Friends, with just four days to go before the start of the MPB Jeans Sew-Along, I wanted to answer some basic questions about jeans and jeans supplies.
Actually, I wanted someone to answer my questions and so I decided to go straight to that jeans-sewing wunderkind, Taylor Hackbarth of Taylor Tailor...or is it Tailor Taylor -- I can never remember.
I stumbled upon Tennessean Taylor's blog months ago while searching for a photo of the late Dame Elizabeth, added him to my blog list impulsively, and now can't figure out how to get him off. No worries, Taylor is a marvelous source of jeans-related information -- the kind of thing I could have figured out, but...well...no point reinventing the wheel!
I invited Taylor to share some of his expertise here at MPB at the very moment -- talk about synchronicity! -- Taylor was in the process of creating... Friends, you'll have to read the interview to find out, but simply put: If you're looking for a great one-stop source for high-quality, basic jeans supplies, Taylor's your man!
I think you'll agree that Taylor is a true connoisseur. Young, smart, with an obsessive eye for detail and a passion for authenticity, Taylor is easy to
Take it away, Taylor!
(BTW, all photos below are Taylor's projects)
PL: Taylor, how did you get interested in sewing and more specifically, sewing denim jeans?
TH: One day I just decided that I wanted to learn a new skill, something useful that was completely new to me and out of my comfort zone. I needed a challenge and wanted to do something constructive with my free time.
I have always had a DIY approach to a lot of things and an interest in menswear, but hadn’t put the two together before. Also, I am pretty picky when it comes to my clothes, but at the same time, didn’t want to spend (or have) the money to get the quality I wanted. Learning to make my own seemed like the perfect solution.
I had a bit of a head start, as my wife has always had (and knew how to use!) a sewing machine. This made it easy for me to dive right in. Initially I thought I would make a wool suit as my first project. Keep in mind, I didn’t even know what a bobbin was at this point! My wife gently reminded me that I wasn't even remotely ready for this and handed me a pattern for a simple apron. The apron didn’t take me long, and I was on to shirts and pants and learning how to draft my own patterns in no time.
I never even thought twice about the denim I was wearing until I saw this video. Jesse and Adam of Put This On do amazing work. While the video doesn’t have much to do with DIY jeans, it inspired me to started reading more about denim and its history. I was hooked.
Since I spend most of my waking hours in denim, I figured, why shouldn’t the jeans I am wearing be absolutely perfect? And since I couldn’t exactly justify dropping $300+ on a pair of jeans, why couldn’t I make myself a custom pair? And so I did.
PL: Taylor, what are a few of the elements necessary for great jeans (as opposed to mediocre jeans) in your opinion?
TH: This may seem obvious, but I think one of the most important elements is fit. I am still perfecting my pattern and probably always will be. Finding and modifying a pattern so that it fits your body the way you want it to is not easy, but the result is well worth the effort. Also, and again probably obvious, is choosing quality materials, from the fabric to the thread. The easiest thing that you can do to make your jeans look more professional is to use a heavy top-stitching thread anywhere you are sewing on the right side of the fabric.
I also like to flat-fell my in-seams, yokes, and center back/crotch seam. This isn't absolutely necessary, and don't get me wrong, I love my serger, but I think the felled seams are a nice detail if you want to go from mediocre to a more professional-looking jean.
Lastly, I like really simple, classic looking jeans. My personal preference is to stick with the classic five pocket, straight leg jean. I don’t really include much decorative stitching, or any extra pockets. Keep it simple, with a great attention to detail (it helps to be a perfectionist), and you’ll be fine.
PL: Isn't denim denim (i.e, what the different between one and another)?
TH: I am by no means a textile expert, but I suppose that from a purely functional standpoint, a lot of denim is the same. The main differences, of course, are the color and the material, and a lot of that is preference; for example, whether or not there is any stretch built into the fabric by using an elastic fiber. I prefer 100% cotton denim for men's jeans and really love the selvedge denim made in the US; but that’s just the purist in me. Others may prefer a lighter wash or a fabric with a bit of stretch in it.
While all fabric has a selvedge (finished edge), with denim the term has a special meaning. Selvedge, or "selvage" denim is woven on old-fashioned, narrow looms which give the denim a great-looking finished edge. Jeans made with this denim will try to preserve this edge, and you can often see it by turning up the cuff. It’s very distinctive in this way. Also, some say the weave is a little tighter than denim woven on more modern looms since the crosswise weft yarn is one continuous piece.
