10 FAQ answered on Sewing Denim

how to sew denim

How to sew Denim

Denim is not only the  choice wear of the masses ; the fabric is the favourite of many top level designers too. Other than the wardrobe staple jeans, Jackets, bags, vests, skirts, tops, shawls – there is no end to what you can sew with denim.

The beginner home sewer usually have difficulty imagining sewing with denim fabric when all they have seen is the jeans and it does look tough to emulate the sewing done in professionally made jeans. But with some tips and techniques, you can sew denim at home comfortably

One advantage of denim is that it is made of cotton fibers. Denim comes in many weights. The lightweight denim is as easy to sew as any cotton fabric. Heavier denim may be slightly difficult to sew but nothing is impossible if you take care of a few things. 

Checkout the post on different denim fabric 

types of denim

Table of Contents

    1 Can I sew denim on my regular sewing machine ?

    Yes you can, ie if you donot attempt to sew many layers of the fabric at a time. You may have take it a little slow, change the needle to the appropriate one for thicker fabric. With the right needle and a good quality thread and some patience your home sewing machine can work very well with the denim fabric. A walking foot or an even feed foot is a great accessory to have when sewing denim

    If you plan to regularly work with heavy weight denim and would want to sew multiple layers at once, you are better off with a commercial / industrial grade sewing machine.

    2 How do I cut denim ?

    When cutting denim pattern pieces ensure that the directional ribbing in its surface is consistent and in one direction. This nap should be followed for all pattern pieces for the whole garment to look good.

    Use the sharpest cutting tool you have for cutting denim. Rotary cutters and scissors work equally well. 

    3 Which thread should I use for sewing denim ?

    You can use top stitching thread to sew denim. If you donot have top stitching thread use two spools of thread at once to get the effect of thicker thread. Your sewing machine mayhave an extra spool pin ; attach it and thread the sewing machine and the needle with both the thread from the spools as one.

    Usually a contrast colour like orange is used to top stitch denim fabric in jeans . Your choice of thread colour would depend on the effect you want on the garment. I would think a contrast colour which is bright would be good( like yellow, pink or lime green ) . You will have to try it on a scarp piece of the fabric because denim fabric comes in various shades and a colorful which looks good against a hue of indigo maynot look the same on another shade.

    Buttonhole twist is also ideal as a top stitching thread because of its strength and attractive sheen.

    When you are using a heavy thread on the top thread spool, do use the regular thread in the bobbin.

    4 Which needle should I use when I sew denim?

    Denim is best sewn with a special Denim/jeans needle  which you will find in sewing supply stores. These needles have a bigger eye to accommodate the thicker thread used to sew denim and are longer and sharper. If you are using stretch denim you may need a stretch needle.

    One handy tip is to keep some extra denim needles at hand when sewing with denim especially if you are completing a fairly big project. Denim requires very sharp needles and sewing denim dulls the needles very quickly.

    Also another very important point to note is that  you should not go in  a very fast pace when sewing denim. Sewing very fast will result in needle breakage and frustrations all around.Go slow with speed. 

    5 Should I prewash denim ?

    Denim, as a fabric made of cotton fibers, will shrink with washing and may sometimes run colour too . So it is only common sense that you prewash this fabric.
    You should ask the store whether the denim you are buying is Sanforized or not. Sanforized denim has been prewashed / pretreated so that shrinkage is minimal ( as low as 1%)
    So sanforized denim can be put to the test of sewing without washing without much undue damage. But even then there may be sizing in the fabric which may make it difficult for you to sew.

    You may prefer raw denim which is unsanfronized; many people do. Raw denim with its deep colour is very attractive and some think that whatever fading is there in denim should come naturally not through any chemical process.

    And raw denim has to be prewashed ( no option here). The fabric should be soaked in a full tub of water for sometime and then hung to dry before sewing.You can also put in the washing machine. Some even recommend to prewash it three times – because denim continues to shrink. 

