‘Sup, Britches

[More than a year later, here’s my post on handmade jeans]

When I told my mother what I was working on for the Albuquerque trip (a pair of jeans), she shook her head and said “That’s something I don’t think I could ever make.” Which surprises me, really, as I know Mom used to make a good deal of her own clothing when she was younger. In fact, she made my prom dress back in my senior year of high school (and flawlessly stitched in an invisible zipper, on very delicate fabric, without the benefit of an invisible zipper foot).

I suppose I should understand her wariness. Sewing jeans scares a lot of people. I think it’s largely tied to the fact that buying jeans has become such an ordeal, fraught with issues of body acceptance and commercial cost. Let’s face it: finding the perfect-fitting pair of jeans is like looking for the Holy Grail…only you’re probably more likely to turn into a withered husk of a person before you find a pair you like.

This pair is far too tight!

And then, if you happen to beat the odds and find a pair that meets your style requirements and fits…either it’s way out of your budget, the fabric is so thin it’s going to wear out in about 3 months, or – more likely – both.

I have a tremendously difficult time finding jeans that I love. There is a 14″ difference between my waist and hip measurement, and my backside is…let’s just say “generous.” For whatever reason, most stores seem to carry only low-rise jeans in my size, which leaves the rearside of me a bit drafty, shall we say? To the point where at least four inches of my underwear will be revealed. Not a look I’m going for.

Luckily for me, I know how to sew AND Cashmerette released a new jeans pattern in 2018.

I have been having such wonderful success with Cashmerette patterns to date – to the point that most of the selfish sewing I have done in the past nine months has been with those patterns. So, when the jeans pattern was released — with the ability to choose between pear and apple shapes and skinny or straight legs! — I immediately went to Stitch and picked up a copy.

I then sat on the pattern for three and a half months. More because I’m lazy than because I was intimidated.

Normally, I go ahead and cut out the pattern pieces (I cut them out in a way that preserves all the sizes, so that’s not as scary as it might sound), and will trace a separate pattern if I need to make alterations (or if the pattern pieces are particularly fiddly). This time around, though, because of the nature of the mix-and-match pattern pieces, I made the decision to trace everything from the get-go. I chose the pear pelvis and skinny legs to start with and got to work. It didn’t take too long to trace everything off and assemble the leg patterns – definitely not long enough to justify my being so lazy.

An oh-so-60’s floral for my pockets and waistband lining

I had about three yards of denim in my stash already, but the Ames jeans specifically call for denim with at least 2% lycra stretch and I was unsure whether the denim I had on hand was stretchy enough. Since this was my first run at the pattern, and I knew the pattern was developed with negative ease, I decided to err on the side of caution and buy new fabric that I knew had plenty of stretch, and that I also wasn’t as in love with, so I wouldn’t be as disheartened if I failed in dramatic fashion.

The pattern includes a pocket lining and facing, as well as the option to use something other than denim for the waistband lining, so I was able to utilize some fabric from stash.

[I’ve had this fabric in stash for at least 8 years. It was a little less than half a yard, part of a package of odds and ends I won in a contest on a blog that I can’t remember. I’ve also got about a yard of similar cotton lawn with a large blue hibiscus print, that I plan to utilize in something for our Hawaii trip]

I also had a spare 7″ zipper I had salvaged from an old pair of jeans years ago, as well as some jeans buttons that had come in a repair kit I’d had for a few years…so this project partially fits into my Make Nine 2018 goal of “making from stash”.

The first half of the pants – complete with front fly zipper – went together extremely quickly and with relatively few problems. In fact, the only problem I had was when I sewed the pocket facing pieces together incorrectly – entirely because I was working merrily along and didn’t check the instructions as closely as I should have. 10 minutes with a seam ripper, and I was back on track.

One of the things that has kept me from making pants left and right up to now (apart from the trickiness of fitting and my afore-mentioned laziness) is the task of sewing in zippers – particularly the front fly zipper set-up that define jeans. If that’s been one of the things keeping you from jumping into pants-making…this is the pattern for you! The instructions for sewing in the zipper are the best I have ever come across. That is no joke. I made a pair of pants for Robert last year, and the thing that took the longest was figuring out what those instructions were trying to tell me. No such problem this time around.

Plus! Jenny from Cashmerette has a tutorial online for sewing a front fly (this is also how I made sure I had finally sewn the dang pocket pieces together correctly!). I imagine you can utilize this tutorial for other pants patterns that are set up similarly.

The front of my pants were finished the first night. I went ahead and bound the edge of the zipper shield (where it meets the right-hand side of the fly front), as well as the left-hand side of the fly front, making them look all purdy in their glorious 60’s floral garishness.

Every pair of jeans needs a Wonder Woman logo on the back pocket.

