Monthly Archives: February 2016

Inspiration No. 7 Jeans, revisited

Jeans, revisited

by Kathryn Brenne

To see a list of all sewing tutorials, click here!


I have always loved the color red. It makes people happy. It is the color of energy, passion, love and joy.  I also love the red stretch denim carried by and I especially love my new jeans! They are absolutely perfect. They make me smile, brighten up a cold winter day and are sooooo comfortable to wear.

Inspired by Yohji Yamamoto, I added a few funky details to my jeans but kept the standard jean pockets, fly zipper and gold topstitching. Whether you wish to recreate the jeans shown here, or if you just wish to learn some techniques that will assure professional results using your TNT jeans pattern, the tips outlined below will apply to sewing up any version of the American classic jean.



 Pattern and Alterations

To create these designer-inspired jeans, you’ll have to make a few alterations to a classic jeans pattern. Start with your favorite high-waisted jeans pattern as a base. My favorites include McCalls 6610, 5894 and OOP Jalie 966. You’ll need to omit the yoke and convert the yoke seam into a dart/tuck at center back.


To do this, draw the stitching line onto both the Back and the Yoke pattern pieces. Pin the stitching lines together at the side seam. You may find that the yoke is shaped and the two pieces will not lay flat and pin together smoothly. Don’t worry about this as it is going to be opened up into a dart. To create a dart/tuck at center back, keep the yoke pinned to the Back at the side seam stitching line and pivot the Yoke open at center back creating a 1/2″ dart shape (the size of the dart may vary, depending on your size and the shape of your yoke). The side seam remains the same length allowing the Back to sew to the Front without the length of the side seam changing. The opening at center back will be sewn as a tuck and become a design feature. Keep the original grain line from the Back. The Yoke will swing up placing this area of the pant Back on more of a bias grain, which actually helps with fitting.
img_7378I wanted a loose fitting leg, with a wide hem circumference cropped to ankle length. My jeans fit loosely through the hips, widen out at the knee and then taper back in toward the hem. The circumference at the knee is 26 3/4” and 21” at the hem. To make these changes to the pattern, determine the desired length as well as the circumference at the knee and hem. Mark the new hemline onto the pattern. Measure the hem circumference of the original pattern and calculate the amount to be increased or decreased. Add or subtract equal amounts to the inseam and side seam to create the new hem circumference. Altering only the side seam will not allow the leg to sit properly.
Locate your knee position on the pattern. From the hip, widen the side seam out towards the knee and then back into the hem to create a new relaxed shape. Round this new seam slightly. It should not come to a point at the knee. The inseam can be straightened or widened slightly at the knee. The seam from the crotch to the knee should have a curve to it but it can be fairly straight from the knee to the hem.

kneetuckcloseupThe design tuck at the knee did not involve any pattern drafting. It was merely a tuck that was topstitched after the inseams were sewn together to give the leg a different shape.
I always recommend sewing a test fitting muslin before starting a new pattern. This allows you to perfect the fit before cutting into fabric.


Denim is a twill weave fabric usually made from cotton. It is available in a variety of weights, colors and finishes. Today, many denim fabrics have the addition of spandex for comfort. Pretreat fabric by washing in the washing machine. If the fabric has spandex, do not dry in a hot dryer. Heat deteriorates spandex. Instead tumble in a cool dryer for a few minutes to remove wrinkles and then hang to dry. For 100% cotton denim, dry thoroughly in the dryer.

Needles and Thread

A Jeans sewing machine needle with a sharp tip and sturdy shaft is the best choice for sewing denim. Needles are available in size 75 for lighter weight fabrics and size 90 for most medium to heavy weight fabrics. For topstitching a Cordonnet needle 130 H-N, which has a larger eye to accommodate heavier threads, works well. Try using a size 90 or 100.
For straight stitching and topstitching I like to use a denim or 1/4” foot with a small needle hole and a straight stitch throat plate. This combination will give a perfect straight stitch, whereas an all purpose foot and throat plate leave some play in the fabric as it is stitched, resulting in the odd stitch that may appear to be a bit crooked.
For regular sewing 100% polyester all purpose Gutermann thread is a good choice. Most
domestic sewing machines do not respond well to using 100% polyester topstitching or
buttonhole twist for topstitching. Instead I like to use 12 weight 100% cotton Mako by Aurifil topstitching thread. Aurifil has a couple of gold colors that work particularly well with denim. I use the heavier 12 weight in the upper threading of the machine and a matching color of 100% polyester Gutermann all purpose thread in the bobbin.


