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  • Writer's pictureBonnie Liang

Beneath the Patch: Get to the Bottom of How to Mend Common Holes in Your Favorite Jeans

We all have that one pair (or several pairs) of jeans that’s our go-to bottoms. The ones that fit just right and are a key piece in our wardrobe. Whether they were thrifted or bought brand new, bargain or designer, they’re your faves and you can’t imagine life without them! Although current trends lean toward super distressed looks, at some point, you might decide it's time to patch them up and give them new life. 

Fabric patches, like other forms of visible mending, are a creative and functional way to add personality to your jeans. In this guide, we’ll get to the bottom of the art of patching up common holes in your favorite pair, transforming them into unique pieces of wearable art. Whether you use an over or an under patch, the 3 key topics we’ll cover are fabric, thread, and stitches. Let’s get started!

Table of Contents

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Three pairs of visibly mended jeans with fish patch, darning, and embroidery

Patch Fabric Considerations

What Kind of Fabric Should You Use?

When it comes to selecting the perfect fabric for your patches, consider the stretch, thickness, and durability to ensure a seamless match with your jeans. 

Understanding fabric grainlines is also good to keep in mind. The lengthwise grain of your jeans will generally be running the length of the leg, providing stability and structure. The crosswise grain will usually be running across the hips and from side seam to inseam and adds a bit of stretch. If you're cutting a patch from fabric fresh off the bolt, the lengthwise grain runs parallel to the selvage. If you're using a piece of scrap fabric, look for the direction of the weave and give the fabric a tug...the length grain will have less give than the cross grain. Some very tightly woven fabrics will not feel much different at all. If that's the case, unmatched grainlines won't be noticeable. In general, by matching grainlines, you’re not only guaranteeing a seamless blend between patch and denim but also ensuring that your mended jeans retain their original shape and drape. 

Grainlines are most important if the hole you’re patching is rather large. Small holes are more forgiving. And though I do think grainlines are a worthwhile consideration, you should know that our BonnaH Co philosophy is that there aren’t really any hard and fast rules. We believe in using what you have on hand and making it work for you! If you only have non stretch fabric on hand to mend jeans with stretch, here’s a pro tip that can help for adding a little more give to the fabric: cut the patch on the bias! While denim patches are an obvious choice, don’t be afraid to experiment with fabrics like canvas, twill, or even lightweight corduroy to add texture and contrast.

Patch Placement

Get creative with patch placement, deciding whether to cover the hole entirely or create a peek-a-boo effect. Embrace raw, frayed edges as part of your design aesthetic for a rustic, textured look. For that, you'll use an under patch. We’ve pinned many fun examples of peek-a-boo patches on our Pinterest mending board.

Denim jeans with hedgehog patch and mended knees with embroidered cherry under patch and frayed edge machine stitched under patch

Color & Beyond

I strongly believe that mending can quickly become a chore if you don’t embrace the opportunity for color and pattern play. Let your creativity shine by choosing patch colors, prints, and patterns that reflect your unique style. Whether you prefer subtle tonal mending or vibrant pops of color, there are endless possibilities to explore.

Personally, I like to have options and have done both colorful and tonal mends. I also consider what I usually pair with my jeans. Some are mostly worn with more casual outfits. I tend to play a bit more with color for those. Others, like dark wash denim lean toward dressier vibes. You know, your fancy jeans. Those usually get a more subtle mending approach or maybe add some pizazz with sparkly thread. At the end of the day, it comes down to your personal preference and maybe what fabric you might already have on hand in your own fabric stash. Have fun with it!

Where’s the hole?

Identify common trouble spots on jeans, such as the knees, backside, inner thighs, and front pockets, and select patch fabrics that can withstand the stress of these areas.

What Kind of Thread to Use

Choose thread that not only complements your patch design but also offers durability and colorfastness. I’m partial to pearl cotton for visible mending. I usually use a size 8 or 5. It’s very strong and its twisted construction gives it a nice satin sheen that highlights your stitching beautifully. DMC’s line of pearl cotton in solids and variegated are a reliable choice.

