How To – A Simple Guide to DIY Denim Repairs

Many people have asked how my jeans have lasted so long. The following was one of my secrets.

It’s an issue we all encounter during our denim journey; the mere sight of it makes even the most grown man and woman quiver in fear. You probably know what I’m alluding to: the blowout. Luckily, you can save and extend the life of your jeans by using this simple guide to denim repairs.

You should be on your way to fixing your own jeans after this article. The hardest part is learning how to thread your sewing machine. After that, practice on any scraps available before putting your skills to the test on your jeans.

Before proceeding, its important to familiarize yourself with the basics of warp, weft, and twill.

While we’re all aware of the alternatives to fixing your own jeans – darning, sew-on patch, the iron-on patch, fabric mending glue, buying new jeans, and so on – its best summed up in a quote we’ve all heard growing up:

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. – Chinese Proverb

So don’t buy a fish, learn to do it yourself. It’s saved me plenty of time and money just by learning how to fix my own jeans.

DIY Denim Repairs

Wall-mount that 21 oz.’er!

One of the biggest complaints about raw denim is that the crotch rips too quickly. Consider this analogy, if your car tire has a hole in it, you can continue driving it for a while before you have to replace it. Fixing  it right away will save your car.

This analogy has some holes faults in it, but overall the tear in your denim is like the tire’s hole. You can last with the tear, but it will eventually get worse and put your jeans out of commission. Fix the hole before it becomes a major problem and you’ll save yourself a lot of worrying.

On one hand, the crotch should last a decent amount of time since you’ve invested X-amount of dollars into your jeans. On the other hand, the crotch is the highest stress point and wearing it 7 days a week for an entire year is going to wear it out sooner. More importantly -

There is at least a 4 week period, usually longer but very variable, when a hole first appears before it fully matures into a rip.

From what I’ve learned and observed, the warp yarns tear before the weft yarns do. I may be extrapolating a bit, but the weft yarns are more durable than the warp yarns because warp yarns are more stressed by the friction of the up & down motion of our legs and life than the less common side-to-side movement.

In other words, warp yarns break because they’re more active than the weft yarn.

Before we go any further, I’ve classified the life of a hole into 3 stages:

  • Stage 1: When the warp threads start to fray or a few warp yarns have ripped.
  • Stage 2: Warp threads have completely ripped in one area and the weft threads are starting to fray or a few weft threads have ripped.
  • Stage 3: Both warp and weft threads have ripped.

The simple solution to prolong your jean’s life is this –  Fix the fraying fabric before they become holes and rips.

Just to clarify, the main source of my sewing skills and knowledge come from Home Economics (AKA Foods and Fashion) in Grade 8 and 9 where we learned basic home skills of cooking and sewing.

If you add a working knowledge of warp and weft yarns, congrats, you know as much as I do. Practice mending some holes and you’ll be an expert.

For what is worth, the sewing machine I’m using is about 28 years old.  There’s nothing particularly fancy about it. All the machine needs to do is sew forwards and backwards. If you’re curious, the brand is Montgomery Ward (which has an interesting history).

I’m using my Naked and Famous x Blue in Green jeans as the test subject. It’s the beginning of the 22nd month and my jeans need a bit of help getting across the 2 year mark. Here I am practicing what I preach – so fix your jeans or let them die.

The Procedure

  1. Periodically check your jeans for any holes (especially the crotch). Pre-screen for any holes.
  2. Set up your sewing machine.
  3. Clear away any frayed warp yarns.
  4. Straighten fabric around the hole to ensure the fabric is smooth and wrinkle-free.
  5. Sew zigzag patterns to recreate the broken warp yarns.
  6. Continue the zigzag patterns back and forth until you reach desired hole coverage.
  7. Enjoy your denim until more holes form.

The Diagram

Below is a hole. Notice the broken warp yarns – they’re the first ones to go. If you let it go long enough, the weft yarns will break away and create a hole. Simply put, the goal is to recreate the warp yarns.

I do this by making zigzag patterns with my sewing machine over the length of the hole. Go from the top to the bottom of the hole from side to side until you reach your desired amount of coverage.

Left: offending hole; right: zigzag from top to the bottom of the hole until you reach the other end.

