Exactly no one is surprised that I have a child’s “suit library” – that is to say, that I meticulously traced every pattern piece for every sized I could. That’s sixteen pieces per suit, and eight sizes – a total of 128 pieces that I traced, color-coded, labeled, hole-punched and reinforced, and then hung up on a board with hooks my husband made me.
I am that prepared to make up suitcoats, y’all.
In Burda 6918, an out-of-print vintage-ass pattern, I found the Holy Grail: the missing range for tween/teen boy. Tween/teen boys have perhaps the fewest sewing patterns out there. I know, right?
The seafoam suiting with beige pinstripes has a wonderful hand and the suit will keep performing through many, many children. I put in a little extra length for my son, who is growing at a rate of six inches a year
Recommendations? If you make your child a suit, make two pair of trousers to go with it. My experience has shown that, even though children will wear the suitcoat without the trousers – thus wearing the coat much more – the trousers are the first to look shabby. Torn at the knee, frayed hem, et cetera. The only alternative is requiring one’s child to don the garments only during special occasions, and to behave with utmost decorum while wearing it. But – where’s the fun in that?
A few days ago I was suddenly struck with the knowledge I had to, had to, get to sewing some swimsuits. In fact, I have this silly little dream of running a little web-thingy whereby people donate the funds for materials, and I make up amazing custom swimwear for young women who are otherwise without a kick-ass summer suit. Like, I’d like to make suits like this for EVERY young woman who wants one! Body image issues are rubbish and a custom suit goes a long way to demolishing them for the season.
But – for now, I’ll concentrate on making suits for family & friends.
First up: skulls and lightning. Because, OF COURSE. A (to my taste) seventies-inspired suit with a surplice bodice.Read More
You mastered the button fly! Today? Things are a little easier. Just a couple back pockets and a yoke. The easiest installment in our journey. Chillaxin’.
Great job on your front pockets! today? We are talking the button fly! This might be the trickiest part of the jean: but it’s pretty easy when you break it down point-by-point. My button fly method is also beautiful – go ahead and peek inside designer jeans and compare. I dare ya!
OK, we are getting down to it for real this post. At this juncture, we should have all our jeans cut (except for belt carriers, waistband, and waistband facing – we’ll get to those!), our pieces marked, and our decisions about topstitching and needles all down pat. We covered all this material in our first and second posts.
Time to start on the front of the jeans with something nice and easy: the front pockets. We will be putting an optional stencil in the jean pocket, and will need to give the paint a moment to dry – so plan accordingly. We are also trying our hand at hammering rivets!
And in case you haven’t already figured this out:
I HOPE YOU ARE READY FOR ONE BILLION PHOTOS OF JEAN CONSTRUCTION, BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT YOU’RE GETTING
First: for every serge-finished seam I make, that will not be enclosed and threfore hidden in another seam, I like to run the thread tails back through the column of serge stitching. Don’t worry, I will let you know which seams to do this too – and when we get there I will call the technique, “securing the serge”. Here is an up-close picture of the process:
There are very few seams that will need this treatment during our jean construction – but it is a great way to keep a serged seam from unravelling.
To prepare for our front pockets, go ahead and serge the top of the coin pocket(s), the outseam-sides of the pocket bag, and the denim pocket overlay (all sides except the top side, which will be enclosed in a waistband). Every one of these seams except for the bottom corner of the pocket overlay will be enclosed, so you don’t need to secure the serge – yet.
Coin pocket preparation: iron the top seam allowance of the coin pocket to the wrong-side of the piece, and topstitch. Front side of pocket:
Before affixing the coin pocket to the pocket bags, here is a little trip into a stencil. This is purely decorative and sweet – and will not be seen by anyone except the recipient of the jeans. I put these little stencils on the inside pocket bag – the part of the pocket bag that will face the leg.
I’ve written on using freezer paper to make a stencil before. It’s easy, fast, fun – and comes in handy often. Simple shapes are best, as per any stenciling. Draw the shape on freezer paper and cut out the needed pieces. Then remember – for best effect, stencil the side of the pocket bag that will face the leg. Otherwise, your stencil will be buried in the pocket itself! Make sure to leave room for seam allowance, too. Set the stencil aside – we’ll get to it in a moment.
