A while back I happened upon a pile of disheveled denim. The markings on the two pair of Levis 501s, a pair of 505s, Penny’s Foremost and Lee Riders dated them to the 1960s. The Lee’s in relatively good shape I sold off almost immediately. The others needing significant repair I held on to knowing at some point I’d have them repaired. Fast forward a few years, I pulled the stack of denim from the closet and studied. Such denim deserved a second life at the hands of a skilled professional, or did it? Having come across jeans that had been lovingly repaired and myself, and having been raised by a mother that sewed and mended many of my childhood clothing, I knew it wasn’t really a question of professionalism, but of utility and resourcefulness. I set out to do what any other mother or miserly person of the day would do and fix them myself.
Again going back to my childhood, I had learned the ins and outs of a sewing machine at a relatively young age. I can thread one properly and work the stitch settings well enough. I chose a pair of the 501s and set about. Now, I’ve patched items regularly over the years, but these were in need more of a reconstruction! I planned for a few minutes and got to work.
Among the pile of denim I found was a leg piece of red line selvedge I would use as my patch. The jeans in question must have been washed after the incident that left them in their dire shape as the fabric was unraveling. I paused, contemplating whether to preserve the tattered edge or clean it off. I opted for the later (which in hind sight, I somewhat regret). After trimming the long weft strings I cut my patch. Pinning it in place would have taken a lot of time and ensuring the two sides lay as they should considering the loss of fabric would have been difficult. I opted to use some fabric glue to make the initial bonding. Also in consideration was to patch the outside or from within. Given the size and severity of the mend I chose an inside patch.
The nature of this break, extending around the leg and up through the crotch made for a challenging fix. I knew early on it wouldn’t be clean, but just figured it would create character.
After allowing for the patches along the back of the leg and crotch to set I made a few additional pinnings and set about sewing. First with a straight stitch to get them in place, then with a series of zig-zag stitches for strength. It was a technique I learned from my mom long before seeing many other pieces repaired in the same way. Rather than try to exactly thread match the denim in color I chose to use some color to personalize my repair.
To finish this fix off I grabbed the closest color match I had to the original Big E yellow thread and sewed a stitch a around the patch, followed by some big zig-zags with some olive green just for fun.
I know with wear this mend will need additional attention and It’s something I look forward to completing. Adding to these nearly 50 year-old jeans history.
2 thoughts on “Vintage levis Big E 501 Repairs”
Hello! So I recently found a pair of vintage Levi’s with a similar issue (Not as bad). In curious how a repair like this effects the value? Is it better in some cases to leave the damage? They wouldn’t be useable with out repair but for a collector they are perfect! Also how do you value something like this Thank you in advance.
Thanks for your comment. There’s a lot of variables that would go into a decision like this, primarily dealing with the age and severity of the damage. I chose to repair these as they were unwearable as is. Given the age, which wasn’t too old, I decided I could make them wearable and not hurt the value and in fact increase it by making them wearable again. Also given that I was keeping them, I only had to satisfy myself with the look and quality of the repair.
Were these any older (50s or earlier), I would have consulted a professional to repair the jeans with materials and techniques that were period correct. When you start talking about early, early pieces (turn of the century), I think you want to leave those as is regardless as you’re getting into museum type pieces that only the most experienced denim professionals should make decisions on.
Value is subjective based on buyer preference though. Some buyers want as close to new condition as possible, while another might be interested in the repaired, modified and customized, I am in favor of the later. To determine current market value search eBay for sold listings for the era which your jeans are from. Look for comparables (condition and size) to establish a value. hope that helps.