Left: offending hole; right: zigzag from top to the bottom of the hole until you reach the other end.

Left: zigzag in the reverse direction to the other side; right: Keep going until you cover the hole. Repeat this process until you reach your desired coverage.

Left: zigzag in the reverse direction to the other side; Right: Keep going until you cover the hole. Repeat this process until you reach your desired coverage.

Note: Don’t overdo it or else the fixed area will be incredibly stiff and unsightly.

The Process

Gutermann "jeans" coloured thread. 70% Poly and 30% Cotton.

Gutermann “jeans” coloured thread. 70% Poly and 30% Cotton.

Get past this part and that's half the battle!

Get past this part and that’s half the battle!

Remember to cut off any excess or frayed warp yarns to make a cleaner repair.

Remember to cut off any excess or frayed warp yarns to make a cleaner repair.

I have to remove the pressor foot every time because the jeans are too thick at the wasit band to fit in.

I have to remove the pressor foot every time because the jeans are too thick at the wasit band to fit in.

Double-check that your pocket bags aren't in danger of being sewn together with your denim!

Double-check that your pocket bags aren’t in danger of being sewn together with your denim!

Straighten the hole and weft yarns before sewing. You can imagine what happens if you sew it together improperly.

Straighten the hole and weft yarns before sewing. You can imagine what happens if you sew it together improperly.

Feed the jeans and guide it through evenly!

Feed the jeans and guide it through evenly!

It looks like the pocket is being squished and spilling out. It is not.

It looks like the pocket is being squished and spilling out. It is not.

Denim Repair

Fixing the hole underneath the back left pocket. It's always a bit tricky when going over multiple layers of denim. Be careful not to sew the back pockets to the rest of the denim. Notice the zigzag procedure in action.

Fixing the hole underneath the back left pocket. It’s always a bit tricky when going over multiple layers of denim. Be careful not to sew the back pockets to the rest of the denim. Notice the zigzag procedure in action.

Fixing the hole at the front left knee. Sew up and down the hole to recreate the missing warp yarns. I did 5 laps (or 10 lengths) across the hole.

Fixing the hole at the front left knee. Sew up and down the hole to recreate the missing warp yarns. I did 5 laps (or 10 lengths) across the hole.

Close-up of big left knee hole after some sewing magic.

Close-up of big left knee hole after some sewing magic.

Before And After – Exterior

Front top of the jeans. The hole is located to the bottom right of the left pocket.

Front top of the jeans. The hole is located to the bottom right of the left pocket.

The hole is ~1.5 cm (0.59 inches). These ones are quick and easy to fix.

The hole is ~1.5 cm (0.59 inches). These ones are quick and easy to fix.

The hole in question is under the left back pocket.

The hole in question is under the left back pocket.

This hole was a bit trickier to maneuver because of the back pocket. Thankfully, I didn't sew over it.

This hole was a bit trickier to maneuver because of the back pocket. Thankfully, I didn’t sew over it.

The left knee got two troublesome holes. The toughest part was fitting all the denim through the machine to reach the hole. That 21 oz. denim is thick...

The left knee got two troublesome holes. The toughest part was fitting all the denim through the machine to reach the hole. That 21 oz. denim is thick…

Don't let your holes get this big. I should have fixed it 2 weeks before this period, but I let it grow for the sake of this article. Hole size: 4.5 cm (1.77 inches).

Don’t let your holes get this big. I should have fixed it 2 weeks before this period, but I let it grow for the sake of this article. Hole size: 4.5 cm (1.77 inches).

Before and After – Interior

Looking at your jeans from the inside-out is a good way to determine where holes are forming. The fuzzy blue parts are warp yarns that are starting to fray. Nothing to get alarmed about – it’s just a sign of your jeans wearing down.

Front of the jeans from the inside-out. Notice the pocket bag on picture's right and how it's helping to create a hole.

Front of the jeans from the inside-out. Notice the pocket bag on picture’s right and how it’s helping to create a hole.

I decided to do minor crotch repairs (not pictured) since I was repairing my jeans. Crotch repairs were done with the same procedure as described.

I decided to do minor crotch repairs (not pictured) since I was repairing my jeans. Crotch repairs were done with the same procedure as described.

