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Jeans: a 3 part construction, Part One

Jeans: a 3 part construction, Part One

Well, they’re corduroy jean, actually. Day one of a sewing skinny jeans tutorial (or sew along?). I’m using an Ottobre pattern and stretch corduroy. It is an overwhelming idea, as with most unfamiliar things. Pattern and fabric are the first to conquer.  Finding a good pattern is crucial if you want them to be wearable. I hate, hate, hate sewing up something for hours only to have it not fit well. Grrrr.

So do your research. If possible, try to find online posts or sewing reviews about different patterns you’re considering. There are websites dedicated to sewing that have loads of reviews: Sewingmamas and PatternReview  Though I didn’t find much on the one I was sewing–oh well.

Next thing to do to check sizing is to compare the pattern to a pair of jeans that fit well. I measured the width in several places of my daughter’s Levi’s jeans and picked the size that matched it best. I then graded any area that was off, either tracing narrower or wider to match her existing jeans. I wanted to come as close to the Levi’s as possible.

Having traced my pattern and pre-washed my fabric, I cut out my pattern pieces. If using denim, pre-wash at least twice, more if you have time. This will soften the fabric and get all the sizing out of that tough fabric. I like working with a medium weight denim. The heavy weight ones are too stiff and the thinner ones don’t feel like jeans to me.

After cutting out pattern, add any stabilizers/interfacing, and transfer all markings, such as back pocket placement and stitching lines that will help you later.

Time to get sewing! First some supplies you’ll want to have:

  • A store bought pair of jeans handy, so you can see how they go together while making your jeans (it’s very helpful imo)
  • Hammer and dish cloth
  • Jeans needle: at least a 14 or 16 weight needle, depending on your fabric.
  • Top stitching thread: I used Gutermann. Coats and Clark make some as well. They also come in different colors. Use this thread whenever you are top stitching in this tutorial, except when specifically told not to.
  • If you have a zigzag machine, AND it is capable of doing a very wide zigzag stitch, then you can use the extra wide twin needle.
  • Wonder Tape: this stuff will be your best friend and tremendously helpful in this specific project.
  • Dritz EZ-Hem or cardstock if you don’t have the ez-hem
  • iron/ironing board
  • seam ripper 🙂
  • fabric marking tool (which you should have already used)

I think that’s it, but I reserve the right to come back and edit in any tool I forgot to mention.

Okay, onto the jeans… I followed the Ottobre directions generally, but didn’t when they weren’t consistent with the Levi’s. Cuz the whole plan hinges on having them look store bought. The way I see it, jeans are made in a certain order, with specific details, and very well known details, such as top stitching details. You construct 3 parts first, then put all the parts together to make the whole. Hence the 3 part construction title.

You’ll be sewing up the front, then sew up the back, sew those two together, then make a waistband and put all three together.

Today we’ll work on the front, which has the infamous fly zip with shield.

Step one: front hip pockets

Pin the pocket linings to the front leg pieces, right sides together, and raw edges even.

Sew and clip corners. Press seam allowances toward facing with hot iron. Understitch facing: sew a row of straight stitches as close to the fold as possible, sewing through all layers, except the front leg piece.

Turn lining to inside, so that wrong sides are facing.  Top stitch pocket opening’s edge. I used a twin needle, but you can use a single needle and sew two rows also.

Step 2:

Place the pocket “piece” on top of the pocket lining, right sides facing and pin all around the bottom and inside side.

Sew and finish raw edges. Smooth out pocket–make sure pocket is flat and has no folds. Pin upper edge and side edge, as shown. Sew  a basting stitch on both sides and upper edges that you pinned to keep the pockets in place.

After looking over a bunch of online tutes and the Ottobre picture directions (although it had very few pics and few words, it did help), I came up with a system that completely worked  the first time out–it’s kind of a hodge podge of ideas that I gathered from a bunch of different sources. I was so prepared to call on the seam ripper and re-do it at least once, but didn’t need to (I may have just gotten lucky).

Step 3: the zip fly, complete with shield

Here are our pieces: One side will need to be cut. I trimmed the right side, keeping a 3/8 inch seam allowance. Your pattern should have both fold line and cutting line marked for the narrower side. If not, I would estimate–you need about 3/8 inch in from where them curve begins and some for seam allowance.

You’ll need the shield– I cut mine a little longer, and a zipper- I used a metal jeans zipper. The shield can also be rounded instead of coming to sharp point as mine. I used the Ottobre pattern.

Fold shield in half length wise, right sides together. Sew bottom edge (the angled edge).  Clip corner. Turn right side out, press and finish raw edge on the long side.

