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  • Writer's pictureRadha

The Anatomy of Jeans (so you can upcycle them) - Part 2

Updated: Jan 4

Part 2: Seams and Selvedge

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. Part 1 covered the top block, and Part 2 is going to give you an overview of what you might find in and around the seams. Because if you want to get the most denim out of your jeans you will need to take apart those seams!

And if this is interesting and you want to learn more, you should take my on-demand Quilt Your Jeans class that goes over all of this in much more detail.

the inside of a pair of jeans sewing all the seam constructions
Jeans Seam Constructions

In Part 1 I mentioned how jeans began as workwear (think Carhart and Dickies), and how all those details like bar tacks and rivets are at points of stress to reinforce and keep the pants together. This is great because it means your jeans will last a long time, but not so great when you want to take them apart to upcycle them.

The same applies to the types of seams that are used to keep the pieces together. Most are really strong, which means they can be a pain to take apart. But there are a couple tricks...

A. Flat Fell Seams

I mentioned this seam in Part 1 ─ it's a seam used for strength and durability, because as you can see above the two sides wrap into each other. The 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. You can watch the video below to learn how!

B. Overlock (Serger)

This one isn't a type of seam, but you are likely to find it on many denim seams. An overlock and a serger are the same thing – in the US people tend to use "serger" unless they are in manufacturing, while everyone else in the world uses "overlock". Think about the brand Baby Lock – that’s where the "lock" comes from.

The point of the overlock is so the raw edge of the fabric doesn't fray. Again, super helpful for durability, but extra annoying to remove. An overlock stitch can use different numbers of threads, but there is always a needle thread and a looper thread. The trick to removing an overlock stitch is to break the needle threads and pull them out in a continous piece. Then the looper threads will come right off. However, I don’t find it works well on jeans. The sturdy twill weave and the thick threads get stuck and don't pull out easily.

[I don't have a video tutorial of removing an overlock stitch from jeans because it would just be a lot of me breaking thread and yelling]

C. Selvedge

And then glorious, beautiful selvedge. Not a seam but it’s generally where you will find it, although if you are finding selvedge jeans at your local thrift store, please call me because I’d like to come visit.


Why is selvedge so awesome and expensive?

Before the 1950's, denim was made on shuttle looms where a mechanism called a shuttle sent the yarns back and forth and created a sealed edge, a “self-edge”. But this process was time consuming and limited the fabric width. So of course – yay technology – new looms were created that went faster and were wider (resulting in less expensive fabric). Those original shuttle looms are the ones still being used today – and that denim is just better – the slower pace puts less tension on the yarns, the loom tolerates more slubs which add character, the denim is naturally softer and it fades better. But the time and care it takes to use these looms mean the denim is very expensive.


Anyway, I could go on all day about selvedge, but that’s why people will spend $400 on Japanese selvedge jeans.


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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