Of all the different materials that people sew with, denim seems to be one of the ones that puts a little fear in sewer’s hearts. Why? Because it is a thick fabric and therefore learning to sew denim can be a little intimidating.
The thing is, learning to sew with denim is a lot easier than people realize, so you can go after the task with the same enthusiasm as you do all of the other fabrics in your sewing room.
What’s more, once you get used to working with denim, you’ll wonder why you ever worried over it at all.
In many ways, it’s no more difficult to work with denim than it is any other fabric you’ve worked with in the past.
It’s just a little different because of its thickness. Nevertheless, if you’d like to know more about working with denim, below are five tips to keep in mind before you get started.
The Right Pair of Scissors for Denim
Okay, this one is obvious but bears repeating. If you’re going to work with fabric as thick as denim, you’ll need an extra-sharp pair of scissors. This means if you have any sewing scissors lying around that aren’t as sharp as they can possibly be, you’ll need to set those aside whenever you sew denim. Just make sure the scissors you use are always super sharp.
The Right Sewing Needles to Sew Denim
Thick fabrics require needles that can go through the thickness, so no slim or tiny needles should be used with denim. There are needles specially made for working with denim, but you can choose from among several sizes if you like. Many sewers use a size 90/14 universal needle or 100/16 if the denim they’re working with is thicker.
All needles, regardless of your fabric, should always be matched to the thickness of that fabric. Just remember that thick fabric equals thick needles. Otherwise, the needles will break.
The Right Type of Thread to Sew Denim
For working with denim, you can use regular all-purpose thread for the denim itself and a heavy-duty thread for the seams. Many sewers used more than one type of thread when working with denim or other thick types of fabric.
Even regular seams can usually accommodate an all-purpose thread, but if you want topstitching that comes with flat felling, heavy-duty thread usually works best. You also have to be careful with regular thread made for jeans because it is usually cotton thread and sometimes not thick enough to do the job.
Some sewing machines, in fact, dislike this type of thread and will shred it instead of working with it properly. When this happens, you can use upholstery thread in its place. Upholstery thread has a thicker look just like top-stitching thread does but is smoother than some of the thread made just for jeans.
For this reason alone, upholstery thread is often less likely to shred and become tangled. Plus, it is thick enough to work well with most types of denim.
Use a "Leveling” Foot (J Foot) to Sew Denim
When you sew denim or other heavy fabrics you may notice that sewing machines can have a hard time sewing uphill or over thick seams. The leveling foot takes care of this problem for you.
Sometimes, newer sewing machines come with a J foot, also called a leveling foot, which is good to use when you sew denim because extra-thick areas can give you problems.
Always Take Your Time and Go Slow
This is another “duh” moment, but an important one nonetheless. In fact, if you prefer to hand-crank your flywheel to be successful with some of the steps, go ahead and do that. Taking your time and going slow are much easier and more convenient to do than taking out your seam ripper and ripping out stitches later on because you’ve messed up.
Learning to Sew Denim: Additional Tips to Make it Even Easier
When you work with a challenging fabric such as denim, each and every step of the sewing process has to be done just right. If it isn’t, the entire project could be ruined. Below are additional practical tips that can make working with denim a much easier task.
- Make sure you’re using the right design. Structured garments do well with heavy denim, while skirts, button-ups, and loose dresses do better with lighter denim.
- Try to use lighter facings when you can. Since denim is thick, you can get rid of some of its bulk by opting for lighter fabrics for details such as facings.
- Use a stitch length that is rather long. When you’re using a standard heavyweight fabric such as denim, you might want to lengthen your stitches to around 3 mm.
- Make sure you pay attention to your grainlines. The grainlines have to be aligned correctly because if you cut the fabric off grain, twisting can occur.
- Always reinforce your seams with top-stitching. When you sew denim, it can get a lot of stress, so top-stitching is important.
- Use closures that are sturdy, and always match the closure to the fabric. For heavy denim, you can use heavy metal zippers, heavy-duty snaps, and so on. Lightweight denim usually only requires standard closures.
- Always finish the seams. Denim can fray, so finishing your seams is crucial.
- Pressing denim correctly is important. Always use steam and heat on your denim as you work, and make sure the setting on your iron is on high.
Learning to sew denim, in many ways, is not that different than working on other types of fabric. But because it’s so thick, you do need the right needles, thread, and so on. There are also tools you can buy to make sewing with denim a lot easier. One of those is a Jean-a-Ma-Jig, which helps your presser foot “jump” over those bulky seam allowances and makes the task much easier.
There are also mallets and clappers, which you can use to help compress the seams that seem to be too bulky to work with. Most of these tools concentrate on one task: they make it easier to get past the bumps associated with working with denim. Those bulky seams, in particular, can be difficult to work with when you first start working with denim, but certain tools can make the task a whole lot easier on you.
When you sew denim, all you have to do to be successful is follow certain rules and tips, and you’re all set.
Naturally, it’ll take a little practice as well, so don’t expect perfection on your very first try. Nevertheless, most people find that with the right tools and accessories, working with denim is not all that different than working with other types of fabric. The seams are the biggest challenge for most sewers, but even seams are a piece of cake once you learn the basics and you keep working with them.