I made jeans! This is my most accomplished sewing project yet.. I finally ticked jeans off my sewing bucket list. I bought a jeans sewing pattern back in 2018 and have literally not touched the envelope since. I haven’t even peeked inside. That is how scared I was of making jeans. So if you feel the same way.. you’ve landed on the right page! Four years later.. I’ve conquered jeans.. conquered is a very strong word.. but I feel like anyone who has successfully sewn a wearable pair of jeans has earned boasting rights!
The Legato Jeans launched today and I am delighted to share my take on the pattern as a first time jeans sewer. I’ll try not to hold anything back as I tell the tales of my experience. I hope you learn something from this jeans sewing newbie and most of all, I hope you feel inspired to grab the pattern which of course is on release sale for an entire week. Legato will be on sale for $9.50 (reg $12.50) until October 31st. Use my code ISLAND10 for an extra 10% off as well! The sew along course also released today at $25 and for launch week only, has the pattern already included.
So let’s get into the nitty gritty of the pattern.
- Petite, Regular & Tall heights
- Curvy & Straight
- Flat & Full Seat
- Meant for denim with ~1-3% spandex
- Straight Leg
- Ankle Length
- Zipper fly
- Coin Pocket
- Topstitching, rivets and metal button closure
And now for my personal experience. Sewing jeans was absolutely not a bed of roses. It involved a lot of trial and error.. lots of practicing on scraps.. many mistakes.. but most importantly.. that wonderful feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment at the end of it all. I’ve learnt so much through the testing process and I feel like I owe it to you, my sewing friends, to share all my tips and tricks and mistakes so that you can have an even more fulfilling experience sewing your Legatos. So here are the 10 things I think you must know before tackling your jeans sewing project.
1. Sizing for Stretch Denim
It is obvious that stretch denim has more give and wiggle room than non-stretch denim. I personally gravitate to stretch denim because I have a 13.5″ difference between my waist and hip and I just find it more comfy. When Tami said we need stretch denim.. I literally jumped for joy. If you have experience sewing stretch wovens, like sateen for example, you’d know that it is likely to loosen up after some wear and getting a snug fit on the waist especially is super important. Use the finished measurements chart to help choose your size. I actually went for slight negative ease on my waist. I graded from size 12 at the waist to 16 hip and 14 from the knee down. This really helped me to avoid a gaping back waist. I have to admit there is a little bit of a struggle getting it past my hips because the fit is so perfect but that is to be expected with my waist to hip ratio and the fabric is already loosening up after 1 wear. The size chart is pretty extensive and I highly encourage using all the measurements.. please don’t skip on thigh, knee and calf as these will all affect your fit more than you think.
2. Different stretch percentages and weights
As a first time jeans sewer, I have to admit I made a detrimental mistake when choosing my test fabric. I imported my final fabric from Cali Fabrics; it is the 7 for all Mankind stretch denim 12 oz. This weight is what is recommended for the Legato pattern. If you aren’t from the Caribbean, you probably won’t understand the difficulty of importing things – customs, crazy shipping costs etc. I should have brought in some of the exact fabric for testing but found it hard to fork out extra dollars to practice on. It just seemed like a waste to me. Boy was I wrong! I used some old stretch denim from my stash (bought locally) and I hadn’t even received the Cali Fabrics denim yet so I didn’t know the difference between the two. My stash denim was crazy stretchy and super soft. So I made my mock ups and adjustments based on this denim.
When my final denim arrived.. I realized I was in trouble.. it was so much heavier.. thicker and had a lot less stretch. I had a more similar type of denim also holding in my stash.. not enough to make full length jeans though. So I decided to do one last mock up of shorts. Well these fit so perfect.. too perfect even. I thought for sure I needed some more wiggle room for full length jeans and so I printed a new pattern, grading from 14 at the waist instead of 12. I cut my final fabric, was sewing along merrily and when it came time to do the inseam, I decided to baste the jeans together to check the fit. Oh my goodness… The waist was entirely too big. Like I could fit both hands behind there! So then I realized my final fabric had a little more stretch than my shorts fabric. So between testing and finals, I had used 3 different types of stretch denim with different stretch percentages and in different weights and the fit was completely different among all 3 pairs. I had to trim my jeans back down to the 12 waist, after doing some topstitching and all my pockets already. My fingers actually hurt from rubbing against denim during all the seam ripping. (Side note – Now I know how much stretch denim loosens up with wear, I am 100% to complete those shorts!)
