Once upon a time, I looked upon my wardrobe and said “I could really do with a pair of jeans.” Woe was me, for there were no trousers within my clothing collection that had that easy-wearing nonchalance of a nice pair of jeans. There is a reason that almost all wardrobes contain a pair of jeans, and it was this that was missing from mine.
But me being me, I had my heart set on making a pair. However, I was so sure that my machine wouldn’t cope with sewing multiple layers of denim, that I didn’t even try. Time passed, and still I felt the lack of jeans. It became a bit of a can’t-buy situation, as I so wanted to make them, but I wasn’t confident that I’d be able to. So, pause.
While in Dublin on holiday with my sister, we visited some fabric shops, including the fabulous Fabric Counter. Here, I spent a wee bit of money, including buying some fantastic, dark-coloured denim with a light stretch: just what I needed to start my jean making journey. In WM Trimmings I bought some jeans buttons, needles and contrasting topstitching (which was actually upholstery thread) and regular thread, and once home I purchased the Ginger jeans pattern by Closet Case Patterns. But still the jeans weren’t made. Why not? Well, jeans making is difficult and the moment did not feel quite right.
Until, suddenly, one day, it did.
We were having a quiet weekend: Joey was running a half marathon and I was on support. I’d also had a busy week, despite being on furlough, and had spent the entire day previous out on the sea. The weather over that fortuitous weekend was a bit wild – windy and showery, so I was quite happy to spend the day working on the jeans. I’d already cut out the pattern for View A (low rise and stovepipe leg) in the size 10, and so was ready to go. Except, I didn’t want stovepipe legs… I wanted a skinny jean. But I didn’t have a long enough zip to make View B (high rise and skinny leg), and anyway, it turned into a comedy of ‘buts’.
Until, suddenly, it didn’t.
When something feels right all barriers fall to the wayside: when I was ready to go and in the right mindset, I simply printed out the pieces of View B that had the skinny leg, cut off the stove pipe where the two merged, and stuck the skinny leg on. Lengthened the leg by 3″. And then cut out my denim. And then started to sew. No fuss, no drama, and this was the moment (and the feeling) that I’d been waiting for. Something that had literally taken me months (after years of talking about it) to get started on took moments once the mood was right. There’s a lesson in there, but really it’s fine. Because everything was right and nothing was forced meant that I made these jeans with love and patience. And it was worth it.
Shall we start from the beginning? Firstly, I cut the legs out in a single layer to prevent warping, which was really good advice to follow – the legs are both perfectly on grain. And, the cutting out was a real treat because let me tell you, denim is lovely to cut. Oh my, that shwsh shwwsh of the scissors is music to my ears. Normally I take pains to avoid cutting out on a single layer for cutting out is definitely one of my least favourite tasks. But somehow with these jeans it wasn’t a chore: I really enjoyed cutting the denim and giving it the time necessary to make sure everything was perfectly on grain. Following the inspiration of basically everyone that has ever made their own jeans, I chose a large scrap of lovely soft cotton for the pockets and inner waistband, and a lovely quality interfacing too.
Once I was ready to start, I experimented with the top stitching thread on some denim scraps. However, I eventually sat it to one side: I just couldn’t get the tension right and, due to the bright colour of the thread, the contrast was really strong. I decided to just use the same colour of normal, all-purpose thread instead (which I’d bought to put on the bobbin), and really I am delighted with how it worked out. It’s Gutermann no. 448 if you’re curious. In other circumstances I have used the triple stitch for topstitching, but I didn’t with these: the high-contrast colour looked better with a single line, and I will just have to hope that it’s strong enough to stand up to wear and tear. Keep your fingers crossed for me!
When following the instructions, first up is to topstitch the top of the back pockets, and press in the edges. I did consider putting on an interestingly stitched design on the back, but in the end left them plain. And I am happy with that choice, but do feel that perhaps it would look better if there was something breaking up the back pockets, even if it was just a double line of topstitching across the middle of the pocket. Sitting the pockets aside, it was onto the jeans: front pockets (I’d had practise with my Ness Skirt and Sasha Trousers), fly (whoop, the online sew-a-long is excellent), back yoke, back pockets, crotch seam, inner legs, outer legs, waistband, belt loops, button and button hole.
When it came to the point of trying the jeans on and checking the location of the pockets, I found that the suggested location was far too low: they sat way below the crease of my bottom, looking and feeling very strange indeed. I carefully unpicked the two rows of topstitching, and realigned them, using my boyfriend and camera to help ensure I had a position I was happy with. In the end I raised the outer edge by an inch, and the inner edge by 3/4″ which does bring the pockets rather close to the yoke, but I would say they are almost perfectly positioned now!
