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Harvesting, repurposing, upcycling or reclaiming denim. These are all just fun ways to describe unpicking the seams of old, used jeans so that you can use the denim for another project. In this post I will give you tips and tricks on reclaiming pre-loved denim to create your made-to-measure halfmoon 101 JEANS.
Reworking and upcycling your clothing is a great way to sew sustainably and be friendly to your budget. When you harvest denim from old jeans, you are rewarded with bits and pieces – like pockets and belt loops – that are done for you, and with denim that has already been aged. This allows you to create truly unique jeans that have people asking, “Wow, where did you get those!?” To which you get to proudly respond, “Oh these? I made them.”
- Too-big-for-you jeans. Jeans that are several sizes too large for you will make cutting easier and less likely that you’ll have to do too much piecing together of scraps.
- Cool markings, like distressed edges, holes, paint splatters, fun stains, etc. This will not lead to “office wear” jeans, but it will make them funky and unique!
- Non-stretch denim. Remember, this pattern is meant for non-stretch denim, so you’ll need to pay attention to that when hunting for pre-loved jeans as well. I’ve found non-stretch to be more common among men’s jeans.
- Functional hardware. This is not really necessary but can be handy! If you have other hardware you intend to use, then you can just ignore this. But finding jeans with functional hardware might also save you a bit more money and time.
After spending hhooouuuurrsss unpicking jeans the first time I created upcycled jeans, I realized that there is a far simpler – and incredibly satisfying – way to unpick your RTW jeans. Wherever you see a chain stitch, you should be able to undo that seam by pulling one thread. It’s so fun! You need to get the thread loose at the right end, but it’s a true joy when it works.
Get a little thread tail going like this (this is an older photo):
I can explain it best in this little video:
Many RTW jeans have a folded over, straight waistband, which is at a stark contrast to the curved waistband of the halfmoon 101 JEANS.
There are two main options: 1) keep the folded, straight waistband and accept the gaping that will occur; 2) cut into your waistband and piece a curved waistband together. What you decide to do about this depends, of course, on your body shape. If your waist measures into a smaller size than your hips, you are likely to need to cut into the waistband
I knew I wanted to keep the folded waistband of my grey jeans if possible, mainly because it had an orange button-hole that I liked. Before taking a final decision, I cut a curved waistband from virgin denim and did a baste-fit with both waistbands.
straight reclaimed waistband
I decided that I can live with this amount of gaping, so I went with the waistband as-is from the reclaimed jeans.
If you have more gaping, or just want to eliminate it as much as possible, you can use the instructions provided with the pattern on page 13. The larger the size you require, the easier this will be (as the curve flattens as the size increases).
Cutting at the center back:
Cutting at the side notches:
Depending on the amount of fabric you have available to you, you may not be able to maintain the requisite grainline. This may result in a slightly less-than-perfect waistband, but this is not likely to be noticeable to the untrained eye thanks to the interfacing that you'll be applying. Most important is that it sits comfortably on you.
If you opt for the straight waistband (as reclaimed from your old jeans), and keep the fold at the top, as I did with my grey jeans, you'll need to modify how you attach the waistband. When you get to Step 14: Prep + Attach Waistband, you will not sandwich the jeans with the main + lining waistband. Rather, you will align the waistband to the jeans right sides together, raw edges and notches matching.
If you're keeping either the button-hole or the button itself, you'll want to tuck the seam allowances of the short edge around the allowances of the long seam around the waist. That's hard to describe...but here's a photo:
Pin this carefully so that the stitch lines are all hidden.
And then finish stitching around the waistband, finishing off the belt loops at the same time.
Benefits to reclaiming old denim
- Pockets and belt loops are done!
- Reuse zipper and button (or button-hole) at the waistband
- Might be able to reuse button-fly
- Press lines may already be done for you, at the hem or seams, for example
- Breathing new life into something no longer in use
- Potentially rescuing fabric from a landfill, from being burned or from being dumped on a low-income country
Hi Deb – I know what you mean regarding the small size of a pattern barely fitting on large jeans. This always boggles my mind. I have had to piece some things together in the past, but not always. It really depends upon the cut of the old jeans. I do re-use the yokes and all the different pieces and end up with just the tiniest scraps. Sometimes I turn pieces and cut them on the cross-grain rather than “correctly” on grain, just to get them to fit.
I’m curious – I am making the 101 jeans for the first time. I am cutting a size 4 and I’ve reduce the length (I’m only 5’2"). I purchased a very large men’s pair of jeans (38W/34 inseam) and after carefully unpicking all the seams, when I lay my pattern pcs on, I can just barely make the front & back pcs fit on the reclaimed denim (which blows my mind since my size is sooo much tinier). Do you often have to piece the reclaimed denim together to get the pcs to fit? Or do you just use 2 pair of really large jeans (In the same wash) to make 1 pattern? What is your advise on this and on piecing the denim. Is there a good spot to do the piecing so it’s less noticeable? I’m so excited to make jeans from old jeans – I think they will look so much better being already worn in. Thanks!! Love the pattern :-) Deb