girl-next-door jeans

Part 2

As promised, the follow-up to Wednesdays post with details on how I adjusted the Smooth Sailing trousers pattern to make jeans. Please note that I did not thoroughly document this process, and these are just the notes I took during the project. So if you want to do something similar, a familiarity with pattern adjustment (and plenty of pattern paper!) is recommended. Note too that any measurement adjustments made were for the size 14 in the pattern packet.

Referencing both pictures I had saved over time of 1940s and early 50s women’s jeans, as well as images in some of my magazines and catalogs from the period, I altered the pattern to fit the details I liked. What I wanted were jeans that had a slightly wider/straight leg, pocket detailing, and the side zipper placket that was common on women’s jeans of the era. Here’s a break down of the alterations I made to the WH pattern:

  • Tapered the inner leg slightly. On the front this was 1” at the hem and tapered to nothing at the crotch. On the back it was about 1 3/8” to nothing at the crotch. I didn’t want the legs quite as wide as the original pattern.
  • I adjusted the side seams to 3/4” rather than 1/2” to allow for adjustment as needed. These were then trimmed down (save for the left placket opening) to 1/2” for felling the seams.
  • I added pockets to the front hip by making a diagonal cut along the upper/outer hip for the pocket opening, and making facings and a hip piece. The facing was cut from scrap muslin, as was the bottom (hidden) portion of the hip piece. This reduced bulk over the upper hip. (Scroll down for photo of the muslin pocket facing.)
  • I added a yoke to the back hip but cutting off a portion that mimicked some of the hip yoke shapes on jeans of the era. The back has a dart, and I just closed the dart on the hip yoke and eliminated it. The back pants still had a short dart though for improved fit (darts are totally acceptable on 40s/50s women’s jeans).
  • I also added back patch pocket pieces, which I shaped based on a pair of my husband’s Levis!

The denim I used was originally purchased for a slipcover for my sofa (I used the leftover length for the jeans), so it was fairly heavy stuff. What I would term a medium weight denim—definitely the stuff you’re more likely to find in the home décor section of a fabric store. It is also 100% cotton and has absolutely no stretch, which is what I wanted! I always loved heavy, no-stretch jeans when I was a kid, and hated that I could never find a decent pair of jeans once manufacturers started used Lycra in denim. I was trying to make these jeans like the Real Jeans I remembered wearing when I was younger. Tough, somewhat stiff, and very hard wearing!

For thread I used regular thread in my bobbin and needle for seams that wouldn’t show. For the flat fell and topstitched seams, I used regular thread in my bobbin (white) and a heavy topstitching thread in the needle (gold). Of course, a jeans needle is a must for this project. I experimented a bit with a double needle for topstitching as well, but found the machine I was using (my computerized Kenmore) didn’t like working with the heavier thread in both needles. So I just did the double rows one at a time.

Construction was a bit tricky since I had to wing it and keep referencing what information I could find online. (Eventually I’d like to get my hands on this dvd, or the issues of Threads I have in storage at my parent’s house that have jeans sewing articles.) But the break down of steps:

  • Sew back darts, press and use clapper to flatten bulkiness.
  • Sew each half of the hip yoke to respective back pants pieces. Use flat fell seam.
  • Serge edges of patch pockets. Fold under 1/2” along top edge and top stitch (double line). Sew a decorative line of double topstitching along the lower 1/3. Fold remaining edges under 1/2”. Pin to back pieces using dart directions to orient placement, and topstitch in place.
  • Add pocket facing to front jeans pieces, top stitch. Attach pocket hip facing to denim hip piece. Sew both facings together (using serger) around the curved edge. Baste to waist and side seam.
  • Sew zipper along left side opening.
  • Baste jeans together along the legs and crotch seams, fit. Trim seams to 1/2”.
  • Flat fell seam the outer legs. Press using clapper to flatten bulkiness.
  • Flat fell seam the inner legs (this is where it got tricky, but doing the shorter seam second helped a lot! It would have been harder if I did the inner seams first and then the outer.) Press well with clapper.
  • Sew crotch seam and serge edge. False flat fell the seam on the outside with double rows of topstitching. (I did this to reduce bulk.)
  • Make belt loops (four total; two in front, two in back).
  • Sew belt loops at regular intervals around waistband.
  • Attach waistband. For the inside I just serged the long edge and “stitched in the ditch” to catch it from the outside. By not folding that raw edge under, I reduced the bulk at the waist.
  • Work buttonhole in waistband (front). Attach button to waistband (back).
  • Reinforce various stress-points on jeans. On modern jeans this is usually done with rivets, but I had noticed some of the women’s jeans from this era had stitching at these points, rather than rivets. I just used heavy thread in my needle and backstitched over these areas.
  • Hem pants legs. I waffled a bit about this, but decided to hem the legs long this time so I could cuff them to the correct length. Eventually I’ll probably make jeans that are hemmed at the correct length for me, so I can roll and cuff them further up the leg (like pedal pushers).

