Jessica Sews | Upcycled Swiss Dot + Refashioned Levis

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When it comes to my sewing projects, I usually finish them within a couple of days of starting. If it gets set aside for too long, it becomes lost in the abyss/I feel guilty and hide it with other fabric. These jeans were just about to meet the same fate until I found myself nearly caught up in my sewing agenda and thinking… maybe I can get these to work. But before I tell you about that, let me rewind to the beginning.

If you’ve seen my last handful of posts, you know I am really into harvesting fabric from thrift store pieces to remake into modern styles in my own size. I LOVE DOING THIS. There aren’t a ton of local options for fabric near me and we have a really two really great Goodwill stores in town. I’ve found typically expensive fabrics - wool, silk, linen, Swiss dots, seersuckers, eyelets - the list goes on and on.

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After making a good assortment of tops (like the one in this post!), it crossed my mind I might be able to find some men’s jeans that could be upcycled into a new pair that fit me. Raw denim is awesome, don’t get me wrong, but it takes a lot of wearing and washing to get it to fade into a soft vintage blue. And that’s what I had in mind for this pair of jeans, so imagine my crazy good luck when I found a pair of men’s Levi’s in a size 50 for under five bucks.

I wanted to try to keep some of the original elements - the red tab, big back pockets and front coin pocket all came along into my new pair. I was able to cut most of the rest of the jeans out but had to go cross grain in some places, or use different fabric all together - like the inside waistband and belt looks. But I LIKE the way all of the different elements come together. I finished the bottom edge with a raw hem and the fit on these is really relaxed. Perfect for milling about the house, working outside or whatever.

The issue that gave me trouble was using thick thread in conjunction with thick fabric. My home machine just couldn’t wing it. I finally thought maybe regular thread would work and I’m glad I did because it came through. With the extra bar tacks and top stitching I think this pair will be plenty sturdy and I don’t mind going back into mend if need be.

So both the top and denim in this post are upcycled plus the band on my self made hat! You’ve seen the blouse worn here (Simplicity 8391, out of print) and the jeans are my favorite denim pattern (Dawn Jean) from Megan Nielsen patterns (literally every pair of pants i make are this pattern. What am I up to? Eight versions?)

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Jessica Sews | Overalls Hack with Dawn Jeans

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On to the next piece of my capsule wardrobe - my high waisted overalls! I had originally wanted to make the bib overall version of this pattern, but… I lost it! In a fervor to make something, I ordered the Megan Nielsen Dawn Jean as a pdf I could print at home. In the course of a couple days I stitched up my first pair and damn, they’re amazing. So amazing I’ve made the original pair in dark indigo, a wide leg pair in white, a sample/mockup of overalls and finally, this pair! The fit is incredible and they sew up really quickly. There’s also an amazing series of blog posts that take you step by step through the process, and I used those instead of the printed pattern instructions.

So overalls! Let’s walk through how I made ‘em!

Construction wise, the main change from standard five pocket jeans to overalls are the side closures. Your basic jeans will zip or button at center front, but the bib of the overall prohibits that. I opted to do two exposed button fly closures at each side seam to get in and out of my overalls. Luckily, the first pair of Dawn jeans I made were an exposed button fly, so the principals of the construction are exactly the same! Your button holes go onto your front leg piece (which is cut all the way to the side seam, ie - no pocket scoop) and the fly extension is sewn to the back leg and yolk. On my sample version I used the same fly/fly extensions as a front closure, but on my second pair, I made them a little shorter (-1”) and wider (+1/2”)

Also different - the waistband. Instead of opening at center front and cut in one long curved piece, it’s done in two separate pieces for front and back (four total pieces for inside/outside). I folded my waistband and brought in the edges to create this pattern piece, added a little extra seam allowance and stitched it up to match the front and back portions respectively.

Next the business of a new front pocket design. I looked around online (and made this board on Pinterest) and decided a long patch pocket with a slash opening fit my vision of perfect overalls, so I got to drafting it out. It ended up being around 9” long (I wanted it to extend below the crotch) and 6 1/2” wide (to give me enough room to keep a top stitched fly. I did a little corner edge and applied it with a double needle top stitch.

With the pockets done and the pant portion of the overalls all done, I drafted my bib. On my initial sample, I think it was a little short (you can see this if you watch my instagram highlights) so I made the second version much longer. Too long in fact! I kind of jumped the gun on that and ended up taking a tuck at the waistband to drop it down by 1 1/2”. But all is well that ends well and it was a simple enough solution. I’ll mark this on my paper pattern for the next time I make these in a different fabric. I sewed it up the center front using two pieces and finished it with a double top stitch. The sides of the bib are turned in twice at 3/8”, again with a double top stitch. The top was turned under 3/8” and again at around 1” with a single top stitch. The front pocket was cut asymmetrically like the versions I saw and loved online and finished with a double topstitch all around.

Lastly was the simple business of the straps, which are 1 1/2” wide to fit the buckles. There’s made to one length to fit my height.

The finishing touches on these overalls are the 10 metal shanks and buckles. I EFFING HATE SHANKS. I wasted so many by hammering them on at an angle (vs down straight) and had to wire cut them off and try again. I initially used Dritz brand and they suck. The ones that did best are the Hobby Lobby store brand because the back tack is a little longer and easier to hammer. I’d still like to source a different option, because I only shop there as a last resort (but in all honesty, its about 20 minutes closer to my house than JoAnns, right next to my grocery and they have some really cute fabric right now, so sue me, I’ll sacrifice my principals occasionally).

After I had all of my shanks attached, it’s back to the wash to pull out a little color and start the process of aging the denim. I used a 220 grit sandpaper gently over the surface of the pockets and other edges and it did a lovely job of lightening in those areas. I love the way denim fades, but it really just takes time!

A final note - these are out of stretch denim, which is just what I had in my stash. The Dawn jeans were designed to be made out of rigid fabric, so to compensate, I cut 3/8” off from my side seams, but made no other adjustments for fit. The end result is probably the best fitting pair of paints I’ve ever owned, and I just might make more this way. My rigid pair is TIGHT (which I love) but they need to be broken in more before they get to this level of comfort. That’s just stretch jeans for ya. The rigid fabric will last longer and the garments I’m making now are the kind of pieces I hope Bea wants to wear some day. I mean, how rad would it be to inherit a perfectly faded pair of your mom’s jeans? I would just flip if my mom had saved her jeans from the 70s.

So that’s my Dawn Jeans overall hack! I want to give Megan 50 rounds of applause for her amazing pattern that I used as a starting point. She and I are old friends and I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to get my hands on her patterns. Then again, I have taken a bit of a break with sewing while having such small kiddos in the house! If you’ve contemplated sewing your own jeans, I HIGHLY recommend this pattern!

Finally - outfit notes! I design and made my own hat using old school millinery techniques. The band is made from a vintage tie I had in my stash (a great and cheap way to get very small amounts of silk - I love using them for hand bands!). My tank is from Target. Someday I’d like to advance to sewing knits, but I’m ok buying them for now. I can also talk more about fast fashion and why Target is probably one of the better options (I used to work in the industry and have visited factories overseas) but I’m gonna save that for another day. On my feet - some self made espadrilles. Here’s my DIY post from when I originally made them!

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