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Holey Knees, Batman! Patch Them, Don't Toss Them
All kids hit a certain age when jeans get holes in the knees on a very frequent basis. Patching jeans is not a difficult task, even when there is no sewing machine at hand. Iron-on patches make the task simple, as only an iron and an ironing board are required!
Since the iron-on patches over the knee area are exposed to a lot of wear and stress, however, the patches will not stay on the jeans long-term unless a simple whip-stitch is added around the border of the patch. This type of stitching does not require a sewing machine and is fairly simple to do, even without prior knowledge of sewing techniques. An iron-on patch with a whip stitch around the edge will last indefinitely.
For kid's jeans, appliques can make the patches seem "cool." Add a simple whip-stitch around the patch to help secure it and to give the jeans a finished look. For longer-lasting appliques, use cotton fabric with cute designs and fusible web—my own four-year-old son has had superhero knee patches on his jeans that have lasted for six months (until he outgrew the jeans). Kids can choose their own iron-on appliques to add to the patches: get a designer look for pennies!
Repair Jeans With Iron-On Patches
Step 1: Cut the Jean Patch
Purchase an iron-on patch at a department or craft store. Colorful patches can lend an artistic and unique feel to the jeans, but most iron-on patches come in denim shades. For denim iron-on patches, try to find a patch that matches the general shade of the jeans.
Cut the patch to fit the hole or tear in the jeans. Make sure the patch overlaps the ripped area, for complete coverage. Cut any shape, making sure all corners are rounded. Do not cut the patch into a square with sharp corners, as corners are likely to become detached from the underlying fabric.
Step 2: Prepare the Work Space
Get out the iron and turn it on. Follow the instructions that come with the iron-on patch; generally, a high setting (e.g., "cotton") is required. Let the iron get hot, and place the pants on the ironing board. Place a strip of paper into the leg of the jeans, so that the fusible web of the iron-on patch does not adhere to the back of the pant leg.
Step 3: Iron On the Jean Patch
Make sure there are no wrinkles in the fabric or patch, and press the iron down onto the patch. Press the patch and jeans according to the directions that came with the iron-on patch: generally this requires pressing with a hot iron for about 30 seconds. Once this step is complete, the paper can be removed from the jeans.
Step 4: Applique the Iron-On Jean Patch
Iron-on appliques can be found in many designs. For kid's jeans, let children have a say in the applique patterns that go on the jeans.
Follow the iron-on applique directions, and apply the applique to the jean patch. This usually involves pre-warming the jeans with the iron, then placing the applique. Place a thin cotton cloth on top of the applique, and press with an iron for about 20 seconds to tack the applique in place.
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Step 5: Turn the Jeans Inside Out
For jean patches with an applied applique, turn the jeans inside-out. Heat the backside of the patch and applique for another 30 seconds, to set the applique. The old tear can be seen once the jeans have been turned inside-out, and is nicely fused to the new, strong patch.
Optional: Whip-Stitch the Jean Patch
While not absolutely required, the jean patch will look much better if a stitched border is applied. Simply get a long length of thread, tie a knot in the end, and do a simple whip-stitch around the patch border. This will help secure the patch to the jeans, especially important when patching the knees of jeans that belong to small boys.
Helpful Hints: Iron-On Appliques
- Do not add bleach to any wash load containing appliques. The bleach will permanently fade any applique.
- Wash garments containing appliques in cold water, with the garment turned inside out.
- Most iron-on appliques may be placed in the dryer, but check the instructions on the individual applique prior to purchasing. Some appliques are higher quality than others! Always turn garments inside out prior to drying.
Patch Jeans Before Holes Appear
It might be a good idea to apply patches prior to holes becoming evident. This allows the patch to be placed on the inside of the pants, which will make the hole and patch less evident. Simply turn the pants inside-out and apply the patch with an iron on the area that is worn. As the original denim area wears through, the patch will already be in place to reinforce the area.
