Sewing Denim like a Pro: All the known Tips and Tricks (plus some more)

When I think to pants, I have to say that I automatically think to denim! This sturdy cotton fabric, originally born in France (etymology: De Nimes), used for sewing Jeans (a medium weight corduroy fabric of a reasonable cost, used by Genoese tailors to cover their goods on Genoa Docks).

One other thing I love to make using jeans (better if pre-loved) are handbags and suitcases: sturdy, dirt-proof, durable and (matching it with the right hardware and decorations) not only sporty or casual (think denim and lace, denim and gold, denim and piping… just to name a few).

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Just about sewing bags, lately, I’ve enrolled a Craftsy class that teaches you all the secrets…

Serger Pepper - Sewing Denim like a Pro - Design Your Own Handbag

…that inspired me to create a new pattern: my Hands-free Asymmetrical Bag!

This won’t be a pattern suitable for beginners, like my previous two (the Sheer Top and The Basic Leggings): more an intermediate sewist level task!

Why? Because there are so many features and details that I’d suggest you not to start your bag making adventure with it…also if some of the testers made it as a first or second bag project and made it damn good, you’ll see, they’re amazing, in my Crew 🙂

One of the most interesting challenges to deal with, to be sure you’ll have a great result, is mastering

Sewing Denim like a Pro

(and, generally speaking, thick or multilayered fabrics)

Serger Pepper - Sewing Denim like a Pro - title
Here are my best suggestion, collected in years of sewing!

Tips useful before you start sewing denim (and thick fabrics):

  • Before everything, please always pre-wash your denim fabric: often it will shrink and, being a dark color dyed cotton fabric, it usually discards some color too (put some vinegar in your rinse water or, better, leave it soak a whole night in warm water plus a cup of white vinegar… it can help fixing pigments and discarding exceeding).
  • Not to forget that, during warping, denim is being glued with chemicals (like any other fabric): pre-washing will soften it just a tad, making it easier to manage while sewing it.
  • Just because I think it’s better staying on the safe side, you can choose pre-washing your denim fabric twice (just as I do)… because sometimes one isn’t enough!
  • Always use SHARP scissors or new blade on your rotary cutter; better cut a layer at a time, you’ll hands will thank you!
  • If your denim frays a lot, better zig-zagging or serging the raw edges right after cutting out pattern pieces, before even starting to assemble:

Serger Pepper - Sewing Denim like a Pro - Serge fraying edges

Sewing tips for sewing denim (and thick fabrics):

  • Always use a specific denim needle: Schmetz (my favorite brand) are the ones with yellow/blue code. They’re sharper and sturdier than universal ones. As usual, choose a bigger number for thicker fabrics ( multi-layeryer seams, like on flat felled seams) and vice-versa .

Serger Pepper - Sewing Denim like a Pro - Jeans Needles

  • Sometimes denim can stretch while you sew it: the trick is holding it firmly in front and back of your needle, while sewing, without pulling it at all! This should prevent any unwanted stretch. If it wasn’t enough, try lowering your foot pressure (if you’re so lucky of having this adjustable setting) and or try a teflon foot (like the one for vinyl) that will help fabric feed smoothly without (or with less) friction. Another solution can be a walking foot, that, eventually, can help your top layers to feed over your sewing foot at the same time of the lower layers, right above the feed dogs. This is mine, a really cheap-o one! Let me say that I love it… really useful! I’d certainly suggest you to try a Walking Foot you too!

Serger Pepper - Sewing Denim like a Pro - Walking Foot

  • Separate seam allowances pressing them open whenever you can, especially if you need to sew across the same seam, to reduce the bulk.
  • If you have two paired two seam allowances meeting (think crotch seam), try to offset them!
  • Go slowly, sometimes you’d better turn by hand the wheel to pass over thicker layers of fabric (so you won’t damage your needle and machine too!)
  • Raise the presser foot higher: yes, even if you thought your presser foot can’t go higher then its high position, it can!