Variety of sewing and embroidery threads, sashiko thread, pearl cotton, topstitch thread on a dark wood background

If you want your stitching to be very subtle, you might want to stick with an all purpose sewing thread. Just make sure it’s not old thread that easily breaks. Yes, thread has an expiration. If you can snap it with your hands without much effort, it’s not going to give you the durability that you want and deserve. A good compromise could also be using a thinner pearl cotton in size 12 or check out Sulky’s line of threads for handwork. Topstitch thread from Gütermann is another great option for a look that’s clearly visible but still somewhat subtle. If you’re looking for nearly invisible stitching, check out Mettler’s Denim Doc thread. (I haven’t had a chance to try out Denim Doc, but it does look like a great option.) These last three options are compatible with sewing machines if you plan to use one to attach the patch or add decorative stitching. Be sure to use the right needle for your machine with some of these thicker threads.

Sashiko thread comparison chart by Snuggly Monkey
From Snuggly Monkey's blog post about Sashiko Thread

Let's not forget about sashiko thread. It’s made up of several soft cotton plies that are twisted and non-divisible like pearl cotton. Its softness tends to allow the stitches to sink more into the fabric. Compared to pearl cotton, it has a matte finish. This thread is traditionally used in sashiko, which is a Japanese stitching technique that combines mending, reinforcing, and embellishing clothes. Since there aren’t standard sizes of sashiko thread and thicknesses can vary by brand, I found this awesome comparison guide from Snuggly Monkey that’s definitely worth a peek.

Of course, stranded embroidery floss can also be used. You can control the thickness of your stitches easily with this option. And it comes in tons of colors!

Since your jeans will be going through the wash, it’s important that you choose good, colorfast thread. Certain colors like red would benefit from a test wash to check for any bleeding if you’re stitching on lighter denim. 

Learn more about how thread makes a difference in Hannah’s blog about Four Tips for Making Hand Embroidery Easier.

Patch Design

One more design consideration is whether you add extra stitching to the patch itself. If you decide to add embroidery details to the patch and you’re applying the patch over the hole, then I recommend stitching it before you sew it onto your jeans. Doing it first will help protect the backside of your stitching since it’ll sandwich it between the patch and the jeans. It’s also just easier to embroider a flat piece of fabric than to add stitching to it after it’s on a constructed garment, especially if it’s a knee patch. You can also iron on some Tender Touch from Sulky’s line of stabilizers to protect the backside of your embroidery.

For patch inspiration, check out Erin Hogue @gatherwhatspills on Instagram. She hosts an annual patch swap event that helps menders connect. Hannah and I have joined in on the fun the last two years and it’s been so inspiring getting beautiful handmade patches from others who share a love of mending. I made this kitty patch for the Mend and Make Friends swap in 2023, and I can’t wait to find the perfect mending project to use this gorgeous hand-painted and embroidered patch from Tori Andrus @knottytori from this year’s swap! Tori runs a wonderful non-profit that provides arts and wellness to communities in need.

hand holding denim patch being stitched with cat design, tabby cat sitting on stitcher's lap, painted and embroidered canvas patch

Speaking of hand-painted patches, here’s a painted flower patch I did on a custom elbow mend for a denim jacket. If you want to dabble in some fabric painting but you don’t have fabric paint, you can use regular acrylic by mixing in some fabric or textile medium. I used one from DecoArt for my floral patch. It helps keep the paint flexible to maintain a softer touch, prevents the paint from flaking, and helps with washability.

Denim jacket with elbow hole, fabric with flower cut out and scissors, bottle of fabric painting medium, painted pink flower patch, hand stitching flower patch on denim sleeve

How-To Attach the Patch

Prepping the Hole

Ensure a strong foundation for your patches by cutting away worn fabric around the hole and reinforcing the edges with a simple running stitch, particularly for larger holes.

Jeans with ring of running stitches around cut  hole, pinking shears, ball of white pearl cotton

Holding the jeans up to a light source can help identify areas where the fabric might be wearing thin.

Arm holding a pair of jeans up to the light of a window to show worn fabric areas

If you’re choosing to highlight the raw, frayed edges around the hole, then skip this part.

Inside of denim pant leg with round patch attached with safety pins, various pearl cotton threads, embroidery needles, rose gold stork scissors

Size matters.

Measure your hole carefully and cut your patch slightly larger to allow for proper coverage and reinforcement. Remember to look closely at the fabric around the hole if you chose not to cut away any worn fabric around it. Get ahead of future mends, by cutting your patch big enough to cover your hole plus any areas that need reinforcement around it. Cut your patch at least ½” larger on all sides than the area you want to cover. If you plan to fold the edges of your patch under before sewing, add another ¼” all around. I sometimes use pinking shears to cut out my patches, especially those that I might place behind the hole. This helps to control fraying. Remember to match your grainlines before cutting the patch.