Some things I would change next time:

  • Adjust seams to 5/8” all around; 1/2” (standard on the pattern) is a bit too fiddly to work with—especially when doing flat fell seams.
  • Add 1” at the left hip opening for a proper zipper placket. Claire Schaeffer has instructions in her Fabric Sewing Guide (I have the 1989 edition—don’t know if these are included in the newest) on how t do a flat fell placket, but I totally forgot to cut the placket are with extra. As such, my zipper placket is a bit wonky (but works).
  • Reduce the waist a bit. I added a little extra room into the waist since I knew the denim would add bulk. Didn’t really need it though, and the waist is a bit big for me! Easy to remedy for now though.
  • Buy proper jeans buttons—the sort that are attached with a rivet. I just am not crazy about using a regular button. Or perhaps try an oversized snap?

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask! As I’ve said, this was my first foray into jeans-making, so I’m definitely not an expert. What I am is a crazy seamstress who just “goes with the flow” and tries not to overthink things! lol. (The key, I think, to some projects!) I’ll try my best to help with any queries…

October 14, 2011 · 32 lovely thoughts
posted in sewing · tags: , ,

Annie October 14, 2011 at 11:17

I can’t believe you made jeans. I’m so impressed!

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Rachel October 14, 2011 at 11:39

I think they turned out really well :) I would think a brass button might work in place of a regular jeans button if you prefer… I also love the idea you can use any kind of colour to topstitch :) Nice job!

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Harriet October 14, 2011 at 11:46

Seeing your jeans sparked a memory: When I started junior high in 1969 (!), we had to buy all these outdated gym clothes that the Phys Ed department at our public school had been requiring since who knows when (1940s, maybe?): cotton shorts with bloomers, white camp shirt, gray sweatshirt, white sneakers, and denim jeans just like these. I have no idea why — I don’t remember wearing the jeans in class. We also had to embroider our names on everything with red thread; most of the girls had the store do it in fancy script (some athletic supply place downtown that I’m sure is long gone), but I did my own crooked hand embroidery. I kept my jeans for a while after that, but they were so completely out of style — this was the era of bell-bottoms, remember — that they eventually were thrown out or given away.

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Claire (aka Seemane) October 14, 2011 at 11:58

Great post Casey – thank you (bookmarked for when I get around to making jeans one day) :)

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puppyloveprincess October 14, 2011 at 12:08

you’re such a great seamstress! i’m bookmarking the jean tutorials for someday when my skills improve.

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Annabelle October 14, 2011 at 12:17

So I have a question that is not specific to your jeans, but seam finshes from the 40′s and 50′s. Do you know what the popular methods of finishing seams were (when they usually permitted 1/2″ allowance)? Were they unfinished, overlocked, french seamed, faux french, ect? For my next project, I want to reflect the finishes appropriate to the period, but I have no idea what they were or how to research it. If you know that answer, that would be amazing!

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Casey October 20, 2011 at 09:53

Great question, Annabelle! The most popular and recommended seam finishes I’ve seen in all my 40s era sewing books are usually a pinked or hand overcast finish. For heavier fabrics pressing under the raw edge and straight stitching, or binding the edge (usually with rayon seam binding) is permissible. French seams were popular for sheer or fine fabrics (especially on lingerie). However, the majority of 40s dresses I own (both factory and homemade) seem to favor the pinked or no seam finish approaches!

♥ Casey

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Tasha October 14, 2011 at 12:33

Really ingenious! I’m so impressed with the details in the alterations you underwent to make such a drastic looking transformation in the pattern. And in the end you have the most fabulous pair of jeans! I don’t know that I’ll ever get to the point where I can even think about taking on such an adventure, but I’m certainly bookmarking this for future food for thought!

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Gail Ann Thompson October 14, 2011 at 13:29

What a GREAT JOB!!!
I remember back in the ’80′s ~ when the so-called “Designer Jeans” were all the rage and cost a fortune ~ My sister (who really doesn’t enjoy sewing ~ although she IS very ‘workmanlike’ about it) made a perfect pair of jeans from a Vogue pattern. That is the most impressed I’ve ever been…. ’till now.

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Lisa October 14, 2011 at 13:43

I know you don’t make pants very often but do you have any advice on fitting the seat? I find that my pants usually look good EITHER standing OR sitting. NEVER BOTH. I can get them comfortable, they just don’t look right. Since yours fit perfectly – any advice would be appreciated.

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Debi October 14, 2011 at 14:17

Fabulous reference, Casey! Thanks so much for this informative post!! I absolutely adore your jeans!!

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MB@YarnUiPhoneAppv1.8 October 14, 2011 at 14:40

Casey, did you use a hammer at all to flatten out any your thick layers of fabric? The sewers over at Patternreview seem to talk about how essential the hammer is for sewing jeans. As for rivets…I’m not big on them…They pop out! Better to use an eyelet foot and make an eyelets…those won’t fall out!