Now that we have our overlays secured, it is time to iron our freezer paper stencil and paint, as per instructions. I stencil the side without the coin pocket – in this case, the left-hand pocket:
Moving on to the front pocket. First, we need some pocket stays. These keep the pocket firm and from gaping over the lifetime of the jean. Take a firm cotton woven, and tear a couple 1″ to 1 1/4″ strips along the crosswise grain. The strips should be longer than the front pocket curve:
Take the stays to the ironing board and press them into the curve fo the front pocket. Press and really pull on that crosswise grain. You will be surprised how much of a curve you can get in the cotton! (We will be using this method for our waistband later.). When finished, you should have something like this:
Sew the stays to the pocket bag, carefully, either exactly on the seam allowance or about 1/16″ inside of it.If you have a deep curve and can’t seem to get much stretch into your crossgrain stay, it’s okay to have a couple little folds in the stay:
As you can see, even with that extreme curve I don’t have any folds in my stay – that’s how much you can get out of that crosswise grain, if you use a lot of force and steam! At this point, I usually snip a bit on the long outer curve of the stay, and tear the stay so that the outer curve extends only 1/4″ to 1/2″ past the staystitching. But this is just me being really exacting!
Now, to complete the pocket bag. We will be finishing with a french seam. Turn the pocket as it will hang in the finished garment, and make sure everything lines up well:
At this point, I usually stitch the tops of the pocket to the front of the jean, at about 3/8″. The waistband will enclose these stitches. I leave pins in the side seam, baste, or secure with a lightweight fusible web strip, depending on my mood and the fabric weight and behavior.
We are all finished with our front pockets! Great job! Next – on to the button fly!
Good luck! As always, post any comments here in the post, or email me.
Guess what? You’ve collected your fabrics. You’ve scrounged up rivets. You’re thinking about topstitching and maybe even back-pocket bling!
You’re ready to go!
construction thread (off-white) and topstitching thread (goldenrod)
my clothing label
red raw silk for pocket tab
red shirting for waistband facing, pocket bag, and fly detail
black screenprinting paint for pocket stencil
pattern traced and ready
high-quality buttons and rivets
Above: construction thread (off-white) and topstitching thread. At the end of this post I will detail some methods for topstitching that do not involve a specialty thread. This particular topstitching thread is a Coats & Clark jeans topstitching thread. Coats & Clark is not the best-quality thread to sew with, but it is available everywhere, it is inexpensive, and it is good enough for casualwear.
For the construction thread, I used an off-white, to match the serger thread color. If you do not have or want to use a serger, you can finish your seams with a zig zag. There are very few seams that need to be finished after being sewn, as my methods employ “clean finish” techniques for most of construction.
Shown here are some of the lovely materials that will make your jeans so special. Of course, I have my high-quality woven label – featuring a 60s Ford Econoline van and a star in silver thread, and font in a bone colorway. Beneath my label, I have a strip of raw, red silk – I will be using a tiny amount for a back pocket tab, in homage to Levi’s iconic look. And finally, the very fine plaid red shirting I will use for my pocket bag, waistband facing, and button fly facing. Almost any 100% cotton woven will do for these details. If your fabric is two-sided – has a printed side and a faded or blank side – you will have to decide which side you want on the interior of the pocket (the “right side” of the pocket, where your hand slides in), and which side you will want to see when the jeans are turned inside out. Since I always have trouble deciding, I used a fine, yarn-dyed fabric that looks identical on both sides.
Here you can see my generally-preferred pattern to work with. I use a medium-weight sew-in interfacing (bought in bulk with a coupon, usually!) and trace my pattern using a spoked wheel and a lovely wax tracing paper from Richard The Thread (which I have painstakingly reinforced with clear packing tape on the non-wax side). Of course – like every stitcher I have done it all, including tracing onto tissue paper or project paper, or even buying a pattern on a 99 cent sale and just cutting right to the size I like. However, tracing the stitching lines with a spoked wheel then later adding seam allowances, works well for me. In the photo above, we are looking at the upper corner of the pocket overlay, and at photo right you see the coin pocket placement lines.
