It’s wonderful to be able to do that. The jeans are just as strong, despite being over 50 years old, and I have no need of anything new.
This is more sustainable, of course. But just as important is that it makes the jeans more personal and precious.
When I bought them they had already been repaired several times. Now I’ve added my own repairs - my own steps on their journey - and as a result there is a lot of emotional investment. I think that’s one reason they’ve become one of my favourite pieces of clothing. They are unique, irreplaceable.
Still, they won’t last forever. Jeans can be repaired many times, and look better doing so than any other type of clothing. But there is a limit.
The most common repair on jeans is reinforcing the crotch (above). You might not want to imagine this, but there’s more sweat and bacteria down there, and (depending on your activities and body type) much more friction.
If the problem is caught when the denim is wearing thin, rather than actually blown through, then darning on the inside of the material can be enough.
This is not darning as you know from knitwear, where hand sewing is used to recreate the weave in a small area of the material. (And which we’ve covered before, here.)
Instead, a sewing machine is used to sew repeatedly back and forth on the back of the denim (shown below). This is done again and again, so much that you’re effectively creating new cloth.
The sewer will generally follow the direction of the twill, and use a thread that’s as similar to the colour of the jeans in that area as possible. It does do the same thing as darning knitwear, but rather more intensely, roughly and mechanically.
Sometimes, a piece of spare material is also needed behind the repair, to reinforce it.
On my jeans, I’d noticed that the seams on either side of the crotch were thinning significantly. There was still thread there, connecting the two sides, but you could almost see through it.
In this case darning on the back of the seam was sufficient (below).
Where the denim on the knee had ripped, however, a new piece of material was also needed on the back. This can be another piece of denim or a piece of softer cotton: the former is stronger but stiffer, the latter softer but not necessarily as strong.
When I had my first pair of bespoke Levi’s repaired, they used denim. Blackhorse Lane, who repaired my vintage ones, preferred to use softer cotton. Either way, the material is then darned on the back in the same way.
“My advice is to bring in jeans before they actually rip through - when they’re just thinning,” says Lilly at Blackhorse Lane. “If you do that, chances are we won’t need to put any backing on, and the result won’t be as thick.”
This is particularly good advice in the crotch because the material needs to shape to your legs and seat, and you’re more likely to notice any extra thickness.
Pictured above is a large repair on the knee of a pair of jeans. Lilly and the team have also put patches on the outside of knees for issues like this, but only in exceptional circumstances.
“If someone is on their knees a lot, through their work, then it can be good to have an extra layer of denim,” says Lilly. “But it’s not normally required. The only other time we’ve done it was when a gentleman had spilt bleach on his jeans, and a patch over the top was more attractive than the stains.”
Another common job is repairing the buttonholes on the fly and waistband. Perhaps surprisingly, this has to be done by hand, so you effectively end up with hand-sewn buttonholes like on bespoke trousers.
That’s necessary because the particular machine can only sew an entire buttonhole, and then cut the material in the middle. Trying to do that over the top of an existing buttonhole would be pretty messy.
Entire waistbands can also be replaced, if needed, and pocket bags replaced too.
“This happens quite a lot with other jeans because they use light pocket bags,” says Lilly (above). “This makes them more comfortable at the start, but they’re often the first things to go.”
A small hole or rip can be seen closed, but often the whole bag has fallen apart. Apparently, men rarely bring these in to be replaced until there’s almost nothing left.
So what can’t be repaired?
“Basically, when the material everywhere just gets too thin,” says Lilly. “When you can hold it up to the light and virtually see through it.”
At that point, the rips are going to come everywhere fast. So you’re effectively making an entire new pair jeans inside; it’s better to start again.
I think my jeans still have a good few years left. Particularly as I don’t wear them every day - and not for anything as manual as they were probably originally used.
So I’ll go on patching and darning for a good while yet.
For details on how much jeans can be altered, rather than repaired, see previous article here.
Blackhorse Lane repair any jeans, from them or any other maker. Take them to the Coal Drops Yard shop to discuss details.
Prices range from £20 for a small hole to £35 for a large one and £60 for replacing a pocket bag.
Other places that do repairs in London, and I would recommend are:
- Soldier Blue: linked to Son Of a Stag and Rudie’s repair and alteration offshoot.
- The Denim Doctor, been doing the alterations for a long time.
- Hang Up Vintage - Ben, a vintage dealer who makes and re-engineers vintage clothing
Pictured above, the pile of repairs waiting at Blackhorse Lane; below, their Singer darning machine. All photography, courtesy of Blackhorse Lane.