I’m a big fan of upcycling. I love the idea of giving new life to something obsolete or busted or ugly. I like doing that partly just because I like that idea on principle, as a guiding motive in my life. But I also like for reasons of being thrifty and saving things from the landfill.
So… this is a post on how I put a knee-patch on my daughter’s torn jeans. This, admittedly, is a small thing. But the way I do the small things matters, too. And this still reminds me about bigger things, and about my creative capacity, albeit limited.
So getting down to brass tacks – here’s the tutorial on how I gave new life to some broken down jeans. Keep in mind, of course, that you are the master of your ship here, and if you want to change things up, try a different method, do fancy stitches, different thread colours, whatever, GO FOR IT! This is just how I did things.
First, what you’ll need:
Sewing machine. If you’re sewing on kids’ pants you’ll need a machine that gives you the option of making the machine bed quite narrow so you can slide the pant leg right over it.
Thread matching ripped pants
Scrap material for knee patch
Thread matching knee patch material
Steps to follow:
1. Select the knee you would like to operate on. As you can see, both knees have rips, but I like the look of one ripped and one patched knee. I’ll patch the least-cool rip. Take your trusty stitch rippers and carefully rip the stitches open on both sides of the pants, from 1” higher than you want your patch on the top end to 1” lower than you want it on the bottom end.
2. Find a scrap piece of jean (or cool and equally durable fabric) to use as a patch. If possible, use a piece that has a comparable amount of stretch to the pants you are patching. Especially because knees get a lot of action in the form of bending and crawling and so on. And make sure the grain of the patch piece is oriented in the same direction as the grain of the pants. That way the stretch goes the right way! Now cut it to the size you want, with at least 1.5” of margin all around to accommodate for error. This project is more art than science.
3. Fold down the top of the patch by ¼”, wst (wrong sides together) and press to make sure the fold is really crisp. Place the top of patch EXACTLY where you want it and pin it on there.
4. Slide your little jeans into the sewing machine and sew the top of the patch to the pants, with the smallest seam allowance you can manage. Like really small. I forgot to take a picture of the seam when I was working on it, but here’s a picture of the finished product (sides sewn and all), and you can see how small the seam is to the top of the patch there. Remember, if your pants and patch are at all stretchy, pull them taut as you sew so that they can still stretch when knees bend and whatnot. (Or you can sew with a zigzag stitch, but I didn’t want that look on this project).
5. Flip the patch up and trim the excess patch fabric, as shown.
6. Now a bit of a trickier step: bottom seam and inside seam. Stay with me here. You have to prep and pin both the bottom and inside seam of the patch before sewing either of them. So….
a) First, pull the patch straight down and taut, and making sure the top seam looks parallel, fold under (wst) the bottom edge of the patch to the desired length, and press that sucker to make a crisp edge, just like you did with the top edge. Flip your patch over and trim the excess fabric from the bottom patch edge now (before sewing). You can see the arrow in this pic pointing to my freshly trimmed edge. Pin the (folded/pressed/trimmed) bottom edge to itself (NOT to the jeans) in a couple of places if you like. But if your ironing was good, you don’t really have to.
b) Next, tuck the side-patch fabric right into the open inside pant seam. Hopefully the pic below makes sense of that. Fold it really precisely over the edge here and pin it in place. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is that you put it really snugly over the pant edge. It’ll make the finished patch look much more continuous with the rest of the seam if you do it well.
7. NOW you get to sew. Still using the thread that matches the patch, sew the bottom edge down with a teensy seam allowance, just as you did with the top one edge.
8. Now pin the front inside seam – the one you’ve already folded around and pinned tautly to the front inside seam fabric – to the back inside seam so you can sew the seam shut. Switch to the thread that matches the pants and sew a beautiful double seam along the inside of the pants. Preferably less wobbly than mine, but if not, that’s really FINE. Remember that at the beginning you ripped the stitches open along the seam here and went up higher and lower than the space occupied by the patch. So make sure you start sewing above the ripped pant seam, all the way down along the patch to below the ripped seam, so the inside seam is totally closed again (but now with a cute patch in the middle of it!).
9. You’re almost done! Flip the pants inside out, and just sew the outside edge closed. If you want, cut the holey old pant fabric out from under the patch so little toes don’t get caught on it every time your kid puts the pants on. Or don’t – like me – and constantly be contending with the inevitable toe-snag. Your call. 🙂
So there you have it! This tutorial can be adapted to all kinds of fun patching jobs. I have a comfy hand-me-down shirt with holes in the elbows that I’m considering doing a neat angular patch job on. We shall see! The options are endless.
Feel free to comment – I’d love to hear your questions or feedback, or if you have any techniques you’ve tried that would make this even better, I”m all ears! And if you’ve tried this, let me know!