A few words about the pattern. I use the following pieces for this tutorial. Note that my jean pattern has been adjusted for selvege jeans, where the entirety of the front and back piece outseams run along the fabric selvedge. All my seam allowances are 1/2″ unless I specify otherwise. Depending on your fitting issues, you may want a 1″ outseam seam allowance on the front piece, back piece, back yoke, pocket bag, and pocket bag overlay.
jean front with traced fly topstitching and 1 1/4″ hem allowance
jean back with pocket placement marked, and 1 1/4″ hem allowance
back yoke (make sure to mark both the direction of the yoke, and the outseam – yokes can be easy to switch around!)
front pocket bag (not shown above; cut from red shirting)
front pocket overlay (1″ seam allowance along curved edge)
coin pocket (you may want one, or two)
back pocket with 1 1/4″ top facing, and traced topstitching
button fly unit (shown here for layout; for those who are prefer not to use a contrast fabric in the button fly)
fly facing (not shown in photo above; cut three individually – two from denim, one from constrast shirting)
You will note I do not show the waistband, waistband facing, or belt carrier pieces. These I cut and create after I’ve cut the rest of the jean.
You will also note the pattern here is laid out along the selvedge edge of the fabric. Unless you are making selvedge jeans, you can ignore this, and lay your jeans out as per your pattern or your experience.
After I cut the pieces, I mark as follows: the back pocket placement and the intersection of the center front seamline and the fly topstitching. I usually mark via wax trace or thread tacks. If you are unfamiliar with wax marking, here is a little demonstration, shown on the fly topstitching:
I’ve flipped back the pattern piece from the freshly-cut front of the jean.
Here, I slip two pieces of wax tracing paper, with the non-wax sides facing one another, in between the two layers of denim, without dislodging the pattern piece from the denim piece (of course, many people use pins for this, but I rarely need them). Using my spoked wheel, I mark the intersection of center-front and fly topstitching. Note – if I am going to use this pattern many times, I will reinforce marking areas like this, with clear packing tape, to reduce wear from the spoked wheel.
Here you see my carefully peeling back the pattern piece and the top layer of denim; a wax mark is now located on the wrong side of both pant fronts.
Now, some marking methods are simpler still:
Here we are looking at a back pocket piece – the top facing is far left. Topstitching in this case will be three parallel lines on the pocket (as copied from a pair of my son’s jeans). I simply make a clip in the seam allowances of the pocket sides, and I will use tape as a first stitching guide. Jean back pocket topstitching really makes the jeans. It is worth time to study what you want to festoon the pockets with – the familiar arcuate stitching or something totally different. Remember, in jeans, the topstitching really makes the jean!
Finally, here is another method to mark jeans – shown at the intersection of seamlines for the fly facing pieces:
After hand-stitching something, I save my needles with their residual thread, and use these for thread-marking. Saves me a lot of time! Thread-marking is probably the most accurate marking there is, provided you make the mark while the pattern piece is still joined with the fabric piece.
Let’s talk about those fly facings a bit!
If you want to construct a fly with only denim, and no peek-a-boo contast – well, I’m not here to judge. In that case, you will be cutting two mirror-image facings, and one button fly unit (the symmetrical piece with the curved bottom, shown right in the middle of my layout photo).
If, like me, you like that bit of contrast, cut out two mirror-image facings, and a denim and shirting facing as well. For a left-handed fly – where the buttons are on the left of the jean – you will be cutting with this layout – first interfacing the shirting (if you like – there is a lot of strain on fly buttons) – and making sure the denim and shirting facings are mirror-images for the fly unit:
(If you’re still confused about how many facing pieces to cut, this layout photo might help).
If you find the fly layout for the fly unit confusing, or you don’t know what side you want your fly buttons on yet – just cut out two shirting fly facings and two denim fly facings. You won’t be wasting much fabric! And when we get to the post where we are putting the fly together – I promise, I will walk you through it gently and with many, many pictures.
