Sewalongs

GINGER SEWALONG PT 1: SOURCING DENIM

I truly believe jeans get an unfair rep for being “scary” to make. The reality is, if you can sew a straight line, you can make jeans. You don’t need a fancy machine or years of experience and chances are you already have a lot of what you need to get started.

Today I want to go over sourcing denim for your Ginger Jeans, and I’ll be back tomorrow with information on additional supplies. The actual sewalong will start next week, so you’ll have time to get everything together before we jump into the wide world of DIY denim.

JEANS HISTORY

Jeans have a fascinating origin. They were invented by Levi Strauss during the California Gold Rush in the 19th century. He was an entrepreneurial genius – he saw the need for durable, rugged work wear that could withstand the rigors of gold mining, and developed most of the typical details we equate with jeans; metal rivets, functional pockets, durable topstitching and bar tacks at areas that see a lot of stress. The first jeans were made from a cotton canvas called “serge de Nîmes” which Strauss imported from France and dyed a deep indigo (de Nîmes = denim, get it?)

Even after the Gold Rush ended, jeans remained a part of the American lexicon – they became the uniform of cowboys and working men, a symbol of sweat and hard work. It wasn’t until the 1950’s that jeans came to signify something else; with the advent of youth culture and rock and roll, jeans became rebellious. Wearing a pair was a way to subvert the conformity expected at the time. It was the fashion choice of beatniks, punks, musicians and later, hippies and feminists.

Over time, jeans have become an irrevocable part of American fashion. I would argue that they may be the most iconic stylistic innovation to ever emerge from the US, and they are now worn every day by every imaginable sector of society. They are no longer a symbol of non-conformity, but they are still one of the most functional and stylish articles of clothing we can choose to put on in the morning.

In the late 70’s, a designer named Peter Golding started blending denim with lycra. Adding stretch to denim made it possible to create a much tighter, more body conscious fit, and his innovation sparked a revolution in denim that eventually led to jeggings, which is a boon or a bane depending on your point of view. Most women’s jeans now include some degree of lycra, which is what we’ll be looking for when sourcing fabric for our Ginger Jeans.

DENIM

Ginger Jeans Pattern_Denim

You can make your Gingers from any stretch woven fabric – if it contains lycra it will work, although a higher percentage of lycra means you will likely have to go down a size. I am going to focus on actual denim since it’s become a bit of an obsession of mine over the past few months.

Any stretch denim will work for this pattern. Two percent lycra is the ideal ratio. One percent will work as well, although they may not have quite as much give. I’ve also made pairs with upwards of 10% lycra, although I had to go down a size or two in the hips and legs. You’re looking for denim that has approximately 15-20% crosswise stretch – if it has more or less you will likely be modifying the sizing. Although most of us generally dislike polyester, seeing it in denim is actually not a bad thing. It helps prevent it from stretching out too much with wear.

Here’s the thing about denim; it stretches out. It just does. It’s in the nature of the twill weave to relax over time. You can get around it a little by sourcing really high quality denim which will stretch less, but no pair of jeans, no matter what it’s made of, will look exactly the same 12 hours after you started wearing them. If you want a super snug fit, make a size smaller. The waistband should be snug without creating crazy muffin top, and the denim should be skintight. These will relax over the day into a more natural fit. The Ginger Jeans run on the generous side to accommodate as many bodies and types of denim available, but going down a size is suggested if you want to minimize stretching.

When sourcing your denim, some retailers will list the weight of denim. I suggest using 7-12 oz denim for your Gingers. Lighter, drapier denims should only be used for the skinny leg version – you want something with a little more heft if you are making the stovepipe leg. Anything over 12oz may be too thick for this pattern – since the cut is so closefitting, you want to be able to move around!

Whatever you use, if it’s your first time making the pattern I highly suggest making a muslin. Ordering a few extra yards for this purpose is wise.

UNDERSTANDING DENIM WEAVE

Traditional fabric is woven using a 1×1 ratio, which means there is one weft for every warp thread. Denim twill uses a 2×1 or 3×1 ratio, which means there are more warp threads for every weft thread (generally the 3×1 is for denim above 10.5oz ). The weave is staggered to create the diagonal pattern you probably equate with denim.

The most common weave is Right Hand Twill. This creates a diagonal pattern that starts in the bottom left and moves up to the top right. Less common is Left Hand Twill, where the diagonal starts in the bottom right and moves up to the top left of the fabric.

