This month I did something a little scary…I finally sewed my first pair of jeans, complete with a fly front zipper, rivets, belt loops, and yards of topstitching! *Phew* that was a lot of work! I made the Liana Jeans by Itch to Stitch Patterns. I really liked the instructions, especially the Liana Jeans sew-along. Jeans sewing is not for the faint of heart. I’ve had jeans patterns in my stash for 5 years and I finally mustered up the courage to give it a try. The following is a list of helpful tips to help you in your jeans sewing journey! I hope it will help you see that sewing jeans is totally doable and worth the extra effort.
(If you want to see more pics of my jeans, they are at the end.)
7 Tips for Sewing Jeans that Everyone Should Know
1. Make a Muslin
This is perhaps the most important part of making any pair of fitted pants. All new projects and techniques take time and practice to learn. You’ll likely be using techniques that you don’t use on a regular basis, so reading the instructions is imperative for success.
A muslin is a practice garment you make before cutting into your pretty fabric. Your jeans will not be perfect the first time. You can plan on it. By making a muslin first you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes so that your next pair will be better than ever!
Choose muslin fabric that is similar to the pretty fabric you plan to use next. Cut out your pattern with larger than normal seam allowances at the crotch and side seams so that you have room to let out the seams, as needed. Your muslin can be a quick mock up to test the fit, or it can be a complete project like the pair of jeans I made.
I decided on shorts because if they didn’t fit at all, at least I only used a yard of fabric. Also we live in the South, where shorts are the dress code like 9 months of the year. Future Stephanie will be thanking January Stephanie for some shorts!
2. Baste Your Seams
Always baste seams together to check the fit. I’m talking about crotch seams, side seams, and waist seams. You may have to play with the crotch curve to get it to fit better. I had to do a flat pubis adjustment on my pants, so I let out the front crotch curve 1/8″. It wasn’t enough, so I had to let it out 1/4″ and then finally, 3/8″. I let out the back crotch curve and took it in at the waist. I decreased the seam allowance inside the legs and on the outer leg seams. (This was necessary because my fabric didn’t have quite as much stretch as what the pattern called for.)
I usually machine baste with the longest stitch length, but hand basting can be a better choice. I basted my waistband by hand and when I realized some adjusting was necessary, it took me only seconds to remove the stitches. Score!
It’s really smart to place your pockets after you put your jeans together so that you can get the pocket placement just right. I’d like these pockets to be closer together next time.
3. Seek Fitting Help
To start with, fitting pants to a 3D, unique body requires patience. There are many resources for pants fitting. I love this guide by Closet Case Files. This cheat sheet by Colette also provides resources for troubleshooting.
If you’re still unsure of how to fix a fit issue, there are many communities that would be happy to take a look at a picture your muslin. If the designer has a Facebook Group, you could ask for help there. You could seek help on one of the patternreview.com message boards.
4. Buy Lots of Topstitching Thread!
You will need thread to assemble the jeans, and you will also need thread for topstitching. There are yards of topstitching on just one pair of jeans. Don’t think you can get by with purchasing one measly spool of topstitching thread! Heavy duty topstitching thread is a thicker gauge so less of it fits on a spool and you will run out before you know it. I bought one small spool and I came back to the store 2 more times for thread before my project was finished.
5. Test Your Stitching First
What stitch length do you want to use for topstitching? How can you achieve the perfect reinforcing zig-zag? How will your machine handle sewing through 10 layers of fabric? If you practice on some scrap fabric first, you solve a lot of these problems without having to lay a finger on your seam ripper.
For example, I learned that my machine hates sewing buttonholes with heavy duty thread. I designed my own buttonhole shape (I copied the shape from some RTW jeans) and sewed it using a zig-zag stitch. Any time I used a zig-zag on this project, I played with my settings to ensure that the stitch length was short enough to reinforce the area, and long enough that it would not cause my fabric to get stuck in my machine. Sometimes the stitch length on the zig-zag was 0.5 and sometimes it was 1.2, depending on the thickness of the fabric.
6. Get Your Tools Ready
That’s right people, you’re going to get to use some power tools! Well, maybe not power tools, per se…but when I wield hand tools I feel powerful!! For this project, minimum, you’ll need a trusty hammer (for rivets and the jeans button) and a pair of pliers for the zipper. I also used sandpaper and my dog’s nail grinder for distressing the seams. I much preferred the nail grinder for the edges, it did all the work for me!
7. Take Notes
I saved one of the best tips for last! Once you’ve gone to the trouble of learning to make jeans, figuring out what settings your machine likes and what adjustments you made to the pattern, do yourself a favor and WRITE IT DOWN!!
Print out those instructions (if needed) and take notes in the margins. If you decide not to print the instructions at least put everything in a document and print off a copy to keep with your pattern. You may also want to write notes on your pattern. I trace my size off the original and cut it out on tracing paper. At minimum, I write the date and I draw arrows indicating any fit adjustments I made to the original.
I am so excited to refer back to my notes the next time I sew jeans! Knowing I can use this knowledge in the future made all of my hard work well worth the effort.
After I finished these pants and put them on, my husband said, “There’s not actually a good reason why jeans should be so intimidating. We see a pair of jeans and we imagine some juju happening over at the jeans factory.”
I used to imagine it happened like those Mister Rodgers neighborhood videos. Mister Rodgers would narrate while the factory techs shot out hundreds of pairs of jeans per hour! Except it’s not magic, it’s just following the instructions step by step. Now when I think of making jeans, I remember stitching, folding, hammering and pressing. If you’re looking for better fitting jeans or even just a challenge, you can make jeans yourself!
My Muslin: Details
And if you were wanting to see more pictures of my wearable muslin, they are below:
For my muslin, I used a cotton/modal/lycra denim blend from Joann’s with about 15-20% stretch. My jeans button and rivets are also from Joann. I used Gutermann Heavy Duty topstitching thread. I used a YKK zipper from Mood Fabrics. When I was sewing, I placed the zipper too low and so it affected where my front fly topstitching is…but no one will ever know. Some things are not worth unpicking. It looks infinitely better than the first fly front zipper I sewed 10 years ago.
The pockets are too far apart, but I’m really pleased with the topstitching. I sewed the topstitching very slowly so I could get it just right. I might need to tweak the back crotch curve…I’ll think on that.
When I put my feet together it’s more obvious that there is extra fabric at the top of the back crotch curve. I have already adjusted my pattern for next time. There is a bit of extra fabric below my bum. I had previously been advised to take the pants in at the side seams but that made them too tight. For now I’m happy with them. Kennis, the designer of the Lianas, said you don’t want to get too concerned with those wrinkles because you need that extra fabric when you sit down. I think that having chosen a fabric with less stretch than the pattern calls for means the pants are just not going to cup my bum the same way.
All in all, it was a very successful muslin and I’m excited to wear my jean shorts when it’s not 35 degrees outside!
What do you think? Would you make a wearable muslin? Would you even sew your own pair of jeans? Do you have helpful tips not listed below? I’d love to read them.
Pin this for later:
*Most posts contain affiliate links. If you click on a link and purchase, I earn a small commission, no cost to you. Thanks!