The vintage Levi’s 501. These are definitely my all time favorite jeans. The thick denim, the washing, the model - everything is just perfect. If I could choose, my whole closet would be loaded with them. Unfortunately, as you might know, these jeans are hard to find in the right size. You have to be very lucky to come across a perfect one.
If you are one of those lucky few and finally get your hands on a Levi’s 501, it can sometimes be a bit shapeless and not very flattering. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t change that. If the Levi’s fit perfectly around your hips and bottom, you can easily customize the rest of the jeans entirely to your body. In today’s article, I’m going to show you how you can easily do that yourself.
- l a sewing machine
- a Levi’s 501
- the right color and thickness thread (keep in mind that the inside and outside of jeans usually have different thread colors)
- a bobbin
- measuring tape
- a jeans needle
* Before you start with this DIY, make sure that you adjust the sewing machine the right way. Especially the right thread tension is very important in order to get a nice stitch. Consult the manual of your sewing machine if you don’t know how you should to that.
Put your jeans on and decide where you want to adjust the jeans. There are three options:
1. If you want to adjust the width as well as the length, you just have to follow these steps.
2. If your Levi’s already have the right width, (this applies to my jeans), you can skip steps 3 to 6.
3. If your Levi’s already have the right length, it’s a bit more complicated. You need to undo the original hem a few centimeters at the outside of your jeans legs where the seam is located, in order to adjust the width. Follow steps 3 to 6 and once you’re done, sew the part of the original hem back at its place.
Measure how much centimeters you want your jeans to be shortened. Also, measure the length of the original hem. Then you need to do the following calculation, in order to take account of the hem which we’re going to make. The number of centimeters that you want your jeans to be shortened — (the length of the original hem x 2) = the number of centimeters that you need to cut off.
Example: in my case, my jeans are 11 cm too long. The original hem is 1.5 cm. The calculation that I need to do is 11 — (1.5 x 2) = 8 cm.
The outcome of the sum is the number of centimeters that you need to cut off. Make two rows of pins. I make one at 8 cm and one at 11 cm. You do that of course with the numbers that apply to your Levi’s. Cut off your jeans along the lowest row of pins. Ignore temporary the other row of pins, we’ll get to it in step 7.
Pin the outsides of the legs (while you’re wearing the jeans inside out) to desired width. This doesn’t have to be too neat yet, that’ll come later. In order to keep the original Levi’s 501 model, make sure you don’t pin the jeans too tight at the bottom.
Carefully take the jeans off. Lay your jeans on the seam at the outside of the legs and make a neat, straight line of the pins (which you had roughly made in the previous step). Make sure that the transition between the original seam and your adjusted width merge nicely into each other. Otherwise, you’ll get a weird angle in your jeans.
Once you’ve checked if the adjusted width is to your liking by trying them on, you can bring on the sewing machine. Use a straight stitch. Place your Levi’s under the needle and begin 3 centimeters above the row of pins. Start sewing. Sew 0.5 cm ahead, then 0,5 cm backwards (so the thread will be secured) and follow for 2 cm the original seam of the jeans. Switch smoothly to the row of pins. Follow this line, while removing one by one the pins, until the end. At the end of the jeans, secure your thread again and cut it off.
Cut off the surplus fabric about 1 cm along the new seam. Finally, use an overcasting stitch for a neat seam finish. After that, you’re done with adjusting the width.
We’ll continue with adjusting the length of the Levi’s. Make sure that your jeans are still inside out. In step 2, we already cut off a part of the too-long length. Now we’re going to make a hem. Fold the bottom of the jeans to the row of pins (which will still be there if it’s done right) and then fold it again. You’ll see that the row of pins shows up at the bottom of the hem. Remove the old pins and secure the new hem with the pins. Turn the jeans right side out. Place the end of the jeans underneath the needle (see photo). Sew the hem with a straight stitch. Make sure you secure the thread at the beginning and the end (see step 5 for instructions).
Optional: If you want to make your new hem look a bit more ‘worn’, you can destroy it a little with some sandpaper.
Et voila! Your customized Levi’s 501 are revived and ready to wear. Enjoy them! And if you have any questions, feel free to ask.