If you come upon a denim that doesn’t have this diagonal pattern, it is called broken twill. The diagonal threads alternate to create a zig zag pattern. Why is this important? Broken twill was developed to prevent leg twist. While there are ways to cut your pieces to minimize this phenomenon with traditional denim, a broken twill will not twist around your leg since it doesn’t have the mechanical weave pulling it in any one particular direction.

denim weave types-understanding twill

Occasionally you may come across the term “slub” denim. This means that the warp thread is not an even thickness throughout, and creates a textured finish in the denim.

Most commercially available denim comes undistressed – if you want to add some dimension to your jeans you’ll have to do it yourself. I’ll be covering this in the sewalong!

SOURCING DENIM

The best quality denim in the world comes from Japan, Italy and the US. Unfortunately, most fabric stores don’t list the source but smaller retailers may be able to tell you where their denim comes from. If you can’t identify where it comes from, I wouldn’t lose too much sleep over it. Try to find something that has decent recovery and you should be okay. If you can get your hands on the denim in person, try tugging and pulling on it. If it more or less springs back to it’s original shape, it means the recovery is good. Cheaper quality denim is likely to bag out at the knee and may stretch with wear. If this is what you’re working with, you may want to go down a size in anticipation.

NORTH AMERICAN SOURCES FOR DENIM

Mood does not label the lycra/cotton content with percentages, but they carry top-quality fabric so I think they are are a good bet (I’ve heard great things about their Theory denim). Order swatches if you’re afraid to commit.

Girl Charlee has started carrying stretch denim. All of their current stock is from a designer close-out so I’m assuming the quality is quite good (it’s made in the US), and they even have a true black denim which is surprisingly hard to source!

Joann.com – coloured and printed denim.

Fabric.com –  great selection of  printed and coloured denim. I’ve heard the quality is inconsistent.

Marcy Tilton – lovely designer denim but you have to kind of dig around the site to find it.

Emma One Sock – designer and print denims. Some coloured denim I haven’t seen anywhere else.

Also:

INTERNATIONAL DENIM SOURCES

CARING FOR DENIM

You definitely want to pre-wash your denim before you cut out your pieces. You want to remove the chemical sizing and soften up the fabric – it’s often quite stiff off the roll.  If you plan on putting your finished jeans in the dryer, you should dry your denim to pre-shrink them as much as possible BUT…. keep in mind that heat is the enemy of lycra. If you want your jeans to last as long as possible, you should air dry them whenever possible.

Wash the raw denim with a cup of vinegar to prevent bleeding. You should also add vinegar to each wash for your completed pairs. And ix-nay on the fabric softener – it’s really hard on the lycra. If you want to preserve the dye, try not to wash them too frequently and when you do, turn them inside out. I try to get at least 4 wears out of my jeans before washing them. If you want to be really hardcore about it, you can throw them in the freezer whenever they get stinky.

Finally, I read an interview with a Levi’s designer who said she put baby oil on her legs every time she wore her jeans. It apparently gives them a sheen over time – something to try!


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  • Thanks for the info Heather! I love that printed denim in your photo! Can’t wait to make these!

    • Yeah that stuff was pretty great! It was just MEGA stretchy and they came out a little too big… still have to go back and take them in a bit.

  • Even though I’m not making a pair of Gingers (yet), I enjoyed this post, especially about the twill weave. Twisting/warping is a bitch with both knits and denim fabrics!

    • Tell me about it. I made some leggings this week and they were twisted, sister.

  • Kieran

    Could you use a denim heavier than 12oz instead of going down a size? Or would that just not work?

    • You can use a heavier denim… I just haven’t made them with anything heavier than 12oz so I can’t speak from experience. I made a 12oz skinny pair and they were a little restricting around the knees – I think the stovepipe leg is better suited for heavier weights.

  • AuntyMaimu

    Only 4 wears?! I havent washed my non stretch jeans I made this summer nor the first pair of Ginger… the less you wash the better! Also – no fabric softener! That will kill the stretch in your jeans in no time since ot will relax the fuzzy stretch too much.

    Uuu true black stretch denim! 😀

    • I generally wear them for longer too… depends on what i spill on them, haha. Good call on the fabric softener! Adding it to the post.

    • Angela

      Wow, I’m learning so much! How am I this old and didn’t know that fabric softener was a no-no for jeans? So, when they do get washed – just air dry? Aren’t they hard then?

