August 07, 2023

How I Transformed My Thrift Store Overalls

As you all know, I buy almost every article of clothing I need (or just the fun things I want) from thrift stores. I hate spending money on new clothes (I do buy socks and underwear new, though). I find it so fun to go into thrift stores and look for items, never knowing what I will find.

I happened to see these overalls hanging on a rack outside the fitting rooms and my eyes lit up--I LOVED them! (Well, minus the wrinkles--I should have ironed them before taking a picture.)

When I got closer, however, I saw that they were children’s size--they were an XXL from Gap Kids. As an XXL, I thought *maybe* I could wear them. They were $3.50, so I bought them and hoped they might fit.

I was delusional.

Not only were they much too short, I couldn't get them over my hips--they were about an inch too small to pull them up. Later, when I eventually was able to pull them up, the straps were so short they gave me camel toe, hahaha. They needed a lot of alterations, and it would eventually be one of the biggest projects pains in my ass gratifying pieces of clothing I've ever altered (without using a pattern or even having a plan).

To see just how small they were, here they are next to a pair of regular jeans:

First, I removed the snaps on each side. There were two per side and they were *very* difficult to remove. I used two pairs of pliers and you can see the blood blister I got on my left index finger when I accidentally grabbed my skin with them, haha. (I told you, I never ever finish a project without hurting myself by some stupid accident. There were many, many bandaids I used throughout this project, due to the hand sewing.)

After removing snaps. I decided to worry about the holes later--or just leave them.

Next, I started with the issue of them being too narrow at the waist (and, likely, legs). So, I ripped the leg seams up the side--all the way from the hem to the hips. (When I say "ripped", I mean that I undid the stitching that held the seam together--it's a sewing term. Ripping is better than cutting, because you don't lose any fabric that way.) They looked like this after I ripped the side seams:

The left shows the seam I ripped; the right shows where the seam had been sewn together.

I wanted them to be a little on the big side--kind of a messy, working-around-the-house-and-yard kind of look. I doubted I'd ever wear them in public. I probably could have added only a couple of inches on each side of the legs, but I went bigger--I decided to add five inches to each side. I usually wear a 30-inch inseam, and when I measured this, they were obviously much too short.

I would have liked to make the legs full-length, so I laid out different pieces of denim to see if I could lengthen them somehow, but I just didn't like how it looked. Duck eventually gave me his opinion--to leave them the length they were and wear them as cropped pants.

After nixing the idea of lengthening them, I planned to add panels to the side that went from waist to hem, which would make the entire bottom half of the overalls bigger.

For a project like this, it's nearly impossible to find denim in an exact color match, especially with the unfinished hem (I love unfinished hems like that!) so I chose to do a drastic contrast in color and I used a very dark pair of denim jeans that were too small on me:

I *loved* these, but the taper at the knee made my thighs look like they were in a sausage casing. I tried to fix that by adding holes in the knees, but that made it worse. So, they went to my scrap pile.

Once I decided the length would be fine if used as cropped pants, I needed to cut two side panels that would go from the waist to the hem. The final length needed to be 30-1/2 inches; plus a little extra for a seam allowance, so I decided on 31 inches. (When you fold the fabric down before sewing, you need a little extra so that you don't have raw edges. Kind of like the hem--if you were to take the raw hem and tuck it under to sew, you lose some length.) I planned to leave the entire hem raw, but I needed the extra half inch at the top for sewing the waist. Better to have the panels be too long than too short.

The dark blue is the panel for the side of each leg. It totaled 31"x5" when it was done.

I cut the legs from the dark jeans to use as the side panels as long as I could, but they still weren't as long as they needed to be (I'm super bummed I used the hem from the dark pants on another project, because I think it would have looked really cool on these). I had to cut a small piece of fabric to add to the top to lengthen them in order to get them to 31 inches long.

After that, I learned I'd done the EASY parts. The waist band was going to be really tough! I really wanted to add snaps so that the overalls would be a little thinner at the waist when wearing them, but I couldn't figure out a good way to do that with the fabric I had to work with at the waistband. Also, I had never done snaps before and I didn't want to screw it up. I used what I could of the original band to cover the top of the dark panels, but it looked pretty terrible.

I *also* still had the problem of the waist not tapering a bit like I wanted. So, I took the waistband apart, stared at it for the longest time to try to figure out what to do--I even considered a small zipper!--and then decided on something I despise doing: darts. (A dart is when you basically pinch part of a piece of clothing and sew it together on the wrong side in order to taper it a bit--it's hard to explain. Let's just leave it at the fact that I hate them.)

In retrospect, I would have cut my side panels smaller at the top and wider at the bottom. But since I'd already sewed them in, I made a dart on one side of each panel, so it looked like this:

The dart made the top of the dark panel 2-1/2 inches wide (after sewing) and the lower part of the side panel 4-1/2 inches wide (after sewing--remember, I cut them to 5 inches, but sewing the seams makes you lose a little fabric). The dart was about 6 inches long (the yellow line on the left on the above picture). From the bottom of the dart to the hem, the dark fabric was 4-1/2 inches wide. In other words, I tapered the waist from the inside.

I tried them on at this point, and was happy with fit--however, I still had to make a finished-looking waistband. I also discovered the problem with the shoulder straps being too short.

I started with the waistband. I maneuvered the fabric so many ways I lost count, and I just couldn't figure out an idea. UNTIL... I came up with something a bit unique that I ended up absolutely LOVING.

