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Sewing with Denim [Color Blocked #SewFancyPants]

(Originally published on the blog.)

Update: January is the time to get fancy, folks! Sew Fancy Pants is back and better than ever - no special permission required. I had the honor of being part of this amazing project a couple years ago, and it was worth all the thread spooling fun in the world. Get inspired (and maybe show off your skills!) by following along on Merritts Makes Instagram, searching the hashtag #sewfancypants, or checking out what Nicole has cooking over at her blog real soon now.

To be honest, the siren’s song of jean-making has always lingered in the background of my mind, but it wasn’t until I started planning my Sew Fancy Pants projects this year that it finally drew me in.

While searching for inspiration, I came across a pair of jeans that were color blocked, and it sent my creative brain spinning. Color blocking is such a fun way to add graphic interest and vitality to a garment, and it was the perfect way for me to add more color and interest into my wardrobe.

I chose a 10 oz. pink bull denim (similar fabric here) for the back of my jeans and an 11 oz. medium dark indigo denim (similar fabric here) for the front. I’ll speak a little more about this later, but computer screens can deceive even the most when I opened my package I was delighted with the combination of the two colors I had chosen, until I realized that I was looking at the back of the indigo denim. So in true creative fashion, I used the back instead, as my ‘right’ side! Who’s to say what’s right and wrong anyways huh? The fabric is such great quality that the back is just as nice as the front, but looks like a lighter blue. Between you and me, I am definitely in need of another pair out of the dark side of this denim, too!

So, my creative journey began, with some ups and downs. The beauty of sewing is that there is always something new to learn, and a new challenge to overcome. I’ve put together a list of some things I learned, mixed with a couple tips along the way.

Choosing Your Fabric

Let's rewind - While, yes, this post is about the actual jean construction, there are two preceding, crucial steps that I must mention-ordering a swatch, and making a muslin. Computer screens, color projection, and fabric weight are three things that ordering a swatch will give you control over. Do yourself a favor, plan extra time into your garment making schedule and order swatches to be sure the color, texture, weight, and stretch of the fabric is exactly what you are looking for.

This has been said countless times, but making a muslin is the key to a well fitted, professional looking, finished garment. I make a muslin for every garment I am making, sometimes two. The muslin not only allows us to check and adjust the fit, but also gives us a chance to have a practice run through of making the garment. When I make a muslin I only use the key pattern pieces; i.e. back, yoke, front, waistband and front pocket pieces. If I was making something that had a design feature that intimidated me (for example, a fly front zipper) then I would also sew and practice that feature in the muslin as well.

Straightening the Grain

If you've ever seen a pair of jeans that just aren't quite right, chances are they've been cut off-grain. Fabric grain has huge importance when it comes to ensuring your garment drapes and hangs well - if the pattern pieces don't line up with the weft and warp threads used in weaving, then things can go sideways fast! The bigger or longer those pattern pieces get, so too does our need for precision; otherwise you might be looking at some seriously twisted pants legs. Here's a more in-depth look at fabric grain and how to fix it if it's off.

Pattern Piece Directionality

Take it from me, yoke pieces, when unpinned from their pattern piece, can easily be turned and flipped. I learned pretty soon into the process to notate the front (right) side and the top of each fabric piece. This eliminates any confusion further along in the process. A simple and effective way to mark your pieces is to use colored dot stickers. Place them on the right side of the fabric, and draw an arrow on the sticker to mark the top and directionality of the piece.

Two Threads (May Be) Better than One

While testing my topstitching thread I realized that it was going to be my biggest challenge. I was using a specific topstitching thread as the top thread, and a regular sewing thread as my bobbin thread, but the bobbin thread was loose and looped. I tightened the thread tension higher and higher...and higher. It seemed to help some but the problem was still not solved.

I learned that a couple different factors goes into achieving correct thread tension when topstitching with a heavier weight thread. Each of these adjustments are going to be different on each machine. But, here are some starting points.

I started my tests by using a ‘jeans/denim’ needle, which seemed appropriate. However, as tests went on unsatisfactorily, I decided to try a ‘topstitch’ needle, which ended up making a definite positive change in the look of my bobbin thread stitches. This may be different for each machine, however for my machine and thread I was using, it definitely helped the tension balance more than the denim needle. Try each and see which works best for you.

Next, the type of thread and weight of thread is going to have an impact on the look of the topstitching and the settings needed to balance the tension. I started my tests by using a ‘topstitching’ thread. A topstitching thread is a heavier weight thread which gives a more defined and decorative line of stitching. Typically, you would use the heavier topstitching thread to thread the top of the machine, but use a regular weight sewing thread in your bobbin. I tested so much using the topstitching thread that I ran through an entire spool, still unsatisfied with the result. I decided to try threading the top of my machine using two spools of a regular weight sewing thread. Game changer! The bobbin stitches immediately looked neater and more balanced. In my case, two threads were better than one. While still not perfect, the two threads on top look exactly the same as the topstitching thread, and gave a much nicer finish on the underside.

Finally, the last factor in refining the topstitching is adjusting the thread tension. Once I changed to using two sewing threads instead of a heavier topstitching thread, I didn’t need to tighten my top tension much at all. However, I did find that the more layers of denim I was sewing through, the tighter the top tension needed to be.

color blocked Quadra Jeans by Thread Theory Designs

Sewist’s Best Friend

In my opinion Steam-A-Seam is a sewist’s best friend. Placing back pockets, stabilizing a fly extension, basting the inside waistband, and hemming were all aided by the use of Steam-A-Seam to hold seam allowances in place. There are other options and products used for this purpose but Steam-A-Seam is my go-to. I use the ¼ inch Lite Steam-A-Seam 2.

color blocked Quadra Jeans by Thread Theory Designs

Take Advantage of Baste Fitting

Just as an extra precaution, I add additional seam allowance to the side seams and give myself a 1 inch seam allowance to work with. Even though I made a muslin and checked the fit, each fabric reacts differently and this extra at the side seams gives me a little wiggle room if I need to adjust the fit. Before I sew the side seams permanently, I baste them and try on the jeans. Once I decide on any adjustments, I can then permanently sew the side seams and finish the seam allowances.

It May ‘Seam’ Scary- Using Alternatives is Okay

One of the greatest things about sewing is that there are many different ways and techniques to accomplish each step. The goal is to find the best way that suits you. If a certain step or technique intimidates you, then find a way around it, or an alternative. Typically, jeans are constructed using a traditional flat fell seam on the back yoke seam as well as the inseam. Since this was my first pair of jeans I wanted to try out different options along the way. I used a traditional flat fell seam for the back yoke seam, a faux flat fell seam for the inseam, and a regular seam for the side seams. The choice is yours. Don’t let something so small dictate whether or not you get started. Nobody will notice if you use a different type of seam on the inseam of your pants...and if they do, tell them they’re too close!

color blocked Quadra Jeans by Thread Theory Designs

It seems now, that most of what I learned during this experience was the need to slow down and engage fully in the making process. So much of this project was planning, testing, sampling, and basting. In my experience, slow sewing is rewarding and usually results in a higher quality garment.

color blocked Quadra Jeans by Thread Theory Designs

Create this look:

Or, make your color-blocked denim jeans all your own and shop all denim

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Abbey Dabbles
Abbey Dabbles
Jan 17, 2023

I did not expect this front/back colour blocking, but it's soooo good 🤩 these colours just work

Brad Schultz
Brad Schultz
Jan 17, 2023
Replying to

Thanks for the comment, Abbey! I'm glad you love the color blocking--it's one of my favorite details! Plus, they definitely are so unique. 😁

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