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Sewing Jeans Offers Unique Challenges
I asked earlier this month what everyone’s biggest fears about making jeans are. I got about 200 comments on my post, ranging from fears about wasting time and money to not being able to sew a fly front. However, there were quite a few comments from people who said they weren’t afraid at all, or weren’t afraid anymore, because they’d overcome their fears and reservations and now they make jeans routinely! I hope that serves to encourage those of you who have serious jeans fears. Know that everyone has probably been in your shoes at some point, and sewing jeans is possible, if you want to!
As we discussed in our podcast, Smart People Sew, sewing can be a difficult hobby, and trying something new can take time! If you’ve ever tried something new in sewing, jeans should be no different.
Here’s the live video I did in the Self Sewn Wardrobe Group- and the following text is a summary of the subjects I covered!
Wasting Time and Money
Sewing is not a cheap hobby, and most of us don’t sew exclusively to save money. There are jeans in the store that cost $20, and someone will point this out to you if you tell them you’re making jeans- so sweet. But, those $20 probably don’t fit you, may not last very long, and may even offer up some subtle and complex ethical questions. So, here we are- contemplating making jeans!
However, monetary concerns about sewing are valid and important! I posit that as you purchase materials to make jeans, your only “extra” expense should be muslin fabric. You’ll use your pattern for your muslin and for your final pair, you can reuse the zipper from your muslin (and denim zippers are very inexpensive). Don’t do things like use more costly topstitch thread on a muslin.
Two extra yards of “muslin” fabric should cost you around $30-$45. However, if you research fit and size appropriately, you might find that your first pair or “muslin” is actually wearable.
This month, The Confident Stitch is giving SewHere community members 15% off denim and jeans patterns, so check out some of their options! Use code SewHere15 at checkout to get the discount! Below is a classic stretch indigo denim from their shop.
Check out my video on Ginger Jeans Size Selection. Before we closed our brick-and-mortar store, I taught about 15 people to make Ginger Jeans, and by measuring them and comparing their measurements to the finished pattern measurements, I chose the right size for them to cut or the right sizes for them to blend together in order to get a good preliminary fit. Most people adjusted these slightly to fit their bodies and then finished them. They were their first pair of jeans!
Research Fit and Styles
Researching fit ahead of time can give you a good vocabulary and idea of where and how a jeans pattern can be modified. You might recognize your personal fit issues in a particular resource. While we often fight against the tendency to “overfit”, I don’t think it’s a bad idea to research fit in the first place. Fit is subjective. Someone might post a picture of their jeans and you think “Those don’t fit.”, but if the person is happy, then the jeans do fit. However, you can keep that image in your mental bank and say “I don’t want my jeans to fit that way”, and adjust patterns accordingly.
Here’s a blog from Heather Lou about Jeans Fitting Adjustments.
However! Do not assume that a pattern needs adjustment before measuring your body, measuring the pattern, and then comparing the two! If you have “big thighs”, don’t automatically increase the thigh width in a pattern. You don’t know how that pattern has been designed, cut, and graded. Many of my Ginger Jeans students complained that their biggest problem in ready-to-wear was that their thighs were too big for the jeans that fit their waist. It so happens that the Ginger Jeans are generously cut in the thigh area, and my “large-thighed” students made no adjustments. My students with more slender thighs did!
Patterns with finished measurements included are very nice for this purpose! That’s one reason I’m so happy with the Ginger Jeans pattern. Get 15% off the Ginger Jeans pattern this month at The Confident Stitch with code “SewHere15”
Hot Tip: Sometimes the simplest thing can make a big difference! If you try on your jeans, and they are too long (which will be true for many people), turning up the hem so that they’re the right length can take away a ton of wrinkling and thus reduce the amount of fitting issues that you perceive.
If you have been trying to make jeans and making a ton of muslins that aren’t working out- come into the group and ask for help! I bet we can get you on the right track.
A Note on Bellies- Bellies are special. I’m exploring the issue of bellies in this month’s zine- stay tuned!
Baste Your Jeans!
