To kick off No Fear New Jeans Month, I want to introduce you to one of the denim magicians who inspires me the most. I'm not sure when I first discovered Ben Viapiana on Instagram, but I know when it happened I fell in a major 'gram hole admiring his beautiful work. A fellow Canadian, Ben is a bespoke denim tailor working out of Toronto, where he relocated from Thailand last year. All of his jeans and jackets are made to order, and his customers can pick out everything from the rivets and thread, to specifying unique design details and finishes. Whenever I'm in a jean making rut, I like to look at his feed to be reminded of the million/trillion different ways you can make a pair of jeans your own. I highly suggest following his account; I love watching his stories since he demonstrates a lot of his techniques on camera. A generous, funny guy too boot, I was super happy Ben agreed to talk to us about what he does. Hope you're feeling as inspired as I am!
How did you get started making jeans? Are you self-taught or did you go to school or study under someone?
My Father is a tailor from Italy. He taught me the basics of sewing and pattern drafting. I wanted to make jeans early on, but his tailoring mentality and style kept making the jeans turn out like dress pants. I needed a different take on the process. When I moved to Asia, I had a few opportunities to go to factories and see different methods of production.
What drew you to denim and jeans making?
Denim production almost felt like I was building something. It didn't slip and slide around like silk and it held its shape. I was most intrigued by the limitless possibilities of custom anything that lay ahead (even though, I like the more traditional style now). The fact that when the world sees jeans, they see nothing but a big blue blur makes it very motivating for me to dig deeper and find details in the blue that no one cared to see previously.
Do you draft all your own patterns? Do you make custom patterns for clients or do you work with a standard size range?
I draw all my own patterns. I have a few size charts that the customer can choose from, however, I prefer to measure the client myself and make a new pattern for them. All of my work is bespoke, so I have a good variety of shapes and sizes in my pattern arsenal. Usually, I don't have to draft new sizes, I can shift and manipulate base patterns to work for specific clients.
What are your long-term goals for the business? Would you ever consider starting a line, or do you prefer to stay hands on?
My longterm goals are just to be booked up with orders and be able to continue tailoring in North America. I never want to stop sewing, so making my brand larger and hiring out is not an option. My name is on the product, so I need to be the one sewing. I wouldn't mind having someone to help cut and sew certain parts or to have a denim repair and alteration guy eventually. But I like where I am in the denim game.
You use a lot of industrial equipment which may be unfamiliar to the hobbyist jean maker. What are your favorite tools and sewing machines to get the job done?
I love sewing machines. It's my addiction. I currently have about 60. I use about 15 on most pairs of jeans, although I have 20+ set up and the rest are waiting for space and the right time to make an appearance, haha. I love "felling" machines, (lap seam, or french seam style). They are the trickiest to use but the most rewarding when done well. Other machines that are fun are the chainstitch embroidery machine (Singer 114w103) and the keyhole machine (button hole for denim). I totally understand that most people aren't as crazy as me and might only have access to a couple industrial machines. But realistically, that's all you really need. A straight stitch (lock stitch) with coarse feed dogs can be used to make 99 % of the seams on a pair of jeans. All you need to do is hand stitch the buttonhole or find a new way to attach the top.
Each pair you make is so creative and unique. Where do you go for inspiration?
I like surfing the web for old turn of the century photos. The workwear they wore was so functional and interesting. I try to mimic certain aspects of their styles and recreate it into a more wearable piece.
Do you have any techniques you recommend for professional looking results?
First things first, please stop sewing jeans with a regular pant pattern!!!! Jeans are jeans, they need to be a little boxy and rough in order to look right. I get photos from people daily asking what they can do to make their jeans look "better". My answer is always the same, start with a denim pattern or better yet, make your own pattern by tearing apart an old pair of jeans. Other things you could do for a more professional look is to make sure your thread size to "stitch per inch" ratio makes sense and have proper tension on the thread on all seams. Bad tension = bad sewing....
What is your favorite denim to work with?
I like to use un-sanforized denim. There's a bit of risk involved as it shrinks 10% with its first wash. Basically, the denim is loomstate, which means it is sold as is after it's been woven with no after treatment. Imagine making a pattern for a customer and having to add an additional 10% in almost every direction to account for the shrinkage that will occur. Then sometimes when I use 100% cotton thread it shrinks more. I like the math involved and the risk is thrilling.
I hope Ben inspires you to take some creative risks with your own jean-making! It's easy to feel like there is just one way to do something, but I think his work is hard proof that something as classic as a pair of jeans can be re-imagined in so many ways. Keep up with his work on Instagram, and be sure to check out his production process here.