the inside of the thighs. Weakening of the fabric over a general area means the remaining life is limited, but can still be extended. Here’s this process:

  • iron fusible tricot onto the inside of the jeans, covering the worn area and extending well into the good. Tricot is good because it is very light and stretches but still gives you a solid foundation for your stitching.
  • stitch the tricot in place (otherwise wear and washing will peel it up) with straight stitching as far out from the worn region as you can stomach. Well-matched thread, short stitches, and stitching with the grain of the fabric will minimize the visibility.
  • cover the worn area, into the good again as far as you can stomach (probably not as far as with the straight stitching), with wide zigzag; be more thorough the more worn through it is.

With “as far as you can stomach” don’t be shy! You have to get well into the good fabric and be thorough over the bad or you’ll just have to do it again sooner. Stitching within the worn fabric is a double-edged sword – it holds it but simultaneously perforates it. Getting into the good fabric is a necessary anchor for your stitching and tricot.

To Mend Or Not To Mend

Medieval viking reenactment from Pixabay In the last few years I’ve become much more aware of my consumption habits. Until recently this was coupled with a distinct shortage of pocket money, and the combo led me to focus on buying less in all areas of life. Retraining myself to simply want less is part of it – there are a lot of things that I can easily do without, and getting out of the habit of allowing myself the brief acquisition high relaxes its hold on me (I find the same is true of eating sugary things). Serviceable clothing isn’t something I can do without, though.

There are plenty of pieces of advice for stretching your budget on the shopping side of things. I shop sales and try to anticipate my seasonal needs; I haven’t had much luck with finding my everyday clothes at thrift stores, but I shop there for dressier and costume pieces. Another tip I’ve seen frequently is to choose pieces that all coordinate with each other. I wear v-neck knit shirts and jeans almost every day of the year, with cardigans on top in the winter, so as long as my sweaters coordinate with a wide variety of colors I already have that covered. My spin on that advice is to also avoid really distinctive, noticeable items that I won’t want to wear more than once a month, lest people think I just wear them all the time and never wash them. Dress clothes get a pass, since I am not going to wear those frequently regardless.

The third prong, after reducing quantity and shopping thriftily, is mending. I’ve been trying to determine the cost/benefit ratios of different mends, and here are my thoughts.

Worth It

darning jeans –
Jeans are expensive and machine-darning them is quick. Tears are easier to fix than wear from rubbing, and the mends last longer, but both are worthwhile. Save fabric from dead jeans for later repairs – my husband has a collection of identical jeans and he gets a lot more mileage out of them since I can patch his knee tears with matching fabric so they still look good enough for work. More on this next weekend.

mending bras –
Up to a point, of course. If the fabric or elastic is worn out, doesn’t have the oomph it should, then it’s time to say goodbye. However, if the strap has torn off the band or the underwire is poking out but the material is still good, it’s certainly worth fixing. Again, bras are expensive and the fixes can be quick.

overdying shirts –
Don’t bleach them, because it will thin the fabric, but blah shirts can be revived for a while with an application of dye in a coordinating color. Darkening the fabric not only makes the shirt feel new, it can help thinning shirts be more opaque.

reattaching underwear elastic –
Sometimes the waistband or leg bindings of underwear come loose from the fabric, and it is a quick matter to reattach them with a zigzag stitch, stretching the fabric and elastic while you stitch.

darning sweaters –
For me, sweaters are worth even more than their purchase price, because I have spent a long time finding the ones in my collection. I can’t wear wool sweaters without irritation, and high quality cotton or acrylic sweaters are hard to find. Even though a good mend on a sweater has to be done by hand, it’s worth the time.

replacing coat zippers –
This is typically not as difficult as you might think, and coats are another expensive item. If you have a puffy multi-layer coat the trick is to baste all the layers together maybe half an inch in from the edge of the zipper tape so they stay aligned while you remove and replace the zipper.

Not Worth It

(of course, this is unless it’s an article of clothing that is special to you)

darning socks –
This is a lot of work and most socks aren’t that expensive. I have fixed a lot of socks, but in the future I will only fix the superfancy ones (such as Smartwool), because the amount of time it takes to darn a cheaper sock is worth much more than the amount of time and money it takes to replace the pair. The mends are difficult to make well, also, and can be very noticeable and not very durable.

mending holes in shirts –
I don’t know how to make a mend on the little pinholes that t-shirts develop over time that is not hard, thick, and very obvious. I live with the pinholes until they are too much; fortunately for me that tends to coincide with the overall death of the shirt. I have once or twice taken care of a pinhole by shortening the shirt so it lay in or below the hem, but of course the shirt has to be long enough to allow that.

