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May 3, 2011

Jeans Sew-Along 2 -- Fit

I like to think I'm a very open-minded person, but in many ways I'm quite traditional and jeans fit is one of the ways.   Unless you're dancing around a pole, please keep your appendectomy scar covered.

You've probably heard that the high-waisted look is coming back, primarily for gals but it's only a matter of time for us guys.  On a certain type of figure I like this look.  It's also the one I grew up with.

How jeans should fit is a personal question and better hashed out in our Jeans Sew-Along Flickr group.  Age, body type, lifestyle, and personality all come into play here.   Personally, I find jeans that come up to my true waist to feel confining, especially when I sit down.  I prefer my jeans to hit approximately 3" below my navel, give or take 1".

I'm more particular about where the back waistband hits.  I'm 5'7", which is considered short here in the USA, and if the rise is too high in back, I think it really shortens me and also looks dated.  Way out West, where someone might conceivably be sitting on a horse (or a mechanical bull), this look is still in vogue. 

Too high for me (These are a 30" x 30" -- Helmut Lang via the dumpster):


I prefer this fit (these are Levi 511's, also 30" x 30") though they reveal a bit of love handle and cut me in the seat.

These Banana Republic jeans, ALSO size 30" x 30", are both too big and too high.  Commercial sizing means nothing these days.

More about fit below; let's move on.

Our goals for today are:

1. Take your basic pants measurements: waist (true waist or jeans-height waist), hips, inseam, rise (crotch to waist).  Do you know which jeans pattern size you'll be using?

2. Trace and/or cut your pattern pieces, making necessary adjustments to them. 

 3. Test needles and thread on your jeans fabric.


1.  Did you try on your jeans yesterday like I asked you to?  Do you have a sense of what looks and feels good with regard to fit?

Let's take our basic measurements.

My true waist is about 30".  But I don't wear my jeans up there, as you already know.

My "jeans" waist is roughly 33".  But I know from experience that this does not mean I should cut the size Medium jeans: I'd swim in those.  I'll still cut the Small, but I may give myself a little extra room through the hips; I'll probably do this by narrowing the seam allowance a bit when I sew.

My hips are about 37" -- still within Small range according to the KS pattern, but barely.

This is the way I measure my rise; not sure if it's orthodox but it works for me.  From top of back waistband down under to front top of waistband, we're talking 22".  I'll also measure the distance from center crotch seam (where the flat-felled seams intersect) to both top of front waistband and top of back waistband on a pair of pants (whose fit I like) themselves and check that against the pattern.

Your inseam is from that inside crotch point down to where you want the bottom of your pants to go.  Better too long than too short as jeans will shrink a bit.  I only hem after multiple dryings.

2.  Basic adjustments to pattern pieces.  On the Kwik Sew pattern (and most patterns) there are designated places (horizontal lines) where you make changes if you're lengthening/shortening the legs and/or rise.  If you're tracing your pattern pieces, please include this line too.

I've made pants where I thought, well, I'll just make the changes to the rise when I'm attaching the waistband.  Then I ended up with side pockets too narrow to fit my hands inside.

Remember these?  I could maybe squeeze in three fingers.

Remember, too, that adjustments made in the fly area will have to me made to all other pattern pieces that intersect that area.
3. This is the time to experiment with thread and needles.

Yesterday I bought my topstitching thread at Sil Thread.  You can order from them online, did you know that?  They have 200 colors!

I tested it using my Featherweight and it works great.  You want something thick enough to show up well but not so thick as too screw up your sewing machine.  I sew jeans with a size 14 or 18 needle -- it's a stronger needle for thicker fabrics and the eye is large enough to accommodate thicker thread.

Test your needle and thread with multiple layers of denim.  Make sure your machine is up to the task.

Friends, I think that's enough for today, don't you?  Tomorrow we'll start cutting fabric.  A few of you have recommended pre-shrinking denim more than once and that sounds like a good idea, especially if you routinely dry you jeans in the dryer.

All sorts of fun conversations are going on in the Flickr group -- check it out!

See you all tomorrow!


  1. are the EXACT size as hubby...can I just forgo all of this measuring and you tell me exactly what to do? Just kidding, well not really. When I finally get around to making these jeans...I just want to copy yours.

  2. I tried on several pairs last night and found that I like my jeans just below my navel. So I'd say I'm a high waisted jeans wearer. I'm not surprised since I like my pants at my waist too.

    I'll take my measurements later to make sure I'm tracing the correct size. This is my first time making jeans and I'm very excited. I lean more towards the stonewashed color and those are hard to find. Now I get to make my own. Yay!

    Gotta remember to prewash to fabric. I've got like three different shades of denim fabric. Do you think it's okay to wash all three together?

  3. Lisa, maybe I can send him an old pair of mine. ;)

    Jeanette, as long as none of them is white, I think you're OK.

  4. Peter: Do you do both upper and lower thread with the denim/think thread? I have a hard time making that work and have only had (part) succes with using the denim thread on either one. Do you have any solutions for that problem? I know I did use denim needles.
    Jeanette: All dark demin goes together - I always do that or I'd never see the buttom of my laundry-bin.

  5. DaneMum, yes, I generally use the denim thread in both upper and lower. First, you have to make sure your needle's eye is large enough for the thicker thread to go through. Second, you may have to adjust your tension: the upper thread may need to be tighter to pull the bottom thread through the thicker fabric...

    You have to experiment. Sometimes the bobbin case screw needs to be loosened (loosening the bobbin thread tension) to make it easier for the top thread to pull it out.

  6. Is that a Featherweight you're sewing on? They are true work horses!

  7. great content today.
    ;) I mostly just looked at the pictures.
    Yes, I am shamelessly smothering you in compliments.

  8. I wear highwaist, flared jeans. Hope I have the "certain figure" you think look good in these, har har.

    I don't think it will ever be a look for men - those Helmut Langs are wretched! (Though they would suck in a beer gut.)

  9. "Sil" means thread (or yarn) in Korean. Pronounced sort of like "sheel." Just saying.

  10. Good. I adore high waist jeans, I like them to hit at my natural waist, just above my navel. Absolutely hate low rise, they're uncomfortable!

  11. I may not be participating in the jeans sew-along, but I am planning on sewing a pair of pants for MMJ, and I'm glad for all the tips you can give! I made a pair of shorts to test my pattern and I love them, minus the fact that I can't sit in them...they ride right on up!

  12. Ran into the website leena dot com while thinking about this sew along. Decent drafting and converting to jeans instructions for those without a pattern...

  13. DaneMum you can buy special topstitching needles with larger eyes. I've seen size 80s, which would probably be OK on midweight denim and I think there might be 90s for those using heavy weight fabric.

  14. The man at the top of your post forgot to put his knickers on - I don't think his Mum would be very pleased....
    I'm not joining you for this sew along because I'm a big wuss when it comes to trousers, but I will be following you closely and wish everyone lots of luck!

  15. I'm lagging! My fabric is on the way, according to My pattern is in my mind. But because I'm not really making traditional jeans with the fly and all that top stitching, I'll catch up, I hope. Everyone's work looks really impressive.

  16. I can't wait until high rise comes to men. the Levis fit you perfectly. I threw away all my lower rise jeans, although I grew up with low rise bootcut jeans, I only wear higher rise, mostly skinny jeans. Jeans do not belong three inches below the waist. It just shortens a persons leg length.


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