The Refashioners 2016: Heather

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When Portia first asked if I’d liked to participate in a jeans-centered Refashioners challenge, my answer was clearly “HELLS YES!” Jeans are a bit of an obsession for me. I design jeans sewing patterns, wrote a book about how to sew them, and teach jeans making workshops. A refashioning challenge featuring second hand jeans is pretty much my jam. I also knew immediately what I wanted to make: a perfect, deconstructed pair of Levi 501s.

The Refashioners 2016 - Heather


If you’re a heavy Pinterest user like I am, it would be hard not to notice what a huge comeback 501s have had in the past year or so. Everything 90s is back (whether we like it or not), but there is something perennially classic and eternal about a stonewashed pair of Levis. While I would happily collect dozens of vintage pairs, I happen to have a pair of hips; 501s are drafted for men and therefore are nearly impossible to wear if you have a pear shaped body like mine. While I’ve picked up a number of pairs over the years for research purposes, not one ever managed to fit just right. I could rarely get the buttons done up without crying, and the straight leg never felt very flattering or modern. I’ve also found myself incredibly inspired by all the deconstructed jeans I’ve been seeing lately (many examples of which I’ve collected here), so I decided that it was high time to make myself a pair of frankensteined 501s that actually fit.

I started with three pairs of vintage Levi’s in a gradient of washes. The best fitting pair couldn’t even do up as you can see below, but they did give me the magical 501 butt I’ve been chasing like a dragon for years, so I decided to use those as my base.

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I started with figuring out how much I’d need to add to the waist, which added up to about 1 1/2 inches on each side. I decided to replicate the method I used in high school when I wanted to make jeans that fit, which involves sewing in inserts of fabric along the side seams. However, unlike the hippyish pairs I made when I was 14, I decided to insert the side seam from one of the other pairs in order to create a subtle colour blocked effect. Since I didn’t want this panel to be too skinny, each side seam panel ended up being about 3″ wide, which meant removing the extra 1 1/2″ of width from the side seams of my base pair. I made sure to include lots of extra waistband from the new panel so I could stagger the waistband seam.

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Once I had everything cut out, I did a quick baste to see what it looked like. While the fit was great through the waist, the legs were way too wide, so using my Morgan Jeans pattern as a base, I narrowed the legs substantially on the base pair. While the new sewn in panel is a consistent width, the main jeans leg was tapered quite a bit to give more of a skinny fit.

The Refashioners 2016 - Heather


At this stage I realized that the difference in wash was almost too subtle, so I decided to add some more dramatic contrast. I made a pattern piece for the back calf and cut it from my lightest jeans, and then replaced the back lower leg of my base pair with this new piece. The top seam was serged and topstitched into place.

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I also added hefty knee patches to break up the darker blue. I hoped to handstitch straight lines using sashiko thread, but after sewing up a sample I realized I didn’t have the time or hand strength to stitch through that much denim, so I resorted to a simple straight topstitch on my machine.

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Once I was sure that the legs fit well, I sewed everything up and serged and pressed open the inner seams. I decided to leave the hem raw for now since I liked how it looked folded up, but I will definitely have to trim off any errant threads after I wash them for the first time.

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Finally, I pieced together a newly expanded waistband. This was probably the trickiest bit of sewing since I had to rip everything open and carefully sew it back together. Luckily the two darker pairs of jeans were similar sizes so it was pretty easy to get the yoke and pocket openings to line up evenly. I love the way the extra belt loop looks too. I used a matching topstitching thread along the waistband once I was sure the fit was spot on.

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Perhaps my favourite detail is the overlapping coin pockets; I love the different textures of denim all playing off each other.

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In the end, I am over the moon for these jeans. It was a lot more work than I anticipated, but they fit like a total dream and let my hips enjoy the 90s stonewash denim trend. My boyfriend likes them so much he’s now pleading with me to make him a pair too. We’ll be quite the sight walking around in all our patchwork 501 glory.

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A big thank you to Portia for inspiring this refashion! This denim obsessive is really happy to have this deconstructed pair in her collection….
Aaargh! Another pair of jeans I now want! Aside from the fab decorative elements of this refashion there’s a particular technique, that for me, is the big “takeaway” from this make. And that is the “T” shaped panel, harvested from another pair of jeans, and inserted into the base pair to make them fit. So if you have a pair of jeans that are way too small, there’s your solution. RIGHT. THERE. You can use a contrast panel or go for one in a closely matching wash. And hopefully by this stage of the series, you have a few more ideas of what you can do with what’s left of your “donor” jeans afterwards 😉

You can find Heather here or here. And if you’re inspired to get your refashion on and enter the Community Challenge and be in with a chance of winning some epic prizes…DO IT! Deadline for entries is 30th Sept. Midnight GMT.

The Refashioners 2016 - Huge Prize Package

….I think you’ve got the idea now right? Essentially we want you to refashion some jeans! (You can find the full details/small print of the brief here). BUT, if you want to be in with a chance of winning one of these amazing prize packages you need to SHARE that refashion with us in one of the following ways:

  • On Instagram: Share a pic using the hashtags #therefashioners2016  and #jeanius
  • On Pinterest: There is a community board here where you can pin your makes. (You will need to request an invite to join)
  • On Facebook: There is a community board here where you can post your makes (You will need to request an invite to join)

Only entries shared via the above 3 methods will be entered into the competition. Closing date for entries is 30th September 2016 Midnight GMT. Good luck!!

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  1. eimear August 22, 2016

    they are brilliant, its an amazing job and personally I think jeans do really look their best when they are worn and there is a story behind them…..yours have amazing character. love em

  2. teresa August 22, 2016

    great this blog is fantastic

  3. Deb August 22, 2016

    I say again…I love this denim series. Such amazing work!

  4. Deb August 22, 2016

    PS: Went to the thrift shop. Three pairs of jeans are now in the sewing room.

  5. Sonya August 22, 2016

    Wow great idea and I love your new jeans! My husband is a very tall 6ft 8, and I was think now maybe I could refashion him a pair of jeans that actually fit in length that won’t have a saggy bum!

    • Carol S August 23, 2016

      I had a favorite pair of jeans years ago that had a diagonal seam just below the knee. It’s a great way to make the added length look intentional.

  6. Genevieve Casey August 26, 2016

    I love these.

  7. Karen Saari August 30, 2016

    This is a GREAT idea! I have a stack of jeans that fit me in the butt and waist but are waaaay to small in the knees. I’ve been studying these jeans for almost a year, trying to figure out how to make the knees wider. This might just be my solution. I’m so glad I found your post! 🙂


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