I can’t even believe I’m writing this… How can I even assume I could give sewing tips to anybody? After all, I had no sewing training whatsoever, all the tips I’m going to share here are little things I picked up along the way through trial an error, not through superior knowledge. So please, if you are a seasoned jeans sewist, move right along, there is nothing to see here. However, if you are considering your first pair of jeans, maybe one or two of the tips may help.
So here we go: My top tips for Jeans in January
1. Read the Ginger Sewalong
Honestly, it’s just the best! If you are making Gingers, you have the excellent instructions at your fingertips anyway, but even if you don’t, the Ginger Sewalong is still a great resource! If you are scared of the fly front: do what Heather Lou says and you’ll be laughing your way through it!
I understand that the sewlong is now availble as an ebook in an expanded and improved format – I don’t know it, but I’m sure one could do worse than invest in this!
2. Use Stretchy Fabric
If you are making skinnies and go for fabric that is “really very stretchy” (this is my technical term, I believe that works out as ca. 4% lycra), the fitting is a little easier, I find, because you can simply make your jeans a little tighter and they will snap to fit all the same. So a little wriggle room, as it were, is built into the fabric. If you choose a dark wash, the danger of the dreaded sausage-in-tights-look will be much reduced.
3. Don’t Use Stretchy Fabric
Oh the fickleness of sewing advice! Use stretchy fabric but don’t use stretchy fabric? Chris, what are you on about? Well – the trouble with fabric, but stretchy fabric in particular, is that it may expand with wear. Body warmth, the mechanical stress of wearing your jeans, frequent laundering etc. will all make your fabric expand, thus making your jeans looser than originally intended. I have found that it’s impossible to predict, how much a fabric will relax just form manipulating it in this yardage format. So what I do to try and find out is this: I baste the jeans together (see tip 5) and wear them around the house for a good few hours until I feel the fabric relax a little bit and only then I assess the final fit. I’ve still had surprises with jeans that relaxed even further and became bigger than I wanted to (for example, I like to wear my jeans without a belt, so if they are too loose and fall down, that is not a pleasant sight for any party…), others have not relaxed as much as I had hoped, but over all my baste-and-wear-method has worked well.
4. Don’t Worry About the Topstitching
I can’t tell you how often I’ve read “I’d like to make some jeans, but, oooh, all the topstitching!!!” Well, if you can sew a straight seem, you you topstitch. Many sewists use two sewing machines, one for normal seems, one for the topstitching in order to be able to avoid rethreading. However, I never do, although theoretically, I have a backup machine, because I don’t thing rethreading is that bad. I never change out the bobbing thread, and rethreading the top thread doesn’t take all that long if you are using a jeans needle with a bigger eyelet. In my totally scientific way I’ve calculated that if you need your topstitching thread 20 times over a pair of jeans you need to rethread 40 times. Even if each rethread took you 1 minute, that would put 40 minutes onto the total project length. Now considering that making a pair of jeans is going to take a good few hours I guess 40 minutes is not that much (and it certainly takes me closer to 30 seconds to thread, thus halving that time. Plus, if you switch between machines, there must be whole seconds that you loose in that process, thus again reducing the time cost of the one-machine-method).
Whatever method you chose: You don’t need a special presser foot for topstitching. Your align the side of your presser foot with the seam line, change the needle position so that the needle moves to the visually pleasing position and sew the first row of topstitching, and then alingn the presser foot to this first row in order to sew the second. I certainly know of people who use a double needle for topstitching, but given that I think double needles are the work of the devil, I have never considered trying this.
The way jeans are constructed, you will assemble the front without being able to try it on. I then baste the back crotch and all side seams and go back to tip 3/6 and wear the basted jeans for a few hours. Only then do I assess the fit and can make changes to crotch curve or width as appropriate.
I use my machines’s basting stitch on its largest setting and this means I don’t even have to use a seam ripper – I simply rip the basted seams open by pure force 🙂
6. Wear Before You Sew
Yep, I’ve said it twice, I’m going to say it a third time: Baste and wear your jeans for a few hours before you commit to the final fit. I think it’s really important to not only baste, try on and make changes immediately, but to wear the jeans long enough to let the fabric relax (see tip 3). I even do this a second time after I’ve put on one side of the waistband, because I like a snug, belt-free fit. So if the waistband has relaxed a bit too much I can still take it in a little bit before adding the facing side. But make sure you stay-stitch the top of your waistband if you are leaving it exposed for any lenght of time, otherwise it’s going to stretch out of shape.
7. Cut the Waistband With a Seam in the Center Back
Most patters specify a waistband cut on the fold across center back. I have a swayback and I find the center back fold doesn’t work so well, because I need the top of the waistband smaller than the bottom. So I simply cut a seam at the CB that I then angle in slightly – I can fit this as I go along.
8. Use a Curved Waistband
Talking about waistbands: Unless your jeans are very low waisted I would really consider making a curved waistband rather than a straight one. Some patterns have you cut a straight one cut on the bias, which should adapt to body shape through the stretch differnential built into the bias, but for me that has never worked as intended.
The Gingers have a curved waistband to start off with, if you are quite curvy, you can make the waistband more curvy by adding a few darts to the paper pattern.
If your pattern only has a simple straight waistband, go and use a curved waistband off some other trouser pattern. If you cut the CB with a seam (see tip 7) you can cut it a little larger as intended and fit it as you sew and simply cut off the excess at the cb.
9. Put the Button in the Right Place
I can’t tell you how often I’ve gone wrong at the final hurdle! I put on the finished jeans and mark where the button should go – and then put it in the wrong place. Of course, if you are using an old-school jeans button, you pierce the fabric and hammer the button in, so it’s basically impossible to replace (I hammer with aggression, so my jeans buttons don’t come off for hell or high water 😉 )
So the correct position of the button is this: Look at the zipper teeth and follow this line up into the waistband. The button should sit along this line – if you’re putting it further in or out you will distort the line of the fly front.
A good example here: The waistband looks as if it is straining, but honestly, it isn’t, there is plenty more room there. But because the button is a little bit too far out the fly front opens just a little and that creates the one-pie-too-many look (more than the one pie too many that without a doubt has been in the game too 😉 )
So here we are, my top tips for sewing jeans. I hope some have been useful for you.
What are your top tips for sewing jeans? Do write them in the comments!