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Sallie’s Tips on How to Sew Jeans

Sallie of Sallie-Oh is one awesome awesome lady. She’s more than just another blog “friend,” she’s a fellow Philadelphian (well, not anymore but she used to be, which is good enough in my book). Our emails back and forth cover more than blogging garb. We chat about familiar Philly neighborhoods, yummy Philly eats, and the bittersweet move of the Barnes Foundation (it houses more Degas than the Louvre!) from the suburbs to the city. What I love most about Sallie is that all of her creations look store bought and RTW and never homemade. Her most recent creation, IKAT printed dress, looked like it would be sold in an Anthropologie store. The print was vibrant and we both agreed that even though the silhouette was simple, it made a huge statement. My favorite creation of hers is a pair of jeans she made at the beginning of spring. Because of the distressing techniques and specialized machinery that goes into jean making, it’s hard for any home sewer, even a skilled one, to sew a good looking pair of jeans. Uh-uh hunny. Not according to Sallie. Her jeans were stunning. A dark wash, the topstitching looked stellar and a slim cut, the silhouette looked sharp. So when we went back and forth on topics for this guest post, it’s no surprise we were both gung ho on a topic about jeans. So today, Sallie will share tips she learned while sewing her jeans. Take it away Sallie…

I could live in jeans.

Scratch that. I do live in jeans! Jeans that I made! These jeans, to be exact:

In this post I’m going to cover a few things I’ve learned about making jeans:

1) There are some things that RTW jeans get right, like the styling. It’s been my experience that the jeans I’ll wear the most are the ones that just look like a freaking pair of jeans! Nothing more. Nothing less. And that’s where it’s great to turn to RTW to get tips on the styling.
While sewing my jeans I kept a few of my RTW pairs by my machine to look at things like:

  • Topstitching-thread color, placement, and width (if a double row of topstitching)
  • seam finishes for pockets, inseam, and outer seam
  • The mechanics of the fly
  • Belt loops – placement, and how they’re made and attached
  • Bar tacks – where they’re at and what they’re purpose is
  • Rivets

The combination of all these details are endless, and are great things to play with for more personality, but I found that following my RTW jeans as a guideline gave me the most professional results.2) Finding a perfect pants pattern is hard enough – don’t kill yourself trying to find the perfect jeans pattern. Did you spend months and countless numbers of muslins trying to get the fit right on your Colette Clover pants (ahem)? Maybe you have another TNT pattern you’ve been using as dress trousers? Or maybe you are one of the lucky ones and you actually own a pair of pants (any pants!) that fit you well?

These are all great places to start making your own jeans. Sure there are patterns out there specifically for jeans (Jalie, for instance) but you don’t need them. With a few simple pattern adjustments (like front pocket shaping and adding a front zip fly) you can turn any pants pattern into a pair of jeans. If you’ve ever come across a pattern, or a RTW pair of pants that fits you well in the crotch and butt, you’re good to go! Fitting the center front and center back seams are the hardest, so try to avoid that if at all possible. But fitting the hips, waist and legs is easy peasy! Which brings me to…

3) What if your favorite pair of pants (or pants pattern) is wide legged and you want to make a skinny jean? No problemo. It’s pretty easy to taper the side seams on a pants pattern, but there are a few things you should consider first.

  • Fabric. A really narrow leg will only really work with denim (or other bottom weight fabric) that has some stretch. On the flip side, a stretch denim on a wide leg jean might be useless, and may even make your jeans stretch out of shape quickly.
  • How skinny is too skinny? This is another great time to turn to RTW. Already got a pair of skinny jeans? Just measure the foot opening. Or turn to my number one resource, the Internet. I love sites like Madewell that give you fun facts about their jeans, like inseam length and leg opening width. These are all great things to keep in mind if you’re going for a specific style, and will also help your handmade jeans look current (if that’s your thing).
4) Traditionally, jeans were the working mans uniform, and they were engineered for labor. While I probably (probably) won’t be swinging any sledgehammers in my jeans, I still expect them to last for years and hold up to repeated machine washing and drying – and no busted seams on the dance floor please! This means that some extra care has to go into the making.
  • If you don’t have a serger, consider flat-felling your major seams. Especially center back, the back yolk (if you have one) and the inseam. A flat-felled seam is more time consuming, but it’s ridiculously strong.
  • If you do have a serger, sew your seam first, then serge the raw edges. This gives your seams a nice, double row of stitching for extra strength.
  • While topstitching may seem just decorative, it also provides additional strength to those high stress seams. So I know it’s a pain to keep rethreading your machine with topstitching thread, but at the minimum, do it for your CF and CB seam and your waistband.

