Have you guys had a chance to check out the 2016 Refashioners challenge this year?
Every year, Portia over at Makery enlists a bunch of sewing folks to take on a refashioning challenge. This year, the theme was jeans. The idea is to take one or more pairs of jeans and transform them into something new.
Four of us from Colette HQ participated and it was really interesting to see how each of our styles played out within these constraints. I’ll share what Delaney and I made today (with Meg and Anna’s project later this week), along with some of my favorite tips for sewing denim, below.
What Delaney and I made
Delaney and I both went for something a little glam and body conscious. I don’t normally go for dresses that are short AND tight, but I really wanted to make a dress and managed to squeeze out as many inches of fabric as I could by using mostly small pattern pieces.
So yeah. Not only short and tight, but with a little window to show off my pasty belly-flesh. My inspiration was this Stella McCartney dress. I made mine pretty similar, but added more seams to the bodice for a better fit around the bust.
I mostly draped the pattern for my dress right on the form, made a single muslin, and sewed ‘er up. While I was originally intending to find a midtone denim, when I saw a pair of loud 90’s floral jeans, the fabric screamed my name and I had to obey the command of the sewing gods.
This was also the first thing I sewed using our new Juki industrial sewing machine and I LOVED it.
Delaney altered two patterns to create her dress from no fewer than four pairs of jeans.
The skirt was modified from an older Bellville Sassoon pattern from Vogue, and the bodice from the “Madonna” bodice pattern from the book Famous Frocks by Sara Alm and Hannah McDevitt. She used one pair of size 50 men’s jeans in black, a dark floral pair, and two pairs of purple stretch denim.
10 Tips for sewing denim
I find denim pretty easy to work with, actually. It’s strong, durable, doesn’t snag, is easy to cut, and it’s really satisfying to sew.
There are just a few tips and tricks (and tools) I try to keep in mind when working with denim.
- Choose the right design. Heavy denim works best with structured garments, It’s obviously great for pants and shorts, but also works well in jackets, fitted dresses, or skirts. But keep in mind that lighter denim can also be used to make more flowing garments, like full skirts, looser dresses, and button-ups.
- Grab a jeans needle. Every wondered what the difference is between an all-purpose needle and the ones marked “Jeans”? Jeans needles are specifically designed to puncture through multiple layers of heavy fabric. You can use the smaller ones (size 90/14) for lighter denim, but a 100/16 or 100/18 is better for heavy denim.
- Pay extra attention to grainlines. When you’re cutting, make sure that your grainlines are aligned correctly. If you cut your fabric off grain, you’re likely to encounter twisting. It was tempting to mess with grain when trying to squeeze out all the pieces from my original garment, but I made sure everything was cut straight either lengthwise or, if necessary, crosswise.
- Use lighter facings where necessary. Denim is bulky, You can cut down on that bulk by choosing lighter fabrics for inner details like facings.
- Reinforce seams with topstitching. Some denim garments (including tight dresses!) get a lot of stress. Use a heavier weight thread (topstitching or upholstery thread works) to topstitch seams from the right side and provide extra support. Use a regular all-purpose thread in the bobbin.
- Use a longer stitch length. If your denim is the typical heavyweight, jeans sort of denim, lengthen your stitches to about 3mm.
- Use heat and steam. Pressing denim is really important, especially if you want neat topstitching. Use a high heat setting on your iron and plenty of steam.
- Use a clapper. Don’t have a clapper? You should! It’s one of my favorite tools. A clapper allows you to apply sustained pressure to a seam to help get it really crisp and flat and eliminate bulk.
- Use sturdy closures. A garment is only as strong as its weakest part, so be sure to match your closure to the fabric. Heavy duty snaps, riveted jeans buttons, and heavy metal zippers all pair well with denim. For lighter denim (used for shirts, for example), you can go with standard closures.
- Finish your seams. Again, denim garments should be made to last! Denim can fray something awful, so unless that’s the effect you want, be sure to finish those seams. A flat felled seam is a classic choice on straight seams, but you can also serge your seams, use a mock flat-felled seam, or (my fave) bind them with a Hong Kong finish! Hong Kong seams are great on denim because the thick fabric disguises any extra bulk pretty well.
Those are my 10 favorite tips. Do you have any of your own you’d like to add?