This is high:

Serger Pepper - Sewing Denim like a Pro - raise the presser foot…and this is higher! Just pull it with your finger (and ignore all those wrinkles on my finger, it looks like I have 90 years, but I haven’t!) Serger Pepper - Sewing Denim like a Pro - raise the presser foot higher

  • If you have this setting (in my sewing machine I don’t) lowering the foot pressure could help (but remember of repositioning the knob before sewing again medium or lightweight fabrics)
  • Let’s talk about topstitching: I like the look of a Heavy Duty thread or, better, of a shining silk thread in a contrasting color; as always, when sewing thick fabrics, use a longer stitch length (a 3.5 or 4 works and looks good to me but, as usual, try and practice on scraps, especially topstitching and buttonholes). If you’re in a hurry and don’t have any thick thread in hands, you can always wind a bobbin with your regular thread, slap it into the second spool hanger…

Serger Pepper - Sewing Denim like a Pro - two threads instead of a heavy duty

… make your two threads share the same path for a while…

Serger Pepper - Sewing Denim like a Pro - two threads sharing the same path…then thread them trough your needle eye together!Serger Pepper - Sewing Denim like a Pro - two threads in the same needleCan you see the difference?

So much bolder with double regular thread, even better using a triple straight stitch!

As usual, your password has to be: practice with scraps and see what you like best!
Serger Pepper - Sewing Denim like a Pro - two threads sample seams

  • Just thinking… a decorative seam using those thicker contrasting threads (or a double regular thread) should look really good on denim: think pink thread on dark blue denim, or lime green thread on black jeans! A gorgeous touch to any so-and-so project!
  • Sometimes, when you start sewing a bulk fabric (like multiple layers of denim), it could happen to you of not lowering the presser foot, because the foot is already touching the fabric (but tension disks and feed dogs aren’t engaged)… Believe me if I say that it “could” happen 😉 it’s one of those blonde moments!
    Luckily it’s an easily fixable mistake (just go back, rip that seam and re-sew it lowering the presser foot, this time)!
  • An edgestitching foot is an interesting gadget to add to your (and mine, since I don’t have it… by now!) sewing arsenal if you plan to topstitch a lot: it’s really useful on thicker fabrics on top of all, because it helps following exactly the fold/edge.
  • Start sewing holding both thread tails in your hand, without pulling them but firmly, like if you were sewing a sheer or a light weight knit: it will help avoiding bird nests.
  • Other little trick: use some tear away stabilizer (or that thin see-through tissue paper you find on shoe boxes, if you’re frugal like me – I use that one that comes in swimwear packages, working in a swimming pool) to be put on top and/or right above the feed dogs. 
  • Use stronger, thicker heavy-duty pins or, better, Clover Wonder Clips
  • I use a multilayered Thick-y fabric to start and finish bulk seams (Dritz has created a similar fancy gadget called Jean-A-Ma-Jig, for the lazy sewists: it costs nearly nothing, really affordable and perfect for all those sewing gadget hoarders outside there… yes, I know you like these things… )

Look what happens if you simply start sewing without using anything: the foot is at an angle and the needle will likely break:

Serger Pepper - Sewing Denim like a Pro - without Thick-yEnter: The Thick-y:Serger Pepper - Sewing Denim like a Pro - Thick-y Simply place it right before your thick fabric, helping your (machine’s) foot stay horizontalSerger Pepper - Sewing Denim like a Pro - Thick-y beforeWhen you reach the end of the seam, put it right at the end of the fabric:Serger Pepper - Sewing Denim like a Pro - Thick-y after

After sewn denim (and thick fabrics):

  • Press seams well, using a lot of steam… and eventually use a rubber hammer or a Meat Pounder!
  • Reduce bulk trimming seam allowances, clipping curves and mitering corners.

