Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Denim Deconstructed: On Cut-off Shorts & Getting the Most Out of Our Clothes

I know I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: whenever I'm at church and one of the elderly women in Relief Society speaks up, I listen. Intently.  On one occasion, a sweet lady named Leone, who had just turned 90, said something that stuck with me. She said, "People these days don't wear out clothes. They wash them out!"  She chuckled a little, talked a little more about how the washer and dryer wear out the clothes more than the people do, and then added something to the effect that we have much, much more than we need these days and that we don't make do with what we have.

This simple declaration from her got me thinking about that. So I started line-drying my clothes since the heat of the dryer does take a toll on clothes.  Just line-drying alone can extend the life of your clothing. I also don't buy as much clothes for my son as I used to when he was a baby (granted, he isn't needing a new size every few months anymore).  So, that was the extent of my attempt to wear-out and not wash-out our clothes. 

Then a few weeks ago, I pulled my son's jeans out of the wash.

The marker he'd been drawing with hadn't come out of the pants.  They were covered with little marks on both legs.  And I noticed that they were starting to get really worn in the knees, too.  I wasn't too bothered by this since they were getting a little too short. However, my son is on the slim side and the expandable waistband still had at least a notch or two left. Then I remembered Leone's comment.  How could we make the most of these pants that still kind of fit? 

Cut-offs!  How could I forget cut-off jeans?  They were a staple of our childhood wardrobe!  Growing up as the only girl in a house full of boys, I can remember my brothers spending the summer in cut-offs because they were merciless on pants.  They always had torn knees in them, so Mom would cut them into shorts. Sometimes she would hem them, sometimes she would let them fray. To think that I was actually considering buying him denim shorts days before while at Old Navy!  So I grabbed my measuring tape and fabric scissors. I measured the inseam of another pair of shorts and then used that measurement to determine the length of the cut-offs.  Then, snip.  Instant shorts. I even saved the bottoms for my denim quilt that's still in the collection phase. 
(Update 6/2014: Since I wrote this post four years ago (!), I've made A LOT of cut-off shorts. As it was as I remembered with my brothers, boys' jeans don't last too long around my house. One thing I like to do is a quick stitch around the bottom of each leg. Nothing fancy at all -- just a quick run through the sewing machine, right above where I made the cut. I don't fold or hem or anything. This lets the shorts fray a little -- I like the classic frayed cut-off look -- but not too much and not all summer long.)

Now I realize that making cut-offs isn't such a novel or new idea.  I'm sure your moms did the same thing. The thing that struck me, though, is that I hadn't thought of it before. I'd forgotten just this one aspect of my mom's frugal repertoire and always bought shorts at the store. Duh. 

Ever since then, I've been even more conscious about the wear of our clothes. Another pair of my son's jeans, ones that are still the perfect length, started to wear in the knees.  They weren't ready for cut-offs yet, though. So, I got some iron-on denim patches from the store for a dollar. I ironed the patch on in the inside of the pants and now can't really notice the thinning fabric unless you look closely.  These jeans will last him through the fall now. My husband's pants always wear out first in the corners of the back pockets, from him pushing in and pulling out his wallet. So I did the same thing for his jeans - a quick iron-on patch on the inside and it's fixed for a while.  Much better than forking over another $20-30 for another pair.  Like the cut-offs, I hadn't given denim patches much though either until lately.

In a way, cut-off shorts aren't just an article of clothing, but they're a sort of frame of mind, a way of looking at something and finding a way to repurpose it. The same goes for iron-on patches. They're more than just a quick fix. Mending clothes was a part of life, almost as much as doing laundry, generations ago. Remembering all of this is a sort of elevated consciousness, a way of making the things in our lives, even just a pair of jeans, not a just a disposable commodity. In my mind, this is one of the foundational principles to making frugality a practical reality in our lives.


thegirlwiththeplan said...

I enjoyed this post, it made me laugh at myself. Whenever a piece of our clothing gets stained, holes etc, I put it in a tub of scrap material. I use it for other projects, attempt to make the good material into something else etc, but the tub grows fuller faster than I can find things to do with it. I even opened it up for a YW project and even with all the girls using pieces of scrap there is still tons left. I guess we use up clothing way too fast. But at least I try to do something with it once it is not wearable.

StrivingSimply said...

You reminded me of an issue I had as a teenager. I'm on the short side, but had never bought "short" jeans. It never occurred to me that I could hem them. I would wear the bottoms off to my ankles just from walking on them. I would get the look of distressed, frayed jeans that people paid for just because I was too short to wear them properly :o)

Tara said...

You mean I thought of something before you??? WOW! I have been doing this for years since all my boys wear the knees out first. I save them for summer and cut them into shorts-haven't bought shorts in YEARS! I don't sew, so I bought fabric glue and glued in a hem! I cheat!

DaMomma said...

First of all I LOVE your blog!!! =) You mentioned making a denim quilt, and I thought I would share what my husband's aunt made for us. She made us a picnic blanket out of jeans. One side is jeans, and one is fleece. The jeans side goes on the ground, and the fleece side is nice and soft for the picnic. And no prickly thorns stick to the blanket because it is made of jeans. I thought it was so cool and such a great idea! =)

Heather said...

Thanks for the nice words -- I really appreciate it!

As for the quilt, that's totally what I'm going for. I think a denim quilt would be THE perfect picnic/camping blanket. I like the idea of the fleece side a lot. I'm thinking this the year I'm going to start it...

Thanks for stopping by!

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