      • They soften up after a few minutes, but you could always just tumble dry with no heat too….

  • Elizabeth Bradford

    Thank you for thinking of your readers outside of north america (that includes Canada right?) but I think Truro Fabrics is UK not AUS 🙂 I’m jealous because there is a gorgeous bright blue denim on their page – and $14 a meter would be pretty cheap!

    • I will update that straight away – thanks Elizabeth!

  • This is such great info!
    If you are anywhere near the Twin Cities, head out to S.R. Harris in Brooklyn Park, MN, they always have a great selection of denim, and I think it’s mostly designer mill-ends. (Unfortunately, be warned that they don’t label stuff very well,) (Also if you haven’t been to S.R. Harris, find a way to go, it is by far that most insane fabric store I have ever seen.)

    • WHY DON’T THEY HAVE AN ONLINE STORE?!?!? WHYYYYY?

      • If you ever get a chance to go, you will understand why… It is a 10,000 square foot warehouse, with bolts of every imaginable variety literally piled to the ceiling, and I’ve never seen more than maybe five people working at once (you even cut your own fabric on the honor system). It feels like there is a near-constant risk of getting crushed by a falling bolt. It’s pretty hard to imagine the owners of the fabulous madhouse running an online store.

  • jtsews

    Do any Australians know if M.Recht only a wholesaler. I can’t quite tell from their website. Wholesalers are generally quite explicit about it.

  • I just ordered enough fabric for 3 pairs of jeans. Yay!

    • YA GIRL! Getting your Ginger on!

      • Considering that I only own one pair of jeans right now and ordered your kit – I’ll be swimming in jeans very soon.

        • Angela

          Sounds like me! I’ve got fabric, ready to sew!

  • sallieforrer

    This is such great information! I especially love all the historic background and info about the denim weave. Also, Nick’s been freezing his jeans every week or so, and it really does work to get the stank out! Only washes them if he spills something on them…

  • Here’s a tip I recently discovered for pre-washing denim (or other fabric): Sew the cut ends together (to make it into a tube) before washing and drying. You have way less problems with wrinkling, permanent fade marks, and twisting in the wash. I used to hate how the ends of my denim would get permanently creased in the wash – but this way there are no ends!

    • This is a great tip!

    • Angela

      I will try this – I washed denim awhile back and it ended up with some of those permanent creases, very frustrating.

    • I used your tip, thanks!!

  • Rachel

    I never knew that about broken twill – thank you!

  • Angela

    Learn something every day… I had never heard of broken twill vs right-hand twill. I just assumed all denim was right-hand twill….. so if we buy online then we have no way of knowing if it is broken twill or not?

    I’m trying to get this idea of freezing jeans to “get rid of the stink”.. how long are they in the freezer?

  • Can you vouch for the quality of the denim at Joann? I almost jumped when they had a sale but wasn’t sure. It looks nice to me and is my only local option.

    • No idea Ashley! It’s hard to say without seeing t in person, but go for it if that’s what you’ve got access to!

    • vaxtorino

      The colored (“fashion”) denims tend to bag out after just an hour or two of wear – not in the way that Heather mentions, but in the way where it just totally stretches out of shape and stays that way until you throw it in the dryer or wash it. I’m kind of assuming this is the same way with a lot of the printed ones as well, plus a lot of them feel way too thin to be decent pants. The regular looking denim with lycra in it feels like it’d be a little more stable, but I haven’t used that one to be 100% sure. (source: I work at one!)

  • Elizabeth Cadorette

    Just wanted to jump in and say I’ve had good luck so far with Pacific Blue Denims (dot com); they carry seemingly every-dang-thing, and will send free or limited-shipping-costs-only packets of swatches if you’re like me and need pieces of nearly everything they carry. Ahem. 🙂

    Anyway they have Cone Mills and another US supplier, Japanese selvedge denim, specialty ones, etc, and nearly everything they carry seems to be available by the cut yardage. (the site product listings tell you if they have a yardage requirement, but so far as I can tell this is an exception, not the rule)

    I’m not affiliated with them in any way, I just love the resource & wanted to share it. 🙂

    • peggyleven

      They appear to be wholesale only? Is there a way to order from them if you’re not a manufacturer?

  • sarah

    Ooo we have some, too! :D:D shop.greysfabric.com

  • Thanks for all the information! Do you have any recommendations for places to buy denim in Montreal, without ordering online?

