The Times They Are a-Changin

A First Encounter

A few years ago, I bought my first pair of Levi’s jeans during a sale. I’ve known Levi’s for a long time, being the cultural giants that they are, but never got onto the Levi’s train because of the steep prices in Singapore – it’s funny how Levi’s averages around SGD150 a pair when you can get a pair in the states for a fraction of the price. Nonetheless, I got myself two pairs of 511s – one in a light wash and another darker denim.

I recall the 511s being very comfortable when I tried it on in the fitting room. Perhaps it was the blend (99% cotton, 1% elastane) or the weave, or perhaps it was just how they combined it all together. I’ve tried jeans with some stretch before and they always seem to not feel like denim. They’re usually too stretchy and the texture felt synthetic, almost like polyester.

After having them for some time, I realised I used the lighter pair more frequently. It was my only pair of light-washed jeans and I was never a fan of a lighter wash prior to this pair: they don’t exude the same vibrance as the indigo in the darker washes. But over time, I came to see it as having its own charm. After all, I have cut up used light washed jeans and it’s always interesting to see the original colour of the denim when the back pockets have been removed.

The original colour of the light-washed denim is usually hidden behind the seams of the back pockets

Good and Evil

It is a love-hate relationship with light-washed denim. The lighter colours, similar to those in many stone-washed or acid-washed apparel, are created after many rounds of bleaching and washing with detergents. Darker colours eventually fade after multiple washes and the end result are these beautiful faded tones, but not at the expense of gallons of water used to remove bleaching agents. Levi’s has its Water<Less initiative but I tend to err on the side of caution when it comes to green initiatives. After all, large companies are usually driven by profit before sustainability and we simply have to trust that they stick to greener practices. All the more we should rework our lighter-washed apparel.

Epiphany

Around that same time, I noticed that women-centric apparel had lots of pants and jeans of different cuts, silhouettes, patterns and colours. Menswear, in contrast, was a lot more conservative and boring. They had the occasional colourful print on a button-up or a t-shirt with ‘loud’ designs but the pants and jeans remained relatively subdued. I wondered why people were not wearing the more bohemian styles found in Kapital or Junya Watanabe.

I sat on the question for months, on and off. Perhaps it was the hot Singapore weather. Or perhaps a more minimalist and cleaner look is in vogue these days. Or perhaps Singaporeans were just less adventurous with what they wear… As I attempted to come up with an answer that I was satisfied with, I realised that I was still insatiated: I wanted pants that had attitude. And the light-washed jeans became the perfect canvas for me to go to town on.

(First) Kapital 12.5oz Denim Rat Flare Pants, Beautiful World Insane Remake showcases crazy iron-on patches alongside denim of different shades and colours. 

(Second) Junya Watanabe Blue Levi’s Edition Patchwork Jeans featuring the signature square patches usually of different textures.

My First Foray

Jumping in, I was more excited than I was rational. There was no real plan or layout done beforehand. In my head, I already knew that I wanted something more muted. The shapes and the contrasts of the colours should stand out more than the individual patches. With this in mind, I looked through my collection of fabric patches that I have accumulated and found a few which fit the bill.

Laying out the patches before blanket stitching them down

I laid them out and used the photo as a reference as I started sewing the patches onto the jeans. I used a blanket stitch throughout all the patches as that was the only method of hand stitching that I was familiar with. As it was also my first time doing patch working, I did not use enough pins to secure the patches in place resulting in some patches slanting to one side. I also changed the arrangement of some of the smaller patches halfway through the stitching. After 6 hours of work, I had finished patching the jeans and crashed for the night after cleaning up (patch working, stitching and sewing can be really messy and dusty).

The result of 6 hours of work – version one of the ever-evolving jeans

Evolution

The pair of jeans only saw a few wears over the next few months and were kept in my wardrobe thereafter. Whenever I opened the drawer, I got reminded of how badly made the patches were and also how haphazard they felt on the pair of jeans. Wearing them did not bring me joy by then.

A few weeks passed and one day, while being confronted by the same pair of jeans, an epiphany hit me: why not use that pair of jeans as an evolving canvas to show what I’m interested in over the years. The jeans would truly grow with me.

That got me excited and having had sufficient time to reflect on the processes of the first patch working done previously, I knew how to approach it differently. Moreover, I knew a lot more than I did when I first worked on the jeans and it was time to get to work.

Reverse appliqué as a variation of patchwork – the patch is placed underneath the fabric

Version 2

I removed the old patches and got to work cutting holes in the jeans as I placed the patches underneath, similar to a reverse appliqué. I also experimented with different colours of the underlying patches and also the colours of the sashiko thread. I used a blanket stitch to keep the patches and the holes from fraying. As I had already experimented with screen printing and paint splattering, I also made sure the design incorporated that. I flipped the jeans over and also worked on a patch at the back. Since then, I’ve come to like details on the back side as a lot of patch worked jeans only featured designs on the front.

Version 2 (Front)

Version 2 (Back)

Version 2

Version 2.5

I added sashiko stitching to some of the patches. This was the first time I experimented with doing sashiko around patches instead of going over the patches.

Version 2.5 featuring sashiko stitching around both knee areas and also through some of the patches

At this point, I still felt the jeans were incomplete. I couldn’t quite articulate what was wrong. I knew I was on to something but I needed to still the muddy waters. And so, I stepped back and sketched the pair of jeans as it was. The process of doing that helped me realise that the existing patches were concentrated in certain spots, especially around the knee areas.

Version 3

I wanted to build on the circular and organic patches from the previous version, which was a stark contrast from the angular, boxy patches in the very first version.

I added patches on top and removed the side seams so that some of the new patches emerged from these seams. Moreover, I deduced that the patchwork up until then still did not sit well with me because the fit of the jeans was too snug. The slim taper of the pants made the patches wrap around the leg instead of being able to drape a little more loosely. Removing the seams gave me the opportunity to change the taper and make the pair of jeans a little looser fitting around the legs.

Arranging patches for colour blocking

Removing the side seams for a less snug taper

While laying out the patches, both front and back, I had to make sure that the patches did not end up getting in the way of movement. This means no patches around the back of the knees which would cause discomfort while walking and also no patches around the area of the hamstrings (back of thigh). This harks back to when I was obsessed over the embroidered jeans from Evisu. I loved how their seagull motif stretches beyond the knees. However, after I went in person to feel the pair of jeans, I realised that it made sitting down a little uncomfortable as the stiff embroidery brushed against the skin of the thighs.

Embroidered Imagery on Evisu’s Eagle-pattern Daicock Slim-fit jeans #2010 in the summer collection 2023

For this iteration, I wanted to use the sewing machine for zigzag stitches which would secure the patches to the jeans before working sashiko lines through some of the patches.

Version 3.5

The final additions to the pair of jeans came in the form of continuous sashiko lines that connect the different patches on each leg of the jeans. The yellow sashiko thread makes its journey around the right leg while the green sashiko thread moves around the left. The yellow stands out against the light blue of the denim and the ochre of the corduroy patch while the green contrasts the pink and maroon patches on the left front thigh.

Takeaways

It has been a fulfilling journey working on this pair of light-washed jeans. Looking back now at how things first started also shows me how my tastes and sensibilities have changed. While serving as a physical documentation of the different interests at specific times, I can also see how my approach to sewing has changed over the years. Yet I am excited for what comes next, as I now know that anything can be a canvas self-expression. Personalisation and exploration knows no bounds and I am looking forward to what happens next! So breathe new life into a pair of jeans that you’ve neglected for some time and write new stories through your clothes.

– The Kind Oddball, 優しく個性的な人

The latest version (5 July 2023)

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