Upcycling jeans with boro

My new job is dangerous, really dangerous. You’d expect I work for MI6, NSA, ASIO but no, I’m volunteering at The Red Cross shop in Newport Beach and it takes soooo much self control to not spend the money I don’t earn! We get some really amazing donations (and some not so amazing donations obvs). I volunteer a half day every fortnight and finally get to use some of those hard won sewing skills.


Sashiko like mending Boro
Before (L) and after a day’s wear and mending(R)


Some ‘brands’, you know, like ones with tags, pass us their stock that is a little broken. We take them home and repair them and you know how much I like to rehab a garment! It’s  such a thrill to spend 2 minutes on an invisible zipper repair and send it off to someone’s wardrobe for money that we know goes to a good cause. On the downside I can’t believe the great stuff we get and how often that stuff has a button missing. Is it because folks don’t know how to mend their gear?

I’m starting to see op shops as a kind of garment lease arrangement. You buy armfuls of quite nice clothes at very little cost and when you’re bored with them, you donate them back to the shop with all profits benefiting charity – guilt free consumption. Overall the scheme promotes less wanton manufacturing and waste but assuages our thirst for the new and interesting. Has this scheme got legs? Or am I late to the party as per usual?!

Sashiko like mending - Boro

What if you could upcycle those charity shop finds? Here’s my first example of upcycling a pair of designer jeans. I actually bought them in the local designer consignment shop (not a charity shop) for $35. They fit like ‘boyfriend jeans’ and were comfy, but the holes plagued me. Is it old age or does everyone get cold knees with this intentional distressing? Anyhow, I tried my hand at Boro, a japanese mending tradition that uses Sashiko stitching to cobble broken bits of fabric together, very therapeutic sewing in front of winter TV. How incredible is The Crown BTW?

I basted some nice non stretch denim behind the holes and then set to work with sashiko cotton. Do yourself a favour, use your sharpest needles and a thimble, denim is tough stuff. Random people tell me they like my jeans and that puts a smile on my dial!

Sashiko like mending - Boro


Also, if you’re in Sydney and desperately need to sate your fabric shopping appetite, Achieve Australia has a dedicated warehouse brimming with donated sewing and craft supplies. Money raised helps “support people with disability to achieve social inclusion.” It goes without saying that if your fabric stash is causing you grief and regret, they’ll relieve you of the burden. But if you have designer duds you want to get rid of, come and see me on Friday afternoons at The Newport Red Cross Shop all the better if the items are a 10 bottom 12-14 top 😉

More boro and sashiko mending links here and here


Add yours →

  1. My sister has done this too – looks really cool. I will be waiting until some of my jeans start to die and then giving it a crack myself. I would love/hate to work in an opshop. The TEMPTATION!!

  2. That is beautiful! And a great post, too. I’ve seen the technique before but I can’t for the life of me remember where. The yellow stitching is inspired. Another covetable piece.

  3. Yes, I am sure that clothes end up there because people don’t know how to mend! Another reason is weight loss or weight gain. I hear both reasons from the people I work with all the time. Well at least there is less waste somewhere!

  4. I’m currently looking for a scrap of the perfect pirate themed material to patch in a hole little legs has made in his jeans. He’s only promised to stop making it bigger and bigger if I put pirates on them!

  5. Dare I say, you are a latecomer, but then so was I. In my years and years of upcycling, I hadn’t even realised it was a Thing! !
    Great thing about all those donated garments is how much you learn about sewing when you’re deconstructing them. Inexpensive and a great way to tweak or harvest fabric, as you know I’m a fan of both.
    The biggest problem here is the thrift shops aren’t full of great things anymore. Too many people know what to skim off and resell. We have such cheap high street stores that I’ve seen the same crap priced in the thrift shops as the original price??? Your shops are far more expensive though, is that correct?

    • Absolutely Linda, we pay a lot for clothes. But I have always found the second hand shops too expensive, this one is no exception to be honest. The stuff that’s brought in by people though, that’s the gold! Other garments are sent to us by a distribution centre, generally of less interesting design. You may be interested to know the prices are standardised from head office. They have every brand listed with an approx. price point for each. The bane of my life in op shops are stains at the underarms on white shirts – I just don’t get why anyone would buy that? Yes, looking inside so many garments, it surprises me how beautifully finished some of our high street brands are. I particularly marvelled at the broken zipper – the edges of the zipper were bias bound and what a pretty finish it was.

      • That made me laugh, the stains under the arms! We, my daughter and I, now have a specific underarm check, they can often have holes as well as the stains! As a last resort…its the nose check, not so keen on that one though!
        I’m sure over time you’ll find some really good bargains

  6. I love this on every level. That the project exists, that the money does so much good, that you volunteer to do it, that your embroidery is so beautifully done and creative. And that you write with such warmth and humour. Thank you!

  7. beautiful repair work, I only have one pair of jeans which are badly sashiko’ed (my version) and as its all in the rear –
    its in blue thread, I never seem to get holes in the knees- must be sitting around too much! The community sew room I volunteer in is housed in the charity shop building and one of the ideas is to show people how to sew and mend etc for free, however, the take up is limited – I find that a lot of people figure its too complex to learn and are overwhelmed at the thought, however the few that do, tend to go on a fixing frenzy and will give me details of hemmed skirts and repaired buttons the following week, and when they learn zips….. skys the limit really!

    • Oh how fabulous. I’d wondered if people might be interested in various fixing techniques. But then i can’t get my own 22 and 19yo interested- what chance would i have with the general public! Hey good on you for your ‘good works’ you get so much back, don’t you agree?

  8. Oh, I love this post! I have a several pairs of jeans that are ripe for refashioning and you’ve sparked new energy in me for the project! Love the idea of your shop and the work you do….I wouldn’t be able to resist either though!

  9. I really need a new pair of jeans – and now you’ve inspired me to look more carefully at those in the thrift stores! What potential they have to be really cool with some embroidery (something I used to do to all my jeans and jean skirts in the early ’70’s) – they already come broken in “distressed’ and good enough that someone thought to donate them rather than throw them in the bin. Thank you for this post! By the way Boro reminds me of Alabama Chanin’s work 🙂

    • I have to admit, i’m standing here in absolutely mint condition True Religion jeans, they fit me perfectly – $16 from my work!!! These are more than $200 in our shops! Go forth and search, fingers crossed you get lucky! In fact, why not invoke the Psychic powers!

  10. I liked these jeans before but I totally adore them after… excellent work, not only in your skill of Japanese stitching and style but your selfless volunteer work.

  11. I could never really understand the appeal of paying a premium for jeans with holes already in them. Your solution is gorgeous – and I can understand how you would get lots of compliments. I’m hoping to have more time to try things like this now I’m ‘retired’. I may need to – no work = no money 😉

  12. Kate said everything thing I wanted to say…so ditto!

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