I dug through my box of scrap denim and pulled out a bunch of belt loops...

The length of them was almost exactly what I needed for the "bridge" between the original waistband on the overalls. Since I've been loving embroidery floss lately (if you can't tell already), I wove the belt loops together to make a band for each side of the overalls.

The short edges were obviously raw, so I sewed (with my machine) along each of the side edges to keep them from fraying. They were also a tad too short (width-wise). I made a couple of strips of denim to cover the side edges, and then I sewed them where the natural waistband would be.

I made the side against the bib part (the side on the right in this photo) longer so that it would strengthen the seam transition (waist to bib). I don't love the way that part looks, but it's fine--I'm leaving it as-is.

After that, I tried them on and they were perfect--except for the straps. I knew the straps would be easy to lengthen, though. I ripped the seams that held the clasps (I want to say "hardware"--I have no idea what those are called, so we'll say clasps) and pulled off the clasps so I just had a long strip of denim. Even after removing them, the straps were too short to fold and sew, especially if I wanted to make them adjustable.

I decided against making them adjustable and just tailor them to fit me at the length I wanted. I for sure wanted to cover the "Gap Kids" part (I know it's not super noticeable, but it was easy to cover).

Again, I made a couple of panels... this time to add onto the straps. I had to basically cut a piece twice as wide as the straps (plus a little extra for sewing allowance), fold it in half with right sides together and sew the long edge. Then flip the whole thing right-side out, so that it was a "tube" (that way I didn't have raw edges on the strap). I pressed them with an iron, and they were the perfect size for straps.

Rather than sewing the two straps together, I used the "hardware" pieces from the clasp to connect the strap together, hiding the "Gap Kids" in the process. I just folded the fabric through the loops to cover it:

The backside wasn't pretty, but I wasn't worried about that.

After lengthening the straps and trying them on, I loved them! The fit was exactly what I wanted.

Since these were already kind of quirky looking, I figured I'd sort of use them as a canvas to add some more "happy trees" (fun stuff). I've gotten a little too happy with the embroidery floss, but I love it--it's fun to work with. I started by doing straight stitches down the entire length of the side panels:

I also cut the bottom to be a raw hem.

I wasn't sure if I should mend the hole in the side panels (that's where the knee was in the dark jeans) or if I should sew around it. I thought it might look kind of neat if I went around it. I could always cover it with a patch later if I want. (Looking at it now, I kind of wish I had mended it while sewing. But a patch would be fun, too.

I was in the car on my way up north at this point, and I wanted to put something on the front pocket of the bib. I decided on a cat silhouette. I found one on Pinterest and I tried to draw it on scrap fabric with pencil, but I was TERRIBLE at it. I asked Ava (Eli's girlfriend) if she, by any chance, knew how to draw. She said yes! So I gave her the fabric and a few minutes later, I was able to cut out the cat silhouette. She drew it with pencil on denim without having to trace it. I was super impressed.

Then I used a blanket stitch to sew it to the front pocket. I would have liked to use something to fuse it first to prevent fraying (is that what I'm "supposed" to do? I'm not sure.) But I made do with what I had with me in the car. If it frays too much, I can always take it off and redo it. (With Ava's help!) It was kind of hard to sew, though, because I didn't want to accidentally sew the pocket shut. Thankfully, I didn't do that.

My blanket stitch needs practice, but I've only just learned it!

Then I decorated the pockets a little, doing the same weaving technique I did with the waistband.

Then I improvised what turned out to be one of my favorite parts--a kitty peeking out of the pocket!

That was my first time using transfer paper (to outline the cat) and it was MUCH harder than I expected. But I'm kind of excited to practice doing more.

Finally, since the back looked kind of plain, I wanted to add something to the back pockets. I decided on a pig and a cow (two of my favorite animals). I started with the pig (again, using transfer paper) and it didn't turn out quite like I hoped...

I didn't want the flower designs, so I left that plain

Honestly, I don't love how it looks. I may remove it and try something else, or maybe I'll try to fill it in somehow, but I have no idea how to do that. I attempted some sort of weaving in and out of the backstitching to do the outline and I really couldn't get the hang of that. So, it is what it is. A barely-recognizable looking pig. 

I haven't attempted the cow yet because I'd like to practice a little more with outline stitching (as well as filling in empty space). Also, the transfer paper. HOW DO YOU DO THAT without tearing the paper (which is as thin as tissue paper) but pressing hard enough on the top paper to get it to transfer? If you have tips, please share.

Overall, I am so happy with how they turned out. I was very nervous to wear them in public, but when I did, I got SO MANY compliments on them. They ended up being a great conversation starter at a party where I definitely had social anxiety. Despite being challenging at times, they were super fun to make! Figuring out how to work out challenges is something that I actually really enjoy.

I've got an idea for my next project, which I'll write about on another post. This post is WAY too long and I've been working on it for probably as long as it took to make the damn overalls! Hahaha.

Anyway, here they are, all finished:

Front and back after (I swear to God I own an iron)

Front and back before


  1. That is impressive!! Seriously, mad skills!!

  2. They truly look grand Katie!

  3. Very cute!! I love your persistence with this project!

  4. HOLY SMOKES! I knew they had to be a lot of work, but yowza!! And they are adorable.

  5. Girl. My mind is blown. You are SO talented!! I can't believe you can take a children's size pair of overalls and turn them into this masterpiece!! What a seriously gifted mind you have. I love them!! They turned out so great and they're so you!!


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