Hard-wearing and hard-working, yes that describes sewing denim. But is it hard to sew? The answer is no, not really. If you take note of some tried and trusted sewing denim tips, you will find denim a really rewarding and durable fabric to sew.
Sewing Denim Tutorial
This tutorial will show you the correct needles, threads and techniques you need to sew denim.
Denim has been around for over 100 years. Originally from De Nimes in France, where it got its name, it was made popular by Levi Strauss for work clothes during the American gold rush.
The traditional blue color that fades is what everyone associates with denim, but this type of strong cloth can come in many colors and patterns. There are many types of denim including chambray, raw denim, and colored denim but what they all have in common is that they are made from thicker cotton fibers. It has diagonal, parallel woven lines, making it a type of twill fabric.
Sewing Denim Supplies
What is the best needle to use for sewing denim?
Make sure your sewing needle size and type are suited to sewing denim. Universal, Singer, Klass, and Schmetz are manufacturers of denim needles that are stronger and sharper for piercing heavy denim.
Here are some suggested needle sizes for denim weights:
- Chambray or lightweight denim - 80/12
- Medium denim - 90/14
- Thicker denim - 100/16
What is the best thread to use for sewing denim?
Choose the correct strength of thread for the seams. Use a strong polyester type of sewing thread in a quality brand such as Rasant, Coats and Clark or Gutterman.
You can buy specialized polyester thread for jeans but not all machines like sewing denim with thicker threads. I find it hard to get nice even stitching using a thick thread so I prefer using a thinner but strong thread.
If you use a thicker thread, use a regular thread in the bobbin.
It is possible to sew with a double thread if you thread the machine with a spool and a bobbin thread together and bring them through all the points of the machine and out at the end through the needle together. That will give you a double thread on the top of the fabric and a single thread below coming from the bobbin.
What is the best sewing machine to use for sewing denim?
If you are just sewing denim which is lightweight then your regular sewing machine with the right needles, thread, and technique will do a great job.
But if you will be sewing denim regularly or sewing heavy denim, then consider purchasing a heavy-duty sewing machine with a strong interior frame and a more powerful motor. Singer makes some nice heavy-duty machines with metal interiors.
Sewing Denim Step by Step Instructions
1. Choose the Right Pattern
Before you begin, it is important to assess your denim fabric type so you can match the right sewing pattern as well as needles, thread, and machine settings.
Check the weight of your fabric: Denim comes in different weights from light chambray to heavy, dark denim. The basic strong cotton twill can be over-dyed, stone-washed, made to stretch, and even given a poly/cotton feel, so there are lots of choices to be made.
Check the width: It is also important to check the width of the fabric as sometimes denim is not as wide as you may be used to. This means you may not be able to copy the cutting layout from the pattern or you may need more fabric to complete your project.
Pattern choice is very important with sewing denim. It is wise to make sure the pattern design is suitable for the strong feel of the denim cloth. The Maisie cape and the Famke skirt are good examples of patterns suited to denim. Generally, simple patterns with limited gathering or fullness are best for sewing denim.
Great Treasurie Patterns you can practice sewing denim:
Always pre-wash before sewing denim fabrics. Whatever the weight of your denim fabric, it needs to be pre-washed to check for colorfastness and for shrinking.
It is advisable with really dark denim to wash twice. Giving denim a soak in vinegar and warm water can also help with the colorfast process.
3. Cutting Denim Fabric
- Use sharp sewing scissors or a rotary cutter and a cutting mat.
- Pay attention to the grain of the fabric. If your denim is cut off grain you risk it twisting when the garment is worn. Ensure the nap all face the same direction.
- Use really sharp, strong pins to prevent the denim from slipping.
- Mark with white or yellow tailor's chalk.
- If your fabric frays a lot you may have to zigzag or serge the edges straight away just to prevent fraying. Sometimes cutting may be difficult if the fabric is really thick and you will need to cut each piece separately instead of having the fabric folded. Careful planning will be necessary and you must remember to flip the pattern to get the opposites cut.
- Cut one piece at a time for heavyweight denim. Don't forget to flip your pattern for mirrored pieces.
Further Reading: How to fray fabric, how to stop fabric fraying.
Now on to how to sew denim!
4. How to Sew Denim
Machine settings for sewing denim
Change your stitch length and experiment on a scrap to see how the stitch works with your weight of denim. Use a longer stitch length. Usually you will sew lighter cottons with a length of 2.5. Test a scrap of denim with a 3.0 stitch length.
It is really worthwhile to test the fabric, needle, and thread together as you gain confidence in sewing denim and learn how to sew denim.
After testing, determine if you need to adjust your sewing machine tension. It is common to need a higher tension with thicker threads.
Sewing Denim Process
- SEAMS - When sewing denim, choose a seam that suits the style and weight of the denim you are using. It could be a graded seam or a bound seam or a flat fell seam. Lengthen the stitch to 3.0.
- SEAM FINISH - Use a serger finish or a flat felled seam for strengthened straight seams.
- DECORATIVE STITCHING - Top stitching on the outside is very effective but you will need the right cotton for that effect and may need to change your needle for one with a bigger eye. Going over seams twice will add strength to the garment. Use a topstitching thread or upholstery thread which is strengthened and thicker.
- PRESSING - It is vital to press the fabric a lot as you sew denim. Press with a steam iron to really get the seams flattened. This will make all the difference to the finished garment.
- HAND TURNING - If the denim is really thick it is advisable to turn the wheel of the machine by hand and guide the needle over the tough spots. Then you can guide the fabric and prevent slipping and needle-breaking by holding the fabric as you guide it through the machine at the front and the back.
- FACINGS - Another tip for the thicker parts of the garment is to cut the facings out of a lighter fabric. This way they sit better on the edge of the neckline or sleeve edge and are not so bulky to sew. (How to sew facings)
- PRESSER FEET - Finally, check your machine can cope with the extra weight of sewing denim. It needs to have a strong metal frame. There are also different foot options like the jean’s presser foot, walking foot or a roller foot. If you are going to sew a lot of denim this could be a great option to help the sewing process.
Sewing Denim - In Conclusion
Denim is versatile too. It is not limited to the practical work-clothes and durable dungarees originally created using this hardwearing fabric.
Denim has been bedazzled, trimmed, and turned into all kinds of creative things. Bags, hats, shoes, and clothing just to mention a few. Sewing denim lends itself to being recycled in many different ways. There is no end to the ideas for the denim sleeve of a jacket or the transformation of an old pair of jeans. It has to be the fabric that keeps reinventing itself and in so doing becomes true to the saying:
Something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue.
Sewing Denim….old but making things that are new, borrowed for its durable designs and definitely blue.
Learn How to Sew with More Fabrics
Now you know all about sewing denim, check out these other fabrics listed alphabetically.
- CHIFFON – Sewing Chiffon
- BATIK – What is Batik
- CANVAS – Sewing Canvas
- COTTON – Sewing Cotton
- DENIM – Sewing Denim
- FELT – Sewing Felt
- FUR – Sewing Fur
- KNITS – How to Sew Stretch Fabric
- INTERFACING – Types of Interfacing
- LACE – How to Sew Lace
- LEATHER – Sewing Leather
- RAYON – Sewing Rayon
- SHEER – Sewing Sheer Fabrics
- SILK – How to Sew Silk
- THICK – Sewing Thick Fabrics
- VELVET Sewing Velvet
- WOOL – Sewing Wool
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