Friday, 29 June 2012

Refashion Friday Tips: How to Select Jeans for Refashioning

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I very much believe that there are no 'right' or 'wrong' ways to do anything when making garments. There are indeed a whole load of techniques, methods and approaches you can learn, but it's personal preferences and inclinations that determine when and how any of them should be implemented. This is partly why sewing is such a creative activity. And sewing's openness to interpretation and free-wheeling is even more pronounced when it comes to refashioning or remaking existing garments, when  maybe your text book's technique suggestion might not apply.

Because there are no 'correct' or 'incorrect' approaches, I am no more qualified than the next sewer to make a judgement on how to refashion unwanted garments. However, I have spent an unusually large amount of time thinking about and 'practising' the art of refashioning over the last couple of years during which I have accrued lots of tips, tricks and techniques that might come in handy to those who are a little newer to it. Equally, I'm sure there are loads of things I can learn from other sewers, and that's why sewing blogs are so frikkin' awesome!


All my 'Refashion Friday' posts will be about reusing unwanted garments that are very common and easy for most people to get hold of. It shouldn't be too much of a challenge to source any of the basic garments from a charity shop/thrift store/op shop, if not from cupboards in your own home!

Today I want to talk about one of the most common garments on the planet: jeans. With something as ubiquitous as jeans, surely we can come up with some awesome things to do with some of the unwanted ones? Of course we can! But first up, with jeans being in such ready supply, what should we look for when picking some to start a refashioning project?

What do you plan to make? This is going to have a big impact on what pair of jeans you choose. Broadly speaking, most projects I've seen that started out as a pair of jeans fall into one of two camps.

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The first are projects that still very much retain a jeans-like appearance like cut-off shorts, skirts made from unpicking the inside leg-seams and stitching them down in a different position (example pictured above), simple shoulder bags made from the top of jeans, and so on. For these types of projects, you need only concentrate on the appearance of the top section of the garment and the sizing.

The second type of jeans-based projects use the original garment as a source of denim fabric. This camp of projects are my personal favourite because there are less restrictions in terms of imagination, but they can also require a bit more thought when selecting the initial garment/s.

Size of the jeans. As with all refashioning and remaking of existing garments, the bigger the garment, the more fabric you have to play with. That is why, unless you are planning on making something from the first camp of projects that require a certain waist measurement, you may be best to entirely disregard women's jeans when shopping in the charity shop. The larger sizes of men's garments, when cut apart or unpicked, can provide you with a huge amount of fabric.


When trying to get the most fabric from the jeans, you'll find widest part will be what I charmingly call the 'under-bum area'. From the side seam to the inside leg, underneath the back pocket, is a wealth of denim. So, as grim as this sounds, this area might be your first port of call when assessing the condition of your prospective pair of jeans. Any fading, thinnest from wear or even holes (see picture above) will restrict the amount of harvestable denim from that section.


Similarly, you need to watch for other areas that are easily damaged through wear. To state the obvious, thinning, fading and holes appear most frequently at the knees and back heel area (see picture above). Both will effect how useful the legs of the jeans are to you, especially the knee-area. Fading is one thing: you might actually want to incorporate some cool knee-fading or 'designer' fading and worn effects into your project somehow. But be careful that the knee area  hasn't worn too thin or even become permanently misshapen (see picture below) through the original owner's wear and tear.


Side seams. Unless you are planning on only harvesting long strips of denim, you'll probably want to cut up along one of the side seams to lie the denim flat to get maximum use from the legs. You can lie the centre front of a pattern piece along the side seam and get a fairly decent sized piece out of some jeans. If that is something you might want to do, a straight legged style of jeans (se picture below) might be important rather than a flared or boot cut style that will have curved leg seams and restrict your options. Also, if you want to retain one of the leg seams in your project, before you get too scissor-happy, decide if it's the lapped seam with its twin rows of top stitching or the standard seam with no visible stitching you want to be at the centre of your pattern piece, as most pairs of jeans have both forming each leg.


Another point to consider if you choose to select men's jeans for your project is that dude's jeans are not made with any quantity of stretch (elastane or lycra). Unless you are dealing with some hipster skinny jean styles of course, (and if you are, good luck harvesting any denim from them!). Once again, it barely needs stating, but consider what type of thickness or properties of denim will work best for your project when choosing jeans to work with. Strong, thick denim (like the jeans in the picture above) can be ace for certain things (bags, facings etc), just as lighter or stretchier denim is better for other things. If you require some stretch for your project (maybe you are creating a bustier, for example), I'd advise trying to find a large size of women's jeans for your purposes.

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My final point is colour. Most likely, whatever you make from jeans will be formed from panels (ideas to come in future instalments of 'Refashion Friday') and it is also very likely that your project may require more than one pair of jeans. When faced with multiple pairs of jeans, its amazing how much variety within 'blue' or 'black' there can be. It can be a bit of headache if you want to match colours exactly to create a very cohesive look to your final project. When I want to create something with a single tone and shade, I often use jeans from the same brand (usually Levi's or sometimes Wrangler) as you have more control over the uniformity of colour. Please remember that lots of fun and interesting effects can be created by combining slightly or very different tones and shades of denim jeans in the same project (see picture above).

Now I fear I've either put you off trying to work with jeans because I've laid down heaps of things to consider, or you think I'm slightly mental for spending quite so much time thinking about other people's unwanted jeans!

10 comments:

Kate said...

Great post!

I'm very guilty of making skirts from old jeans either the way shown in the 3rd picture or by cutting panels from the legs.

But I really like the one in the last pic! Might copy it, but it really tells me to think about some other ways to repurpose old jeans into a skirt!

Merche Martinez said...

I´m going to make everyone in my family wear jeans so that at the end of the summer I have enough used jeans to make the skirt in the last photo!

Miriam said...

great tips!

MrsC said...

I think it's exciting! My favourite skirt started life as the top of a pair of jeans, and I've made a quilt from them, and I often think I should have a go at a different use for old jeans, yay!

velosewer said...

Now You've given me more to think about. I've been into coloured skinny jenans so that's going to be fun:)

Lindsey H said...

Thanks for sharing this! I've got a few old pairs of jeans that either don't fit or have a tear on the thigh (but are otherwise in good condition) that I've been saving because I thought it was a waste to get rid of them, so these ideas are perfect! I love that chevron skirt.

Diane said...

Makes me want to sew more!

Tilly said...

Just had a clear out and have saved a couple of pairs of unworn (mammoth) jeans with the hope that you're going to show us how to turn them into a skirt one day... xx

Amy said...

Now I know why I've been saving all those jeans. I can't wait.

Unknown said...

My favorite refassion project for old jeans is the vest. A vest can be made from a single pair of old jeans combined with a cotton print for lining maybe piping and trim.The various parts of the jeans can be incorporated into the design. I used the back pockets and belt loops a lot. Often chose the lining print for a theme. Made a great looking Halloween vest. By far the beat was the seashell vest.

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