How to patch jeans
Photo by Sharon Swenson
How to patch jeans to get the most out of your work clothes.

My husband and I both grew up on farms, and started farming ourselves when we were married in 1975. Being frugal, I have gladly patched many pairs of Larry’s jeans to extend their wear time, and he has gladly worn them. Now, our 20-year-old son requests that I patch his jeans. He has a certain brand he feels most comfortable in, but the particular style he likes can be a little hard to find in the stores. If we can prolong the life of these favorite jeans, he saves money as well as unwanted shopping excursions to the mall.

When the jeans are so worn out that there’s nothing left to sew a patch to, we save what is left, usually the backside of each leg, for future patching material. I keep many pairs of old jeans on hand for re-purposing and try to find the closest shade of blue for the patch to match the jeans I’m repairing.


Anyone with a sewing machine with basic stitches and a little bit of sewing experience can patch jeans. The machine does need to be heavy duty enough to sew several layers of denim fabric. I have an older Singer brand that didn’t cost an arm and a leg when new and it works just fine. Use a heavy size-16 sewing machine needle and all-purpose thread to match the color of the patch. You will also need by your side a good pair of fabric shears, an iron, straight pins and a sharp single edge razor blade.


Here’s what you do: If the rip is located in the knee area, I usually cut a piece of patching fabric large enough to cover the rip, as well as extend 2 to 3 inches below the knee and 7 to 8 inches above the knee. Our son handles thousands of hay bales each summer and the fabric above the knees is always thin and will eventually wear out. While I am in the process of putting a patch on, I make it large enough to cover the thigh areas. Allow extra length and width for a 1/2-inch hem on all four sides.


With the razor blade, carefully slit the stitching down one seam of the pant leg you are repairing, which will allow you to open it out and have a flat, single layer of denim to place the new patch onto. There’s no need to cut all the way to the hem at the bottom of the pant leg, or the waistband at the top, just cut enough length so you can lay the pant leg out flat and fit it into your sewing machine.


If the rip is large, I also cut an extra piece of denim just a bit larger than the hole, pin it on the back side behind the hole, and zigzag stitch it in place, making several runs back and forth for good reinforcement. Do not worry, this back patch won’t show, so I don’t hem the edges first.


With a hot iron and the wrong side of the patch fabric up, press under 1/2-inch on all edges. Next, with right side up, neatly straight stitch all sides 1/4-inch from the edge. Next, place your beautiful patch over the rip, pin edges in place, and stitch in place 1/8-inch from the edge. Remove all of the pins, and stitch again approximately 1/8-inch from the first stitching.


Turn the pant leg wrong side out, pin the open edge together and stitch in place, then reinforce the seam with a second row of stitching. Turn right side out.


If holes are small and located somewhere other than the knee area, I feel it’s important to repair these as well. Small holes can catch on moving pieces of machinery or a stray fencing wire can get caught and cause an injury, so keeping clothing in good repair can be a safety precaution. These patching methods work on work shirts as well.

If my husband has to carry a car or tractor battery, sometimes a little battery acid splashes onto his jeans, which will cause several little 1-inch holes. I repair these with the backside patch method mentioned above. Our son seems to get small holes by the top corners of his back pockets; again, put a little patch on the underside and zigzag stitch over it, keeping the top of the pocket open. Try to keep up with fixing the little holes and they won’t become larger holes. It’s true that “a stitch in time saves nine.”

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