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Friday, August 23, 2013

Customizing second-hand jeans for a teen girl

The problems we encounter, when shopping the second-hand market for teen-girl clothes are these:
when she finds the item that fits, it's not the style she wants, and, when she finds the style she wants, it's not the right size. Getting everything just right entails a bit of creativity, and some sewing skills.

My two daughters wear jeans every day to work. Jeans and a university provided t-shirt make up the required uniform. They each just have 1 pair of jeans. Work entails being on hands and knees scrubbing floors, toilets, tubs, and carpets, among other duties. Which means jeans are taking a beating this summer!

Sunday afternoon, I took both of them to St. Vincent de Paul's weekly "Sunday -- all clothing 99 cents". For our immediate area, 99 cents for thrift shop clothing is a spectacular price. I know some areas have much better pricing. But this is what we have available.

Each daughter has their own style preferences. One wanted skinny jeans, the other wanted flare leg jeans. The skinny jeans were actually easy to find this week. But the flare legs were either too worn or too big.

The daughter wanting flare-legged jeans is very petite. Our usual problem fitting her is finding pants with a small enough waist. We shop both the children's and juniors, hoping to find something that works. Here's how it went:

daughter -- "I found the perfect jeans!!!"
mom -- "Oh, that's wonderful! Let's see how they look!"
daughter comes out of dressing room -- "see, they fit perfectly"
mom -- "um, not exactly. But we'll take care of that."
daughter -- "they are exactly what I was looking for, except I wanted flair legs."
mom -- "I think that I can come up with something you might like"
daughter -- "I was really hoping to find some dark jeans. Can you do something about that too?"
mom -- "we can fix that"
daughter -- "these are exactly what I was looking for!!"

What she found, that she liked a lot, were too big in the waist, too long, had boot-cut legs (not as big a flare as she likes), and were paler blue than she was hoping for. But other than that, these were just perfect! LOL!

Standing in the dressing room area, I showed her that the waist could be taken in with 2 darts in the waist band in back, and 2 darts in front, and I could do a quick trick on the side seam to get a bit of the look of a flare to the hem. And of course, we could toss them in the next dark denim dye bath (later this summer). And then, the jeans would be "exactly what she was looking for".

Jeans made of a lighter weight denim can usually be taken in with darts in the waist. Fashion jeans tend to be made of the lighter weight denim, and are often light-colored denim. A good method for seeing if the denim will be light-weight enough to add darts to the waist band, is to pinch the waist band, and see if you can get a slim fold between your fingers.

Heavier weight denim, such as waist bands on Levi's, generally can't be machine stitched with darts (on most home-machines), to reduce a waist. When you pinch a Levi's type jean in the waist band, the fabric is too stiff and thick to get a slim fold. My daughter did choose a lighter weight denim (whew!), so taking in the waist should be easy enough.

To add darts, on the inside of the waist band, I pinch the back in two places, on either side of the center back seam, and stitch darts in a straight stitch. I do the same in the front, just above the pockets. I have my daughter try them on. If the darts need making larger (to take them in more), I sew each dart about 1/8th inch from the previous stitching, which with 4 darts will take the pants in another 1 inch total.

When we've got the right size in the waist. I trim the fold off the dart and then overcast the edges with a zig-zag stitch to prevent fraying.

On jeans that I have taken in this way in the past, we've never had an issue with the darts coming apart in any way. They have held up to many, many washings, and literally years of wear. The darts will be invisible, under a belt, should she want to wear a tucked-in shirt.

After taking in the waist, it was time to have her try them on for length-fitting. Because the hem was so deep, I decided it would just be easier to hand hem them. My rule of thumb on whether to machine or hand hem jeans, is about 1 inch. If the turned up portion will be more than 1 inch, I hand hem. If less than 1 inch, I use the machine. Machine hemming a really deep hem requires cutting off, and turning under some of the fabric (otherwise the stitching looks too high on the outside). A hand hem is much less visible, and quick to do.

These jeans have a straight seam up the side. This would be the seam that I would re-stitch, on the inside, just an 8-inch portion from mid-knee to mid-calf, to get a flared look to the hem.

I had my daughter try on the jeans with the better fitting waist and right length, and marked where to taper the knee area (to get the look of a flared bottom hem). I turned the jeans inside out, and redid the side seam with a tapering addition to the seam.

The taper area is marked with pins.

Stitching began right at mid-knee area, on the side seam, coming in 3/4 of an inch, then tapering back to the seam, on each leg, for about 8 inches down the seam. It's not a true flare, more like an exaggerated boot cut. But it satisfied my daughter.

By the way, you can turn flare or boot cut jeans into straight leg or skinny jeans, by stitching new side or inseams. Most jeans have 1 seam that is lapped, and 1 seam that is just a straight seam. Do the tapering along the straight seam, hemming afterwards, if the hem needs taking up. As styles can change drastically from one season to the next, I've turned many pairs of flared pants into straight leg for myself.