Fixed the hole underneath the left pocket.

Fixed the hole underneath the left pocket.

Probably should have gone over this one a few more times with the sewing machine.

Probably should have gone over this one a few more times with the sewing machine.

interior selvedge

interior selvedge knee

Conclusion

And what article would be complete without a pros and con list? Don’t be scared off by the cons; the pros outweigh them by a long shot.

Pros

  • Prolongs the life of your jeans.
  • Saves time and money.
  • No holes, no problems.

Cons

  • You’re responsible for any mistakes.
  • Minor time investment to learn how to sew.
  • Your jeans won’t drape as nicely if you over-sew the hole.

Let us know if you have any other tips, suggestions, or improvements to this or your DIY denim fixes.

Josh

Well known for his 15 month Nudies Jeans denim experiment in 2010, Josh is a raw denim enthusiast, tennis fan, and foodie from Edmonton, Canada.

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  • Vinyl Scratch

    An extremely awesome, well-written, and informative article. I possess absolutely no knowledge of sewing, but after reading this, I’m determined to learn how to perform my own denim repairs to give my jeans that little extra personal touch. Thanks a lot, Josh; you seem like a real stand-up guy and I can’t tell you how much I LOVE your infamous N&F x BiG jeans. =)

    • Joshua Le

      Thanks Vinyl Scratch. To me, learning how to repair and care for your jeans is the next part to the raw denim journey. Let us know how it goes! It’s surprisingly easier than you’d think – it just takes a bit of work to get ‘er done. :D

    • Anonymous

      Ugh go back to chon you disgusting.

  • Arie501xx

    Great to read how other guys repair their beloved jeans. I use the same techniques for more than 25 years on my old 501´s, but also love to sew patches on the outside for a more worn out look (outside fabrics can be: denim in the same or different colours of the jeans, leather, suede, cancvas, handkerchiefs etc….).

    • Joshua Le

      It’s amazing how many different ways there are to repair your jeans. I personally haven’t tried putting patches on the outside, but I’ll add that on my to-do list for next time. I’ve seen different fabrics with designs added to the inside and it looks pretty neat too.

  • apsidewatch

    now this is the article that places rawrdenim in the heart of fellow denimheads. Get more of this and less of new release and brand introduction, it should be all good

    • Joshua Le

      Thanks for the kind words. I spent a lot of time and thought to produce this article. I genuinely hope it helps denimheads across the globe.

  • Grazfather x

    haha good old Foods and Fashion. I won the award for highest grade in grade 9 :) Go Alberta education!

    • http://www.rawrdenim.com Rawr Denim

      Spoken like a true Albertan ;)

      • GeneralCortex

        Fuckin eh.

        Just stumbled on the blog.

        Just found out its AB based. Fuck yeah.

        I love my raw denim. I love it so much that I tend to buy enough pairs that I can’t put enough time into any singular pair.

        I’m making the pact now to stop buying more until I get some sick results.

    • ricky

      You make my words, I’m gonna get my grade 10; and everyone else can just catch a boat to Fuck-offity Land,

    • ricky

      You make my words, I’m gonna get my grade 10; and everyone else can just catch a boat to Fuck-offity Land,

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  • disqus_FK79VKCcR3

    Hi, I’ve a pair of Attachment jeans which was washed and ironed (gasp) and now it just hangs loose. Can it be fixed ie. how can get those set-in crease back? Help!

    • Joshua Le

      I’m venturing a guess, but you might have some luck starching them and re-creasing them. I have no experience doing so, but it’s worth a shot. The creases aren’t necessarily suppose to hold forever and it depends on a variety of factors whether it does so (initial starchiness, denim weight, fit on body, etc).

  • Kretek

    Wait a minute. I’m supposed to wash my jeans prior to 15 months? Man…I have a pair of 8 month old A.P.C.s and I wasn’t going to wash them…probably ever.

  • dr.mumu

    very cool, this information in this articel is what the internet is built for, best regards from Vienna/Austria

  • brandon

    can you guys do a tutorial on how to fix a back pocket hole?

  • Nolan Flansburg

    Josh, do you know of a good denim repair tailor in Edmonton? I’ve gone to Whitemud Tailors, and they do good work, but I was looking for somebody who specializes in denim.

