03 Nov 2014 • • by Heather Lou

Understanding and Buying Denim Fabric | Ginger Jeans Sewalong

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I truly believe jeans get an unfair rep for being "scary" to make. The reality is, if you can sew a straight line, you can make jeans. You don't need a fancy machine or years of experience and chances are you already have a lot of what you need to get started. In this post, we'll be covering a bit of jeans history before we jump into where to source denim for sewing your own Ginger Jeans.

Jeans History

Jeans have a fascinating origin. They were invented by Levi Strauss during the California Gold Rush in the 19th century. He was an entrepreneurial genius - he saw the need for durable, rugged work wear that could withstand the rigors of gold mining, and developed most of the typical details we equate with jeans; metal rivets, functional pockets, durable topstitching and bar tacks at areas that see a lot of stress. The first jeans were made from a cotton canvas called "serge de Nîmes" which Strauss imported from France and dyed a deep indigo (de Nîmes = denim, get it?)

Even after the Gold Rush ended, jeans remained a part of the American lexicon - they became the uniform of cowboys and working men, a symbol of sweat and hard work. It wasn't until the 1950's that jeans came to signify something else; with the advent of youth culture and rock and roll, jeans became rebellious. Wearing a pair was a way to subvert the conformity expected at the time. It was the fashion choice of beatniks, punks, musicians and later, hippies and feminists.

Over time, jeans have become an irrevocable part of American fashion. I would argue that they may be the most iconic stylistic innovation to ever emerge from the US, and they are now worn every day by every imaginable sector of society. They are no longer a symbol of non-conformity, but they are still one of the most functional and stylish articles of clothing we can choose to put on in the morning.

In the late 70's, a designer named Peter Golding started blending denim with lycra. Adding stretch to denim made it possible to create a much tighter, more body conscious fit, and his innovation sparked a revolution in denim that eventually led to jeggings, which is a boon or a bane depending on your point of view. Most women's jeans now include some degree of lycra, which is what we'll be looking for when sourcing fabric for our Ginger Jeans.

Stretch Denim for Ginger

Ginger Jeans Pattern_Denim

You can make your Gingers from any stretch woven fabric - if it contains lycra it will work, although a higher percentage of lycra means you will likely have to go down a size. I am going to focus on actual denim since it's become a bit of an obsession of mine over the past few months.

Any stretch denim will work for this pattern. Two percent lycra is the ideal ratio. One percent will work as well, although they may not have quite as much give. I've also made pairs with upwards of 10% lycra, although I had to go down a size or two in the hips and legs. You're looking for denim that has approximately 15-20% crosswise stretch - if it has more or less you will likely be modifying the sizing. Although most of us generally dislike polyester, seeing it in denim is actually not a bad thing. It helps prevent it from stretching out too much with wear.

Here's the thing about denim; it stretches out. It just does. It's in the nature of the twill weave to relax over time. You can get around it a little by sourcing really high quality denim which will stretch less, but no pair of jeans, no matter what it's made of, will look exactly the same 12 hours after you started wearing them. If you want a super snug fit, make a size smaller. The waistband should be snug without creating crazy muffin top, and the legs should fit very close to the skin. These will relax over the day into a more natural fit. The Ginger Jeans run on the generous side to accommodate as many bodies and types of denim available, but going down a size is suggested if you want to minimize stretching.

When sourcing your denim, some retailers will list the weight of denim. I suggest using 7-12 oz denim for your Gingers. Lighter, drapier denims should only be used for the skinny leg version - you want something with a little more heft if you are making the stovepipe leg. Anything over 12oz may be too thick for this pattern - since the cut is so closefitting, you want to be able to move around!

Whatever you use, if it's your first time making the pattern I highly suggest making a muslin. Ordering a few extra yards for this purpose is wise.

Understanding Denim Weave

Traditional fabric is woven using a 1x1 ratio, which means there is one weft for every warp thread. Denim twill uses a 2x1 or 3x1 ratio, which means there are more warp threads for every weft thread (generally the 3x1 is for denim above 10.5oz ). The weave is staggered to create the diagonal pattern you probably equate with denim.

The most common weave is Right Hand Twill. This creates a diagonal pattern that starts in the bottom left and moves up to the top right. Less common is Left Hand Twill, where the diagonal starts in the bottom right and moves up to the top left of the fabric.

If you come upon a denim that doesn't have this diagonal pattern, it is called broken twill. The diagonal threads alternate to create a zig zag pattern. Why is this important? Broken twill was developed to prevent leg twist. While there are ways to cut your pieces to minimize this phenomenon with traditional denim, a broken twill will not twist around your leg since it doesn't have the mechanical weave pulling it in any one particular direction.

denim weave types-understanding twill

Occasionally you may come across the term "slub" denim. This means that the warp thread is not an even thickness throughout, and creates a textured finish in the denim.

Most commercially available denim comes undistressed - if you want to add some dimension to your jeans you'll have to do it yourself. I'll be covering this in the sewalong!

Sourcing Denim Fabric

The best quality denim in the world comes from Japan, Italy, and Turkey. Most American mills are now closed with the vast majority of denim being produced overseas. Unfortunately, most fabric stores don't list the source but smaller retailers may be able to tell you where their denim comes from. If you can't identify where it comes from, I wouldn't lose too much sleep over it. Try to find something that has decent recovery and you should be okay. If you can get your hands on the denim in person, try tugging and pulling on it. If it more or less springs back to it's original shape, it means the recovery is good. Cheaper quality denim is likely to bag out at the knee and may stretch with wear. If this is what you're working with, you may want to go down a size in anticipation.

Where to Buy Denim Fabric

Our sister brand Core Fabrics always has a wide variety of denim fabrics in stock. I personally hand-pick each denim we carry based on quality and the mill that produced it so you can always count on excellent quality from us.

Caring For Denim

You definitely want to pre-wash your denim before you cut out your pieces. You want to remove the chemical sizing and soften up the fabric - it's often quite stiff off the roll.  If you plan on putting your finished jeans in the dryer, you should dry your denim to pre-shrink them as much as possible BUT.... keep in mind that heat is the enemy of lycra. If you want your jeans to last as long as possible, you should air dry them whenever possible.

Wash the raw denim with a cup of vinegar to prevent bleeding. You should also add vinegar to each wash for your completed pairs. And ix-nay on the fabric softener - it's really hard on the lycra. If you want to preserve the dye, try not to wash them too frequently and when you do, turn them inside out. I try to get at least 4 wears out of my jeans before washing them. If you want to be really hardcore about it, you can throw them in the freezer whenever they get stinky.

Finally, I read an interview with a Levi's designer who said she put baby oil on her legs every time she wore her jeans. It apparently gives them a sheen over time - something to try!


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