Ola peoples! Look at me go. I'm blogging again this week! I have a feeling that this will be a quite a long, picture heavy post, so maybe grab a latte and a cookie before we get started. Don't worry, I'll wait, and I promise not to judge if you grab 4 cookies......got it? Good, me too. Let's get on with it.
In the last days of January, just before John and I left on our trip to London, someone casually asked me if I was testing the new Closet Case Files jeans pattern? I was like: What??!? There's a new pattern?? No, I'm not testing it, but why aren't I?!?!?! I then proceeded to write Heather Lou an extremely excited email pretty much begging her to add me to her testing roster. And long story short: she did. She then graciously sent me the pattern, which I furiously sewed up in the 2 days before we left. I wish I could tell you what size I made but the pattern hadn't been completely graded yet, so Heather just sent me the version she thought would fit, so I'm not 100% sure but my best guess would be a size 10.
I already had some rigid 12.5 oz Cone Mills denim in my stash that I thought would be perfect. Katie told me that she had originally stocked it because she thought it would be a great denim for men's jeans, so I had added it to my stash with the intention of making one of the boys a pair of jeans, or even my Dad. My father gets kind of googly eyed when I talk about any denim over 12 oz because it reminds him of the jeans his Dad wore, and that he used to wear himself when he was younger ("They just don't make jeans like they used to Heather......".
But, I digress...I had never worked with raw denim before but I have read lots about it, and years ago, I even had my own store bought pair of raw denim jeans (they were a men's cut which never totally fit right, and I think I may have "outgrew" them 😉). Anyway, I was pretty excited to join the ranks of the real denim hipsters. My ideal denim weight is about 9.5 - 10.5 oz. Generally speaking those are the weights I tend to like best. So I knew that the 12.5 oz would be heavier that what I normally like, but I figured that I needed to try it out so I would know. I learn best from experience. The pattern was/is great, and things went together without a hitch. This was my first attempt at a button fly, but Heather's instructions were fantastic and it was much easier than I would have imagined.
Anyway, here's what they looked like the day that I finished them (these are just some quick photos John snapped of me in our family room, as it was quite chilly that weekend, and I had to go and pack for our trip LOL):
Photographic evidence that we didn't take our Christmas stockings down until mid February. 😂
Pretty sweet right? This is the jeans made up exactly as the pattern dictated. No changes whatsoever. I was (and still am) really impressed with the fit. I didn't do it on my second pair either, but next time I will probably scoop out the back crotch curve slightly, and shorten the front curve a teensy bit too. Doesn't the super dark denim look really sharp? It turned my legs all blue; raw denim bleeds like crazy because it hasn't been washed, but more on that later.
I love them cuffed, and if you look carefully you might be able to see the selvedge of the fabric. Because boyfriend jeans are so straight at the side seam, you can use the selvedge for your side seam. It looks super cool with red line denim too.
Okay, so now let's take a minute to talk about the denim (or maybe 30 - once I get going I can talk about denim for ages ) . First of all, a 12.5 oz denim is pretty thick, and if you want to keep with the raw denim look, you do not wash it beforehand, so it is incredibly stiff. Raw denim is not treated in anyway after the dying process. This means it is not pre-washed, pre-faded or pre-shrunk. It may or may not have been sanforized (depending on what the manufacturer decides). Most denims go through a process called sanforization. This means the fabric is stretched, fixed and shrunk at the mill to reduce the shrinkage that happens with washing. So a sanforized denim will shrink about 1-3%, where an unsanforized denim can shrink up to 10% with the first wash. I do believe that this denim is sanforized as it did really shrink too much, but I also didn't put it in the dryer.
Anyway, when I finished them, these jeans could pretty much stand up on their own. Rigid, unwashed denim is very stiff and really doesn't have much give right off the roll. Now the appeal is that as you wear them in, the 100% cotton molds to your body, for a unique and flattering fit. But that initial wearing-in period can last anywhere from 2 days to 3 weeks to 3 months, and it can be painful. It all depends on how much you wear the jeans, how they fit when you start, and of course the weight and weave of the denim. I don't mean you are truly in pain, I just mean that they can dig in a bit at the waist when you sit down, and generally make it difficult to crouch and bend down. Especially if you are someone who is used to exclusively wearing stretch denim all the time, and/or your jeans are super fitted. If you made skinny jeans out of raw denim, you probably wouldn't be able to get them on, and if you did, you wouldn't be able to move.
I've read that with raw denim, your jeans should fit tight, but after a few hours of wear, they should give about an inch, and sometimes even two. In this case, these just didn't give enough for my liking. But after some serious denim research, and several discussions with my stepson who loves wearing raw denim, I was assured that this really is all part of the process, and part of the fun. My stepson said that after about 3 weeks of constant wear, they begin to soften and get really comfy, and then, they just keep getting better from there. Again, it depends on the denim, and they can start to feel really comfy much sooner than 3 weeks. My stepson's experience mainly comes from the Swedish brand Nudies, and none of his pairs are heavier than a 12oz. All my boys have worn Nudies off and on for a few years now, and they all love them, but they are quite expensive.