That brings me to my next point. DO NOT do any topstitching until you’ve basted and tried your jeans. The process will seem much longer but will save you so much time and headache in the end. I had topstitched my back pockets and had to rip those out to move them because they ended up too close to the center back seam after trimming my jeans from 14 to 12. I had already topstitched my yoke pieces as well as my center back seam. And as you would imagine, these were all serged before topstitching. So much seam ripping! My fingers hurt for days to remind me of the torture.
Also on the topic of topstitching, I was unable to find topstitching thread locally and I didn’t order any in on time so I resorted to a quick fix I found online, using two thread spools running through the one needle. So double strands for added thickness. To be honest, it worked fantastically for 90% of the jeans. The one part that gave trouble was the belt loops. I should have removed one of the threads to avoid nesting on the wrong side. The tight zigzagging through such thick layers really isn’t suitable for the 2 thread method. That being said, definitely grab some topstitching thread or if you absolutely must, use one strand of regular thread and just go over it a few times instead.
I don’t have one so I can’t say for certain that it will solve all your problems but I strongly suggest giving it a try. My shortcut of folding denim to create something bulky just wasn’t enough to level out the presser foot sufficiently. Get the profesh stuff if you’re sewing jeans! Jeans sewing does not mesh well with shortcut taking; learn from my mistakes! The belt loops absolutely took me out! I wanted to scream and cry and throw the machine out the window. I can laugh now but it wasn’t funny then so save yourself having to feel these emotions. Get a jean-a-ma-jig or a hump jumper! Tami also shared a very useful tip – hit the bulky parts with a hammer to reduce some of the bulk before topstitching. I wish I had seen this before completing my jeans lol hammering would have helped to release some frustration as well!
5. Jean Buttons
Speaking of hammering, practice your button and rivets on scraps first. Here’s where I went wrong with this; When I folded my scraps, I folded it over to match the number of layers on my back pockets for the purpose of trialing my rivets. Worked perfectly.. yay! BUT, the waistband only has two layers of denim.. aha! I tried my button on the same scrap.. see where I’m going with this? It went in flawlessly! When my hubby hammered in my actual jean button… the tack came through the front of the button. The fabric wasn’t thick enough to hold the full length of the tack. I suggest adding some interfacing to thicken up the area plus stabilize it at the same time. If you’ve ever had to remove a jean button before.. you know the pain and the fabric in that area is now a little worn and shredded from all the yanking with pliers. The worst part? I decided that I would hammer it the next time, because I hit with a lot less force than man hands. Guess what? The tack still came through a little bit! At this point.. removing another button would ruin the waistband completely so it shall stay. No one should be that close to my button anyway right? Again, I’m sharing my duds so you know how to avoid them.
6. Zipper Fly
Another thing that you really should practice on scraps if you have no experience, is the zipper fly. I tried mine on the shorts mock up. It went flawlessly.. but what if it didn’t? Imagine having to seam rip the crotch area.. you could end up with an unsightly area of loose threads and lighter denim where you unpicked. No one wants to draw attention to the crotch area, I don’t think. There is a video link included in the pattern that you should watch and re-watch.. it is an amazing video by Tami that demonstrates the fly perfectly! This was my first zipper fly and I got it done in one go so you can do it too! What I wish I practiced more, is topstitching the curve. My fly is a little more square than curved. I ripped it out and re-did about 5 times before I just gave up. Definitely should have gone slower and practiced more, because trying to do it over and over again on the final jeans is less than ideal. Trying to topstitch while frustrated, makes topstitching even worse. The two main tips I have for the zipper – Make sure you push the zipper entirely to the left.. like ALL the way over, otherwise you will end up with a weird fold and your teeth will show too close to the center seam. And make sure you place the zipper stop high enough that your needle won’t hit it when topstitching.