Should You Hand Stitch or Machine Sew Your Patch On?

How much time do you want to spend mending your jeans and what’s the look you’re trying to achieve? Hand stitching can be time consuming. Depending on how elaborate you want your stitching, it can take as little as 20 minutes to several hours or more for one patch! For mends that allow you to fit the jeans on the sewing machine, machine sewn is definitely a speedier option. For those knee hole mends on jeans with narrow leg openings, you’re probably going to hand stitch your patch on unless you plan to deconstruct your jeans like I mention below.

Stitches and Techniques

Again, the answer to this question depends on your design preferences. Some menders like to turn the edges of their patches under to hide the raw edges. I normally fold over the edges if the fabric isn’t too thick. I find it easier to leave the patch flat if it is thick, since I prefer less bulk. Using these stitches or other variations of them to attach the patch will act like an overlock stitch to minimize any fraying on the cut edges:

  • whipstitch

  • satin stitch

  • blanket stitch

  • cross stitch

  • herringbone stitch

  • double chain stitch

If you’re new to these stitches, our Wanna Know Series of how-to videos cover many of these embroidery basics. You can also find many stitch tutorials on our Instagram reels from our annual Embroidery Bingo event.

Another pro tip: use Spray n Bond Basting Adhesive or even a glue stick to hold the patch in place while you’re stitching. A couple of safety pins will also do the trick.

Can of Spray n Bond Basting Adhesive next to jeans with denim patch

If creating an over patch, use the stitch or combination of stitches of your choice to sew the patch around the edges. In this example, I used a combo of tiny whipstitches along the left and right sides, and cross stitches along the top and bottom of the fish patch.

Blue and white fabric patch with printed fish stitched with cross stitches and whipstitch, rows of running stitches

If you choose to put the patch behind the hole, stitching around the outside of the hole helps stabilize the opening. In this knee hole mend, I used a satin stitch with size 8 pearl cotton around the entire opening of the hole.

Hole in jeans being mended with violet pearl cotton, embroidery supplies in background

Adding extra stitches within the body of the patch will create more texture or color in your mend, while also helping to tack down the rest of the patch on the inside of the jeans.

Blue jeans with flexible cutting mat rolled up inside pant leg, visible mending with pink thread, rose gold stork scissors

Adding patches to areas that have limited access, like a narrow pant leg can be tricky. Try inserting a cylinder of some sort inside to give you something to stitch against without worrying about stitching through to the other side of the leg opening. When I mended the knees on these skinny jeans, I rolled up a 12”x12” flexible cutting mat and inserted it into the pant leg to give it some structure while stitching. It gave me just the right amount of support to help with the stretchy denim and was flexible enough to manipulate and reposition as needed. It was a huge help in making it much less awkward and sped up the slow stitching process.

Another way to deal with the narrower legs, is to partially deconstruct the pants at the side seams to be able to open up the legs and lay them flat. You can use a basic edge stitch on your sewing machine to attach the patch. Decorative or overlock-style stitches on your machine can look great too. Once you’ve stitched on your patch, you sew the side seams back up! I haven’t actually ever used this technique myself, but I have heard that it can make it easier if you don’t mind the extra step. I also prefer to avoid having to undo and resew the sides because it can weaken the fabric seam.

The Take-Away

Patching up your favorite jeans is not just about extending their lifespan; it’s about infusing them with character and personal style. Embrace the art of visible mending as a creative expression of sustainability and individuality. With each patch, you’re not just covering a hole, you’re stitching stories and memories into the very fabric of your jeans.

What about YOU?

Now that you’ve learned the ins and outs of patching up your jeans, how will you put your newfound skills to use? Whether you’re reviving old favorites or customizing new additions to your denim collection, share your patching adventures and creations with us or drop us a comment below. We know there are many other tips, tools, and tricks that other menders use for patching holes. Let’s inspire each other to embrace the beauty of imperfection and make every stitch count in our journey towards sustainable fashion. And don't forget to subscribe to our blog or follow us on Instagram for more mending inspiration and helpful tips. We love building community and want you to be a part of ours!

Happy mending!!

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1 commentaire

Hannah C
Hannah C
22 mars

Great post, Bonnie! Mending jeans is so much fun. Now that G is no longer crawling around on all fours pretending to be a hedgehog, I have very few jeans to mend!

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