This is so helpful and important! I made this video a couple years ago about basting together Ginger Jeans, and viewer Fred mentions that she uses it each time she bastes a new pair together. I think this process is essential for the fit of jeans.
Basting jeans will give you a really accurate idea of how your jeans will fit. You can move in them, sit, walk, etc. and see how they feel. Heather Lou of Closet Case Files recommends basting together every single pair you make, because different fabrics will feel and react differently.
In the fashion industry, a garment is tested over and over to create the “right fit”. If any part of the garment has to be changed; the stretch of the fabric, the color of the fabric, the notions on the garment, then the whole thing will be redone. Pattern makers don’t know exactly what type of fabric you’re using and fabric manufacturers make lots of different fabrics that could have similar fiber contents or stretch percentages that may act differently after wear and care. So, each garment you make is unique- which is cool and sometimes also frustrating.
Don’t go wrinkle crazy or over fit to death…
Don’t Try Out A New Technique on Your First Pair of Jeans
Scared of rivets, zipper fly closures, button fly closures, belt loops, etc? Don’t let your first pair of jeans be the first place you try these out!
Practice techniques on some scrap fabric. Put in a fly front zipper, take it out and do it again until you’re comfortable. When you get to actually making jeans, test, test, test before sewing on your final pair. This means you might make some sample seams or pockets to test out things like topstitching (tension, stitch length, thread preference). Test out different “recipes” until you find something that works for you! Buy some extra zippers, rivets, snaps, etc. so that you feel comfortable!
Treat yourself like a student and give yourself these small tests!
Use Information and Tutorials that Work For You
Just because you’re using a certain pattern, it doesn’t always mean you have to use their instructions. You might like a tutorial from a certain blogger or book that shows you how to construct a zipper fly front. You may very well be able to use a tutorial that makes sense to you on a pattern that doesn’t include those specific instructions.
Don’t Get Hemmed in By Traditional Jeans Making Techniques
Two big concerns brought up on the Facebook thread were “fabric thickness” and “thread tension”. Jeans are traditionally constructed with flat felled seams and thick, bold topstitching thread. These two things can cause a world of hurt to the new stitcher. You can research how to deal with these things, or you can take a few shortcuts!
Fabric Thickness: Hammer Time!
Consider skipping flat felled seams. You end up with 4 layers of denim on a flat-felled seam. That’s probably ok, but then you get to a seam intersection and you’ve got 8 layers, and more and more as you create another flat felled seam. I recommend seaming your fabric and then finishing the raw edges together on your sewing machine (overcast stitch) or serger (use the three thread narrow overlock stitch). Then, press this seam to the appropriate side and topstitch. You’ll be topstitching through 3 layers of denim- which most machines should handle. Then, if you seam two of these together, i.e. at the crotch, you’ll seam together 6 layers of denim, instead of 8. Depending on how your jeans are constructed, this can reduce a lot of bulk and sadness. It’s also easier to take in or let out this type of seam.
Personally, I use a 5 thread safety stitch on my Baby Lock Ovation. It means that I’m seaming with a chain stitch (2 threads) and then finishing with a 3-thread narrow stitch (3 threads) all at the same time! This is appropriate if you know that your jeans fit properly. This seam is a bit more difficult to change after it’s sewn- not impossible, though!
My biggest tip, if you’re afraid of fabric thickness- Use a hammer!!! If you’ve not hammered a thick seam before, be prepared to be AMAZED! Hammering that intersection of the crotch seam and hammering pocket corners and waistbands can make your job sooooo much easier! I’ve been spoiled by very powerful machines my whole life- so I always relished pushing their boundaries, but hammering can take away anxiety from any stitcher’s experience. Do it. I’d recommend hammering the seam with a block of wood underneath to protect your surface. A group member recommended hammering onto concrete, but I would be afraid that I could chip my concrete.
If you are struggling with the bulk in the hems of jeans, listen to this podcast. If you want a live video on hemming jeans and using a blind-hem machine, join SewHere as a Zig Zag member, the live broadcast this month is all about that jazz!