A denim cherry on top, only for you:

Taylor Tailor teaches us how to insert rivets, for a Pro touch! (and they sell them too)

Ask me to add you as a contributor to my sewing denim Pinterest board, and pin with me!

Follow MammaNene’s board sewing jeans! on Pinterest.

 

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About the Author:

Hi there! I love sewing, creating my own patterns and refashioning pre-loved clothes... If you love the same things, why not be friends? See you on Pinterest http://Pinterest.com/MammaNene

34 Comments

  1. Elaine Bush May 22, 2014 at 17:54 - Reply

    Am sad to see that English is not the first language used!!! We are in English speaking USA!!!! Glad to see creative ideas.

    • Mamma Nene May 23, 2014 at 15:57 - Reply

      Hi Elaine!
      Why isn’t English the first language used? I’m italian and certainly my English isn’t the best in the world, but I can’t really catch your comment & I would really love to hear more from you 🙂
      Thank you so much,
      Irene

    • Wouldn’t that be you’re IN USA, speaking English?? It doesn’t look like your English is very good at all yourself Elaine Bush!

    • M January 20, 2016 at 17:33 - Reply

      I had no idea English was not your second language. Great Post! Great writing in English!!

      • Mamma Nene January 20, 2016 at 17:37 - Reply

        Hi M, and thanks for writing me!
        Well, actually English IS my second language (it’s not my first, which is Italian)… but I’m sure it’s what you were trying to say LOL
        Have a nice day <3

  2. Robin Phillips-Knotts May 26, 2014 at 00:03 - Reply

    ignore elaine. i’m in the usa & english is my first language – and i have NO idea what she is talking about in her comment. Even if you had written your whole blog in italian, it’s your blog and you can do what you wish. i find it very annoying when people think everyone in the usa/world should speak english. your english is very good btw. anyway, i think i’m going to try this pattern after i get my daughter’s measurements. i have a ton of her knit tops/t-shirts she wore as a teen that i might be able to cut up and use for this dress. 🙂
    i also look forward to reading more of your blog – thank you for so many free patterns. 🙂
    robin

    • Mamma Nene May 29, 2014 at 12:51 - Reply

      Thanks Robin for your lovely words… I know that I can’t please everyone, but it always hurts and makes me feel sad when someone spends his time leaving rude comments 🙁
      Can’t wait to see your version of this dress 🙂

  3. […] If you need some great tips and tricks on how to sew with denim, you have to (I mean, you really really have to!) take a look into this Serger Pepper’s post on “Sewing Denim like a Pro“! […]

  4. Just wondering… With the sewing denim like a pro you don’t suggest using a serger to finish the seams, is that correct?

    • Mamma Nene August 25, 2014 at 15:28 - Reply

      Hi Samantha!
      In fact, I didn’t mention finishing seams after sewing because, if your denim is an heavy-fraying kind, I suggest serging edges before everything. Obviously you can finish them after sewing but, due to the thickness of the fabric, I would finish each seam allowance on its own!
      I hope I answered to your question <3

  5. Yes, thank you!

  6. Stitchwiz September 4, 2014 at 15:19 - Reply

    I have been sewing for more years than I want to admit 🙂 But it took a young man the age of my son to teach me this trick. I cover for him in his tailoring shop when he needs to take a holiday. Here’s Dave’s tip:
    When you are sewing over multiple layers of denim, i.e. when you are hemming your jeans, use a hammer to pound the folds flat before you stitch. Make sure you do this on a sturdy surface. Voilà! Perfect hems!

    • Mamma Nene September 4, 2014 at 18:04 - Reply

      yes! And it relieves stress too! Hoorray for Dave’s hammer trick <3

  7. Sarah Steel October 4, 2014 at 10:33 - Reply

    Ciao Mamma Nene, The thick-y idea is brilliant; I will definitely be using that, thank you for your advice and help from a keen sewist who has a lot to learn! Buona giornata!

