Remember how I said I wanted to learn to make jeans? I did it!
I am wearing them as I type, and I can tell you I am very happy with how they feel and fit. But it took me a long, long time to finish them!
I started with a well-known pattern (among the sewing community): the Ginger jean pattern in the mid-rise version. In the end I think this was the right choice, although getting them to fit was a nightmare mostly of my own making. However, the pattern instructions were very thorough and ultimately the style is exactly what I wanted. Around the time I began, my current favourite jeans got a hole – which was either an auspicious sign of good timing, or a grim omen of bad things to come.
To start, I made what Americans call a muslin and Europeans call a toile – i.e. a sample version to test the fit. I used some denim I bought locally and made just a knee-length version (omitting pockets, zipper and such details). I tried this version on and stuck it full of pins in order to make my desired fitting alterations. This seemed easy at the time, but I now know that there was ONE BIG alteration I should have made first of all, which I neglected to do. Basically, I needed extra room in the seat area, but it wasn’t apparent to me because all the problems showed up as wrinkles everywhere else: front, sides, thighs. I focused on these areas and tried to fix them. As I slowly altered my pattern, testing and experimenting, my alterations got weirder and weirder – veering pretty far from anything I’d read about in books.
Speaking of which, I also got a well-known trouser fitting guide from the library. I just want to be as stylish as these ladies:
This dates from the 70s and 80s, hence their idea of flattering trousers is not really mine! But the principles of fit don’t change that much. It was a good book.
Meantime, I made a full pair of jeans based on my fitting adjustments. It was my goal for these to be ‘wearable’, which they were. But I can’t say I enjoyed wearing them. Something was still ‘off’ about them. And I used a cheap stretch denim, which didn’t stretch much, and cut into my legs when I bent my knee!
To start, I ordered some better-quality denim online. It’s woven in North Carolina, and since I made these jeans I think they deserve a MADE IN THE USA label.
After cutting out a new version from this better denim, I basted everything together to do yet more fitting. I must have pinned, sewed, and tried them on one small change at a time, 30 times or more. You can also see what crazy lengths I went to trying to get the pocket placement right.
After my many iterations, my poor pattern was slashed up, taped, and had many-coloured layers of changes.
Meanwhile, my husband did a sketch of what I looked like when sewing.
I do enjoy sewing, despite appearances. I think the bugged-out eyes are just a result of being interrupted while deep in thought.
The construction of these jeans, which I had been worried about, was actually very easy. It’s no different from sewing anything: you put pieces together and stitch them. I do think that bra-making has increased my confidence with sewing generally, especially my ability to control fabrics and use my machine well. Most of my sewing-related frustrations were just fitting-related. I had to make last-minute adjustments even once I was in the sewing stage, and after ‘finishing’ the jeans and wearing them a few times I ended up taking off the waistband and belt loops, and reattaching them differently. I’m sure you can imagine that, having done all that sewing, using precious free time over many days, unpicking it and doing it over (and over and over) is pretty discouraging. Ugh.
But then, after all that (it was a month from beginning to fit the pattern, until wearing my successful pair), a time finally came when I put them on and went, ‘Ahhhh!’ You know intuitively when something fits right, and you stop craning to analyse in the mirror because it feels so good to wear. So I did make a pair of jeans in the end. That feels like a great accomplishment.
Was it worth it? A resounding yes! Let’s talk about cost, first. The fabric and supplies cost me about what I would pay for a new pair of jeans: in the $40 range, give or take. On top of that is the cost of pattern, plus the scrapped denim from my test versions, etc., but I reckon these costs as ‘educational’, the same as if I took a class. And in the end, I think the quality of fabric and the fit of these is better than what I could buy for the price. What you can’t see from all the photos is that, as I was fitting these, I saw a whole host of problems that show up in most jeans I buy, and it was particularly rewarding to 1) discover the reasons for these problems and 2) make them disappear.
And although sewing a pair of jeans takes more time than shopping for one (unless it takes multiple shopping trips, which is possible!), now that I’ve figured out the fit, I think I’d rather spend my time sewing than wriggling around in a dirty fitting room, foot-sore and thirsty. I’m already imagining the possibilities for other fabrics.
You can see from the different outfits that these jeans have had a ton of wear already!