Saturday, 23 May 2015

A Pack of Jeans that never runs out

Good Jeans need never die

I went to Sydney three years ago for the '50s fair and did some vintage shopping that weekend. Found a pair of 501s made in Australia, presumably in the 1980s and the tag inside said "Women's". Since I'd already tried them on and they were really comfortable I bought them.
Now the poor old things were on their last legs (pun intended), so what do I do? Cry about it or sew a pair exactly the same but without the rips?
Poor old things
During the week I went to my fabric shop and bought 2 metres of heavy (210 gsm) black drill. During the '80s when these jeans were available the black ones looked really good too.

Step 1: Making the pattern

This was really easy. No paper involved here, just the jeans and pair of snips. Undid all the stitching in one side of the garment. I chose the right side because of the change pocket. The rivets will stop you separating the whole thing, so cut around them. Don't attempt to remove the rivets, the fabric will rip before they come off. There is a lot of chain stitching in jeans, and there's a trick to undoing this. I've never been great at it but it's all one thread so in theory if you snip a particular thread at a particular end of a seam, you will be able to pull it and undo everything in seconds. I scored a few times but it took a while.
The reason for only unpicking one side should be obvious: You need a finished garment to see how it goes back together. Also, take loads of pictures. Every seam you undo and perspective shots. I'm a belt and braces guy because I've run into trouble so many times.
Might also be a good idea to write down the order you disassembled.
The unpicked side is your pattern, in case you haven't guessed. Here are 18 pictures of the process.
Pockets are not
the easiest
Take pics of the
stitch patterns too.
Where are the
belt loops?
This tells you
the order of
Button holes
are key hole
Belt loop bridges
waistband and
main garment
Can't take too
many pictures
All details need
to be reproduced
Except the rivets
How the pocketing
goes on
and again
Where are things
How far pockets
What stitching
looks like from
the inside
Look at that:
Raw edges are

Step 2: Layout for cutting

Now, fold your drill so the selvedges are together and the right sides are together. Something I noticed with making clothes is that they're usually cut along the fabric, so that's what I went with here. If it hadn't been right I'd have noticed by now. I made them three weeks ago, worn nearly every day since, so they're good.
Lay the biggest
pieces down
The little ones
will go around
Now, all pieces except anything that requires only one piece of fabric (change pocket and fly) goes around the bigger ones. Make sure they're as straight as possible: The straight grain is fairly important.
Make sure you add a seam allowance where required. You can do this any way you like, but I have a great little double wheel tool, with adjustable gap. One wheel goes around the edge and the other marks the new one.
The reason the raw edges folded is exciting is that you won't have to finish the edges at all. Very little on this garment was overlocked.
Also, the chain stitch will have to be replaced since I don't have a chain stitch machine (the 411g could have done it but I never got the special needle plate). What machine to sew jeans on? I chose the black 201K23. This was a "no brainer". Well, I could have used an industrial machine but it's getting a bit cold in Melbourne so a portable in the lounge it is. A couple of people, incidentally, have been quite surprised that a domestic machine was used to make these. New plastic machines would stand little chance. That's progress for you :-)

Step 3: Cutting

Well this is obvious. Cut the pieces out and leave pinned to your 'pattern'.
Cut an appropriate width extra for making belt loops. You should unpick one of the original loops completely and do some maths to work out how much you need. Cut the strips into their pieces and you don't need any seam allowance here.

Step 4: Make the Pockets

Something else I've noticed is the order to construct a garment. For any garment, pockets need to be made first. The top pockets are the hardest thing to do as usual, the rest is relatively straight forward. Make the pockets look like the old ones. You will be cutting the internal pocketing out of 100% cotton poplin. If you want it to look like the original, use white. Poplin is extremely cheap and a metre will do a lot of pockets.
The back poskets are 'patch pockets' and are really easy. Draw the pattern that matches the original (or a different one - your jeans) with a dressmaker's pencil and stitch in orange thread.
Could have been a better match, but I'm not going
stealing the design, just making for myself.

Pay careful attention to where the pocketing gets folded and where it needs to be sewn on the jeans. I got this wrong a couple of times before getting it right. This is why the pockets are a bit more challenging. The more experience you have the easier this will be.
original, holes marks where the rivets were.

Step 5: Prepare other garment pieces

Most of these are simply prepared with raw edges folded to the wrong side. Fantastic news, because all you need is a hot iron (turn it all the way up, to cotton/denim and possibly turn the steam on). If you have a steam press, this would be a good use for it. If you have to pin it, don't use plastic headed pins, might seem obvious but if you do they will definitely melt into your lovely fabric and ruin it (no I didn't do this).

