Most Common Types of Denim Damage (and How to Avoid Them)

Coincidentally, shortly after Jesse’s post last week on patching jeans, I received my 3sixteens back from Denim Therapy — one of the many shops nowadays that specializes in denim repairs. Like Jesse, I’ve had my jeans for about five years now — and although they’ve already seen a trip to Self Edge’s Darn It (another speciality repair place) — they’ve experienced some more wear-and-tear in the last year and needed fixing. So, I thought I’d do a post on the most common types of denim damage and how they can be repaired, as well as avoided altogether.  

Crotch Blowouts

Crotch blowouts refer to when you get holes in the place where you least want holes. To fix them, you can use any of the methods listed in Jesse’s post, although for this specific issue, I recommend darning. That’s when a specialist “reweaves” new threads into the material, using threads that most closely match your pants. This not only makes the repair nearly invisible (which is nice since this is, um, at your crotch), but it’s also much sturdier than patching. The downside? It’s also more expensive. 

How to avoid: Wash your jeans more often. It doesn’t have to be after every wear, but it’s the combination of dirt accumulating and the fabric rubbing against itself that causes blowouts. Those dirt particles act like tiny little razors, first thinning the material, and then finally breaking it open.

Other Holes 

Areas around the thighs and knees can also wear thin and eventually break. For these repairs, you can again refer to Jesse’s post. I personally like the slightly more ad hoc method of just patching thighs and knees with a piece of cloth. Jesse’s LVC jeans look great here. A local tailor should be able to do that for you for not too much money. And if the holes aren’t too big, you can also just leave them in, like I’ve done above. Personally, I think a hole or two can give a pair of jeans some character. 

How to avoid: Again, wash your jeans more often.

Stretched Buttonholes

Whether because you’ve gained weight or initially sized too far down, the buttonholes on your jeans can stretch with time. If the damage isn’t too bad, a local tailor can reinforce the area with new stitching. If it’s really stretched out, however, then you’ll need to get the area darned. I had the second done, and you can see the results above. 

How to avoid: Raw jeans are often a bit tight at first in the waist, but you don’t have to size so far down that things feel skin tight. Doing so will just put unnecessary stress on the buttonholes. 

Damage at the Cuffs

If you wash your jeans infrequently and leave them cuffed, you’ll find that the dirt that accumulates will eventually wear through at the crease. Unfortunately, the solutions here are less than ideal. You can get the cuffs darned, but the material will be stiff and hard to fold again (you use an iron to help them along). Otherwise, you can ride them out until the cuffs fall off, at which point, a tailor can put in a new hem (which is what I’d recommend).

How to avoid: Uncuff your pants every once in a while and brush out the dirt. You can use your hand (obviously), or a clothes brush. Having a clothes brush is handy if you have tailored clothes (suits, sport coats, the like), as that’s how they should be regularly cleaned

If you’re looking for a darning service, check out Self Edge’s Darn ItDenim Therapy, and Denim Surgeon. For more suggestions, check this SuperFuture thread dedicated to denim repairs.

Denim Repair with Denim Surgeon

Because not enough readers find Put This On while googling “close up crotch damage”, I wanted to offer this testimonial to the good work done by New York’s Denim Surgeon on my most-often-worn jeans, a pair of APC Petit Standards I’ve had since spring 2011. My dry cleaner, bless her heart, patched the worn-out crotch twice but the patches were weak and this is a high-stress area. I chose Denim Surgeon after reading Derek’s post on quality denim repair and reading a recommendation for them on Superfuture’s Superdenim forum. I mailed in my APCs as well as a pair of 5EPs with a similar blowout plus unraveling hems and torn-up pocket bags.

I used Denim Surgeon’s repair form to specify areas to be surgeon’d (some people like to preserve wear-and-tear that others might want fixed, so it’s best to be specific). Two business days after my jeans were delivered to their location in New York, I received a Paypal invoice, which recommended crotch repair and reinforcement for both pairs, at $75 each, plus $10 for pocket bag repair on the 5EPs, and $9 shipping. Not cheap, but potentially better than taking them back to the dry cleaner every few weeks. I paid immediately and the repair work took about a week.

The work they did was significantly more involved than the small patch jobs the jeans had before. Denim Surgeon placed a large fabric patch inside the APCs, shaped a little like the reinforced seat you see on some BDU-type pants. The edges of the patch are flatlock stitched to prevent fraying and the whole thing is stitched to the jeans at the edges and with zig-zag stitches across the patch. They darned the threadbare/torn areas and re-sewed the main seam (where all four denim panels come together) with color-matched thread. From the outside, you can barely notice the patched area, unless I’m doing cartwheels, which I would feel fully confident doing in these jeans.

The 5EP pair was repaired similarly although with a smaller patch. The only concern I’d have would be with sending a particularly tight pair of jeans in for this sort of repair, because the patch is heavy enough it could conceivably affect how they fit.

Denim Surgeon currently offers a Groupon discount. It’s a nice deal although if your jeans are significantly damaged, it likely won’t cover the total cost of repair.

Note: Because of a discrepancy between my billing and shipping address, my jeans were held by Denim Surgeon after repair and before shipping (they were set to ship a week after payment, but did not leave New York for another week). Their communication about the issue was good via email and phone, and they sent me $25 credit toward future repair. At no time did I tell Denim Surgeon I planned to write about their service for Put This On.


Repairing Jeans

As many readers know, the point of buying jeans made from high-quality denim is to get something that will age well and look better with time. In the process of wearing your jeans hard, however, you’ll find that certain stress points can “blow out,” particularly around the pockets, hem, crotch, knees, and buttonholes. A tailor or denim repair specialist can fix these for you, usually by using a technique called “darning.”

Darning is a process where you essentially “reweave” new yarns into an area that has been worn thin or completely blown out. A friend of mine recently darned my 3sixteens, and I just got them back this weekend. The first photo above shows my jeans before they were repaired, and the second shows them after. The jeans were getting a bit thin after about eight months of effective wear, but after some darning, the weak areas have been reinforced and they’re as study as they day they came. 

Generally speaking, you want to repair your jeans at the first sign of danger. Like all fabrics, denim is woven with yarns running lengthwise (called the warp), and transverse threads running the width (called the weft). On denim, the blue warp yarns are typically the first to give out, so you know what areas are in danger of “blowing out” when you only see the white weft yarns holding an area together. If not taken care of soon, the area can suddenly just rip. The worse the damage, the more noticeable the repair will be. (Though, even with a badly ripped area, a good tailor can perform a pretty good repair. Here’s a particularly impressive job over at Superdenim, posted in a thread about just this topic.)

Many tailors can darn your jeans for a reasonably small fee, but if you’re not sure who to go to, or if your jeans are particularly dear to you, you may want to go to a specialty shop. Operations such Self Edge, Blue in Green, Denim Doctors, Denim Therapy, Schaeffer’s Garment Hotel, and Denim Surgeon are commonly recommended in the denim community. Some of these places might charge a little more than your local tailor, but you can be sure they’ll also do an excellent job. 

If you’re feeling up for the challenge, you can also learn how to darn your own jeans. These two ladies have a tutorial on YouTube, and The Bandanna Almanac has a post on how to darn by hand. I imagine the second technique won’t give you something sturdy enough for jeans, but it looks like a neat thing to learn.