|by Sunni Standing|
I realized long ago that one of the parts that makes sewing your own clothing so great is being able to make anything. And I do mean anything! There was a time several years ago when I limited my thinking in what was possible when sewing your own clothing, but I think this type of thinking can get you into trouble. We don’t try stretching our capabilities and we settle for only making those things that are “easy.” I find though that a lot of different garment types become easier after you’ve tried them at least once. Let me tell you a secret: Jeans – the holy grail of cool, comfortable and awesome bottoms – are not as hard as most everyone makes them out to be. I thought it was time that I shared some jeans sewing secrets to help you on your journey of not only believing that jeans are possible, but that they are not as hard to make as you might think. I’ve decided to give you jean making cameos to help with that idea. Jeans are practical and when you find a good pair, they are one of the best things in life. We live in jeans. When it comes to sewing, jeans are no harder than most other types of clothing. Start off with more knowledge and I bet you’ll find that jeans will become a mainstay of your sewing adventures.
Why might one think jeans would be hard to sew? I have two ideas that I think are fairly legitimate. First – the fit. Fitting pants is not easy, in fact I daresay it’s kind of hard and not for the faint of heart. But there are ways around that which I’ll talk about in a minute. The other reason people might think that jeans are hard to sew is because of all the topstitching that goes on them. Topstitching thread can be something of a beast to work with and then there’s the idea of sewing even and straight lines. It’s enough to scare the pants (or jeans!) off anyone! Let’s tackle these scary issues and I’ll also throw in more tips and tricks for making a great pair of jeans!
Pick a top quality pattern. The Big 4 (McCall’s, Vogue, Butterick and Simplicity) have put out several good patterns for jeans. If you fit the Big 4 patterns well, try Butterick 5682. There’s some great independent patterns that offer a little more in the jeans making experience too. Closet Case Files Ginger jeans are a staple and go to for many sewists out there. This pattern offers top quality instructions plus there’s an entire sewalong via the Close Case Files blog in addition to a pretty fantastic PDF you can purchase for instruction in all things jeans making. Definitely worth the small cost for the plethora of information contained in it. Baste and Gather also recently come out with a wonderful flared jeans pattern which have a wonderfully vintage vibe for the modern maker.
What if you’re not into the whole making a pattern fit you scene? There’s some pretty marvelous techniques that you can utilize to get you started creating your own patterns. One of my favorite techniques is called the “rub-off” whereby you take a garment that already fits you and create a paper pattern from it. That’s what I did here. I used a favorite pair of Gap Jeans that were the exact fit, comfort and style level that I wanted. My originals were pretty ratty, but done up in a whole new denim, they turned out exactly the way I like them. I utilize the method from this book: Patternmaking for a Perfect Fit. There are also two wonderful Craftsy courses that are based on this principle: Jean-ius and Pattern Drafting from Ready to Wear (same gal as the one who wrote my rub-off book) and both show similar but different ways of utilizing this same technique.
Pick good denim. As with any other project, picking a good quality fabric can make your experience much more enjoyable and your final product much more professional. Purchase denim from a reputable source. As a first time jean maker, go with a denim that is on the light – medium weight side. Heavy denims can be harder to handle and put strain on your machine. If your pattern calls for denim with a little bit of lycra/spandex, be sure to purchase with that in mind. Do be sure to pre-launder your fabric. I say wash in hot, on regular and dry in dryer. Put that denim through the ringer! Here are some excellent online resources for sourcing fine quality denim:
Audition topstitching threads. This one is important. I find that picking the right topstitching thread can be what makes or breaks your jean making experience. Start with a color you like and look for a few alternatives. Sometimes the denim topstitching thread that is available at your local fabric chain store can be really hard on your machine. Try the threads marked “heavy” which is a slightly lighter weight topstitching thread but one that works well for most home sewing machines. They come in lots and lots of colors, so take a swatch of your denim and go pick one you think goes well, take it home and try it out on your scrap before stitching onto your final project.
Pick the right machine needle for the job. This is usually a 100/16 size needle or one that is good for heavy fabrics. Do make sure you change your needle for this project as it can put a lot less strain on your machine and your experience sewing through the thick parts of the denim will be much easier.
Jean-a-majig makes sewing denim awesome. Don’t think that your sewing machine isn’t going to have a little bit of a hard time with sewing a pair of jeans. Seams start getting thick and one thing that really helps is to level off your machine foot with a jean-a-majig or level spacer. Get ready to sew that first stitch and level the foot by putting the jean-a-majig at the back of the machine foot then stitch. Your stitches will be much more evenly spaced and you won’t have to shove your fabric through the machine.
Invest in good pressing tools and some hardware. A wooden clapper is an incredibly useful tool when pressing denim. Helps make those seams lay nice and flat and you can pound the extra thick seams down to a more manageable thickness for your sewing machine. Hammers also help pound seams down. When you’ve got a really thick denim, pound the extra thick spots with a hammer. This can flatten them out like when you tenderize meat. Also consider and tailor’s ham and seam roll as these come in handy for pressing inside the legs and helping shape the back pocket when attaching to the back leg.
Grade and trim your seams as much as you can. Grading a seam is when you make one seam allowance shorter than another. You can also trim seams and make points easier to turn as I’ve done here on one of the pockets.
Keep a pair of old jeans handy as you sew. These can help in assessing where and when to put topstitching. You could also try on jeans at the store and take a few inspiration pictures of good topstitching as ideas to use in making your own pair. Looking to distress your jeans? There’s a great Craftsy class by Angela Wolf: Sewing Designer Jeans. The class goes into distressing and how to achieve certain distressed looks with the use of a hammer and sandpaper.
Fit as you sew. This has always been a mantra for me. If you’ve been around the sewing block a few times, especially with the same sewing pattern, you’ll find that as you use different fabrics you’ll get different results with the fitting. When sewing jeans, I like to sew the front legs (front pockets, crotch and fly zipper) and then sew the back legs (back pockets, yoke and crotch seam) and then sew the inseam (the seam on the inside of the leg). From there I baste the outseams (the seams on the outside of the leg) and give the pants a try on to see where things are fitting. I can always adjust the outseam a little here and there as I go so that the fit is exactly where I want it with the kind of fabric I’m using. Another tip: Before you sew your final hem, give your jeans a wash and dry so that they shrink up a little more. From there, hem them up and then you won’t have floods!
Don’t forget jean hardware. Finish off your jeans with those extra touches that look like a pair you bought at an upscale shop. Rivets and jean buttons are a must! My best source for these comes from one of our own Sewing Party contributors! Tailor Taylor! Excellent quality service and products! Simply the best rivets and jean buttons I’ve ever used.
Happy jean sewing friends!
SUNNI STANDING A Fashionable Stitch
Sunni Standing is proprietress of all things A Fashionable Stitch, where she blogs about her love for apparel sewing. Sunni has been a sewing blogger since 2007, when after graduating from college she reclaimed an old passion for sewing her own clothes. A Fashionable Stitch documents her battles with getting a great fit, sewing tutorials, in addition to her more recent escapades in the world of small business ownership. These days Sunni can be found sewing, blogging about sewing and working a full-time gig for the man and on some rare days she’ll spend hours pawing through and contemplating future creations from her giant fabric stash.
Sewing machine: PFAFF® performance™ 5.0
Share this Post