Yes, you are reading the title correctly – without a sewing machine. Even though I have one, I realized that I was simply too lazy to use it for this purpose after reading Levi’s thorough tutorial. Especially for two pairs of jeans I had that were only ~1 size too large in the waist.
This method requires minimal sewing that 100% doable by hand, though if you have a machine handy it certainly doesn’t hurt.
- 1” width non-roll elastic
- A sewing needle
- All-purpose thread
- 2 buttons, ideally ¾” in diameter with 4 holes
- 1 safety pin
- Optional: Some small fabric that can be turned into skinny loops, or something similar (you’ll see below)
- Optional: Seamripper
The tl;dr is that you insert elastic into the waistband of the jeans, and use it to tighten the waist as much as you need. The buttons are sewed on to the interior of your waistband to keep the elastic in place via loops or a buttonhole. While the end result may look slightly bunchy, it’s hardly noticeable when worn if you are only adjusting 1 size or so.
Cut two vertical slits on the interior side of your waistband only. I placed these about 3-4” from the center front, to leave space to sew a button in between the slit and the zipper area.
Note: To cut the slits, I used a pair of scissors and scored the area lightly until a hole was formed. I then cut open that hole into a vertical slit. Be careful to avoid slicing through the exterior layer!
Measure some of the elastic around your waist, to about the points where you made the vertical slits. Cut a piece of elastic at this length – or shorter, if you’re taking in more than 1 size at the waist.
Hook the safety pin into the edge of the elastic, and use that to ‘thread’ it through the waistband.
Note, some waistbands may have labels sewn all the way through it. I used a seamripper to remove these labels so that the elastic can pass through.
Pin the elastic in place after you’ve threaded it through – try the jeans on for fit and adjust as needed.
Sew a loop onto the edges of the elastic – you’ll want to reinforce this with at least two rows of stitching if you go this route. The loop doesn’t need to be long, maybe 1-2” and thin enough to securely loop around a small button.
Alternatively, you can sew a buttonhole onto the elastic directly. I used my sewing machine for this, which turned out really well and was quick! I like that it removes the extra step of sewing a scrap of fabric to make the loop.
Sew a button onto each side, at the right point where you want the loops / buttonholes to stretch to. After you do this, hook the elastic onto the buttons and voila, done.
I did this with my Everlane shorts (reviewed here) and a pair of Frame jeans. I had to remove the labels from both, but overall this is a pretty simple alteration that works really well. If you’re looking for a simple way to take in the waist of your jeans, this is it. So much easier than the alternative of deconstructing them!