5) Sewing jeans gets pretty bulky. You’re working with a lot of layers of medium to heavy weight fabric. You’ll have an easier time of it if you use a jeans needle or a 100/16 needle for the especially bulky areas. Also, if it sounds like your machine wants to die going over a particularly thick patch (like the belt loops) just take it easy and use the hand wheel. A well-placed piece of poster paper or cardboard to flatten out an area (or bit of hammering) can also be effective. Also, trim, trim, trim those seam allowances – especially in the waistband!

6) To get a perfectly even and symmetrical double row of topstitching its best to use a double needle (they come in different widths, so refer to your RTW jeans to see what width you like best) If your machine isn’t set up for a double needle (mine wasn’t, I had to buy an extra part) have no fear, you can still get a nice straight row. Just draw in some guidelines for yourself with chalk and a ruler before you stitch. I find this most helpful when stitching down the back patch pockets.

And finally! A roundup of links I’ve found extremely helpful in my jeans making endeavors!

  • This is a series of posts that Peter Lappin of Male Pattern Boldness did on a jeans sew-a-long. He’s sewing men’s jeans, but the information he covers is universal – and priceless!
  • Already got a pair of jeans (or pants) you love and that fit you well? Kenneth King does a class on Craftsy teaching you how to reverse engineer your favorite jeans.
  • Taylor Tailor has a great post on how to insert jeans rivets – and even better – he sells them in his supply shop (along with just about everything else you’ll need)!
  • This store sells jeans rivets galore – and yes it’s in bulk, but you’ll be surprised how quickly you go through them! Also, if you’re getting serious about this jean-making business, they sell a press for professional rivet insertion. (Don’t think I didn’t consider it…)
  • Colette Patterns Pants fitting cheat sheet is gold for getting a nice fit (especially for pants-sewing beginners)
  • Colette Patterns tutorial for making a flat-felled seam
  • A series of tutorials I did on my blog showing you how to draft and sew a zip front fly (and pockets)

And that’s it!! Go forth and make thee some awesome jeans!!

A huge thank-you to Maddie for asking me to be a part of this series of guest posts!! Maddie, you are one rocking lady, and an endless source of inspiration!!




  1. Reply


    What perfect timing! I’ll be working on my first pair of jeans soon so this article popped up in my reader at the right time. Excellent tips from one of the sewists I admire. All this info is much appreciated. Thanks to you and Sallie for sharing!

    • Reply


      Oh I’m so glad that this came to you when it did. Please be sure to stop back and let both of us – Sallie and I – know how your experience was!

  2. Reply


    Thanks Maddie! This was fun! Its such a thrill to see my silly mug on your blog!

    • Reply


      Not a silly mug what-so-eva!

  3. Reply


    Excellent advice! I know someday I’ll get the courage to tackle jeans.

    • Reply


      You can do it!

  4. Reply


    Nice! I love those jeans too XD And finally, finally someone else that thinks patterns that need a lot of alterations for fit should be dropped in favour of whatever works!  Coolcoolcool.

    • Reply


      I agree! I loved Sallie’s recommendation of using pants you already own and have a great fit for patterns

  5. Reply


    Great post!!  Thanks so much for sharing your helpful tips!

  6. Reply


    I don’t know if I’ll ever sew jeans.. though it really would be nice to have some that fit well!

  7. Reply


    Oops!  Forgot I was going to say this is super excellent advice for anyone with the courage to tackle jeans 🙂  

  8. Reply


    what great tips and great photographs! loved this post!
    xo TJ

  9. Reply

    Amanda Russell

    Thanks for all the amazing info! I know I’ll have the courage to tackle jeans at some point, so it’s good to know you’ve forged the way with great success 🙂

  10. Reply

    Inna S

    Sallie, these jeans fit you like a glove! Thanks for sharing your tips! Love it!

  11. Reply


    Sallie’s jeans are the rockinest! I love your can-do attitude… Jeans are the next, must-do thing after my 5 other must-do things ;). Thanks for sharing your tips!

  12. Reply


    Those are amazing jeans!  Thanks for all of the tips!

  13. Reply


    This advice was EXACTLY what I needed! thank you!

  14. Reply

    Tana Yasu


  15. Reply


    This is such a great post thank you so much for putting it together. Massive help.

  16. Reply


    You couldn’t have kicked the can out of the way to take the picture?? lol

  17. Reply


    Hi! I’m so happy I found your blog! I wondered if you have a snap maker you like? Thanks so much!

  18. Reply

    Cami Turner

    Thank you so much! I’m tackling jeans for my little girl, so finding this right now is perfect!! 🙂


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