Use Fabric Instead of Appliques
Sometimes, three-dimensional appliques will simply not stay on knee patches—even if they are sewed in place. Children tend to crawl and slide on their knees, causing the appliques to get torn off. In this case, another solution is at hand.
Purchase fabric with a child-pleasing print. Fabric with Hot Wheels, superheroes, and many other designs can be found at a local arts and crafts store. Choose fabric with a small, repeating pattern that can be cut out. While at the arts and crafts store, purchase some fusible web; this is often found near the appliques in the sewing aisle.
- Roughly cut out around the desired shape in the fabric. Make sure the item will fit neatly onto the knee patch.
- Cut out a piece of fusible web to roughly fit the fabric shape.
- Peel off one side of the fusible web paper. Place the rough-cut fabric object onto the fusible web.
- Use sharp scissors and cut the fabric and fusible web carefully, leaving no rough edges. This is the final "look" of the picture you are going to iron onto the pants.
- Peel off the paper on the backside of the fusible web, and place the fabric onto the knee patch.
- Using an iron with steam, iron the fabric/fusible web onto the knee patch for a full 30 seconds on high heat.
- Once complete, do not dry the jeans with a fabric sheet, as the chemicals in the fabric sheet might cause the fusible web to detach over time.
Questions & Answers
Question: how do you do a whip stitch?
Answer: A whip stitch may be accomplished by following the steps below:
1. Knot the end of your thread.
2. Begin your stitch from between the two pieces of fabric, so your knot will not be visible.
3. Pull your needle up through the top layer of fabric.
4. "Whip" the thread around the fabric layers and push the needle into the bottom fabric layer, pulling it all the way through to the top layer. The needle should exit in almost the same place you first pulled it through.
5. "Whip" the thread around the fabric layers and push the needle through the same bottom stitch you used the first time, but angle the needle to come through the top layer about 1/8" away from the first stitch on the top layer of fabric.
6. "Whip the thread around the fabric and push the needle through the bottom second stitch, again angling the needle to come up about 1/8" from the second stitch.
7. Continue this pattern until your stitching is complete.
8. When stitching is complete, separate the fabric layers slightly to tie a knot between the layers so it will not be visible. Poke the needle under the thread of your last stitch when making the knot to secure it tightly.
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on January 19, 2012:
Those are great ideas, Melissa! My son was going through jeans like crazy - he would wear out the knees within 2 weeks! He was five years old when I took the pictures of him, and I had to do something to patch the knees up. Fortunately, he is six now and doesn't seem to be quite as hard on the knees - of course, his younger brother is ready to pick up where he left off, lol! I did have to stitch around all of our appliques - I have never been able to find ones that would stay on without stitching. The fabric with fusible web works really well, though - that held up through all the washing and didn't come off. I always anchor the patch with stitches, too.
Melissa on January 19, 2012:
Hey there! I stumbled onto your blog and I love it! For knee patches, I have a good idea that goes along with yours. I like to cut the patches into simple shapes. Squares and rectangles being the typical shapes, but also circles, triangles and stars, too. I have also traced around the wooden animal shapes you can get at the craft store and cut out a patch. I also stitched around the shape because you are right, it says in place longer. Thanks for your great ideas, I have a pile of "holey" blue jeans in front of me now waiting for some applique patches!!
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on December 14, 2011:
Hi James - a "whip stitch" is a stitch where you thread a needle and simply go in and out around the edge of the patch (in through the edge of the patch, out through the denim on the side, and in through the patch again). One of my images above has a picture of the whip stitch - you can print it and show it to your sewing person.
Another option is to simply use a sewing machine and sew the patch on with the machine. I have to say, I highly recommend sewing the patches in place, as the adhesive wears off after a few washes and the patches will fall off if they are not tacked into place with stitches. I hope that helps!
James Culp on December 14, 2011:
Please define the meaning of and sewing method actions for that which is called " a simple whip stitch . " If I go to a sewing person, oft they do not speak english well or they may not know what they must do nor how to do it. They will sew, but will not know what is a Simple Whip Stitch. Thank you.