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.