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Casey October 20, 2011 at 09:54

I didn’t have to resort to a hammer; my clapper (heavy! It’s vintage and heavier than most I’ve seen in shops nowadays) seemed to do the trick. But if I was working with a slightly heavier denim, I probably would have. ;)

♥ Casey

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Anna Dorthea January 16, 2012 at 07:50

About the hammer-on-jeans-issue: Always use a rubber-hammer, on denim as well as leather!! (not sure that’s the proper term, as english is my second language, but I hope you get my point) Regular hammers sometimes make visible marks on the fabric. I think it would be such a shame with ugly hammer-marks on new home-sewn jeans! :-)

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stars October 14, 2011 at 15:36

I did the same thing.My denim was so heavy I had an awful time of it.I wish I had a clapper that would have been wonderful.My sewing machine wasn’t really strong enough,it had a total moment on the belt loops and in the end I attached them by hand after they broke 3 needles and made my machine make funny noises:)I promptly lost 30kg(65lb) so they don’t fit at all but I probably have enough denim to do another pair if I can get my courage up.

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jessica October 14, 2011 at 18:51

hey casey I really loved the way you did your hair in those last pictures, do you have a picture that shows it better , closer maybe? or could you make a tutorial? it would be very helpful cause I love wearing my hair up with chopsticks

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Casey October 20, 2011 at 09:56

Don’t have any better pictures, unfortunately, but I am thinking of doing a tutorial post-move and getting settled. ;) But in a nutshell: it’s “next day” curls, just piled up and clipped in place (I love those mini jaw clips to do this sort of style, since I have thick hair most pins don’t hold things up!), and then the pencils inserted for effect. ;)

♥ Casey

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Isis October 15, 2011 at 06:31

Very impressive!

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KatyDidStitches October 15, 2011 at 08:12

Very inspiring, Casey. I’ve been entertaining the idea of making jeans myself…as I have a HUGE problem with length. If I want to wear heels, I need a 36″ inseam! After reading your post, I think I might actually be able to do it!

Kathy

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mala_14 October 15, 2011 at 12:07

Very interesting! Thanks for showing the details. I did have a question though: Did you find that the zipper interfered with the pocket at all? In my never-ending desire to put pockets in everything, having slash pockets with a side zipper hasn’t been something that I can wrap my head around.

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Casey October 20, 2011 at 09:57

Nope, it didn’t at all! I just sewed the pocket facing and hip piece to the front prior to inserting the zipper and it didn’t pose a problem. :)

♥ Casey

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Lauren October 15, 2011 at 16:58

Wonderful job, Casey!
What method did you use to get rid of the front pleat?

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Casey October 20, 2011 at 09:57

I just folded out the pleat from the waist to hem; I found that helped reduce the extra width I wanted to eliminate too! :)

♥ Casey

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Klara October 17, 2011 at 09:25

you did a really nice job! i like theoutfit and cut of these jeans so much. i want them, it seems to be very comfortable. how much time did it take to make it ready?

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Casey October 20, 2011 at 09:58

I think these took me about two weeks to make; mostly because it was broken up over a series of evenings and weekends! :)

♥ Casey

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Tanit-Isis October 17, 2011 at 11:42

They look fab and your topstitching is gorgeous—I’ve never had much luck with double-needle on denim, either.

For regular jeans instructions online I would personally go with the Jalie 2908 pattern (instructions are available as a pdf from their website without buying the pattern, but they don’t include flat-felling the seams) or the Male Pattern Boldness Jeans Sewalong from last spring. But both of these are for front-fly jeans, so I imagine your construction would be a bit different..

Happy wearing! :)

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Casey October 20, 2011 at 09:59

Thanks for the tip about the Jalie PDF!!! I referred to Peter’s sew-along quite a bit for sewing, but will definitely check out the Jalie instructions for future jeans. ;)

♥ Casey

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Aya October 18, 2011 at 01:51

You might have changed somethings, but I am still in shock that you made jeans. JEANS, woman!!!

Aya ♥ Strawberry Koi

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Sewing Princess October 18, 2011 at 03:56

Lovely result. I am also starting to make my first pair of jeans…so these construction tips come in handy. Thanks for sharing.

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Shannon August 21, 2012 at 10:37

I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your website. I suffer from severe chronic pain. When I was 16 I was accepted into FIDM in S.F. They wanted me to get my G.E.D. and go. My mother of course was not crazy about the idea of allowing her 16yr old living alone in S.F. and for that matter neither was I. I was too scared. So it became the road not traveled. Instead I went into the field of working with special needs children in my local school system, while working on getting my teaching degree. But my body slowly deteriorated and my world and what I could do started to get smaller and smaller. I am now 34yrs old, living in my parents home, w/o a family of my own, or a career. People have asked this year how I have managed to emotionally survived… I’ve tapped back into my creative side. Beautiful people like yourself who offer free patterns and tutorials are my saving grace. I don’t tell you this to feel sorry or pity for me. I accept it. But for you to know the impact that you are making on others by giving back. Sometimes a small pebble thrown into a lake makes a big ripple.

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leslie August 2, 2013 at 01:39

hi i was wondering how you got to sew the inner part of the pants did you roll them up as you went?

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