Introduction: Retreaded Jeans

Blue jeans, denims, Levis®, whatever you call them, are my preferred long pants. When I was young and more fashion conscious, I insisted on genuine Levis®. Now I wear whatever gives the best combination of price and wear. Wear is a sore point, however. The lifetime of a pair of jeans is determined by holes that usually develop at the knees. Jeans remind me of over-inflated car tires. Put too much air in your tires, and they’ll wear through in the center of the tread while there is still a lot of life left in the rest of the tire. The knee sees the most wear, on both sides of the fabric.

Over the years, I’ve tried various ways to repair my holey jeans. I’ve never found an iron-on patch that would stay on. Sewn-on patches stay on fine, but I’ve found that, after a short time, new holes would appear around the edges of the patch. I finally decided that Carhartt® has the right idea with their work pants, i.e., double the whole front of the pant leg. The key is to find a no-cost source for the doubler’s.

I believe retreading is the solution. Now I always wear two pairs of jeans in rotation. I have my retreads for everyday wear, work around the house, etc. The second pair are my “Sunday-go-to-meeting” or dress jeans. The dress jeans start out brand new, but after about 6 months, holes appear at the knees, even though I seldom do much work in them. That is the signal for retreading. My good jeans become my everyday retreads, while I initiate a new pair of dress jeans.

The secret of retreading is to use the still-good fabric on the last pair of retreaded jeans as the doubler (and tripler) for the new retreads. My retreads usually wear out when holes appear in the doubler at the knees or front pockets. Sometimes, the first holes appear just below the back pockets. But, at this point, there is still a lot of life left in the back of each pant leg and in the front of the pant leg below the knee. Utilizing this normally discarded fabric is the secret of retreading. Here’s how I do it:

Step 1: Inspection

My dress jeans are starting to show their age, a hole has developed in the right knee. It’s time to retread.

Step 2: Salvage Fabric From Old Retreads

The 2nd step is to salvage the usable fabric from the worn out retreads. Rip out the seams holding the bottom of the doubler. This exposes the “good” fabric on the front of the pant leg below the knee. Cut that piece out. Then turn the old retreads over and cut out the rear of that pant leg. I try to cut high on the butt to salvage as much “good” fabric as possible. Then, repeat this step on the other leg, producing 2 doublers and 2 triplers. When I began retreading, I only used the fabric from the rear. But I found that the retreads still wore through at the knee. So now I use the fabric from the bottom front to provide a 3rd wear layer, a tripler, at each knee.

Step 3: Sew on the Tripler

Rip out about the bottom half, or so, of the outside seam on the jeans being retreaded. It’s easier to sew on the patches with that seam open. Iron one of the triplers, then trim it to fit over the knee of the jeans being retreaded. The tripler should be narrow enough so that there is room to sew on the doublers without encroaching on any of the seams. Pin the patch in place, leaving room to sew on the doubler at each side of the tripler. Then sew on the tripler with your sewing machine. I use a zig-zag stitch.

Step 4: Sew on the Doubler

Trim the first doubler so that the top of the doubler fits within ~1.5” of the pocket. I’ve learned that retreads want to wear out at the pockets, so it’s best put the doubler up high. Next iron the doubler. Then pin the edges over, forming ~half inch double seam, and iron and pin that seam down. Pin the doubler onto the pant leg, covering the tripler sewn on in Step 3, as shown in the photo. Be careful not to encroach on any other seam.

Next sew on the doubler. It’s difficult for a low-skill sewer like me to avoid catching the pocket, or whatever, in the seam, as shown. Someday I may finish a pair w/o having to rip out a seam or two. For now, I keep the seam ripper handy. I usually backstitch at each corner of the doubler to strengthen the seam at those points. After the doubler is on, re-sew the side seam. I use a straight stitch 1st, then add a zig-zag at the edge to prevent raveling.

Step 5: Repeat Steps 3 & 4 on the Other Leg

Repeat on the other leg, and the job is done. The retreads are heavier than regular jeans, but the extra thickness is very welcome during the winter.