There is one more bit of marking to do, on the pattern piece. Once you do this, just keep it close by the fabric pieces:
Back yokes are notoriously confusing. They can have all kinds of curves, and it is impossible to get it backwards and upside-down. Make sure to mark which side is up – and which side belongs to the outseam.
Now, for a word (or a few) about topstitching.
Most home machines aren’t built to give even, fabulous topstitching on the many layers of denim that jeans entail. For instance: a jean hem, depending on how you construct the side seams, has multiple layers of denim. Depending on your machine strength, needle size, and the heaviness of your denim, this can be a difficult prospect for a non-industrial machine. You may also find that even if your machine can, with or without help of some hand-cranking, drive through the denim – it does not yield an even topstitching. Now – even designer jeans have less even topstitching than you might imagine – go ahead and check next time you’re in a boutique – but my aim is to deliver great results, no matter your machine. To that end, we need to talk about needles, and about topstitching options – and you need to practice to see which results work best for you.
Shown, at left: a size 16 “jeans” needle – at right, a size 14 “topstitching” needle. The most obvious difference is the size of the eye. I’d air on the side of a topstitching needle, for a smooth glide through the fabric, although I often topstitch with a jeans needle and have great results.
Now – thread options.
It doesn’t do much good to topstitch with construction seam thread, that is in the same heaviness or visual intensity. In general, outerwear, especially casual outerwear, is topstitched with a heavier thread and longer stitch length. In the case of heavy coats, thin topstitching can be swallowed up – and this is the case with jeans. In fact, heavy topstitching is probably the largest style element in jeans; and of course, jean trends today are taking heavy topstitching to extremes, in both men’s and women’s styles (if you don’t have a machine that can handle the very, very heavy threads used in such jeans – embroidery-style hand-stitching would do the trick!).
If you’re reading here, you probably have a modest home sewing machine and are wondering how to get good results. That’s what I’m here for.
Basically, you can do one of three things to acheive a
1. Use a triple-stitch function for topstitching
2. Double-thread your needle
3. Use a jeans or topstitching thread through the needle
The first option, happily, does not require a needle change. The second two options, probably do. In general, all these functions involve keeping the construction-weight thread in the bobbin. And in general, all these functions involve a little bit of tweaking on the top tension of the machine.
From left to right, top side of garment: jean thread in the needle; a triple-stitch; a double-threaded needle.
When testing, definitely test curves – and layers of denim, as I have done here. In all these test cases I didn’t take particular care – I ran through the curves quickly. For a triple-stitch, the needle drives into the fabric, then the fabric is advanced for a stitch, reversed for a stitch, and advanced again. What this means, is that triple-stitch requires care over curves, or one will get these little “chicken scratches” that look awful (one curve and you’ll see what I mean). When I use a triple-stitch, I simply slow down and adopt the rhythm of my machine. [ Ed. – I adore triple-stitch and it’s a great way to get wonderful effects without changing needle or thread on the machine – and I employed triple-stitch when thread-drawing a sketch of my son’s! ]
Now – before you get too exited about the results of this test, it’s important we flip the samples and look at the bobbin-side of the work:
From left to right, bobbin side of garment: jean thread in the needle; a triple-stitch; a double-threaded needle.
I know immediately which finish I like more. Keep in mind, the bobbin-side of the work won’t show every often – only if you peek inside your front pocket (which I do!), or if you have the pants inside-out. The severe tension issues in the top-right sample (the double-threaded needle work) can probably be resolved by fiddling with top tension on the machine. But I have noticed double-threading is often dissatisfying in this way. For my project, I continue on with jean thread in the topstitching needle. I am fortunate enough to have more than one machine, so I simply threaded one of my old Singers with the right needle and thread, for all my topstitching (more later, during construction).
Please do take the time to mess with your machine(s) and figure out what result you like. I’ve spent years with dissatisfying results simply because I didn’t realize things could be improved!
At this juncture, we should have all our jeans cut (except for belt carriers, waistband, and waistband facing – we’ll get to those!), our pieces marked, and our decisions about topstitching and needles all down pat. Next session we dive into the front pockets – and we’ll get to hammer in some rivets! It’s gonna be tons of fun!
Good luck! As always, post any comments here in the post, or email me.