As these were paler than she really wanted, I mentioned the dye bath I have planned for September -- dark denim blue. My own jeans, a denim jacket, a light blue tee-shirt that looks faded, these jeans, and a denim skirt will go into that dye.

I have to say, my daughter is immensely happy with her new jeans. Total cost was 99 cents. I did the alterations in bits of time. But my guess is I spent no more than 2 hours, in total. If we had shopped retail at Old Navy or The Gap, we probably could have found some jeans to her liking for $20 to $30. I'd say for a $20-$30 savings, the extra work, to customize these jeans, was well worth it.

In the perfect world, both daughters would have found exactly what they wanted on that day. But life's not perfect, and we sometimes have to adapt, either our attitudes and wants, or what we've been provided with.


  1. I think it's great that you are able to adjust clothing to your needs and take advantage of thrift store sales :)

    99c is a great bargain - my last pair of thrift store jeans cost $15, but they do fit me well (luckily since I don't have your sewing skills!), and new jeans here are usually $50-60 (from what I remember).

    1. Hi Economies,
      This is the tightwad in me speaking, but I could never see myself shelling out $50 to $60 for a pair of jeans! Even if I did win the lottery!

      Your price of $15 isn't too far off from a place called Value Village. They're our other choice in thrift stores. We do shop there on 50% off days, but still that's usually $6 or so for a pair of teen jeans.

  2. 99 cents is a better price than we can find here.

    I had to take in the waist of my sons's pants for most of his childhood. He needed a 28 waist and a 34 inseam as recently as a few months ago. We have never been able to buy him pants from a walk in store and rely on sales and online shopping. Daughter is a little easier in the sizing department.

    When I first started losing weight I took in my own pants until I couldn't take them in any more.

    1. Hi Shara,
      Now that is a wonderful problem to have! Not being able to take in your pants any more, because you have lost too much weight!!!! Big congratulations to you!

      I have known a lot of mothers who have had to take in waists on their kids' pants, a lot. So it just surprises me that there aren't many options in that area. But there just aren't When we find something small enough in the waist, it's usually in the young girls department, and a hair too short. And in boys/men, I often find 29 inch waist in jeans, but I've never seen 28 inch.

  3. You are so clever! There are moments when I think I should learn to use a sewing machine (I knew how ... once ... in a faraway land ... ) and this is a good example of when it would be useful to know.

    I agree with Shara, 99 cents is a fantastic deal. I don't know what adult-sized jeans run in our thrift stores, but I'm sure it's much higher than that. As you know, I'm a clearance shopper--I think my last jeans were from Penney's for $11.

    1. Hi Kris,
      I think making alterations is one of the most cost-effective uses of sewing skills, much more so than sewing from scratch. And fortunately, many things like darts or hemming are the easiest of all sewing tasks. You could even stitch darts by hand,no machine necessary, if you needed for one of your kids. Just sayin'.

      But I do think your clearance shopping is a good skill to have, too! $11 for women's jeans is a great price!

  4. I had never thought about making faux flare jeans that way. You are very clever. Of course I still remember when bell bottoms were in style and when they went out of style. Somewhere in my mind, I think they are still out of style and don't want to wear them because I want to fit in with the other kids. :)

    1. Hi live and learn,
      I think I've reached the age when I have to be careful about fashion extremes. I can wear modified trends, but I heard once, if you are old enough to remember wearing it once, long ago, then you are too old to wear it now. I had my share of bell bottoms, too. My favorite -- multi- striped bell bottom jeans, a la Partridge Family.

      I'm not really sure what is "in" right now. I see plenty of girls in skinny jeans, but also a fair number in flare leg. I choose what's comfortable and looks good on me. I don't think that's either skinny jeans or flare leg.

  5. What a deal at your thrift store!

    At our store all women's jeans are $5 a pair. I found a few pairs for myself several years ago; two fit just right and 2 were too long. I put them in the mending pile, but then I got pregnant, and it's only cool enough to wear jeans 3 months of the year here. I've never hemmed jeans, but I have a jeans needle now and jean thread, so I'll have to work on these for this winter. They actually look like new and with the weather the way it is here, I expect they'll last me many years!

    1. Hi Brandy,
      $5 for women's jeans is a pretty good deal, too! Our other thrift store charges close to $10 for women's jeans, so we'll only shop 50% off days at that store.
      Your jeans should last a very long time, if only wearing them a few months per year!

  6. This reminds me of my own teen days. Living in a rural area with not much choice in jeans I spent a lot of time modifying what I could find into drainpipes. Not something I have to do these days (for me anyway) but I've put plenty of darts in clothes for a very slim daughter...

    1. Hi Sarah,
      Your sewing skills have really come in handy! It keeps surprising me that there are few choices for very slim girls, as I know of very many girls who have that problem.

  7. hi lili
    great are very clever. thanks for the inspirationen.

    1. Thank you, Regina!
      It was a very good bargain.

  8. Aren't you glad they're not wearing yoga pants, LOL!


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