Friday, January 29, 2016

Sewing my First Pair of Blue Jeans-McCalls 5142

Because I could not find off the rack jeans that fit me, I decided to make my own. I wasn't sure if I actually could. Blue jeans have always been on the daunting "I could never do that" list. However I became desperate last month when I purchased the usual off the rack jeans I always buy, and they were horrid! More details at the previous link.

Determined, I dug through my pattern stash. A few years ago I had purchased McCalls 5142. Most of the styles are a bit wild for my taste, however I did like view D. I prefer a classic yet subtle style for my jeans because I'd rather showcase my blouses than my jeans. However I do feel that a nice classic streamlined blue jean is the perfect foundation for a classy look...especially with a variety of white blouses! I use it for my own brand of "business casual." I'm a stay at home mom so I don't have to worry about the in-between look for business. When I taught public school, I was dressier than today's idea of business casual. Today if I returned to a career I'd likely redefine my own "business casual," even without jeans. Thus that's just me and my sense of fashion. =)

The funny thing is that I never wore blue jeans often in the past. In fact when I became a stay at home mom for my kids I determined to never wear blue jeans all the time. However that is exactly what happened. When my children were little, they required lots of various therapies. I got lots of OJT from the therapists so home life consisted of me crawling around on the floor with them with specific exercises, along with regular play time, much of the day every day. Jeans are not only comfortable but durable, so they became a staple in my closet. Before I knew it I had conformed and I'm trying to like other fashions while at home. Instead I find myself creating a classy look with jeans when my dresses are just too dressy. (Therefore I'm also trying to make dresses that are more casual, but on me they always seem too dressy.) Anyway when I researched the history of blue jeans recently, I not only learned about sewing details, but also about how they became popular in our culture. The durability began with the miners, then the cowboys also adopted them for the added benefit of comfort. Eventually jeans became popular in the east when they became more about fashion. Historically, jeans match my own story. For more details on the history of jeans, read this post.      

This McCalls pattern claims to offer the "perfect jean." I certainly hoped so because my current jeans have been getting holes in them that I keep patching. Since the store bought versions haven't worked, I needed this pattern to work. This pattern was designed and written by Palmer and Pletsch, who has a line of "perfect patterns" through McCalls.

Before I committed to the pattern, I did a bit of research. After merely googling McCalls 5142, I found several sewing bloggers who had already used the pattern. As I recall all of them warned that the sizes run large with an enormous amount of ease. Therefore I definitely decided to do a muslin before cutting into my main fabric. Even though my off the rack jeans are a size 8, the McCalls chart put me to a size 16. After going through a few muslins, I found that size 10 would be the right fit for me for this pattern.

I bought 100% cotton denim at my local Hancock Fabrics, as well as this zipper. I miss 100% cotton jeans exceedingly. The current trend is to use a denim that has a touch of spandex in the cotton, but I have never liked this fiber combination. I prewashed and then ironed my denim fabric. Missing from this photo is the fun print I chose for my pocket lining. Stay tuned for that! Also I hadn't thought to purchase my special jeans buttons yet. I also forgot to show the thread. I needed two medium rolls of gutermann for these jeans.


I opted to do without the watch pocket for this pair of jeans since life was keeping me too busy to sew these as quickly as I wanted. Also I was a bit fearful that my sewing machine might not survive all the layers of denim.

Here is my front pocket with lining. Love it! Also here is my first attempt at edge stitching and top stitching. I've never liked the colored threads for the edge and top stitching on all my store bought jeans in the past. I prefer a more subtle look so I was quite happy with this! Of course seamstresses in love with color can choose any color of the rainbow to individualize their own looks! Same with the lining!

Then...deep breath. It was time to sew the fly and zipper. I have never sewn a zipper into a fly before, although I have sewn a button fly in a few historic 19th century pants for my son.Whew! It works!

Here is the fly....closed.

I finished off all the inside seams. The process of edge stitching and top stitching creates the flat fell seams.
Here are  my back pocket placements. I used pins to mark from the pattern where the pockets should go...then I placed the pocket at those points and pinned it down. I merely went with the pocket placement suggestion of the pattern. I opted to not decorate the pockets with fancy stitch. That has never been important to me, but this pattern does have several ideas, including swirls. I might try the swirls sometime. Maybe.
Ta da! Two back pockets with edge stitching and top stitching!
Now it was time for blue jean buttons!
Now I greatly feared how well (or poorly) my sewing machine would sew a buttonhole. I always have trouble with the buttonhole, even though it always comes out perfectly on the matching practice piece. Today however... 
...the buttonhole came out beautifully!
Now it was time to apply and assemble the button. I didn't think before I started because I was so excited to do this part. Next time I'll lay a thick towel on top of the board for a bit of cushion.






