Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Thoughts on making my first pair of jeans

It's great to have completed my first pair of jeans.  There are things I would do differently next time but I am pleased with how well they turned out for a first attempt.  

I used the Sandra Betzina Vogue jeans pattern and this has two sets of pockets on the front of the jean.  This can create a lot of bulk.  I like how the pattern fits me but next time I will use a really lightweight cotton for the pocket linings, which should make construction a lot easier.

Confession time - I didn't hammer any seams.  I don't know if that makes me a bad sewalong participant ;)  I used different sewing machines for different parts of the construction with a Jeans 100 needle and a 90 topstitch needle.  Having tested out the fabric on my machines this worked well for me.  I used my Singer 99 to sew most of the seams,  my Bernina 830 record for installing the zip and my Elna 3007 for the topstitching.  I was very nicely surprised how well the Elna did with the topstitching. I kept expecting to have to hammer but found that if I kept the speed down at the tricky points and occasionally used the hand wheel over the thickest areas it seemed OK.  I didn't expect this first attempt to work so well so I think I just had a "try it and see" attitude.  Perhaps next time I will hammer in any case to flatten the seams. (Tempted to put a fabricland style animated gif of hammering here but won't :) I don't want anyone to get a headache.)

I will do some more experiments with my machines and think about buying some presser feet to help with topstitching as I can see I am going to be making jeans for myself and DH from now on (we always have trouble getting jeans long enough for him). I will make a turquoise pair for me and several pairs in indigo denim.  I will now be looking out for different weight denims as I wear jeans so often it would be good to have jeans in different fabrics to suit the season.

I will have to re-read the pattern instructions about finishing the waistband (perhaps others who have made these Sandra Betzina jeans could comment ) - I think I followed her instructions but found it difficult to get a good finish at the ends of the waistband on the inside.  When it was all turned after stitching I couldn't work out how she had meant the very end where the pressed up seams from the body meet the serged edge of the waistband to be finished in a tidy way.  I ended up after pressing and pressing using little hand stitches.  I am sure I must have missed some point in the instructions but it is a mystery to me right now.  I think I will look at the other jeans pattern I bought to see if I can find a way that works better for me.

I used a Singer Buttonhole attachment http://www.ismacs.net/singer_sewing_machine_company/manuals/lowshank.pdf to make some lovely samples of keyhole buttonholes.  After making a few samples with regular sewing thread I tried topstitching thread and that was a disaster and I had to carefully untangle a nest of thread and vintage buttonhole attachment, so not one to try at home! :)

I found some turquoise sewing thread that was close to the colour of my turquoise topstitching thread and used that to create the buttonhole on the waistband with the Singer attachment.  Despite creating wonderful samples I only just managed to make it on the actual waistband as when the machine was coming back towards the starting point it was struggling to move the thickness of fabric to create the zigzag stitch.  Next time I will definitely hammer the waistband seams before attempting to create the buttonhole with this attachment.

At the start of this project I put the following as my reasons for wanting to join in:

I wanted to join the Jeans sew-a-long for various reasons:-

I thought it would be a fun challenge and a good opportunity to share a challenge with other sewists.
It would help me prioritise finding time to do some sewing for me and to extend my skills.
I haven't made any fitted trousers and as I seem to live in Jeans, this would be a great challenge to solve.
The choice of jeans in 34"-35" leg length is limited and after watching Kenneth D King's  "Jean-ius!" course on Craftsy I would love to be able to make some Jeans in patterned fabrics.
It would be great to have Jeans that fit properly!
This project has been great fun, a good challenge and I have learned some new skills and most importantly I have learned to make time for my sewing - so a big thank you to vivienz for running this sewalong.

Monday, 27 May 2013


I'm not the first to finish by any means, that honour in this round of jeans making goes to Yankee Doodle, who finished about a week ago.  I bet she hasn't taken them off since as she says that they are super comfortable.  I've just finished mine this evening.  I made substantial progress at the start of the week and just needed to get my waist band on, add belt loops and finish the hems.

There are plenty of us who are at various stages.  Target dates seem like great things when you start out but, as I know only too well myself, life does get in the way sometimes.  However, nothing to be disheartened about as long as the jeans get finished at some point.

Here are a few photos to keep us all going, first up is Yankee Doodle sporting her new troos, the first of many we hope:

Here are her comments on the finished article:

Generally I'm very happy with my jeans. The fabric, oh I wish I could get some more. It's so soft and hangs so nicely, I love it.

Next time I will make them smaller. I think I was so afraid of making them too small that I went too far the other way. I'm just so used to jeans being too tight in the waist. Maybe the sizing would be just right for non stretch denim, but they are a bit on the baggy side. However, they sure FEEL good!!

Here are a few pics of my own efforts.  I'm afraid that my assistant is sorting out the jungle garden so no shots of me wearing them, but I can assure you that they fit very nicely indeed.  Such a revelation compared with RTW for me.  Unless I find myself unable to sew, I'm never buying jeans again.  To tell the truth, even if I couldn't make them, I'd rather pay a talented seamstress to make some for me!

Construction wasn't all plain sailing - not surprising, really.  I broke a needle trying to get my topstitching done.  It was a topstitching needle, but only a 90 and clearly not up to the job of piercing its way through all those layers of denim, so I swapped for a proper jeans needle, a 130, and that was much better.  

I made use of my hammer, too.  I whacked the tops of the belt loops before stitching; think of a denim tenderiser rather than a steak tenderiser.  It's exactly the same principle, though, of breaking the fibres so that the needle can go through the layers more easily.  

