Vintage Levi’s jeans, especially the 501’s, have achieved cult status even before I was born but in the past few years they became an absolute must-have in the fashion world. Vogue deemed a pair of perfectly worn in and expertly altered pair of vintage Levi’s a stylish staple in every girls’ wardrobe. But to get the right fit is a nightmare! Sizing is a mess. Not only are vintage sizes quite different from today’s standard sizes, they are often inconsistent. A size 28 may fit like a 26 and vice versa. Prior to checking online, I tried multiple stores that sell vintage jeans such as Used House of Vintage and Salvation Army. Apart from thrift stores, I also found used Levi’s at fancy, high end stores. ARITZIA sells limited pairs of reworked vintage Levi’s that cost $100 and up, but they did not fit me well either.
Then I jumped into the vast online marketplace where I discovered Re/Done Jeans. A luxury denim brand that collects used, vintage Levi’s from rag houses, tear apart each pair and cut a new pattern on top. The result is modern fit with the coveted worn in look. But even Re/Done jeans did not fit me as well as I wanted them to. And if I had to spend $300 on a pair of jeans, it would have to fit me perfectly. So I thought why not try to make one? Off I went to buy several pairs of extremely oversized men’s Levi’s at Salvation Army for roughly $10 each. These jeans were size 40 plus and I usually wear a size 26 so a simple alteration would not cut it. I knew I had to tear them apart and do a complete reconstruction.
Back in the good ol’ days, jeans were used for hard labour and worn for years and years. Taking apart the seams took quite a bit of effort because they were reinforced to withstand stress and time. So be prepared to spend some time on this part. Then I had to figure out what pattern to cut on top. I just started sewing at the time and I have never made pants before. Hence I did not have a pant pattern that I can rely on. I did, however, have a pair of vintage Wrangler jeans that fit me well. Since the material was the same, 100% cotton, the Wrangler jeans were the perfect template. But I had no idea how to rub off pattern from ready to wear so I went to my sewing teacher for advice. At the time, I was taking night sewing classes at a local public school.
My sewing teacher, MaryAn, was the coolest and she totally supported my reconstruction project. She advised me to measure my template jeans, the Wrangler and make note of these measurements: waist, hip, rise, upper and mid-thigh. She also advised me to keep the button fly portion of the jeans but take apart everything else.
Having measured my template Wrangler jeans, I then transferred the measurements to the corresponding sections of the Levi’s and cut the excess fabric. I would suggest to keep your leftover fabric pieces as they may come in handy for detailing. The easy part about reconstructing oversized jeans was that I just had to make each fabric piece smaller, while keeping the same shape. Except for the seat curve. The tricky part was to get the seat and bum area to fit well. I had to re-do this part several times as I had no pattern to rely on. If you have a pant pattern then this should be no problem.I also cut the yoke much smaller and moved the waistband down by one button as I wanted a slightly lower rise than the original jeans. As for the leg style, I was inspired by RE/DONE’s ELSA jeans, so I added side slits in the inseam. I also wanted to create a baby flare effect but unfortunately I had already cut the jeans as a straight leg. So I decided to try something unconventional. I cut a triangle shape from my leftover fabric and added it to the hem to create a slight flare as shown above. I quite liked the end result, would definitely experiment more on this later.I took in and tapered the sides a lot so I lost most of the front pockets but I ended up with super cute tiny ones. As for the back pockets, this was where I had some fun. I took apart the pockets and made them much smaller. The result was this really cool super-imposed effect. You could see the previous pocket placement where the jeans was a darker colour.
Anyways, the thought of sewing vintage jeans scared me initially since they were 100% cotton and quite thick. But I learnt that I did not need fancy sewing machines nor industrial ones. A basic sewing machine worked just fine as long as they have heavy duty metal frame and reasonable power. My SINGER PRELUDE has 120 Volts and costs only $120, a basic but powerful enough machine to handle multiple layers of denim. Just make sure to use proper denim needles and thread!
Photos: Vancouver by RY
As summer was fast approaching, my quest for the perfect distressed boyfriend jeans got feverish. I’ve never bought ripped, distressed jeans at the stores because I never quite found the right amount of rips and distressing. So I decided to diy my own from a pair of vintage Levi’s.Back in February, I went through racks of donated jeans at a Salvation Army. My effort was greatly rewarded with several pairs of barely used vintage Levi’s and Wrangler jeans. Each pair costs between $7-11. One of them was this baggy pair of dark Levi’s that I knew would be perfect as boyfriend jeans.I didn’t have to alter the length as it hits just right at my ankle. However, the seat was too big, so I went to a tailor to take it in as I didn’t have a sewing machine yet at the time. With a smaller seat, these jeans fitted much better but I still thought something was missing. I wanted it light washed and distressed.The bleaching process took almost two days, a lot of patience and a grumpy boyfriend that complained of the bleach odor haha… but it was so worth it! Especially since I was able to lighten specific areas. First, I dipped the entire jeans in a bleach/water bath to lighten all parts of the jeans. Don’t worry about the leather patch, thread or tags getting bleached. Since they were not made of 100% cotton, they won’t change colour. I repeated this process about two to three times, machine-washing and drying in between bleach baths.Next, I laid down the jeans on top of a table and further bleached certain areas of the jeans. Make sure not to do this on a beautiful table as the bleach will stain it. To get a more natural effect, I lightened high-contact areas like the butt, thighs and knees. This time, I used super concentrated bleach/water mix and dabbed it on the jeans with a sponge. I left the jeans with bleach for half an hour each time and washed with water in between.After I bought my first sewing machine, the Singer 8280 Prelude, I decided to further perfect the fit. I tapered the legs to make them slimmer and took in the waist band several inches. Even though vintage Levi’s were made of thick, 100% cotton fabric, they were not difficult to sew. An important tip is to use proper jeans needle and thread. I personally love Gutermann jeans thread.Finally, comes the fun part of ripping and distressing the jeans! I took scissors, tweezers and sanding paper to cut holes and break the jeans’ fibres. To get the perfect worn in look, I targeted the knees and thigh areas. Last and final step was to throw the jeans inside the washing machine and dryer, this disintegrated the fibres further and produced those perfect frayed edges…Voila! I got my one-of-a-kind boyfriend jeans!
My bag here is the STRAW carryall in tan. STRAW uses surplus leather from export production. Thus, they do not add waste in the tanning and dyeing process. This carryall is literally my trusty, day-to-day handbag. I love that it is so light and fits all of my work documents and stuff perfectly!
Photos: Portland, Oregon by RY