It's also worth noting, that different denims wear-in differently and feel differently on the body. This has a lot to do with texture and weave too. This denim, as with pretty much all denims over 10.5 oz is a 3x1 (three by one) weave. This means that there are 3 warp yarns going under and over every 1 weft yarn. (The weft is the horizontal thread/yarn and the warp is the vertical thread/yarn). This also creates that cool diagonal pattern you can see when you look closely at the wrong side of the denim (you can see it on the right side too, but it's more obvious on the wrong side).
The 3x1 weave makes for a really strong, but stiff denim. It's great for work wear, and men's jeans, and other men's garments. Typically men's jeans are less fitted, so a stiffer denim works well, and in my experience the men in my life seem to wear their jeans in (and out) much faster than the women in my life do. A slubbier or lighter weight denim, may not feel so stiff. Slubiness is essentially a soft nub in the yarn that adds texture and unevenness to the denim. The manufacturer intentionally knots or twists the yarns or uses a mixture of different lengths of fibers to change the feel of the denim. The effect is almost a bumpier denim, which in my opinion makes it feel a little softer. There is also denim with nep too, which feels like the denim is pilling, but I think we've covered enough for now. And I think smooth and slubby denim is more common anyway.
Another integral part of the raw denim process: you can't wash them. First of all, they will shrink even if you keep them out of the dryer, and in order for them to keep molding to your shape, you are "supposed" to just keep wearing them everyday without the chance of the washing machine undoing all your precious wearing in work. There are lots of tips out there for keeping them fresh, like putting them in the freezer overnight, hanging them outside to air them out, and even lightly spraying them with Febreeze or diluted vinegar. Seriously, google raw denim - it has huge following. Mostly male, but with new designs, we ladies are finally seeing the benefits of non-stretch denim. You can also soak your jeans in the bath tub, then let them air dry, but this will change the feel, and I've also heard of people wearing them in the shower and then wearing them while they dry so they mold to the body. It takes commitment.
Needless to say, these jeans were too stiff to make it into my suitcase for my trip. I didn't feel like wearing such stiff denim, and that idea really didn't fit into my usual holiday eating style either. LOL. When I got back though, I started wearing them A LOT, and I found that even after hours of wear, they really didn't loosen up enough for me to be comfortable. I was having a hard time sitting in them for long periods of time (it just wasn't comfortable) and you would have laughed your faces off watching me get in and out of my car. Ha ha! I think the biggest reason for this, is that they just weren't the right size, but also the denim is probably just to heavy for my liking. In a lighter weight denim, or a denim with a teensy bit of stretch, I would have been fine, but for rigid denim, I probably need an extra 1/2" or so.
Anyway as previously mentioned, I am incredibly impatient, so I decided to hit this pair with a bit of sand paper. And (all you raw denim-heads can gasp) wash them!! I sanded the legs while I had them on and then threw them in the washer on a cold, gentle cycle and then hung them to dry. This softened them significantly and also gave them a really cool worn in vibe. Honestly, they are still quite snug and I have a bit of a hard time bending over to pick up my Quincie, but I still wear them a lot.
So my intention here is not to scare you away from raw denim, but to share my experiences with you so that you can make the best choices when you make your pair. I actually LOVE raw denim, and I fully intend to make another pair of jeans out of it, keeping everything that I have learned in mind. Also not all non-stretch denims are raw, lots of them are pre-washed and treated so they can been quite soft and comfy right off the bat.
Anyway, here's my advice, choose your size based on the size chart and then either make a muslin to check the fit, or add a little extra to the side seams (before you cut them out) and baste your jeans together to check the fit. Then if you need extra room, you have it, and if you don't need it, you can trim it off easily. If you are new to raw denim (and/or non-stretch denim), maybe choose a lighter weight. I personally have some 10 oz on order which I think will be perfect. If your denim is particularly heavy or stiff, you may want to size up or at least add a little fit insurance to the side seams as mentioned above (I learned that trick from Sandra Betzina). Something else to consider is how your sewing machine handles denim. 2 or 3 layers of 12.5oz denim is pretty thick. My sewing machine handled it pretty well, but my serger struggled a little bit. Also, a hammer can be your best friend when making jeans. You can use a hammer to flatten thick places like the belt loops, hems and pockets, and it can help with distressing too. If you plan on using the sanding technique for distressing, do it while you are sewing, not after all the topstitching is done. If you want distressing at the seams, do it just before you topstitch (sanding the legs while you are wearing your jeans can help you get the wear patterns right, but you can also drape the the unfinished jeans over your leg and get cool patterns that way too). If you sand your beautiful topstitching, it will not survive. You can see where that has happened a bit to me, as I sanded my jeans as an afterthought.
And as always, if you have questions or need help, while I am no expert, I have sewn a ton of jeans now, and I will happily do my best to help you. And if I can't, I will try to point you to someone who can. Making your own jeans is so incredibly satisfying, and easy, once you make a pair, I really encourage every home sewer to give it a shot.
If raw denim, or even non-stretch denim isn't really your bag, don't worry, I made a pair out of stretch denim and they worked out pretty well too. I even distressed them, but I'll save that pair for another blog post as this one is insanely long already.
Thanks so much for hanging in there with me. Did you finish your cookies? It went though about a dozen writing this. Ha ha! If you just checked out the photos, no big deal, but you may want to check out that last long paragraph that starts with "Anyway" for tips about making your own raw denim jeans. I promise not all my future blogging will be this intense!