Brad Schultz from @bradschultzdesign here bringing you along on a fancy pants journey - my first me-made jeans!
To be honest, the siren’s song of jean making has always lingered in the background of my mind, but it wasn’t until I started planning my Sew Fancy Pants projects this year that it finally drew me in.
While searching for inspiration, I came across a pair of jeans that were color blocked, and it sent my creative brain spinning. Color blocking is such a fun way to add graphic interest and vitality to a garment, and it was the perfect way for me to add more color and interest into my wardrobe.
Fabric.com has a great selection of denim. I chose the 10 oz. Bull Denim SWR Pink for the back of my jeans and the 11 oz. Indigo Denim Medium Dark for the front. When I opened my package I was delighted with the combination of the two colors I had chosen, until I realized that I was looking at the back of the indigo denim. So, in true creative fashion, I used the back instead, as my ‘right’ side! The fabric is such great quality that the back is just as nice as the front, but looks like a lighter blue.
The beauty of sewing is that there is always something new to learn and a new challenge to overcome. I’ve put together a list of some things I learned, mixed with a couple tips along the way.
1. Choosing your fabric
Let’s rewind - While, yes, this post is about the actual jean construction, there is one preceding, crucial step that I must mention - ordering a swatch. Fabric.com has a great swatch service and offers generous sized swatches so you can get a true read of the fabric options. Do yourself a favor, plan extra time into your garment making schedule and order swatches to be sure the color, texture, weight, and stretch of the fabric is exactly what you are looking for.
2. Straightening the Grain
Grain is important in the drape and hang of a garment, especially pants. Fabric grain refers to the direction of the warp and weft threads used in weaving the fabric. The larger or longer the pattern pieces, the more careful you have to be in cutting your pieces on grain. If they are cut off grain, the legs of your jeans will twist.
After pre-washing your fabric you may find, as I did, that you need to re-straighten the grain. You can tell if the grain is off if the fabric’s selvedge edges do not match when folded.
To straighten the grain:
- Rip the cross grain on one end to ensure you are starting with the cross grain edges straight and matching.
- Fold your fabric in half with ripped cross grain, and selvage edges matching.
Observe which one of the corners is short. Hold the short corner with one hand and with the other hand grasp the opposite corner. Gently stretch the fabric on the diagonal, moving your way down the length of fabric continuing to stretch on the diagonal.
- Fold it in half again to see if the edges now align. Repeat the gentle stretching if necessary.
3. Pattern Piece Directionality
Take it from me, yoke pieces, when unpinned from their pattern piece, can easily be turned and flipped. I quickly learned to notate the front (right) side and the top of each fabric piece. This eliminates any confusion further along in the process. A simple and effective way to mark your pieces is to use colored dot stickers. Place them on the right side of the fabric, and draw an arrow on the sticker to mark the directionality of the piece.
4. Two Threads (May Be) Better than One
I started my tests by using a ‘jeans/denim’ needle, which seemed appropriate. However, as tests went on unsatisfactorily, I decided to try a ‘topstitch’ needle, which ended up making a definite, positive change in the look and tension of my bobbin thread stitches.
Next, I began by using a heavier weight topstitching thread as the top thread, and a regular sewing thread as my bobbin thread, but the bobbin thread was loose and looped, no matter how aggressively I tightened the tension. I decided to try threading the top of my machine using two spools of a regular weight sewing thread. Game changer! The bobbin stitches immediately looked neater and more balanced. In my case, two threads were better than one. While still not perfect, the two threads on top looked exactly like the topstitching thread, and gave a much nicer finish on the underside.
Once the needle and thread types were chosen, the last factor I used in refining the topstitching was adjusting the thread tension. Once I changed to using two sewing threads instead of a topstitching thread, I didn’t need to tighten my top tension much at all. However, I did find that the more layers of denim I sewed through, the tighter the top tension needed to be.
5. Find the Right Method to Hold Seam Allowances in Place
In my opinion, Steam-A-Seam is a sewist’s best friend. Placing back pockets, stabilizing a fly extension, basting the inside waistband, and hemming were all aided by the use of Steam-A-Seam to hold seam allowances in place. There are other options and products used for this purpose but Steam-A-Seam is my go-to. I use the ¼ inch Lite Steam-A-Seam 2.
6. Take Advantage of Baste Fitting
Just as an extra precaution, I added additional seam allowance to the side seams and gave myself a 1-inch seam allowance to work with. Even though I made a muslin and checked the fit, each fabric reacts differently and this extra at-the-side seams gave me a little wiggle room if I needed to adjust the fit. Before I sewed the side seams permanently, I basted them and tried on the jeans. Then, once adjustments were made, I permanently sewed the side seams and finished the seam allowances.
7. It May ‘Seam’ Scary- Using Alternatives is Okay
One of the greatest things about sewing is that there are many different ways and techniques to accomplish each step. The goal is to find the best way that suits you. If a certain step or technique intimidates you, then find a way around it, or an alternative. Traditionally, jeans are constructed using a flat fell seam on the back yoke seam as well as the inseam. I wanted to try out different options along the way. I used a traditional flat fell seam for the back yoke seam, a faux flat fell seam for the inseam, and a regular seam for the side seams. The choice is yours. Don’t let something so small dictate whether or not you get started.
It seems now, that most of what I learned during this experience was the need to slow down and engage fully in the making process. So much of this project was planning, testing, sampling, and basting. In my experience, slow sewing is very rewarding and usually results in a higher quality garment.