Finally my jeans were done! They fit! They are comfortable! Much better than my last store bought pair that I returned to the store a few weeks ago!





A peak of lining...


A bit more of a peak of lining...


And yet another peak of lining. This is too fun!


A perfect back fit! I can only applaud Palmer and Pletsch because I do believe they designed this pattern just for me! I did make a few simple adjustments:
  • I made several muslins to discover which size fit me best.
  • I took in the legs a bit, because they were too wide for me. I do not like throwbacks to the 70's. 
  • I might either add a touch more room at the hip or lose a couple of pounds. This was right after Christmas and there are still a few Christmas treats around here to eat. 
  • I lengthened the legs a couple of inches, because I am tall. 
No rivets! Even though Levi jeans were all about the rivets, I was never a huge fan of them. And no, I've never worn Levis before. In fact after writing that history article last night, I've been analyzing everyone's blue jeans today. When my son led me to assembly at college this morning, I noticed the iconic Levi label and the double stitch of the back pocket. I so appreciate them now! However they are too rugged and manly for me. I applaud Jacob Davis' ingenious use to make a durable fabric like denim even more durable for miners in the 19th century. However I can't imagine my own need for them. I don't think I'll be quite that tough on my jeans. However if I'm proven wrong, I am quite willing to give them a go on a future pair of jeans! =)

Would I sew these again?
Yes! In a heartbeat! I've already promised my daughter that I will sew some for her. Fortunately she wears the same size as me in the width. I only need to reduce the length for her. I'm sure she's already thinking about which prints she can pull from the stash for her pocket lining! I'm not sure how historic she'll want hers to look, but I'll be happy to accommodate.

How much did these jeans cost?
Less than $30!

How long did these take to make?
Overall they took a month in which time I also did all the typical Mom stuff, visited this historic site and that, etc, etc, etc. I estimate that it took about a week of "discovered" time to make the various muslins. I spent about 2 Saturdays making the jeans. Now that I know exactly how this pattern fits, etc, I could make a pair of jeans in a weekend devoted to sewing.

What kind of sewing machine do I have?
I have a Pfaff Expression 2.0


Did I have any trouble with it while sewing multiple layers of denim ?
It was only when I sewed the belt loops that I had a wee-ish bit of trouble. However all I had to do was nudge the fabric a touch from the back to help it through. For those who have more trouble with their machine getting over the humps of layers I found a gadget called a hump jumper that was promoted by Closet Case Files. I have not used this. I'm thrilled to say that I had no need for that with my Pfaff. One of the selling points for my Pfaff was that it advertised that it sews over thick layers well. I do sew slower but it did sew steadily and fearlessly. I have finally fallen in love with my Pfaff!    
If you would like another option for a blue jeans pattern, especially one that uses rivets, Closet Case Files has a pattern with directions for that. Although her jeans are a bit rugged for me, I've been eyeing her pattern for a bodysuit! Now that is a throwback to the 70's, however I do like the lines. I've had several blouses since my kids were born that I enjoyed wearing each winter. They have now fallen apart and I can't find the style anywhere. However I am scared to try this pattern. But I suppose if I can sew jeans, I can sew this.   Check out her long sleeve floral top. I love that! I love florals. That is my goal. To sew some of those for me! I bet my daughter would like some too!

Stay tuned for future jeans and possible style variations!


  1. Congratulations! Making your own jeans is quite an accomplishment! They look very nice and it's so great to have them customized to the way you like them to be.


  2. I'm in awe; I've never so much as made a pair of trousers, let alone jeans! It does seem to be impossible to get shop-bought trousers or fitted skirts which actually fit these days - thank goodness for being able to make our own.

    1. Aww, thanks! This summer I want to tailor some shorts with a zip in the fly. I've always done well figuring out how to tailor 18th century breeches for my son (after a couple of key tips from the CW tailor) so I guess this was a natural next step.