    • I would try Tissue Marina, Goodman’s or Globe-Tex on Chabanal!

  • Hey Heather, thank you for all the information you’ve shared here! While I will continue to dig around and check the stores you’ve listed here that I’ve not already visited, I thought I’d ask, do you recall seeing any light colored denims as you’ve researched? I know dark denim is all the rage, and it’s what I prefer too, but my husband won’t give up his light colored jeans. I’ve been searching for denim to make him pants too, and I’ve come up short. Seeing as you’ve been immersed in denim of late, I thought it couldn’t hurt to ask an expert 😉 Thx!

    • I hear you! Light coloured is almost impossible to find these days – I looked around a lot. One of my UK sources in the list above did have some light stuff if I’m not mistaken, but even my wholesaler didn’t carry a lot of it!

  • Kim

    What are your thoughts on making a pair of “raw jeans” with the selvedge as the outer seam? How does the sizing work and how to adapt the pattern? Would love a tutorial if possible! Thanks much!! Loving this new pattern.

    • Hi Kim. This pattern had negative ease. It’s really not designed for non-stretch fabrics. I think it might be possible to go up a few sizes at the hip/legs but not sure off the top of my head what the crotch curve would have to do… If you have a slim legged pattern for non-stretch fabric you may be able to merge the two.

  • Loved reading about the weaves & history. Very informative post. Thank you!!

  • Kathryn

    For those in the UK, a source of organic denim with 5% lycra is Organic Textile Company. My sample has a 25% stretch and I’d describe it as a medium weight. OTC describe it as black but as it has white weft threads and it looks more like a dark indigo to me. I’ve bought denim from Emma One Sock and Mood but the organic denim has the nicest weight and stretch so far so I’m going to be going with this for my gingers. Customer service from these guys is really good as well.
    http://www.organiccotton.biz/store/index.php?route=product/product&path=206&product_id=896

  • Charlotte

    Loved this post. I’ve just received my black denim fabric for my first pair of Ginger Jeans! Excited. Just thought I’d double check about pre-washing: do you put the fabric directly in the washing machine with a cup of vinegar? I assume on a cold wash? Thanks!

  • Robin Latour

    Hi Heather, I just got the Ginger pattern the other day (yay! at last!) and i was wondering if you can suggest a fabric for a muslin? IS there anything you would use to get the fit right without using a nice denim?
    Thanks!

    • You don’t have to use denim but you should use something with stretch – stretch twill or sateen will work! Just note that every fabric behaves a little differently so you’ll still want to baste up your denim pair before topstitching.

  • Amanda

    I’m in my research phase for making these, and I have a question I hope you can answer. From my cheap Forever 21 jeans to my more expensive Joes Jeans I have issues. All but one pair have horrible back pocket placement for my small bummed self. Though the one main issue I have will ALL of them is that they look and feel great at first then bag out after an hour, look saggy, and I end up pulling them up all day or having to wear a belt. A belt doesn’t look good with a saggy, bagged out bum.

    What’s the deal with that? Should I be looking for a crazy right fit at first that relaxes into something more comfortable?

    • Hi Amanda. Bagging is generally an indication of cheap denim. maybe try making a small bum adjustment? Its covered in the fitting section of the sewalong. That might take some of the excess out and help reduce bagging.

      • Amanda B

        I figured that, but it’s happening with my expensive jeans as well. It sucks when you begin to feel slighted by these clothing companies charging a ton of money for cheaply made clothes. Not a single felled seam among them.

        When I do my basting fit, should I look for a slightly overly tight fit?

        • I wouldn’t say “overly” tight. You don’t want to overstretch the lycra fibers. Snug. You’re looking for snug. This pattern is good for people with bums, so I think straightening out that saddle again as I described in that fit adjustment will def help!

          • Amanda B

            Thanks for your help!

  • Hi Heather the denim expert! How many times should one be pre-washing the stretch denims & 100% cotton denims?

    I’ve read you’re suppose to pre-wash & dry 3 times. Is that really necessary? If I plan on washing finished jeans in luke-warm water (30°C/86°F) & air dry, can I get away with just 1 round of pre-wash & air dry? I’d like to conserve water & energy if possible.

    Thanks in advance for your advice!

    • As long as you never plan to put your jeans in the dryer, one wash should be good, but I would dry the yardage at least once.