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The Anatomy of Jeans (so you can upcycle them) - Part 4

Part 4: Those Confusing Inside Tags

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, Part 2 gave you an overview of what you might find in and around the seams, Part 3 tackled all the faded parts and Part 4 will discuss all those confusing inside tags.

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.

Those Confusing Inside Tags

the inside of a pair of jeans sewing all the seam constructions

In this section I'm going to talk about the “internals” basically the inside of the jean – where you will have the pocket bags and all those fun labels that don’t make any sense.

There are generally two things that I look at when I’m buying thrifted jeans – COO and fiber content.

COO - Country of Origin

Denim washes and base shades

COO stands for Country Of Origin. I'm always on the hunt for made in the USA but COO can only tell you so much since it's usually just the manufacturing country and NOT where the fabric was woven, or where the cotton was grown.

So, what can you learn from the COO? Well, it's a starting place to understand who made your jeans and how they were treated. While traditional hubs like the USA and Japan still produce some premium denim, the bulk of mass-produced jeans come from Asian countries (China and Bangladesh among the biggest) due to their significant manufacturing capabilities led by cheap skilled labor.

B. Fiber Content

Fiber content in jeans has gotten more and more complex as new man-made fibers have emerged and stretch fibers are showing up in the majority of new jeans being produced.

Jeans can be crafted from a variety of fiber contents, but some of the most common ones include:

  1. Cotton (mostly yay): The most traditional and prevalent fiber used in denim manufacturing. Cotton denim is known for its durability, breathability, and comfort. Growing the cotton, on the other hand, isn't great for the environment.

  2. Polyester (boo!): Often blended with cotton. Polyester can add strength to the fabric.

  3. Spandex (or Elastane) (comfy boo): Typically added in small percentages to provide stretch and flexibility.

  4. Lyocell (or Tencel) (meh): A sustainable fiber derived from wood pulp, known for its softness, breathability, and as an eco-friendly* option.

  5. Modal (meh): Another eco-friendly* fiber derived from beech trees, known for its softness and moisture-wicking properties.

  6. Recycled fibers (a bit of yay): With a growing focus on sustainability, many denim brands are incorporating recycled fibers such as recycled cotton (yay!) or polyester (less yay)** into their jeans.

*While these fibers are made from plants, the chemicals/power/water required to turn trees into fabric still take their toll on the environment.

*The use of plastic bottles, for example, helps reduce environmental impact by repurposing materials that would otherwise end up in landfills. But the chemicals/power/water required to turn plastic bottles into fabric still take their toll on the environment.

Exclusive of Decoration

For all the above reasons, I'm always looking for 100% cotton, but I will upcycle jeans with any and all fiber contents if needed. And one last thing - see the phrase “exclusive of decoration”? What that means is when they tell you the fiber content they are only talking about the fabric. Not the thread, not the pocket bags, not the labels. So, 100% cotton jeans aren't actually 100% cotton. The thread and pocket bags will almost always be polyester. It’s cheaper and polyester thread is stronger. Sorry.


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!


266 views3 comments


May 07

Always such an interesting read!! Thank you:))


May 07

Rhada, your expertise in this area always makes for informative reading! Thanks for sharing with us.


May 07

I think that poly thread eventually will cut cotton fabric, especially in knitted shirts!

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