I made jeans! And I hated every minute of it.
I don’t at all hate the end result — they’re comfortable and my ass looks amazing — but getting there was a real struggle. There were times when I thought, remember all the folks on my Instagram feed delighted with their #nofearnewjeans creations, that my sewjo was fundamentally broken.
But having wrapped up the making process and reflected a little, now, I’ve come to the conclusion that jeans-making is not really my type of sewing — and that’s okay!
First, the details. I made the Closet Case Patterns Ginger Jeans using 12 oz. Cone Mills S-Gene stretch denim and hardware from Threadbare Fabrics. The Ginger Jeans instructions are fairly clear and comprehensive, the Cone Mills fabric is beautiful, sturdy with good stretch recovery, and the hardware sturdy and relatively easy to install. This wasn’t an issue of materials. There were also the usual learning curves of attempting a new type of garment, including figuring out the right needle (stretch for most of the seaming, denim for the thicker areas including attaching belt loops) and machine tension. Sewing stretch anything can be frustrating if it has a tendency to curl at the edges, as this denim did, and trying to get through up to ten heavy layers is a task that made me, uncharacteristically, yell and shout and throw things. My ’70s Kenmore was taxed to its limits here, with a good few frustrating moments, and that certainly contributed to my difficulties.
More than that for me, though, was coming to terms with what really, truly are the fulfilling parts of sewing and what parts are necessary but tedious. Jeans sewing is a study in getting things right, not perfect necessarily but correct to an image of what jeans are. This means certain kinds of topstitching and seams, visible reinforcing, specific hardware, and all the other details that differentiate jeans from trousers made of denim. While I am, as was somewhat shockingly revealed to me in this process, a bit of a sewing perfectionist, that usually manifests in the desire to create something to my vision, not to stick to an external idea of what a garment should look like, and I struggled with the desire to make my jeans look “right.”
The whole purpose of sewing jeans, too, wasn’t in this case so much a fantastical pairing of pattern with fabric as a study in fit. Jeans, for me, are the most basic staple I own: I gravitate toward dark, non-distressed washes in close-fitting cuts, and detest even the simplest decoration. I like them to serve as a foil to the more extravagant tops I prefer to make, and therefore any jeans I was going to sew were going to be straight-forward in design. Therefore, I felt an even greater pressure to get the fit right. Fit, as you might have noticed, is something I do like to fuss with, but to a limit; I rarely make muslins and nearly never more than one, and baste-fitting quickly becomes tedious. For this pair, I jumped right in with my “nice” fabric because I was pretty sure I wouldn’t have the patience to fit a muslin — and I was definitely right. I baste-fit more than once, but clearly hit a wall where fitting became tedious.
So, how did I fit them? According to the Closet Case Files size chart, my waist is a size 18 while my hips are about 5″ larger than a size 20, the largest size they offer. I had already heard they ran generously, but based on my experiences with how RTW fits I didn’t want to just risk it by cutting a 20. My first pattern cut, therefore, began at a size 18 at the waist, then graded out to a size 20 + 1″ on the front and back outside side seams. I continued that extra inch all the way down the leg, pretty sure I would need some extra width in my thighs and calves as well. While cutting the pattern, I also added 1″ to the front and back rises.
After an initial baste fit, I added another 1/2″ to the rise of the back yoke and also angled in the back yoke center seam more. (When I added my waistband, I ended up taking off a wedge about 1 1/2″ wide at the top to 1/2″ wide at the bottom, effectively giving it a steeper curve; I didn’t have enough fabric left to cut a new, more curved, waistband).
In the end, all of that extra inch in seam allowance was taken in below the widest part of my calves, but along the rest of the leg I needed some or all of it. I basically finessed the width through multiple baste-fits. If I were to make them again, I would fix the pattern to avoid that, and likely take off some more around the knee to give a better shape there. With a stretchier, thinner fabric, I could go snugger, too, but in this 12 oz denim some breathing room is necessary.
I ended up with a pair of jeans that fit somewhere between the skin-tight Old Navy skinnies I wear most of the time and the snug but slightly hardier — and more androgynous — Wranglers I favored as a teenager. I played that connection up a little with the coppery topstitching and the flat felled seams along the outside leg. If I make another pair in the future, I think the process will be less painful with some of these growing pains out of the way. However, I’m also letting myself be okay with not being a jeans-maker. I don’t need to sew everything in my wardrobe, and the fact is that sewing basics, with a strict idea of how they should look and fit, isn’t the most fulfilling sewing for me.