Place you zipper onto shield, right side of zipper will be facing up, and lined up with the longer, now serged, edge. You want it along the longest part of the shield, and the bottom stop at least 5/8 inch up from the point, as shown. Hand baste in place. You could also use that magical wonder tape, but I always hand baste my zippers in place. I used both today. Both eliminate the need for pins, which is ideal for zippers, because you can sew a much straighter seam without pins. Pins make things go wonky, and need to be removed before going under the presser foot. I use a contrasting thread to make basting stitches, which  is easier to pick out after the zipper’s in.

On pant front pieces: finish the raw edges with a traditional sewing machine, using either a zigzag stitch or overcast stitch.

Place front pieces right sides together, matching the raw edges up. Pin the lower crotch (yikes! another word that just doesn’t sound very nice–why is that?) and sew together, just past the fly flap. Some patterns will have a dot marking, which gives you a point to sew to and stop on. Mine didn’t 🙁 But it’s easy enough to figure that out. Clip to the stitching line, follow the curve of the fly flap.

Fold and press shorter side toward inside. Remember to not fold so that it is lined up with crotch seam. It’s over about 1/4 inch or so. This fold line should be marked on the pattern sheet. Here some visual aids:

Place zipper and shield on front piece along the narrow side that you just ironed, making sure the lower zipper stop is above crotch seam and zipper teeth are 1/8 inch away from fold like, as shown below. Wonder Tape helps a lot! Hand baste in place.

and yeah, I know my fly shield was too long, but that will get cut off later.

Here what it will look like from the back (I folded the pant legs up and out of the way, so it was more clear.

Using a zipper foot, sew zipper in place 1/8 inch from folded edge, sewing through all layers: front pants, zipper, and fly shield.

Okay half way there, and the hardest part is over. Can you start to see how it’s all coming together?

Now place you jeans on your work table, right side facing up. Smooth it out and work carefully with this next step, so your zip fly looks good and not crooked.

Place some wonder tape along the unsewn side of the zipper, and press down to keep it in place while you do the next steps. The idea here is to keep it from shifting as you move the fabric around to get at where you need to sew next.

Carefully pick up the left front pant leg and move it onto the left side, exposing the fly flap and zipper.  Hand baste zipper to flap, but not the shield and not the front pant piece.

pin and baste in place, remember to not stitch through the shield underneath. Sew just the zipper placket and zipper together.

Un-zip zipper and sew in place, keeping shield pinned out of the way. The jeans zipper is so bulky that I sewed this side  in two steps. I zipped it up about 1 1/2 inches, and sewed the lowest part. Remove it from the machine, un-zipped it the rest of the way and sewed it the rest of the way.  And of course, here are some pics to help explain.

Smooth sailing now…Place the pants with the right side facing up again. Adjust and smooth out ypants. Draw a stitching line for your fly flap. I like to measure and make sure everything is even and straight, so I made no exception here.

Pin flap in place, keeping shield out of the way. I pinned it to the side again, to keep it free of the needle while sewing. If you sew through the shield, you will have sewn your pants shut and not be able to undo your pants to put them on. Top stitch the fly from upper edge to the top of the bend or where it begins to curve, sewing through the front pant piece and zipper, but not the shield.

Since I can’t back stitch with the twin needle, I pull the top threads to the under side and tie them together in a knot and secure them that way. For the curve, you may need to use a single needle, not a twin.

Before you sew the curve top stitching, place a pin to the side of where the zipper stop is. do not want to sew the stop, ouch. It would hurt your needle and machine. At this point, you will sewing the shield in place. So move the shield under the flap and once it’s in its place, pin it there. In the pic below, the black pin shows me where my zipper stop is. I want to sew at least 3/8 inch below that. The red pin is holding my zipper shield in place, so that I sew it in place, as it should be.

Once your curve is sewn, make two bar tacks as shown.  Use regular thread to do your bar tacks, otherwise you’ll have a hot mess of thread on the under side. Your jeans zipper fly in so done!

Step 4–one last step before we move on to the second piece of this 3 part (or 3 piece) construction method. With a hot iron, press the seam allowance of the front crotch toward the left side (the flap side). Top stitch the front crotch.

The hardest part of the jeans project is over. Yay! Here’s what mine  look like (the zipper is unzipped, so it is not looking as nice–I should change that photo), and I am happy with them 🙂 I think the key to sewing jeans may be this: take your time, do each step carefully and slowly, paying attention to all those little details.

I’d love to hear what you think so far… did I skip something? Is something not as clear as it could be? Let me know. I want to make this as complete as possible.

Part 2 is here



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