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Ok, are you guys ready for a life-changing event? I know you have a favorite pair of jeans. And I know the pain when they eventually rip open at the knees, butt, crotch or wherever else. But do not fear, you are not destined to have a dresser full of cut-off jean shorts because today I am going to show you how to darn holes in jeans with what you learned in our last lesson of the Learn to Machine Sew series: the backstitch.
What exactly does darning mean and how is it different from patching? As Wikipedia explains it, “Darning is a sewing technique for repairing holes or worn areas in fabric or knitting using needle and thread alone.” So, while patching is adding extra fabric over or under a hole to repair it, darning is basically recreating the fabric with thread. Now, sometimes I love the way a patch looks (have you ever seen jeans patched with lace? Gorgeous!), but sometimes I don’t want embellishment, just a totally normal pair of jeans. And that’s when darning is just the best thing ever. I’ve lost count of how many holes I’ve darned on my husband’s and my jeans. Every time I do it, I heave a big sigh of relief that I’ve saved yet another loved garment from the Cut It Up Refashion Pile.
All you need to darn is a straight stitch and backstitch. Some sewing machines, such as my Elna Lotus, have an actual darning stitch which goes back and forth with perfect spacing. This sounds amazing, but I actually never use it. It’s pretty small and can only be tilted a bit in one direction of the other, but we tend to get huge gaping holes in our jeans, so this specific stitch is useless for us. But let me just show it to you quickly.
Let’s say you have a little hole. Let’s say that it looks kind of like an X drawn on a folded piece of fabric with a pen.
Put it under your needle. My darning stitch works best with my automatic buttonhole foot (that huge thing you see there on my machine).
As you can see, I not only totally messed up the positioning of the fabric, but I apparently had also accidentally adjusted the tilt of the darning stitch. Hey, I told you that I never use it. The point is: this darning stitch is very limited.
I don’t know about you, but my jeans knees tend to rip open very suddenly and gargantuanly. They also are not usually just a line, but rip open vertically. So I need flexibility when darning. Let’s say your jeans have a big rip in the knee that is both horizontal and vertical. Let’s say that it looks kind of like some horizontal lines drawn on a piece of fabric.
So use your regular presser foot and your regular straight stitch. Start a little bit above the highest part of the rip/pen lines and sew straight down past the lowest part of the rip/pen lines. Push your reverse button and backstitch all the way back up, but moving the fabric slightly with your hands so that it makes a new line of stitching very close to the original one. (Need some help on your backstitch? See my backstitch lesson here!)
Keep going back and forth and back and forth this way. Just keep your finger on the backstitch button so you can keep pressing and letting go while you guide the fabric with your other hand. If this is tricky for you, use both hands to guide the fabric as you straight stitch down, stop, push the backstitch button and let the feed dogs do most of the work as you work your way back up.
Continue like this for a while (you might want to put some good tunes on) until you have a big mess of lines like this. Depending on the fabric type and the nature of the hole or rip, you might want to make the darning relatively sparse like this or much more dense. The great thing about this darning technique is that you have much more control to cover the area that you need to cover. I know you’re thinking how ugly that is and I totally agree. But remember, we are going to be using thread that actually matches the fabric. But I first wanted to show you what exactly darning is and I suggest you first practice on some scrap fabric until you get the feel for it.
Let’s move on to our favorite jeans with a rip in them. (Actually, these aren’t my favorite because I already darned those, so just pretend. If I remember correctly, these ones ripped on my first day of Me Made May 2014, putting them out of rotation for the rest of the month.) Now what color would you say they are? No doubt blue, but what shade of blue? Jean fabric is usually woven from dark blue and white threads and most jeans have been stonewashed to some extent, making some areas lighter than others. Throw general wear and tear into the mix, and you’ll find that your jeans are all different shades of blue! What you need to do is look where the hole is and match your thread to the color you see there. Even if most of your jeans are dark blue, you might actually need to use very light blue or even white thread!
To make jean darning more successful, you’d best use some lightweight iron-on interfacing, such as this one*, to keep all those strands of white thread running across in order and to help create a base layer for our stitching. This hole is strangely pretty small, so I might’ve been able to do without it, but I prefer to just use the interfacing. (Sorry you can’t see it well. I guess shooting white interfacing on a white background wasn’t the smartest idea in the world.)
Cut out a piece of interfacing just a little bit bigger than your hole. You don’t need much, so you can use up those tiny weird shapes of scrap interfacing from other projects, if you happen to ever use interfacing. (I rarely do, to be honest. I use lightweight interfacing only for darning!) Turn your jeans inside out and iron over the hole to get it nice and flat. Then place the interfacing over the hole, adhesive side down, and iron it onto the fabric. Follow your interfacing’s instructions on how to apply it and use an ironing cloth to avoid melting it. (Yes, once I did that.)
Turn the jeans right side out again and scrunch them onto the free arm of your sewing machine. (Don’t know what a free arm is? Read my Anatomy of a Sewing Machine lesson!) The closer your hole is to one of your garment’s openings, the easier it will be to maneuver. Holes in the knees are actually the hardest place to maneuver, because they’re far from all garment openings. (edit: A lot of people have written to me saying that it’s hard to scrunch the fabric up on the free arm all the way up to the knee. I wrote more about how to sew in hard-to-reach areas in this post on creative patching.)
If you look closely at the picture above, you’ll see my thread that got pulled over to the right over the jean leg. You can see that the color is too light for that part of the jeans, but it’s just right for the knee.
Position the fabric the best you can. Jean fabric has a diagonal pattern, so I like to sew along the diagonal lines to help the stitches blend in even more. And start stitching back and forth and back and forth, just like we did in the practice piece before.
Here’s my darned hole! Scrunch up the bottom of the pant leg so that you can wrap your hand around it, with your index finger on the inside of the ex-hole and your thumb on the outside. Rub them together and feel how the thread has in essence created new fabric there. Amazing, right?
These are my favorite jeans (which my son dumped an airplane meal and glass of wine on twice, leaving a stain which I covered with vines made from jean scraps). As you can see, I’ve already darned them.
But take a closer look at the color. I tried using the same thread that I used in this tutorial, but it ended up darker than I’d expected. But I didn’t have a very light blue, so I just switched between medium blue and white.
It does look a little zebra-y up close, but I’ll bet you didn’t even notice the darning at all on Day 22 of Me-Made-May 2014 (worn with The “Perfect” Shrug), or any of the other days I wore them. Sure, you can find it if you look closely for it, but in my opinion jeans are supposed to be somewhat used-looking anyway, otherwise you wouldn’t have people buying pre-ripped jeans. (That’s something that I quite honestly cannot understand. I guess I’m just not very fashionable.)
Just one last note; if you happen to have a straight and clean cut, like if you accidentally cut through your pants while cutting fabric on your legs (now, who would ever do a thing like that?!), follow the same darning technique as if you had a ragged tear. Because if you just try to use a zig-zag stitch down the rip to join the two sides together again, it will look like a puffed-up scar. And that is just not pretty at all.
So, did you try it? Did you save your jeans? Feels great, doesn’t it! The only downside is that now that you know how to darn jeans, everyone will be asking you to fix theirs for them, too! But guess what else? In my book, darning jeans counts as refashioning because you’re making changes to a garment, so congratulations on what just might be your very first refashion! 🙂 Don’t forget to show off your work in the Cucicucicoo Creations Flickr group!
This tutorial is part of the syllabus of Cucicucicoo’s beginner’s sewing course!