How to Sew Denim Jeans and Get Great Results
From its humble birth as a sturdy and affordable clothing for the working class, denim jeans have grown into a world-wide cultural phenomena. Nowadays, you can buy denim jeans costing you an arm and a leg. And not only jeans; there are also denim shirts, coats, hand bags, backpacks, and even suitcases. Denim is such a versatile material, suitable for every kind of style, from classy and expensive, to casual and sporty. All the while retaining its main valued feature – robustness.
Therefore, it goes without saying that mastering denim will mark a milestone in your sewing adventure. Wouldn’t it be great to have it as your default skillset? Just imagine how much money you could not only save, but also earn.
Read further to create the foundation for becoming a denim expert sewer. And once you master denim, you will be able to easily manipulate any thick, multi-layered fabric.
Table of Contents
What Does It Take to Become a Denim Pro?
Denim Preparation Tips
First order of business is to pre-wash the denim. Due to its multi-weaved cotton fabric, denim is prone to shrinking and losing color pigmentation. To counter that, you can use cheap vinegar (white vinegar would be the preferable one). Simply mix vinegar with water in a 1:1 ratio, soak the denim in it, and leave it overnight. Doing this seemingly unusual process will significantly soften the material, making it appropriately malleable for precision-level sewing.
You probably bought the denim in bulk, more than you needed, as you should have. Now, after the soaking, it is time to use super sharp heavy-duty scissors or rotary cutters. Whatever you use, make sure it is really sharp. Otherwise, you will engage in a prolonged hassle of basically tearing and warping the material. Furthermore, the cutting will go faster if you only cut one layer of denim at a time.
Additionally, after the cutting, you may want to quickly zigzag or serger over the denim edges in order to prevent fraying.
Denim Sewing Tips
Still in the preparation phase, but almost there! Make sure you’ve bought a specialized denim needle for the sewing machine. Every shop has them labeled, but generally speaking, the Schmetz brand will perform exceptionally well. They are marked with a yellow/blue code combo.
You can use universal needles, but no doubt, you will find that Schmetz needles are much sharper and sturdier, which is exactly what you need for a proper denim sewing project. Also, depending on the layers of denim, choose the needle’s bigger number.
Next, onto the actual sewing. In order to prevent denim from stretching, hold the both ends of the fabric without pulling on it. Additional methods include using a teflon foot to smoothly feed the fabric with reduced friction, or simply lessening the foot pedal pressure as you are sewing.
Now that you have dealt with the stretching issue, it’s time to move on to the more advanced lessons. When you encounter seams allowances, separate them as much as you can. This will come in handy when you are cross-sewing, along the same seams. For example, when you are doing a crotch seam, and you have paired two seam allowances, offsetting them will get you a professional grade seam.
When you are in the topstitching phase, use 3.5 – 4 long stitches. This is the optimal range for use with thick fabrics like denim and leather. As for the type of the thread for topstitching, a silk or heavy duty thread would be the best. Most importantly, make sure the two threads share the same line, up until you thread them both through the needle’s eye.
As for decorative threading, a contrasting thread always works, so it depends on the color of the denim you bought. If you want a subdued, uniform seam, use a thread that matches the color of the denim. As you can tell, this is where your creativity comes to fore. However, don’t be shy to look online for established denim brands to see if your envisioned color scheme would actually work. Always borrow ideas from the experts!
Suitable Sewing Machine
Some sewing machines are marketed as ‘heavy duty’. Those are specifically designed for denim (like these hellosewing.com/denim-sewing-machines/) and other thick fabrics, hence the moniker heavy. However, if you have a generalist sewing machine, it would be best to sew at a steady pace, even if you have the best denim needle. Going slowly will preserve both the machine and the needle. And don’t forget to use the appropriate presser feet; every modern sewing machine comes with at least 5 pieces, which cover most sewing projects you would encounter.
Sewing Machine Settings
It’s all about avoiding the stretching of denim and working steady as it goes. Whichever option your particular machine has to make that happen, use it. Also, use the aforementioned presser feet. For example, the edge-stitching foot would come in handy for the topstitching work.
- Use Clover Wonder Clips, or other heavy-duty pins.
- Try multi-layered fabric for bulk seams.
- Jean-A-Ma-Jig is a worthy sewing gadget to have. It’s basically a cheap, flat hard plastic, but very nifty for overcoming big seam allowances.
In the final run after the hard work of sewing (which your machine performed the bulk of), there are a couple of necessary steps left to complete the job:
- Flatten the seams using steam in conjunction with a rubber hammer for that much needed burst of pressure.
- Reduce mitering corners, clipping curves, and bulk trimming seam allowances.
In time, you will streamline the entire process and learn many new tricks, applicable for more advanced designs. And don’t forget, sewing is all about exploring and learning from your mistakes!