The fly was the only piece I had to overlock, and my old Japanese Singer was easily able to do this. As soon as it's overlocked, compare the piece with the original, mark your buttonholes and make them straight away.
So far you've constructed the pockets and folded your pieces.

Step 6: Prepare your machine

You will need to have a machine threaded up with heavy orange thread and one with heavy black thread. I used the same one only due to space considerations, but 201s are very cheap and I do have two of them. Another thing to consider is this: Same thread in the bobbin. The heavy, strong cotton I used was very thick and I did have to make a couple of modifications to my 201K.
1. Fill bobbin, and notice that it doesn't take much thread. Just a fact, bobbin only holds a Certain amount. If it's three times thicker, it will be only a third as long.
2. Modify your bobbin tension. Pull the thread through the needle plate. Initially it will be extremely tight, but you must loosen the tension spring until it isn't otherwise you won't get abalanced stitch.
3. Change the needle. You will need at least a size 18, possibly a 20 but whatever size the thread goes through comfortable. Do a test sew. When mine stitched it sounded like it was hitting the table with a small mallet! Industrial needles will work in domestic machines. I used a 16x231 which have a round shank. Just make sure you put it in the right way.
4. Do a test sew. Use contrasting thread so you can clearly see that the stitch is balanced. I had to dial the top tension to 7 to balance the stitch.

Step 7: Sewing it together

When you sew the inner part of the legs, you must do the orange top stitching straight afterwards. You won't be able to do this after the outside has been stitched. Same goes with anything else that's top-stitched. Do it as soon as you can or you won't be able to do it at all.
Use the intact 'jean' to see how it should look. The fly is only on one side (the left) and the buttons will be put directly on the other, non-fly side.
The fly should match the detailed pictures you took. You did take detailed pictures, didn't you?
With the leg seams you can hide them by doing french seams (tends to be bulky) or the preferred method is flat-felled seams, which is how jeans are usually made. You can experiment with spare pieces of fabric. Normal seams are even acceptable, which you can finish by pinking or even overlocking (how modern). Rather than reinventing the seam, there's a good explanation of how to do this at

Step 8: Waistband and belt loops

This is easier than belt loops for a dress. These jeans were much easier because it doesn't matter if the stitching shows. Prepare by pinning the waistband to the rest and mark the position of the loops (compare with the original waistband).
Make the buttonhole.
Buttonholes use normal weight orange thread
Sew one side of the loops onto the waistband first, sew the waistband to the jeans then the other side to the jeans. This will be hard on your machine: You'll be sewing through many layers of heavy drill but with a 201K, if you can fit it under the foot, it will stitch it. This is also true with most of my machines.

Step 9: Buttons

Bought these from Clegs for about $3.75 a set. Extremely easy to install.
1. Punch a hole in the fabric where each one will go using a hammer and nail.
2. Using the hammer, hit the button's 'nail' into the other bit
That's all, Just hit it firmly and it stays put. I hear you can get buttons put on professionally but I doubt it would make any difference.

Well that's it. Want to see what I ended up with?
Not a great selfie.
They look better
in reality.
I also turned them up too much. The top stitching should have been much lower. I'll be fixing this today.
Total cost = $28.75 not including thread or needles. Yes I know you can buy a pair for less in K-mart but are they as good? Are they made by a person who loves doing this or a slave? Also, I have the pattern and experience now. Hmm... maybe a pair made in tartan or polka dots next :-D

If you don't have a 201, well first of all why not? They regularly sell for less than $100 (I've bought a dozen or so and none was more than $50) and secondly you can do this on any older full size machine. A model 15, 66 or 27/VS2 would hammer this garment into shape pretty easily too.


  1. This is exceptional! I have not ventured into the world of pants or jeans yet, but this will be very helpful as my number will come up eventually. I really like the dark color contrast with the orange thread. In regards to the Singer 201, it's very enjoyable to use large needle sizes on a 201. I don't use them very often, but it's nice to have the option. You did a great job!

  2. Thanks Donovan. I used to buy this exact style until the mid '90s when I bought them in the U.S. but they're a lot easier to regular pants so get yourself a roll of fabric and go nuts :-)

  3. Hi Mike; great tutorial thank you. One question, what do you do about the corner rivets? I've not seen them in retail stores (maybe I'm not looking in the right places) and I like the look of them and would like to include them too.

    1. I couldn't find them so just didn't put any on. If I had some I'd have used them but I think that if you stitch it soundly I don't think they're necessary unless you seriously abuse your clothes.