Life, Death and Denim

Since it’s not looking like I’ll get a chance to work on the Red-Leaf Clovers before the weekend, I thought I’d ramble a bit.

I’ve been making my own jeans for about a year and a half at this point. Which is close the natural life-span of a pair of jeans, especially the way I wear them, which is all the time.

So I thought I’d do a bit of rumination on the success, longevity, and idiosyncracies of making my own jeans:

 Jeans: Materials Screw ups Strong points Current condition

Trial Capris

Cheap, unpleasant fabric, plain gold jeans-thread topstitching Nothing major, except when I converted them to capris, a) I didn’t add enough length, and b) the topstitching sucked. Also there’s no internal seam finishing, so the insides are a bit raggedy (but still sound.) Super-comfy, and the fabric improves a lot as it wears. Wearable but definitely B list. I may re-convert them to capris come summer, which would remove the ugly topstitching, and potentially return them to A-list status.

Black & Silver

Black denim, silver Gutermann topstitching thread I used crappy serger thread in the bobbin when I was topstitching, which resulted in a LOT of topstitching failure. I also used cotton salvaged from a worn-out duvet for pocket lining, which has since shredded. Super comfy, flattering, and probably my single favourite pair to date, despite the material failures B-list due to the failed topstitching and shredded pockets. I keep meaning to stitch the front pockets up and make them at least decent again, because I really like this pair. The fabric has actually held up really well.

Rear View

Blue Capris

Heavy blue denim, gold topstitching I tried to add a small wedge to the CB  to get a bit more height in the back, but added it to the hip instead, by mistake. Miraculously, they still went together and fit. I love the heavier fabric for these—I got it at Fabricland but have never found it again. It makes them so much sturdier than my other pairs. These are still practically pristine, as they’re only worn during the summer months. I love them.

Black & Red

The identical denim to the black & silver pair, with red triple-stitch topstitching. Construction went pretty much flawlessly for these, as far as I can recall. I liked the red topstitching and got kinda creative with the belt-loops, which was fun. Although construction went fine, this pair was kinda cursed. I had issues with the buttons, and then the zipper pull came off. I actually undid the fly and re-inserted it on the bottom, but it came off again a few weeks later. At which point I threw up my hands.

Skinny Cargoes

Black denim (same as the black jeans), silver Gutermann topstitching thread I accidentally bought separating zippers instead of regular ones for the legs. This made inserting them interesting, and the other week one side separated, which was really hard to get back in. Construction went well, but some of the decisions (like stitching down the pocket flaps) would be problematic later on. Really stylish and unusual. This makes it hard to wear them too frequently, but they are sure fun for a change. A-list. I’ve had some ripping of the pockets due to pulling too much to use them with the flaps stitched down at the sides. And the leg zippers occasionally try to separate. Other than that, they’re great, though. They’ve held up well but are not in as heavy rotation as less striking pairs.

Skinny Jeans

Blue denim, gold jeans topstitching thread The skinny ankles are very skinny, especially on the right side. Getting them on and off is a bit of a pain. Also, one leg twists really badly. (the other is basically fine) Aside from being annoying, it means that the knee-wear that’s showing up is mis-placed, so even if I bolt them into place with tall boots they still look a bit funny.Oh, and I forgot to pre-wash my pocketing fabric, and I usually extend my pockets into the front fly, so after the first washing it shrank and I couldn’t figure out why they felt so tight while still seeming loose across the front. I had to slice up between pocket and fly to release the tension. Cute topstitched-dart feature in the back leg. A-list, bordering B. Mostly  because with wear, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the twisting is a real, big problem. They’ve had a lot (LOT) of wear, though I’ve never liked them as much as my black and silver pair.

Sailor Bellbottoms

Heavy, non-stretch indigo denim, really nice stuff. Gold jeans  topstitching thread. Modified from the Burdastyle.comEllen pants pattern. I used the same waistband as I do for my stretch jeans, and it’s really not long enough for non-stretch. There’s no overlap at the front, which makes me feel just a bit insecure wearing them, even with a belt. I wish I’d considered the construction in this area a little more thoroughly. Cute laced-front fly, great idea although not perfectly executed. B-list. I rarely wear these, partly because of the too-short, non-overlapping waistband and partly because my husband doesn’t like them. Not that I care what he likes, but I do prefer receiving compliments. They’re still a nice change from time to time.

Cream Spice Capris

Light-weight cream denim, pink topstitching, japonesque print piping I could’ve handled the piping and the little cuffs a little better with a bit more forethought (I did much better on the little jeans I made my nieces recently). I love the colour-combo and the piping details. A-list. Although since they’re limited to summer wear, they are still pretty much pristine.