Does topstitching thread scare the living daylights out of you? Skip it for your first pair. In the video, I show using normal construction thread to topstitch using a long straight stitch (4mm). I also show using a long triple-straight-stitch (4mm) which give the heavier look without having to mess with tension. This is a great option for those of you who don’t want to mess with tension.
If you do use topstitch thread, I highly recommend Mettler 30 wt. Polyester topstitching thread- Sisal is a great color for Jeans. I recommend a size 100 topstitching needle and using a stitch length of 4mm. Do not backstitch when using topstitching thread or use your automatic thread cutter. Leave tails at the ends of your seams- they’ll all be enclosed eventually, or you can knot them and “weave them in”. All of these elements will contribute greatly to your success!
I think that if you sew jeans with Viewer Sammi says “Once you go vintage, you never go back”. I don’t fully agree with this statement. The definition of “vintage” is rather nebulous, and just because a machine was made during a certain year doesn’t mean it’s superior to another machine or that it has been well-maintained. You need to find the perfect intersection between price and sewing needs when you shop for a machine. There are vintage machines with strong motors and vintage machines with weak motors. There are modern machines with strong motors and modern machines with weak motors. A lot of the tips above about reducing bulk will help, no matter what kind of machine you have.
Needles: Denim Needles and Topstitch Needles
I mention in this video that I did my quick sample with a Microtex needle. I was using Mettler polyester construction thread through 2-3 layers of medium-weight stretch denim. I don’t think that’s a stressful load. However, your needle can make a difference and there are needles made specifically for the situation we’re in when making jeans!
Denim Needles are lubricated with a coating that helps them slide easily through the fibers of the fabric. This is helpful when constructing jeans, of course!
Topstitch needles are meant to accommodate very thick topstitching thread. They have a deep groove and a long, large eye that allows your thread to be protected as it’s delivered into the fabric. This will make a huge difference in your stitch quality. If you do end up using a thick topstitching thread, make sure to use a size 100 topstitch needle (they’re on big time sale here). I like Mettler 30 wt Polyester topstitching thread in Sisal.
Here’s a link to the Schmetz Needle Guide– you can print it out, laminate it, and hang it in your sewing space! We did!
Here’s the video I did with Doug from Baby Lock on how a stitch is formed. I apologize in advance for my over-excitement about the process.
Viewer Jennifer asks that if her serger takes regular, home needles, should she switch to denim needles. I recommend trying out finishing your seam with the needles you have first- they will probably be fine to finish two layers of denim (which is what you do with your serger on your jeans seam).
Get a hammer, preferably one that you can keep in your sewing room at all times. This ensures that it’s not used on other things that could get your projects dirty. Put some special-colored electric tape on it or something, hide it from your family, whatever you need to do to make sure it’s waiting for you in your sewing space when you need it. Rubber mallets are good too!
Is This The Right Time to Make Jeans?
If you hate wearing jeans or if you simply do not have the time, don’t make jeans right now! Different sewing projects take different amounts of time. Your first pair will take longer than your second pair- are you ready to sink some time in order to be able to make jeans more efficiently in the future? Maybe, maybe not!
I do these “Months of Making” in order to help guide our content creation- not to lock people into making something. So, enjoy the ride and encourage your fellow stitchers, but please, oh please, do not feel ANY pressure (we have enough of that in our lives!).
Viewer Questions and Contributions:
Erin- I made myself a pair of jeans on the bias from non-stretch denim, hoping it would lend some stretch. Instead, I turned out like one of those woven finger traps- no good!
I love that Erin shared a mistake she made early on. It can happen to any of us- and now Erin makes lots and lots of clothes successfully- don’t let a setback completely discourage you!
Sammi- Can I put a side zip in a pair of pants that is made with a front zip?
You can! However, you will need to re-do the waistband and change some things about the pants. The Jenny Trousers from Closet Case Files have a side zip- and I’m making those soon!
Jennifer- Can you topstitch over the 5-thread safety stitch?
Absolutely! Do it! That’s exactly how I construct my jeans. I used the sewing machine with a topstitch needle to topstitch my jeans seams. You can experiment with topstitching with a chainstitch too- but I haven’t done that!