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  • Writer's pictureRadha

The Anatomy of Jeans (so you can upcycle them) - Part 1

Updated: Jan 14

Part 1: Top Block and Inseam

Part 4: Those Confusing Inside Tags [coming soon!]


This handy guide will help you upcycle your jeans, because when you know what something is called it's easier to google it. [Also, helpful if you are trying to impress a denim head and don't want to invest in Indigo-dyed Japanese selvedge that you are going to buy raw and never wash]

This is just going to be the highlights, some key details, types of seams and sundries (sundries = industry term for all the extra bits like zippers). But feel free to shoot me a note if there is something specific you want me to cover!


A) The front top block

Pair of Levi's jeans with arrows to the pockets, waistband and other details
Levis Jeans front

Top block - the block is the pattern, so the top block just means the top of the pattern.

  • People who upcycle jeans either love or hate the front top block. It's the most annoyingly fiddly part to take apart, and there isn't a ton of useable denim in it. Unless you are a super creative type who finds ingenious ways to use all the bits. [I'm totally not bragging but my Totepack pattern uses the belt loops in the coolest way!]

  • The waistband is a good source to get a long strip of denim, but you need to be aware of a couple things. First off, there is a lot of stress put on a waistband and in a well-used pair of jeans you should expect that piece to be a bit wonky and stretched out. And second, if the waistband is a fold-over (single piece) there will be a fairly permanent ridge and wear-line where it folds. Lastly, if the jeans are stretchy it's likely the waistband will have been cut along the weft grain to take advantage of the stretch fibers that are in the weft.

Pair of Levi's jeans with arrows to the waistband and other details
Close-up of Levi's Jeans front
  • The top block is also where you will find all the hardware - the buttons/shank, zipper and those little rivets that are there for strength (and decoration).

  • Another thing that makes the top block so hard to deconstruct? Bar tacks! Bar tacks are those little lines of stitching that are used at points of stress (like the belt loops), to reinforce and secure.

B) the back top block (and inseam)

Pair of Levi's jeans with arrows to the pockets, waistband and other details
  • The back pockets are a great resource for upcyclers who want their end product to look like it was made with jeans. Making a bag or a jacket? Put a jeans pocket on it. But for that exact reason, the back pockets are less helpful if you are turning the jean back into fabric to seamlessly incorporate in a quilt. And then there is the stitching (like the Levi's arcuate) that a brand uses as a branding element and can range from subtle to... um... not subtle.

  • The other branding element you will find is the back patch. This can be made of almost anything. The one above is paper, but often they will be fake leather, canvas, or if the brand is charging a high price, they might even be real leather.

  • Hey look! More bar tacks.

  • You are also going to run into the back yoke, which will give you two odd triangle-like shapes if you decide to take those apart.

  • I'll mention the flat fell seam again later, but I wanted to mention it here since you are likely to find that on the back yoke and seat seam. This is because it's a seam used for strength and durability. And good news is that it's way easier to deconstruct then it looks! It's often sewn with a chain stitch, which if you pull from the right end, it will pull right out!

  • Depending on the brand, you may also find a flat fell seam used for the inseam. Inseam is just the seam inside the leg, while outseam is outside the leg.


Next up Part 2: Seams and Selvedge


Who am I to tell you about jeans and why am I doing it? Well, I worked for Levi's in product development for 15 years, but mostly I really like jeans. I especially like them for upcycling because denim is a fabric that gets better with time. I also like that when you upcycle you are helping with the giant problem of textile waste on the planet.


Thanks for reading!

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