    • Mamma Nene October 19, 2014 at 11:00 - Reply

      hi Sarah!
      Sometimes you need to use what you have to solve a problem 😉
      As I wrote, there is a tool they sell for this purpouse: I often try to see if I can create instead of buy anything… I’m a DIYer LOL

  8. Piera - ClaraBelle October 20, 2014 at 10:18 - Reply

    Great post! I’ve always used a triple stitch but I never thought about using two threads! Need to try this!!!
    Hugs, Piera

    • Mamma Nene October 20, 2014 at 11:25 - Reply

      Ciao Piera!
      Nice to see you find interesting and new-to-you tips… I think that sharing all those little and common tips can be helpful, I’ve learnt this way a lot of little (but time-saving) tips!
      Hugs, dear <3

  9. Rebecca Gwaltney December 1, 2014 at 03:47 - Reply

    Oh my goodness…after years and years and years of sewing I’ve come to the internet to find tips and tricks for sewing with denim and multiple layers of fabric because I’ve been having such a hard time breaking needles right and left! It would appear I’ve been doing it wrong for a long time. Thank you for your tips I certainly hope they work for me because I re-purpose jeans and denim often. Happy sewing!

    • Mamma Nene December 5, 2014 at 11:51 - Reply

      Hi Rebecca, thanks for your visit!
      I hope my little tips are going to work for you too, I love to refashion a lot and I’ve already completed a lot of needle-benter projects thanks to them!
      Please let me know how it goes, and maybe share some pictures too… we always love a good refashion!
      Happy sewing xox

  10. Theresa December 31, 2014 at 15:57 - Reply

    Hi, I’m doing a jean sew a long and this was such a great source of information. Thanks so much for doing it. I’m going to check you out on pinterest.

    • Mamma Nene January 11, 2015 at 11:19 - Reply

      Thanks Theresa!
      I’d love to visit your sew along, if you’d like to share a link… glad to see my tips collection helped you out with it!

  11. Rachel February 28, 2015 at 05:45 - Reply

    I frequently sew with denim and will certainly use these tips! Thanks

    • Mamma Nene March 5, 2015 at 13:11 - Reply

      Thanks Rachel!
      Glad to help… Sewing denim is fun but can be tricky, sometimes 😉

  12. […] best option) or run two normal threads through your machine and needle (see an example of that in this post from Serger Pepper which includes a few more denim tips). I use topstitching thread in the needle only, with all […]

  13. Dash March 24, 2015 at 17:50 - Reply

    Hi elaine.

    Have you ever tried using low shank foot to increase the space under foot for very thick and bulky material?

    I have problem to place my thick material under sewing foot.

  14. Dd April 11, 2015 at 06:58 - Reply

    Hello,
    I am new to sewing and have been making denim aprons without a serger. The bottom corners of the aprons keep curling up and out. How do I fix this?

  15. Helia August 18, 2015 at 00:35 - Reply

    Super blog! I am making a denim quilt for a client and your tips are very helpful. I am surprised I didn’t know everything! ???? Thank you

    • Mamma Nene August 29, 2015 at 15:35 - Reply

      Thanks Hella!!!
      I think a denim quilt sounds some that sort of quilt I may consider to create me too, once in my life! Let us lurk some pictures, anytime you finish it (work in progress are great too!)

  16. Deanna August 22, 2015 at 02:54 - Reply

    I want to make some high-end professional looking chef aprons out of 10oz denim. I will need to finish the edges of the apron and want it as smooth as possible without the fabric curling. Any suggestion on how to finish the edges? The fabric is 95% cotton and 5% synthetic.

  17. Azure November 24, 2015 at 20:23 - Reply

    Is a triple straight stitch the same as a triple stretch stitch?

    • Mamma Nene November 29, 2015 at 14:11 - Reply

      Yes, I think this should be the same stitch!

  18. […] how to sew Denim like a pro with this simple tutorial. Just click here and follow the […]

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