Topstitching Fail Jeans

Medium blue denim, Sulky cotton topstitching thread Using cotton topstitching thread. Probably you could get away with it in non-stretch jeans, or using a stretch stitch, but not straight, as I tried to. The stitching on the rear pockets is completely broken. I did stay the front pocket edges during construction, so that part is fine. Also, I messed up the insertion of one of the studs (left the nail too long) and so it’s quite mis-shapen and sharp and can be pretty uncomfortable. I need to fix that. I love the colour of the topstitching thread (a darker, antique gold) and the construction went great. A-list, but just barely. The failed topstitching and uncomfortable stud weren’t enough to put me off these jeans, but when I tore a big three-corner hole in the front thigh, they became almost unwearable (I’m so over wearing my jeans with holes in…) I have since mended them, and they’re back in regular rotation, but they’re definitely not “best.”

I know, I should really add links to the various posts with the photos. But it seems every time I twiddle something in the table, it breaks and I lose a column, so I’m going to leave well enough alone.

So, overall? My self-made denim doesn’t have a great record in the longevity department. That being said, more of it has to do with failures of supplementary materials (thread, zipper, pocketing) than the denim itself—surprising considering how crappy-thin most of the denim is. I haven’t yet gone through the knees of any of the pairs, which is a minor miracle for me. And only one of the pair is completely out of comission, although I don’t really like how many of them have turned out (or into) B-listers.

Some very sturdy stretch denim followed me home from the thrift store in December, so that’s an upcoming plan should I ever finish the Clovers. It doesn’t have as much stretch as I’m used to, however (20% rather than 50%), so I think I will need to re-draft my pattern a bit.

ETA: crappy tables. It looked fine on the preview, I swear. But I can’t seem to fix it—sorry. :(

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40 Comments

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40 responses to “Life, Death and Denim

  1. LinB

    Hurray! When you line them all up like that, it makes you feel proud to have finished so many denim garments, no? I used to work for Wrangler jeans company, in the 1980s. There is a huge difference in denims: weight of thread, number of threads per square inch, weave, color, etc. We used a special twill weave, developed for us by Cone Denim, that would not twist. That, and flat-felled seaming throughout, made our product uniquely long-wearing. I think that it may be the fabric that causes your skinny jeans leg to twist, not your sewing skills.

    • There are so many differences! That’s so neat to hear—I really wish I had a better range available to me (and more info on what to look for! ;) )

      The fabric is probably not the greatest, but I’ve made several pairs out of identical denim (that mid-blue, or the same stuff in black, is basically all Fabricland stocks, at least reliably.) and the only ones that twist badly are the skinnies, and even then one leg is much worse than the other. Which makes me think maybe when I was cutting I didn’t have the fold quite parallel to the selvedge so the back layer got a bit off or something

  2. yeah but the mind completes the last column anyway, it’s kind of fun, like a brain teaser.

    i cannot BELIEVE how many pairs you’ve made! excellent breakdown. i wish you liked the sailor blues, they’re my favorite on you, they make your already long legs go for miles!

    • Hehe. It helps that I hemmed them to “heels” length—they are ultra long. Except that makes it harder to wear them, too, since I need the right footwear. They do have quite a look, though, don’t they? :)

  3. Kinda crazy to think you’ve been making jeans for so long and that you’ve made so many pairs! I agree with Oona, I really like the bell-bottom ones, but then, that’s kind of the style I’m drawn to for myself, so maybe that’s why.

    • It kinda disturbs me how much influence my husband has on what I wear. Not because he’s bossy—I’m just a sucker for compliments. And I only get compliments in skinny jeans… (He really loathes bellbottoms in general… the oughties were a very bad decade for him…)

  4. Wow, I know you’ve made a lot of jeans, but that table really highlights how many – and how many variations on a theme.
    I hear you on formatting woes. Sometimes the pictures look great in the preview and then move when published. Or today one of my bra pictures was fine in Photobucket, rotated on the previews and now it looks fine on the posted blog. Bah.

  5. Wow. just, wow. That’s a lotta jeans. Seriously. I bet your next pair in the nice denim will rock now that you’ve identified all the pitfalls!

    • You’d think, hey? I dunno, I find a lot of things pretty random, still. Degree of stretch. Topstitching thread. Getting the fly just right (although I’ve definitely gotten better at that…)

      Degree of stretch is the real bugbear. It’s really hard to figure out. :)

  6. Shams

    Wow, very impressive. Too bad you are having table problems that make it hard to read the last column, but this is a very impressive amount of work and a great summary!

  7. I’m kind of on the same page here as everyone else. That’s an impressive collection!

  8. I can read the last column on my iPhone, but not my laptop. Weird.
    I have yet to even try a pair of trousers, let alone jeans, so Bravo to you!
    I like the sailor bell bottoms on you too, but maybe that’s just because my legs are so short that they would look ridiculous on me, and I envy how they look on you!