Maybe, Maybe

replacing jeans zippers –
If the jeans fit well and have good life left in them, and there isn’t a lot of hardware or excess stitching making the zipper replacement trying, then do it. If the jeans aren’t that great or are on their way out, or the replacement process is going to be a lot of labor, I’ll take a pass.

replacing coat linings –
If you love the coat and it’s in good shape on the outside, this is probably worth the effort. This is a LOT of effort, though, so choose carefully.

replacing PJ pant elastic –
Since pajamas don’t get the kind of wear that, say, pants you wear to work do, the fabric often lasts a lot longer than the elastic. The elastic takes wear from machine drying, but also will simply harden with age and get crackly. The reason this is in the “maybe” category is that there are two ways PJ elastic is typically installed: threading through a casing or stitching flat onto the inside of the waistband (generally with many rows of stitching). In the latter case it is probably not worth the effort (though if you have vaguely matching fabric you can cut off the old waistband and make a new one that does thread the elastic through the casing). In the former case, provided the fabric is still good, it probably is worth the effort.

Easy Belt-Looping

My sister wanted me to retrofit some pants with belt loops, which meant constructing the belt loops from scratch. Always efficiency-minded (hahaHAHAHAHAHA), I tried to determine how to create them in as few steps as possible. What made sense was a long strip to be cut apart into individual belt loops.

I used my entire piece of fabric, selvedge to selvedge, and only cut the belt loop strip off after a few steps (none of my fabrics were much bigger than half a yard, though). This was nearly enough for two pairs of pants (it was 58″ including the selvedges and I needed a usable 60″), and would have been more than enough had I not been on the “lots” end of typical belt loop numbers per pair. Four inches per belt loop is more than enough, even counting a wide unusable selvedge.

Fold the edge of the fabric to the wrong side, if there is one, and press. I just folded over about an inch and eyeballed the straightness. Pin and stitch an eighth of an inch away from the fold. Trim off the folded-over fabric close to the stitching.

belt loops, step 1 belt loops, step 2

Fold your new finished edge to the wrong side of the fabric by exactly an inch. Press, pin, and stitch as before, trimming the bulk of the fabric away this time so you have an inch-wide strip with two finished edges.

Now fold both finished edges to the wrong side of the fabric so they meet in (approximately) the center. This step requires lots of pins, and I like to pin from the smooth side so that I can capture both folds in one swoop. Press well, and stitch twice down the strip, 1/8″ or a bit more away from each outside edge. I did this by centering the strip under my presser foot and stitching with the needle to one side. There’s your strip of belt loops!

belt loops, step 3 belt loops, step 4

There are basically two ways belt loops are applied to pants. Dress pants typically have the bottom end sewn into the waistband seam; they may go downward from there before folding up to reach the top of the waistband with a finished end, which is topstitched on. Jeans typically have belt loops that are finished and topstitched at both ends. I did a little of both, though I didn’t tuck the ends of the belt loops into the waistband seam so I don’t think I benefited from it looks-wise.

For the jeans version you want to add 3/4″ to the desired finished length of your belt loop to determine how long to cut them. Make chalk marks that far apart down your strip and make a medium-width tight zigzag on either side of each mark (well, not outside the outermost marks). Cut on the marks and you have your loops. Now fold each end down by a generous 1/4″ (the allowance is 3/8″ because you will lose a little to the u-turn since these are thick) and baste to hold. Pin the belt loops in your desired locations and topstitch with a tight narrow zigzag along your basting at each end. My sewing machine doesn’t give me any measurement/units for zigzag, but I used the same width for topstitch that I use for the sides of buttonholes, and for the zigzagging previous to cutting, I used a zigzag between the widths I use for sides and ends of buttonholes. Hope that helps. For both I set stitch length to 1.5mm.

For the dress pants version you have two measurements to add. If your desired finished length is more than the width of your waistband (and if it’s not I recommend the jeans style), you have to add the difference. For example, if your waistband was 1.5″ and your desired belt loop length was 2″ you would need to add a half inch at this step, coming to 2.5″. Then you need either 3/8″ for the top turn-down or 3/4″ if you are going to tuck the bottom end into the waistband seam. For our example that would bring the total to either 2 7/8″ or 3 1/4″. Fold down and baste one end of each belt loop as for the jeans. For the less-tidy version, butt the other end against the waistband seam in the desired location, right sides together with the loop extending down the pant leg. Zigzag in place, fold the folded end up to the top of the waistband, and topstitch in place. For the more tidy version, pop open the stitching of the waistband in the vicinity of the loop, tuck it in by 3/8″, re-stitch the waistband, and then fold the loop up as before.

(Incidentally I chose my desired finished length by measuring some jeans belt loops. You can measure the widest belt you would ever want to wear with the pants and then add, say, 3/4 inch for the “nice” version or 1 1/4 inch for the jeans version.)