How to sew Denim
Denim is not only the choice wear of the masses; the fabric is the favorite 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 has 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.
Check out the post on different denim fabric
1 Can I sew denim on my regular sewing machine?
Yes, you can, ie if you are using the regular dress weight denim and you do not attempt to sew many layers of the fabric at a time.
You need a sturdy enough sewing machine, not the flimsy kind which you get cheaply. You will need a heavy-duty and sturdy machine to sew many layers of thick denim like the hem of the jeans at the seam; the industrial machines do this easily enough.
You may have to take it a little slow with your regular machine, change the needle to the appropriate one for a 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, provided there are not many layers. A walking foot or an even feed foot is a great accessory to have when sewing denim. The roller feet is also said to be easy on denim.
If you plan to regularly work with heavyweight denim and would want to sew multiple layers at once ( like around that front fly and zipper), you are better off with a commercial / industrial grade sewing machine. You will need to buy a machine designed for sewing very heavy threads used for topstitching and stitching layers of denim.
Check out this post on buying industrial machines.
One way to use heavy thread with your regular sewing machine is to sew the heavy thread in the bobbin and using a regular size thread in the top needle.
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 do not have topstitching thread use two spools of thread at once to get the effect of a thicker thread. Your sewing machine may have 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 color like orange is used to topstitch denim fabric in jeans. Your choice of thread color would depend on the effect you want on the garment. I would think a contrast color which is bright would be good (like yellow, pink or lime green). You will have to try it on a scrap piece of the fabric because denim fabric comes in various shades and a color which looks good against a hue of indigo may not look the same on another shade of blue.
Buttonhole twist is also ideal as a topstitching 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 that 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 (usually No. 16 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 very fast 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 color 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 color is very attractive and some think that whatever fading is there in denim, It 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 some time 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?
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 heavyweight 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.
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 lightweight fabric as facing so that you do not 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 do not 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 Bar tacks on high-stress areas like the top of pockets- 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 ?
Sewing denim with hand stitches is a test of 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 do not 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 a 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.
I always use the best quality thread when hand sewing denim. Do not 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.
Related post : Sewing with thick fabrics on ordinary sewing machine; Jeans Repairs
10 How to embroider on denim?
Machine embroidery on denim looks absolutely fantastic when done with the right coloured thread. But it is difficult to do on an already completed or store-bought garment. Here Hand embroidery works great. Check out this post on DIY Embroidered jeans for some ideas on designs and the best positions for the embroidery.
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
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
Denim is a thick fabric but 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.