    • So weird. It was even worse on my iPhone—I’m glad it’s working for some people, though. Grr.

      It’s really not that they’re a bad look, it’s just my husband’s prejudiced against bell-bottoms and I’m a sucker for his compliments. /sigh.

  9. Nice compilation! My iPhone formatted the table fine, too, but now that I’m on the computer the end is cut off. Oh well. We know what you mean. You make me want to run down to the sewing room and cut out some jeans. Maybe I will…
    I second (third?) the sailor pants love. Totally awesome on you. The flare/width of the leg is a curve emphasizer in a really good way.
    Side note: I’m sorry I’m such a comment loser. Reading blogs on my iPhone is convenient, but is making me lazy about commenting. Fricking teeny keyboard. Your blog is one of my absolute faves.

    • Hee! I do that a lot, too. I tend to star stuff in my reader in the hopes that I’ll remember to go back and comment later, but often I don’t. :(

      (and aww, now I’m blushing!)

  10. Really impressive stable of jeans! And in such a short time. I’m in awe, seriously!

  11. Holy Prolific Sewist Batman! I read your blog regularly, so I knew you had made a lot of jeans, but to see this list. Wow. This isn’t even counting your kids jeans! How many pairs have you made for your kids?

  12. OOooh! Research! I love it, what a useful table. Thanks for posting this!

  13. Fun! I think your bell bottoms are my favorite. Although you do look good in skinny jeans (I’ll pretend I’m not totally jealous of this fact). You are definitely the queen of jeans. I’m trying to pump myself up to get going on some pants– stretch denim included. This helps!

    • You can do it! (Although my fun with Clover this past week definitely has me feeling the pants-pain)

      I think the stretch helps smooth over minor fit issues, if that helps…

  14. Stunning array of denim makes, really confirms that you are queen-me-made-jean. Really interesting analysis- I find looking back on actual wearing statistics tells the real story- how you really feel in them/ about them as well as the practical stuff. I can’t believe the ease that you can turn these out!! And looking and fitting and on the whole wearing so well!

    • I find it really interesting to figure out how something works—because really, when you first finish it, even if it seems to fit, you just don’t know. And then how you feel about it can change, with how comfortable it is, or practical, or if there’s some weird thing that just bugs you… it’s an ongoing process.

      As to the fitting, do recall that all but the sailor jeans were made from the. exact. same. pattern. Which is getting pretty tattered at this point, I should add. I really need to trace it off onto some non-fusible interfacing or something…

  15. These are awesome! Even with the unsuccessful makes, you know what you want and how to achieve it. I would love to get that good at jeans; I do think having a TNT pattern is the best place to start. I’m currently working on one of my own and I’m impressed by how quickly I can put things together after a year of watching you and Peter sew pants!

    • I really, really think it’s all about the TNT. If that first paid hadn’t magically worked out as well as it did (and there was a bit of tweaking and a LOT of research) I wouldn’t be nearly this far along…

  16. I’m a HHUUUUUGGEE fan of your blog and I especially admire your jeans!!!!
    I mentioned you in today’s post on my blog. It would be great, if you would stop by and say hi! :-)

    All the best, all the way from Denmark.

  17. your jeans sewing is epic! i love the sailor ones more than you do (and i saw your comment to oona…invest in a comfy pair of wedges!!). i have to say, your self-made jeans stood up much better than my RTW jeans (though mine had to contend with bike commuting). even so, i’d buy your jeans at RTW prices over jeans i’ve been buying the past 4 years!

  18. You know I love your work in your jeans – and it seems like you say most issue are with thread… methinks an investment in 3 or so colours of good quality strong thread would sort you out really well :)

    P.S. I’ve turned your table into a PDF and emailed it to you ;)

  19. I knew you made a lot of jeans, but this table (which shows up just fine in my Google Reader) really brings the point home! Like many others, my favorite is the sailor pair, but I know full well how a husband’s opinion can influence what gets worn. One of my NY resolutions was to make pants, and it’s really all because of you. Seeing your success with making jeans that don’t look Becky Home-Ecky is really inspirational.

    • Hee hee! I am always happy to spread the pants-making love. Good luck! The trick (beyond having a machine that can handle the materials) is getting that TNT pattern or two, and then working the snot out of them. :D

  20. By Crikey nice list. Its great to see them all lined up, as it were, and despite your list of their faults they all work enough at least. Love it. BTW about the table formatting/resolution/whatever troubles, have you tried saving it as a PDF or image and linking to it so it opens in a different window when clicked on. May get the last column then. Worth a crack if you can be bothered.

  21. This is a MIGHTY list of jeans! They were all made with the same pattern?

    • Thanks! All but one were made with a modified version of Jalie 2908 (lowered rise and narrowed flare); the sailor bell bottoms were made with a (highly) modified version of the burdastyle.com Ellen pants pattern.

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