    • Joshua Le

      Most tailors (including Edmonton) do variants of a patch job, so that’s why I decided to do it myself. I haven’t really looked too hard, to be honest, but I can’t say with any certainty there’s a denim repair specialist in town. Your best bet would be sending them to Denim Therapy or using the darning services of Self Edge, Railcar, etc. Or use the above method. ;)

      • Nsot

        Thanks for the reply, Josh. I think I will work up the courage to use your method. The worst that could happen is I would add a little extra personality to my already beat up jeans if I mess up :)

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  • http://twitter.com/tsancio Tomas Sancio

    This is great! Thanks for the article. Most of my jeans fail from the crotch hole and my attempts to get them fixed are embarrassing.

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  • Lolenseu

    Thank you so very much for this tutorial. It is exactly why I subscribed to this site. Am a neophyte in darning and this was out of necessity. Have become so interested I want an old Singer 47W70 and now am repairing old machines as a hobby. All this out of the simple need to repair a small hole and knee blowout in my jeans (cheap ones). You explanations are pure gold and much appreciated.

  • David Gunzenhauser

    this was really helpful… i found a hole in the arse of my favorite jeans two days ago… first thing I need to do is to fix them.. second, stop putting them in the dryer

  • Forensica

    Thanks for the great tutorial.It was exactly what I was looking for!

  • Christy

    the warp frays more than the weft because jeans twill is a 2/1 twill (over 2 threads, under one), and you’re wearing the warp faced fabric on the outside, where the rest of the world is. If you had some jeans made with the weft face on the outside, where it could get abraded, then you would see more wear with the weft face.

  • Dave523

    Thanks this article is really helpful as I need to repair some holes in my jeans as well as my denim jacked. Was wearing all three worn out pairs with caution and sparsely because I didn’t want to have to throw them away. I had no idea how to mend them and always thought it was odd to bring a pair of worn out jeans (for non-denimheads) to a tailor to mend ;-)

    However I wonder if there is a technique to repair my fly. I usually open my pants by just pulling open the fly. Because of this the button opening of button below the top button wears in time. Any ideas / tutorials (on the web) how to repair this. Preferably by hand as I do not have a sewing machine.

    Thx!

    • TJ

      Dave, if it’s the actually buttonholes that are failing from too much use, consider the buttonhole stitch. I recently learned it and it is a pretty awesome beginner’s stitch. Some googling should get you good results on it.

  • Rebecca

    Hello, I’m so happy I found your tutorial! I was hoping you could clarify for me: Are you using a straight stitch in an up and down zig zag pattern or are you using a zig zag stitch in the same up/down+zig/zag pattern. Also, how far into the rip/tear/hole should you start sewing? Would it help or hurt to do a zig zag stitch along the hole’s border to keep from future fraying? I’m sorry for so many questions but I’m new to sewing and want to make sure I do this right. Thanks for your help!

    • Jeanie Bean

      I would like to know as well!

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  • Tim

    Novice sewer here. Only question is, are you doing the zig-zag by continuously sewing forwards and backwards, not cutting the thread until you’re done? Or, do you sew a diagonal, cut, sew, cut, sew? Silly question perhaps. *shrug*

    Great pics though. A video would be perfect. Thanks either way!

  • Flower

    Thanks for this step-by-step! Fixing the butt of my favorite jeans has been on my to-do list for a month now. Thanks for the nudge. I think that one should try to fix before they buy a new pair.

  • pitafajita

    Is there a specific sewing machine you would recommend to use?

  • Jeanie Bean

    Rebecca from three months ago asked some great questions. I don’t know if it’s obvious to everyone else, but how did you get your sewing machine to zigzag a desired length. I am fixing a hole right now. All I can figure is that either your sewing machine has special powers… Or you sewed down, stopped, and cut the thread, repeat. Or you moved the jeans to follow the direction of the needle and thread, which it is not easy to move a pant leg any which direction you want. I have a zig zag option on my sewing machine, but it is about a centimeter wide, shorter than the hole I am trying to fix. Maybe there is an unknown setting that I don’t know about on my machine.

    • AJ

      You probably want to use the reverse function to sew back and forth. There’s usually a button for it.