Again, I'm not an expert here, but I use this denim whenever I make jeans; I see it as the cream of the crop when it comes to denim. It's a matter of what you like. I prefer the dark, raw, stiff, unwashed stuff. It may not be the most comfortable denim when you first put it on, but I love it, and I love how over time it molds to your body and the colors fade in a way that is uniquely you.
PL: Where is the best denim made?
TH: Some of the best denim is made right here in the United States. Cone Mills in North Carolina is one of the few denim mills left in the US. While I don't have much experience with denim made elsewhere, I hear that Japanese denim is really nice. A lot of high end boutique jeans companies use Japanese selvedge denim. I'd love to make a pair of jeans with it some day.
PL: What do you think of button fly vs. zipper fly (is one more authentic than another)?
TH: I prefer a button fly over a zipper fly in part because I think they are more authentic than zippers. Historically speaking, jeans came with button flies.
I have also had zippers that get stuck and it can be difficult to get them working again, which isn't a problem with button flies. Even though there is a protective facing with a zipper, as a matter of principle, I've decided that zipper teeth do not belong anywhere near that region of my body (he he).
That being said, zippers are probably more efficient and easy to use. If the rise on your jeans is very low, you might not have room to space out the buttons for a button fly, so it would be a good idea to use a zipper instead. I’ll probably be using a zipper on the jeans I make for my wife, for example.
PL: Where can I find suitable topstitching thread, jeans buttons, and rivets (and do you need special tools to attach rivets)?
TH: I have spent a lot of time scouring the earth for the best topstitching thread, jeans buttons, rivets, and denim. It was impossible to find everything I needed in one place, let alone in small enough quantities that were practical for making one or two pairs of jeans.
My endless searching got me thinking... there are probably other frustrated jean makers out there, and why couldn’t there be a “one stop shop” for jean-making supplies? I’m actually starting such a website, still in its early stages though functional, and you can see the initial offerings on at Taylor Tailor Supply Shop.
I hope that this little shop will fill a need, and I plan to continue adding products and more resources in the future. In the next week or so I will be adding more styles of denim, plus rivets, buttons, and different colors of thread. It’ll also be moving to it’s own home once my web designer (ie: my wife) has time to design it.
For now, everything can be purchased through PayPal buttons on my blog. If any one has any questions about the products or would like samples, feel free to get in touch with me here.
Re: rivets -there are special bench presses and dies available for commercial setups, and rivets to go along with them, but if you buy the right kind of rivets, all you really need is a hammer and a hard, stable surface to pound on. They are very easy to install and I hope to eventually put up a useful tutorial with pictures and instructions.
You basically mark the spot you want the rivet, poke a hole, insert the rivet on the wrong side of the fabric, and pound the "nail" part of the rivet into the cap or burr. The burr is what you see on the right side of the fabric, and the rivet is actually the "nail" looking thing that is inserted from the wrong side of the fabric.
PL: How difficult is it to draft your own jeans pattern? Can you use pieces of a commercial pattern to facilitate things?
TH: I used a great book to help me draft my own jeans pattern, called The Practical Guide To Pattern Drafting for Fashion Designers: Menswear. I’d say it was more time consuming than anything.
Taking accurate measurements from your body (a two-person job) and taking your time during the drafting process helps a lot. Measure, re-measure, and measure again! If you already have a pattern that fits you reasonably well, you could modify this rather than starting from scratch. Since the only commercial pattern I had when I made my jeans didn't fit me, and I didn't really like the overall shape and fit of the pattern, I elected to start from scratch.
The other thing to consider is using a store bought pair of jeans to help draft your pattern. If you have a pair of jeans that fit you really well, you could use them as a basis for a pattern and then make any necessary modifications.
PL: Taylor, thanks so much for sharing what you know with us today!
TH: I am thrilled to contribute!
Readers, isn't Taylor the best? If you have any additional questions for Taylor please ask below and perhaps he (or I) can answer them for you. (I'll be picking his brains in the weeks ahead for sure...little does he know.)
Thanks again, Taylor!
P.S. If you haven't already, don't forget to join the Jeans Sew-Along group on Flickr.
Can't wait to get started!