A great pair of jeans revolves around the details. For the most professional look, use Western style front pockets, a fly front metal toothed zipper, belt loops, rivets, a Bachelor button at the waist, interesting back pockets and contrasting topstitching.

Fly Front Zipper

I like to insert a true fly front zipper with a separate fly guard as opposed to a fly zipper with a cut on fly extension. For this fly zipper you will need a fly facing and a fly guard cut from self fabric, and a fly facing and 1” strip cut from fusible all bias interfacing. The length of these pieces will depend on the length of zipper being used. All pieces should be 1” longer than the length of the zipper plus a seam allowance at the top. The fly guard also needs a 1/2” seam allowance at the bottom.
Fuse the fly facing interfacing directly to the left Front and the 1” strip to the right Front.
Press 1/2” up along the bottom edge of the fly guard. Press the fly guard in half wrong sides together.


Serge the edges of the Front crotch seams, the fly guard and the fly facing.
Apply double sided tape to the zipper positioning it close to the outer edge.
Align the zipper face down against the right Front pant. Machine stitch 3/8” in from edge.
Press seam toward pant.
Pin Fly Facing to left pant Front. Stitch using a 5/8” seam allowance.
Sew the crotch seam for approximately 1 1/2” from the bottom of the zipper, keeping the fly facing out of the way.
Press the seam of the fly facing open and then press the fly facing towards the pant.
Apply double sided tape the wrong side of the zipper.
Adhere the Fly Guard to the tape.
Edge Stitch through all layers. Because this side of the zipper was initially sewn to the pant with a 3/8” seam, it sits inside the edge of the left Front, which is what you want.
Edge stitch the left front pant from the end of the crotch stitching to the waist.
Apply double sided tape to the left side of the zipper.
Position the left Front pant by pressing in place with the zipper closed. The right zipper should be sitting 1/4” in from the edge of the right Front.

Sew the left side of the zipper to the fly facing with two rows of stitching, one placed close to the edge and the other about 1/4” in. These rows of stitching are only through the zipper tape and the fly facing.

I photocopy my favourite RTW jean fly to make a topstitching template for the final row of topstitching. Cut the template from thin cardboard. Position the template along the center front edge. Chalk around the template.

Topstitch along chalked line being careful to keep the Fly Guard out of the way. Do not hit the metal stopper at the bottom of the zipper. Leave thread tails long, pull through to the inside and knot off.
Add a second row of topstitching 1/4” away from the first row.
Add bar tacks to the end of the zipper using a zig zag stitch with a stitch width of 1.7mm and a stitch length of .25mm. All purpose Gutermann thread was used for bar tacking. Place a second bar tack approximately 3/4” up from the bottom along the side of the topstitching. This stitching goes through all layers and will hold the fly guard in place.

Front Western Pockets

Apply a 1” strip of fusible interfacing to the front pocket edges. Pink the outer edge.
I like to use fun quilting cottons for the pocket bags. Sew the pocket bag to the Front pant. Trim seam allowance to a narrow 1/4”.

Press to the inside and finish with a row of edge stitching and a second row of top stitching 1/4” away from first row.
Finish the edge of the self fabric pocket Facing. Sew to pocket bag with a row of stitching close to the edge.

French seam pocket bags together by sewing the raw edges of the two pocket bags wrong
sides together with a 1/4” seam allowance. Trim seam allowance to a narrow 1/8”. Turn and press right sides together. Stitch a second time using a 1/4” seam allowance.

