Making Your Own Jeans — Not As Difficult As You Thought

Jeans made with McCall's 5894 Jeans that I sewed

I finished my first-ever custom made pair of jeans tonight! (They were finished enough to wear last weekend — pictured — but I hemmed them up a little more and added the rivets tonight.)

Custom made jeans

The rivets had not been added when the pictures were taken — and I’d also been wearing them all day and they’d stretched (more on that later).

Here are some tips, if you’re looking at making your own jeans:

Go try on some expensive jeans that are very flattering; take pictures and measurements.  You’ll want to pay particular attention to pocket placement.  To see why pocket placement makes a difference, you may want to visit this very enlightening blog post.

I used the McCall’s 5894 pattern.  It needed a bit of tweaking — it came up way too high in the front for my taste, and I moved it down a good inch or more at center front.  If you follow the fitting directions boldly, however, you should end up with a good-looking pair of jeans.  I have always had a problem with jeans gapping at the center back, so I took in the center back seam quite a bit. I also changed the curve of the crotch seam — I took it in more for a better fit.  I also had to let out the seam a little at the inner thigh, but take it in on the outer thigh.  Everyone’s fit will be different, so don’t be afraid to experiment with it — once you get it right, you can use the pattern over and over.

I had also bought the Jalie jeans pattern, but I found the McCall’s on sale for under a dollar at Joann’s and decided to go with that instead because it had more detailed fitting directions.  And, in reality, the fitting was definitely the most time-consuming part of this. Actually sewing them was a piece of cake.

Zippers and topstitching thread can be ordered at a very reasonable price from Wawak.  They also carry jeans buttons, but if you use their jeans buttons, you’ll have to add some denim “washers” — the post is longer than the button is deep.  For jeans buttons, there are a lot of really fascinating options on eBay — I even saw some from overseas that had a cameo on them.  Before you buy them, watch the Brian Sews video on buttons and make sure you’re getting the right kind (the first kind that I bought had an unfortunate tendency to pop off).

When topstitching, you’ll want to use the topstitching thread on the upper part of the machine and regular thread in the bobbin, with a heavy #16 needle.

Rivets — if you want to make your jeans look particularly professional — can be ordered in small quantities from Castbullet.com or in larger quantities from Grommet Mart (I ordered from Cast Bullet, but I have seen Grommet Mart recommended several places).  Definitely order quite a few more rivets than you think you’ll need — they take some experimentation to get right.

For help with installing rivets, the video from BrianSews is great.  However, since I already have a HomePro LR grommet setter — now discontinued — I bought a set of Home Pro rivet dies and set the rivets with that. (Thank heavens I bought things like grommet setters in high school, instead of the usual teenage stuff.)

I got my fabric from Fabric.com.  When looking for denim, pay attention to the weight of the denim (defined in number of ounces per square yard).  I used 10-oz. denim with 2% Lycra and was very happy with it.

If using stretch denim, though, make the jeans tighter than you think you need to.  I had mine fitting like a glove, and by the end of the day (when the pictures were taken) they felt baggy and later had to be taken in quite a bit more from just below the waistband almost to the knee.  This may also be because I decided to prewash my denim — but I think I’d rather prewash and take in, than to have them come out of the dryer an inch too short!

Have some fun with the pocket lining Jeans pocket detail— even though you’re the only one who will see it (or you can use it as an excuse to show off your jeans to all your friends).  I used some scraps of vintage green calico with white flowers.

Also come up with your own fun back pocket design (just don’t copy my skeleton keyhole!) — play around with some different stitch types on a piece of scrap denim.  This may be one of the only times that you actually use anything your machine for anything besides a straight stitch or zigzag!

I’m about to start a second pair of jeans with the same pattern — this time, I’m lowering the front and back by another inch, and taking the legs in just a bit more.  I’m also going to flip the placket the other direction — the pattern had it on the opposite side from the rest of my jeans.

I will tell you this:  Unless you’ve got $100 to spend on a pair of jeans, you can probably make your own faster than you can shop for a pair that actually fits.  And that’s why I made my own (well, that, and bragging may have been a factor, too).

UPDATE 12/11/13 — I’m working on the second pair, and decided to go for a curved (contoured) waistband rather than the straight one found in the pattern.  I simply traced the waistband of a worn-out pair of jeans that I already had, added seam allowances, and went with that. It worked like a charm. Advantages? I didn’t have to make a dart in the center back to compensate for my waist/hip ratio, the waistband hugs my body better, and the waistband doesn’t try to bend outward at the top like the straight one does.

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About Charity

I have an inexcusable number of cookbooks (and like to experiment with them), have worked in architectural antiques, and have been sewing most of my life. I hold a Bachelor of Science in Textiles & Apparel and Fashion Merchandising from Lipscomb University, and I am currently pursuing my M.S. in Historic/Cultural Dress and Textiles at the University of Georgia. Doing household things (except for cleaning!) and hunting for antiques are my favorite pastimes.
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4 Responses to Making Your Own Jeans — Not As Difficult As You Thought

  1. RSC says:

    Wow…wow…and WOW!!! Hats off to you for taking on such a “daring” project. You da bomb!

  2. Vanessa says:

    Thank you for all the great information!! I plan on attempting my first pair of jeans with a Craftsy class and the same pattern you used. Hopefully My jeans will look as great as yours!

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