The back of the pants came together the next night – with another setback, again because I wasn’t paying close enough attention while stitching on the yoke and mixed up the left and right yoke, sewing them both to the wrong back leg pieces…something I didn’t catch until after I had already sewn both yokes, and finished the raw edges of the seam allowance with a zigzag stitch, AND completed both lines of top stitching.

Lesson: PAY ATTENTION to what you are doing, and not the rerun Harry Potter marathon on television.

That was the last actual mistake I made with the construction, I am happy to say, but it wasn’t the end of my project woes. Well, not really woes…

I finished the jeans, put in the button (I ended up having to use a second, as I bent the back piece of the first try), and immediately ran to put them on. The zipper I used is…not great. Which is to be expected, I suppose, from a pair that was salvaged from an old pair of JNCO-esque jeans from the mid-90’s.

[Side note: those had been my sister’s jeans, as I had never embraced the JNCO look. Also, you will note I said “JNCO-esque.” I can’t remember what company they were from, but I do know they were way off-off-brand, as there’s no way we could have afforded actual JNCOs at the height of their popularity. Ah, the 90’s were an interesting time for fashion.]

The biggest problem with my finished product, though, was the sizing. The pants fit terrific through the butt and hip (though I still felt like I needed at least an inch of height on the yoke), but were far too baggy and loose around the thigh and through the leg. Even though I had chosen the skinny leg version, my jeans fit more like a stovepipe leg, except…well, baggier.

Understand: They were not horrible. Just not what I was expecting during the make. Well, not entirely. I had thought to myself “these legs look a good bit wider than the ones on my favorite pair of jeans,” but then…so did the hips, and I knew those were going to fit my measurements. So I soldiered forth and wound up with jeans that were similar to an old loose-fitting pair I used to refer to as my “gardening jeans.”

I went ahead and wore the pants for an entire day of running errands on Saturday: wrangling Alvin for his morning medications, playing Tetris with the cars in the driveway, carrying nine boxes (in various stages of falling apart) full of donated clothing, shoes and accessories from the fellowship hall at church out to my car (and finagling them into my car, which is perhaps more impressive when I tell you I own a Ford Fiesta), driving 45 minutes to Sterling and unloading the same nine boxes at the donation center, driving another 20 minutes to Leesburg to check out Finch Knitting + Sewing Studio, carrying 2 large cups of tea and a bag of sewing tools a mile back to my car, driving 35 minutes back to the Quilt Patch in Fairfax, and finally back home again to engage in a vastly unsuccessful baking endeavor and give Alvin his second round of daily meds.

After all that, I decided that I didn’t like the baggy fit enough to keep it, and took my pants back off for a little surgery. I unpicked the top-stitching along the outer edge of the jeans (and the bar tacks!) and took off at least an inch from each leg, starting just below the hip. The result is still looser than what I typically prefer, but they are much closer to where I want them to be.

I did end up having to put my pants in the wash that first night, when the sauce of my Chinese food leaked out of the bottom of the broken container and onto my leg. I wore them all day Sunday too (after taking them out of the dryer), and wore them again Monday. I’d call that a hit. The jeans also checked off the item for the third trip I was sewing towards.

I traced off another version of the pattern after finishing the first pair, grading it down to the sizes that should correspond to where I want the legs to really be (thank goodness for the detailed finished garment measurements, so I can tell which sizes I really want to shoot for). I didn’t have enough denim for another pair of full length jeans, but I do have enough for a pair of shorts! Those are the next item on the “travel clothes” list. I’ve already cut out the pieces for the shorts, and done the embroidery on the pockets.

I think the denim I was working with doesn’t have quite enough stretch, but it was close enough for this trial run, and I wound up with a wearable muslin that has seen use around the house, to the office on Fridays, and out in general public.

NOTE: It has now been over a year since I made my first pair of jeans. They’ve held up remarkably well – I haven’t needed to mend them yet, though I probably will in another three months (always in the same place). That second-hand zipper is really the only problem I’ve had…it’s not as smooth as a nice new zipper would have been, and there’s a weird section of the zipper pull that feels like a ding in the metal but is a design feature of the actual zipper that always digs into my thumb when I pull it up. It’s incredibly sharp, to the point where it’s actually sliced my thumb a bit from time to time.

Aside from that, the jeans are doing their job nicely. The color has faded a good deal, but that’s the fault of the denim, not the pattern. I made a pair of jean shorts using the same pattern, which I brought on our Hawaii trip last year. I don’t wear those as often (I need to tweak the pattern more to allow for shorts), but they are still functional. Hopefully I’ll have my sewing room set up in the new house soon and can move forward making a few more pairs of jeans (and maybe even some new work trousers)!


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