    Denim fabric edges ravels . So if you take denim fabric from the bolt and wash it as it is, you may have an unraveled mess in your hands; especially if you have put it in the washer. An easy way out is to use your pinking shears on the edges. You can also use basting stitches to stitch the fabric edges together and make it into a tube and then wash. The basting stitches will come off easy enough after the cloth is washed and the edges will remain intact. 

    6 How to finish the fabric edges of denim?

    denim seam

    Selvedge denim comes with fabric edges finished with a very bright coloured band. But other denim fabric will have to have the fabric edges finished , as the denim frays a lot.

    In jeans a flat felled seam finish is most commonly used . This seam finish encloses the fabric edge as well.But this is very difficult on an ordinary sewing machine, especially if you are sewing with heavy weight denim.

    An overcast stitch / serger is used otherwise to finish the fabric edges of denim . You can also use pinking shears, as this cutting tool will give a zig zag edge to the edges making fraying impossible. Some of the fabric edge finishes may prove to be unsuitable for denim because of its heavy nature.

    A self fabric fringe is a very attractive fabric edge finish for denim. I have a shorts with this finish and it is absolutely gorgeous. Checkout this post on making fringes to see how it done. 

    fringe hem for denim

    7 How to sew seams when sewing denim ?

    Denim jean seams are usually done with a flat felled seam. Checkout the post on 17 different types of seams for more details on sewing this seam.

    If you are using a regular seam  you will have to trim the seams to avoid bulk, especially the seam allowances of facings.Clipping seam allowances every 1 inch especially for curvy seams and grading the seam allowances are all necessary when sewing with denim

    It is better if you use a light weight fabric as facing so that you donot have to deal with two layers of denim fabric. Even the hem can be finished in this way.

    Always press the seams open especially if you are crossing seams. You can use the steam setting in your iron to make the seams behave. Some even use the hammer on the seams – cruel I say- but whatever works.

    Denim is a very thick fabric . You donot have to line dresses made with denim.But if you have to, choose lightweight fabric as lining material.

    Do Interface buttonholes and behind buttons

    Most Denim clothes have Bartacks – Set your machine for a narrow zigzag, and a very short stitch length. Sew for ¼” and reverse to reinforce

    Hemming jeans  It is a good idea to make the hem of denim garments atleast about 1″ wide and double top-stitch at the top of the hem to prevent the hem curling up .

    8 How to sew denim by hand ?

    Sew with denim

    Sewing denim with hand stitches is a test on your patience. But sometimes you have to.

    One instance where I sew denim with hand stitches is when I sew up the hem of my kids pants. My younger one inherits my eldest’s jeans and sometimes they are overlong. I donot want to cut away the hem of these jeans as  I know she will wear the jeans for a long  time and I may have to let in the stitches after sometime.

    Even with a seam ripper it is difficult to cut seam in jeans. So I use the method outlined in this post on hemming jeans but instead of sewing machine I sew the hem with a hand sewing needle and thread.

    how to hem jeans

    I always use the best quality thread when hand sewing denim. Donot want thread breaking up every now and then. Stitch denim with a sharp, long, big eyed needle.

    9 What machine settings should I use when sewing denim?

    Increase the stitch length to 3.5 -4 when sewing denim.At times you may even have to navigate thick seams with the turn of the hand wheel.

    10 How to embroider on denim?

    sew denim

    Machine embroidery on denim looks absolutely fantastic when done with the right coloured thread.Embroidering letters on denim can be done with your simple machine with a zig zag stitch and will bring a nice personal touch to the denim. Checkout this post on many ways of sewing patches on jeans and other clothing and How to make a knee ripped jeans (without removing the white threads in denim) and 15 different ways to distress denim jeans   

    how to distress jeans  RippedJeans

    Because of its thickness the fabric may have some difficulty to hoop on the embroidery hoop prior to stitching. Another problem is the thickness of the seams – getting the hoops around these seams are a challenge . Some kind of lightweight tear away/cut away stabilizer may have to be applied on the back for some stability while embroidering

    Couching is an embroidery which can easily be done on denim. Even thick metallic threads can be used to embellish denim with couching. Checkout the post on 4 ways of doing couching stitches. 

    couching stitches

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