To do the bar tacks across the top section of the belt loops on the waistband, you are asking a lot of any domestic machine: 

  • the belt loop is 3 layers (top, bottom, enclosed seam allowance); 
  • this is folded  double (another 3 layers); 
  • this is then attached to the waistband (at least another 2 layers, or if it lies over the inner seam allowance, another 4 layers).  
  • So, we have a minimum of 8 or maximum of 10 layers of cloth. 
It's a wonder you don't need to attach a harpoon instead of a needle to go through that lot!

So am I pleased with my jeans?  You betcha!  

Will I change anything for next time?  Definitely!

  • I'm not entirely happy with how I've curved the bottom of the waistband above the leg side seam and need to distribute this more evenly. 
  •  I also need to place the back pockets slightly more widely.  I was working on the principle that if they were closer together I'd make a bit of a trompe l'oeil and make my bum appear a little less wide - my jury is out on this but I think I'll try altering the placement a smidge on the next pair.  
  • The legs are reasonably tight on the upper thigh, but my denim has stretch and I anticipate a little give as I wear, but I've made careful note of this as my next ones have no stretch.  Great for holding you in, but not if you nearly cut yourself in two when you try to sit down.

I previously made the Vogue Sandra Betzina jeans and these are from Ottobre magazine - to be honest, I really can't choose between the two and like them both equally.  I've decided that this is a good rather than a bad thing, as I now have 2 quite different jeans patterns that I really like.  A happy bunny, indeed.  My new jeans are already booked for a number of social engagements (I'm just going along as the wearer, you understand), and they will hopefully be accompanied by a lovely new jacket to do them justice.

Hot off the press, turquoise has just finished her very lovely jeans.  As I type, I'm already developing jean envy.  She has used a heavy weight white denim, and check out her two coloured topstitching detail - way to go, turquoise!  Another success, then, as these were her first pair, too, and she's already planning the next ones.  She'll have to, though, as if they were my jeans, I'd wear them to death over the summer!

Here are her photos:

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

How time marches on - here we are in the construction section already.  I have to plead guilty to having cut out my jeans by the skin of my teeth as May was a very busy month for me, with family 50th and 80th birthdays, weddings and rock gigs in Amsterdam.  Phew!

I tend to function in workable chaos for most of the time and I can't be tidy if I try.  Most of the time, this isn't a problem, but when I've been away from the sewing stuff for any length of time I can't find a thing for at least a couple of hours and other items disappear for longer.  Amongst other bits and pieces, I lost the pocketing for my jeans - couldn't find the stuff anywhere.  However, I was able to find a very nice substitute and cracked on.

I'm working on the jeans from last autumn/winter's Ottobre magazine - 5/2012.  These are straight legged and a fairly standard design, but I altered the slope of the front pockets to be more flattering to my pear shape.  I also changed the design of the topstitching on the rear pockets, as well as deepening the yoke.  The denim I'm using is from Ditto Fabrics in Brighton, I purchased it last year but didn't get around to conquering my jeans block till this year.  The denim has quite a strong vertical line to it - I'm not sure what the technical description is.  It has a little bit of stretch.

My topstitching thread is Coats extra strong thread, shade 6690.  It's a strong mustard yellow and looks good on the dark indigo denim.  I'm making a second pair of these jeans in non-stretch black twill and have been trying out different contrast threads for this, too.  Here are the topstitching tests:

The back pockets on these jeans are asymmetrical - of course, I cut out two the same.  Duuhh!  Fortunately, I'd added a nice extra bit of seam allowance on the top edge that gave enough room for a correction:

A little word about my zip.  I bought a bag full of zips from a haberdashers in London late last year and there are lots of metal zips in them.  Until I had a go at men's tailoring last year, I had no idea that there was such a thing as a curved zip - I'm sure you can guess which type I have a bag full of!  Here it is, in all its curving glory:

I've got quite a lot of the construction done now.  Before getting the sewing machine out, I overlocked all edges that would be exposed.  Most instructions tell you to do this as you go along, but I'm a bit tight on space in my loft and constantly putting away one machine to take another out is a bit of a pain so I prefer to do this en masse.  Besides, there's plenty of swapping between normal thread & needle and the topstitching arrangement during the rest of construction to keep busy.  This is what my modified front pocket and positioned coin pocket look like:

I'm using Prym 9mm rivets to reinforce various points.  I bought the pliers that Prym make some months ago and can be used with their various poppers, eyelets and rivets, etc.  They were just over £15 but I've used them many times now and they are very good - much better than those little press things that come in the fastening packs.

The front fly construction wasn't too arduous.  There are a couple of tricky bits to watch for, both concerning the zip.  When you're sewing the fly, where you'd usually just sew straight over a nylon zip without too much thought, you can't do this with a metal one.  If you're lucky, you'll just break your needle.  If not, you'll jam your machine and have sharp, pointy needle shrapnel flying at your face.  When you get to the bit where you sew across the zip, gently hand wheel over the danger area, then continue as usual.

So here are some pics of where I'm up to so far.  I need to add the belt loops (already sewn), interface my waistband facing, add the waistband to the jeans and finish the belt loops.  The very last will be to sew a buttonhole and add the jeans button.  Jobs for tomorrow evening.

Looking at this pic of the front, I forgot to say that I had some trouble with getting my machine to do effective bar tacks.  Rather than re-do it countless times on the machine, I opted for the old fashioned method of needle, thread and thimble.  Quick, easy and effective!

Here's the back view - my pockets aren't perfect as they're not quite a mirror image of each other, but they're good enough.  I was going to add some little fabric tags, but decided that there's enough going on here with all the topstitching and rivets.  My apologies if you get a stiff neck looking at this - I can't figure out how to rotate the image on the blog!

Finally, here's the topstitching on the inseam:

That's all for now, folks, more later in the week.