Vintage levis Big E 501 Repairs

vintage levis 501 Big E repair

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.

vintage levis 501 Big E repair

vintage levis 501 Big E repairAgain 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.

vintage levis 501 Big E repairThe 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.
vintage levis 501 Big E repairTo 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.

vintage levis 501 Big E repairvintage levis 501 Big E repair

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