Moving the pockets showed that I had lots of excess fabric pooling on my upper thigh, which apparently is a sign of a flat bum, and the quick fix for this is to increase the seam allowance in the area, particularly on the inseam. From 8cm either side of the crotch I increased the seam allowance to 2cm, and on the outer hip increased the seam allowance by .5cm as well. In case you’ve not tried this pattern before, the seam allowance throughout is 1.6cm, however my outer leg seam was sewn at a 1cm SA as the jeans were too narrow when basted together. However, I think I have some excess room across the hips, that sewing the top part at 1.6cm may have eliminated: it’s so hard to judge when trying on as you go, but I have learned so much from this pair that I am confident about making my second pair even better.
Doing the above adjustments helped hugely, but there is still a looseness there, and I actually think that I need to do some pattern manipulations all around the top area. There’s excess fabric in the front pockets, along the yoke (similar to that in my Ness Skirt) and the waistband is, sadly, ever so slightly too big. I fell almost exactly into the Size 10, as I do with all CCP patterns, but I do need more modifications to make them fit truly perfectly.
Really, the waistband and yoke are the biggest issue, and I’ve actually done a quick cheat to take approximately an inch excess out at either side at the top of the waistband. It’s not enough, and I will need to wear a belt with the jeans, but that’s okay. I think perhaps I should try the high-waisted ones next as they might sit easier on my shape, and be more wearable without a belt. Interestingly, the excess fabric that you can see above my bum is something that I have almost always had from RTW (Ready to Wear, i.e. shop bought) jeans, but with a bit of thought I will be able to eliminate it. I am thinking of grading the yoke in to reduce by an inch at the top, and draft a curvier waistband. If anyone else has further ideas, please let me know.
Despite these wee niggles, over all, I am delighted! The jeans are just lovely. I am so pleased with them, and because I was in the perfect frame of mind to take on a more challenging projext, I didn’t mind unpicking, or adjusting what I could to make it perfect as possible and I think that has really paid off. I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I just cannot stop looking at them, admiring them, stroking them…. favourite parts? I love the topstitched inseam which I see when I cross my legs. I love the topstitching that finishes in a bar tack on the outer leg. Love the belt loops (although not their construction, see below) and the fly is the best I’ve ever made. Love the real skinny leg, love the colour of the denim, love that I made them and love that they (mostly) fit!
Having an overlocker definitely made things easier. All of the interior seams are finished with the overlocker, and it feels really sturdy and strong: thanks to that, there’s no risk of unravelling, as denim does fray. I didn’t do any flat-felled seams (in jeans making does that constitute cheating?) but I was worried about them coming undone and the overlocker just worked so nicely. My zip was actually rescued off an old pair of jeans that I cut up, and was half an inch shorter than the instructions called for, but was more than long enough (indeed, some was cut off the top), so if your zip doesn’t quite match up to requirements, I wouldn’t worry too much.
One things about the pattern that I didn’t love, is that the belt loops aren’t sewn into the waistband. This means that the cut end frays and flaps about and looks messy – definitely something that would have become worse over time. I actually went back to the jeans and sewed the folded under bit of the belt loops down with a zig-zag in an attempt to control this, but I would think about cutting them longer next time and tucking them under the waistband. Does anyone have any reason, other than things becoming too thick, that this may not work?
These photos were taken on the third day of wear for the jeans. And the first two days weren’t exactly light wear, so I think the denim is going to hold up nicely and not immediately sag and bag, which is a great relief. They’re not ready for the wash just yet, but that’ll be the next challenge: I do get nervous when I was my handmade items for the first time!! Happily I have enough of this lovely denim left over to make a pair of shorts: I’ll use the ginger pattern again to try and perfect the fit. But, I am planning on ordering a longer zip so that I can make View B next: I would prefer not to wear a belt, or to be hoiking these up every five minutes. Also, I am loving cropped jumpers, t-shirts etc., and a high-waisted pair would give me more flexibility to explore this new shape without exposing my tummy! But there’s no fear: now that I know my machine can cope with denim, well, there’ll be no stopping me.
And I think that’s it! How exciting. Now… I feel like a whole new arena has opened up for me, and that the sky really is my limit. I wonder what colour I should go for for my high-waisted pair? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Also, please do let me know if you have a favourite shop (preferably UK) that you get your denim from.
Many thanks to my boyfriend who took much better photos than I managed with my tripod!
Beautiful scenery courtesy of South Uist – my home.
Also worn with my favourite belt, a self-drafted top (which I love!) and barefoot Wildling Shoes.