7. Denim needle
Broken needles? Who wants that? Luckily I didn’t break any! Phew! And I actually didn’t have a denim needle either. I used my regular size 14 universal needle. So I think you can get away with using a regular needle BUT do I think my sewing could have gone smoother with the right needle? Absolutely! I really regret not having a denim needle for those darn belt loops and topstitching the really thick layers like the back pockets and coin pockets. I just have a hunch that the denim needle would have saved me some emotional distress and anxiety. I had to hand wheel at certain points. Like I said, get the profesh stuff! I chose to learn the hard way… do as I say.. not as I did! I am 100% getting denim needles to add to my collection asap!
8. Copy RTW jeans
Have your favorite rtw jeans in front you for the entire sewing process. The pattern instructions tell you exactly where to topstitch etc. but just to be sure, keep a pair of loved jeans on your sewing table. It was super helpful to be able to look at the details and have an example to follow right in front me. You’d be able to tell where they changed the type of stitch or switched stitch length, and all the areas that were reinforced with bar tacks. You can even measure the bar tacks so make sure you get a similar look. I actually kept two different pairs of jeans on my table so I could compare and see what I wanted to replicate from each pair.
9. Height Options
Though the pattern comes in different height options, again make sure to measure your favorite jeans to get an idea of inseam length, preferred rise height etc. I am 5’4″ and chose the standard option. I thought I wouldn’t need to make any height adjustments but the truth is.. we all carry our height differently. I am short waisted from the shoulder to waist but long from the waist to hip. I added 1″ to the rise so the jeans hit my belly button. The jeans are meant to hit the ankle, and for me that meant lengthening the legs 1″ which blew my mind. So don’t go on just the numbers; measure yourself.. measure your favorite jeans.. measure the pattern pieces.. hold the pieces up to your body if you need to.. make your mock ups! Don’t skip on all these things! I made one little mistake that did affect my fit. I should have added my inch above the knee but added it below the knee by error. I do have a few draglines behind the knee because of this and will make sure to get this adjusted before I cut my next pair.
If you are like me, a jeans sewing newbie, you are going to appreciate the fact that Tami has put together an extensive learning resource in the form of a Sew Along Course. You can get video visuals of every single step in detail! You’ll also get help with sizing and choosing fabrics. Tami will hold your hand from beginning to end. The course will stay in your Love Notions account forever, so you can follow at your own pace plus go back to watch at any time. It is an investment you won’t regret if you plan to make well fitting jeans and multiple pairs for years to come.
I also purchased the Jeans E-book from The Last Stitch and this too is such an amazing resource. I have the digital format, but you can also get a hard copy. She talks about everything jeans related.. thread, fabric, fly.. everything! And she even has templates for both zipper and button fly style, pockets (front, coin and back), pocket topstitching designs. So much good stuff.. you can totally use her templates to switch out the Legato pockets for a different shape or add a fun pocket design.
I think I have laid it all on the table. All the details have been spilled.. I even let you in on all my sewing woes, which for me is a really big deal. My goal is for you to have an incredibly enjoyable experience sewing a well-fitting pair of jeans that you are absolutely in love with. I feel confident that I’ve given you all the tools you need to get started on your Legatos. Anytime you are about to shortcut, I hope you hear my voice whispering in your ear reminding you that sewing jeans takes time and patience. The satisfaction you feel at the end will be totally worth it!
If I’ve managed to inspire you to sew your own pair, grab the Legato pattern while it is on sale for launch week. Use my code ISLAND10 for an extra 10% off as well! My code won’t work for the course unfortunately, since purchasing the course already adds a code to get you the pattern for free. But if you so wish, you can still use my aff link. HAPPY JEANS SEWING!