The jeans waist expansion project

My waist measurement fluctuates wildly these days, growing by up to 10cm/4″ (ie 2 sizes). I don’t think I can conveniently blame the pandemic – I think it would have happened regardless. My tummy muscles are shot to pieces, post-partum and beyond, and I’m becoming a woman of a certain age.

Those blog photos where I have a flat tummy? Don’t be fooled – I’m standing up straight and sucking it all in.

I find myself preferring soft adjustable waists or waist-skimming styles. Most of my jeans are too tight around the waist, including, alas, my favourite zero waste jeans.

The situation is probably not going to reverse itself, so I thought I’d try adjusting a jeans waistband to make it bigger.

I have a pair of (mens) jeans which came in a bag of denim from the op shop. They were too ragged at the back heel for the shop to sell, but otherwise fine. I had to shorten them so the hem got cut off anyway. They fit well and button up okay, and they’re comfortable enough when I’m standing up, but as soon as I sit down the waist presses into my squashy tummy and cuts me in half, unbearably.

Making the waist bigger wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.

First I unpicked, but only east and west of the front beltloops. I left the button, buttonhole and front beltloops intact.

Unpicking the beltloops
1. I unpicked the tops of the beltloops, leaving the bottoms of them sewn to the jeans.
unpicking the back label
2. Next I unpicked the brown faux leather label at the back waistband, managing to tear it in the process. Is this label made from cardboard???

Unpicking the rest of the waistband
3. I took off the waistband except the bit at the front.
Surprised inside the waistband
Some surprises here: quite a wide seam allowance on the waist and interfacing on the waistband. For some reason I didn’t think jeans had waistband fusing – maybe they didn’t need it in the olden days with thicker denim.
Cutting apart the waistband to insert an extra piece
4. Underneath the back label, I cut the waistband.
Cutting a new piece of denim
5. I found some matching denim amongst my denim mending scraps and cut a piece to make the waistband longer. I cut a piece that would fit exactly behind the back label.
I forgot to take a picture of the new piece sewn in, but I just sewed it to each side and pressed the seams open.
Sewing the behind waistband back on
6. Then it was a matter of sewing the jeans back together again. Are you wondering how easy it was to sew a bigger waistband on? It was fine! Waists can easily stretch – recall how much the fabric stretches when you’re trying to sew a waistband on, and that’s just from handling, not actively stretching it. Having said that, I wouldn’t want to have the waistband any bigger. I managed to make the waistband 5.5cm bigger.
I sewed the waistband on the inside first – I basically topstitched it on, using matching thread, and I flipped the beltloops out of the way underneath as I went along.
Sewing the front of the waistband back down again
7. With the inside done, I turned it over and sewed the front of the waistband on using topstitching thread to match the rest of the jeans.
(My machine hates topstitching thread, but I forced it to comply.)
The piece sewn in
This is what the new section looks like from the inside.
Back label reapplied onto the jeans
8. The faux leather label on the back ended up in the wrong spot when the waistband was reapplied. It didn’t cover the alteration, so I unpicked all of the label and re-sewed it to cover. I also mended the tear I put in it. I like it better with the mend!
Finished jeans, alterations done
9. I sewed the beltloops back down, and all was finished.

Verdict: totally worth it, and not as hard as I’d thought.



  1. Julie on November 22, 2021 at 3:02 pm

    Wow Liz, what a beautiful job, you cannot even see where the new stitching starts and stops! And your directions made it look very do-able. Thank you!….. Now I’m remembering all the jeans whose life I could have saved 🙂

    • lizhaywood on November 22, 2021 at 5:48 pm

      Cheers, Julie! One to file away… 🙂

      • val on November 24, 2021 at 1:44 am

        Hi Liz, I’m confused. Didn’t you need to make the body of the jeans bigger to fit the newly expanded waistband?

      • lizhaywood on November 24, 2021 at 9:24 am

        No, I didn’t need to – the waist just kind of stretched (on its own, without me doing anything) and fitted the bigger waistband. The waistband was 5.5cm bigger, but it wouldn’t have worked if it was any bigger – I was on the limit!

  2. Miranda on November 22, 2021 at 5:40 pm

    Thanks Liz, this is really helpful! I will give it a try : ).

    • lizhaywood on November 22, 2021 at 5:49 pm

      You’re welcome Miranda 🙂

  3. Anne on November 22, 2021 at 7:31 pm

    Rather more professional than my “safety pin and elastic band” expanding buttonhole!

    • lizhaywood on November 22, 2021 at 8:00 pm

      Haha! That’s what I’ve been using up until now!

  4. Helen Sherriff on November 22, 2021 at 9:02 pm

    Well done! I’ve bought some lovely braces from the op shop. Now just have to see buttons on the waistbands. Even if pants are comfortable when I’m standing up, they tend to cut me in half when I’m sitting.

    • lizhaywood on November 23, 2021 at 2:35 pm

      Hmmm…braces. That’s a good thought!

  5. Susan on November 23, 2021 at 1:06 am

    Excellent strategy! Way better than walking around with the button undone, or imagining I’m only going to wear overalls from now on. Plus I have a stash of fake suede to make labels for jeans style pants without one. It was the midlife expanding waistline problem that got me sewing again in my late forties, but this is one of the best re-do solutions I’ve seen in the past 15 years! Thank you for sharing.

    • lizhaywood on November 23, 2021 at 2:37 pm

      Cheers Susan 🙂 I’m no doubt not the first one to try this, but it was totally worth it. Beats wearing tops untucked with semi-undone trousers underneath.

      • Susan on November 25, 2021 at 10:14 am

        Well, I just followed your instructions to add a couple inches to the waistband of a pair of black jeans. It was very quick work, totally invisible and adds just enough to make them so much more comfortable when I am seated. Thanks again Liz!

      • lizhaywood on November 25, 2021 at 1:26 pm

        Excellent! So good to hear.

  6. Kat on November 28, 2021 at 3:37 am

    Just like all of your writing and lessons, this is really interesting and helpful! Thank you for sharing!
    This doesn’t directly relate to this topic, but it has to do with the topic of zero-waste; I found a retail fabric website that sells fabric by the inch! They are based here in the US, but they ship to any country. I feel like this is the perfect way to make any zero-waste pattern 100% waste-free! Here’s a link to the website:
    I tried Google searching to find additional retailers using this same idea, but haven’t found any more as of yet; if I find others I will surely share them!

    • lizhaywood on November 28, 2021 at 11:12 am

      Thank you Kat 🙂 Just had a look at Sallietomato – what a find – think I will put this in my newsletter. Many thanks. With online fabric shopping, the only way I’ve been able to order not in 25cm increments is to, if possible, phone the shop and order over the phone.

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