I made jeans! And it wasn’t even as scary as I thought it would be.
For a pattern, I copied my favorite pair of Lucky Brand jeans that were getting a little beat up after two years of constant affection. I’d go out and buy another pair or two in an instant, but Joann’s was having a sale on denim, and fabric enough for two pairs of jeans for 60 bucks is a steal. So I figured now is the perfect time to try my hand at making jeans.
In the past, whenever I attempted working with denim, it became a bulky mess at every seam. My tiny machine would valiantly chew and struggle through the thickness, but it could never make a professional looking finish. Besides the nightmares about the fabric, fitting a pants pattern has always been my greatest sewing weakness. However, this time I had a newer, more powerful machine and serger, and I was going to cheat the sizing department by making a copy of something that already fit.
Making a rub-off
Do you remember the thrill you got as a kid from tracing your hand? Abracadabra, and poof, there was my hand shape on anything I wanted. I bet my parents still have a book or two that I have personalized in this manner along with the really lose abstractionist style I had back then. Making a rub-off uses the exact same technique, except you might use fancier tools than a crayon. The beauty of it is that it enables you to capture the pattern pieces of a garment without taking it apart.
Materials I used:
my favorite pair of jeans
pen or pencil
A professional would have probably used a sheet of legit tracing paper that has a wax coating, but I couldn’t find any in a pinch. So instead, I laid out the beach towel and placed the tissue paper on it, this way when the tracing wheel went over it, it would leave an impression on the paper. Plus, I pinned the jeans to the towel occasionally to help keep it flat. You could use newsprint or wrapping paper with the technique I used, or probably even printer paper taped together. The idea is just to have large sheets of paper large enough to make the pattern pieces, and paper thin enough that you could make a mark on it through the jeans. If you didn’t have a tracing wheel, you could forgo the bath towel and just use a pen or pencil to trace, but it would be a lot harder for some of the seams.
I started with the front leg. I laid the jeans right side out, with the front facing me, the grain in the fabric perfectly straight, and everything as smooth as possible, and the pattern piece I was tracing is as flat as possible. For the side seam, I just traced along the outside of the pants, along the seam. The inseam took a bit more wrangling, and for the pocket shape I traced that separately to make a sewing line template.
The back leg was trickier because it was too wide to lay perfectly flat all at once. I used pens and marks on the tissue paper as guides to make sure it was still lined up after adjusting it halfway through, and for tracing the yoke, I traced it from the inside of the pants. In total, I traced the front, back, yoke, and pocket pieces, but drafted the fly pieces, belt loops, and waistband later.
The next thing I did to my brand new pattern piece outlines was to add pattern markings and seam allowance. Using the original jeans as a guide, I checked every seam and hem with a ruler and made note of the widths to add to each pattern edge. Be sure to add a grainline mark to each piece, as well as marks for back pocket placement. Then, I went over all the tracing marks with a pen and smoothed out the lines a bit. With a ruler, I added the seem allowance to each pattern piece according to my notes. After cutting out the pieces, I had a brand new pattern ready for testing.
During my check of all the seam allowances, I discovered a new type of seam finish that I had never used before. It was a cross between a french seem and a flat felled seam, which turned out to be very flat and had the least amount of bulk possible, making it perfect for jeans. I made a muslin with my new pattern to practice this new fancy type of seam. I suspect the lovely people that handcrafted my jeans at Lucky Brand had a special machine to make this kind of seam, or at least a uber-wide felling foot and double needles, but I couldn’t find a foot like that for my machine, so I had to work out how to do it myself. This is my drawing of the technique I worked out for your viewing pleasure (and my reference for next time):
Drafting the Fly
Of everything, I think the fly was the hardest to finish. The pockets were a breeze (just apply generous basting stitches), the I ripped it out three times before being satisfied.
While there are many, many videos on youtube for how to add a zipper fly to pants, this is by far my favorite for some reason. She doesn’t gab for ages, starts with actually drafting the pieces you need, and the video goes at a good clip. The music is kinda relaxing too, which is what you need for putting in a fly. Her handy folding and manipulation tricks are the best that I’ve found.
There were some slight differences that I used on my jeans from her demonstration, but that’s just because I was trying to copy the original fly as best as possible. For example, on the original, the top stitching is a little different, and the fly facing has a folded seam instead of a serged one. Here’s the original:
Unlike the original, I didn’t find a zipper with a clover in the zipper pull, and I didn’t bother with the tag that said “lucky you” on the fly facing, but maybe next time!
I’m very pleased how it turned out, probably because they fit a lot like the pair I copied. It’s a little loose around the waist, and I realistically need a belt to wear them, just like the original. If anything, in general they are on the loose and comfortable side, which is wonderful, but they wrinkle a bit more than Lucky Brand’s design. I think that’s mainly because my denim has a tad more stretch in them. Next time, I think I might take them in just a hair more in the thighs and hips so I don’t even need a belt.