To add a coin pocket to the right front pocket, turn under the edges. Topstitch the upper edge of the coin pocket. Topstitch the coin pocket to the pocket facing before finishing the pocket.
Finish the upper corner of the coin pocket with a rivet. See instructions below for setting rivets.

Back Pockets

As a design feature I drafted large rectangular back pockets.
Apply a strip of fusible interfacing along the folded edge of the Back Pocket to prevent the pocket from stretching.
I added a piece of lining fabric to the inside of the Back Pocket to add a bit of color if the pockets opened up and to help stabilize them and prevent them from stretching. The lining does not need to extend all the way to the top edge. It will be caught in place with the topstitching.
Fold the edges of the Back Pocket in and press. Topstitch the folded edge. Position Back
Pockets by pinning in place during a fitting. Finish by topstitching to the pants. Bar tack the upper corners to reinforce.

Topstitching hints

A longer stitch length will highlight topstitched details. Try using a stitch length of 3-3.5mm depending on the thickness of your denim. Use a straight stitch throat plate. Caution: When using a straight stitch needle plate do not adjust the center needle position, otherwise the needle will break. When starting or stitching over thick areas or seams, a height compensator is useful. It can be used behind, beside or in front of the foot to help level it to the same height at which the machine is sewing. This prevents the stitches from bunching up when edge stitching or topstitching. The height compensator also comes in handy when sewing over thick seams while hemming the pants.

More custom design details

Fold the center back tucks in place and edge stitch before sewing the remainder of the crotch and center back seam.
Finish the center back seam. Edge stitch from the base of the zipper around the seam to the waist at center back.
As a design detail I placed a second row of topstitching from the waist at center back down to mid way between the pockets. The end of this topstitching was finished with a bar tack.

Pin the tucks into the inside knee area. Baste and edge stitch.


kneetucksSew the side seams together. Apply the waistband.

Belt Loops

Cut a long strip of fabric 1” wide. Serge or finish one long edge. Press the strip by folding in the raw edge and then folding the serged edge over it. Edge stitch both sides of the strip, catching in the serging along the one edge.
Test the belt loops over the width of belt you might wear with the jeans allowing a small amount of ease. Cut the belt loops into lengths and attach to the jeans with bar tacks. I like to place my belt loops just front of the pockets, just behind the side seams and center back.

Flat Felled Seams

Flat felled seams are often found on the inseam of jeans. They can be sewn on the side seams as well but the bulk of the pockets make this finish difficult to execute. On my jeans I edge stitched the inseam rather than flat felling it because of the bulk of the knee tuck. I edge stitched the side seams as well, from the waist down towards the hip for 6” to keep the pocket area flat.


If you do wish to make a flat felled seams, here’s how:

Sew seam with 5/8” seam allowance. Press the seam open. Trim one seam allowance to 1/4”.

Press the longer seam allowance over the shorter seam allowance. Pin to hold in place. Baste in place.

Sew two rows of stitching to hold the seam in place. If using top stitching thread this is done from the right side of the fabric using the basting as a guide line. The underside has 2 rows of all purpose sewing thread, which was used in the bobbin.


Rivets and Bachelor Buttons

Rivets add the finishing professional touch to jeans. I added them to the pockets where they meet the waistband and side seam to offer reinforcement. To install rivets position the rivet in the desired position and push down on the cap to leave an impression on the fabric.
Use a hole punch fit with a very small hole to punch a hole in the center of the impression.
Insert the back of the rivet through the hole.
Place the cap over the back of the rivet.
Using the rivet setting tool, hammer the cap in place.

The Bachelor buttons I like to use on jeans hammer in place. (They are called Bachelor
buttons because no sewing is required!)

Using the same hole cutter that was used for the rivets, punch a small hole through the waistband. Insert the back of the Batchelor button, place the button over the backing and tap with a hammer to hold in place. I found some Batchelor buttons that swivel, making them very easy to button and unbutton.
Finish the waistband with a keyhole buttonhole.