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!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The History of Blue Jeans

 "My eye was caught by something shining in the bottom of the ditch. . . . I reached my hand down and picked it up; it made my heart thump, for I was certain it was gold. . . Then I saw another."-James Marshall, California, January 24, 1848.

Less than 30 years later the iconic symbol of ruggedness and individuality of blue jeans began in the American West. Their timelessness has now endured over 140 years. My fascination with the history began, quite interestingly, with my recent adventure to sew my own pair of blue jeans. Steeped in history and mystery, blue jeans tell a fascinating story.

In 1849 nearly 100,000 people from around the world arrived in California to seek their fortunes. There is a Pennsylvania mountain legend in my family that my great grandfather walked to California barefoot to claim $2500 which his father, a 49er, had left him. (My family never saw that money.)

Over 50,000 people arrived in San Francisco that year.  In 1853, a certain Levi Strauss opened a wholesale dry goods store where he sold various items, including tough and durable fabrics which was highly needed in the rugged West.

In 1868 a certain Jacob Davis arrived in Reno, Nevada, which had also succumbed to mining fever when silver was discovered in 1859. A year later Davis opened a tailoring business, primarily sewing heavily needed wagon covers and tents for the burgeoning population. His primary fabrics of choice was cotton duck, which he ordered from Levi Strauss and Company in San Francisco.

One day a customer walked into Davis' shop, requesting a pair of pants to be made for her husband, as strong as possible, to be made of white cotton duck.  I've learned some 18th century tailoring and have handsewn several pairs  of breeches for my son. I've learned to apply the age old trade of reinforcing spots that endure the most wear and tear with extra stitching. Davis, genius tailor that he was, knew that even this would not be enough for a miner's exceedingly rugged job. He decided to use rivets, that he usually used in sewing horse blankets, for the extra durability.  Knowing that miners heavily used their pockets to store rocks and tools, he decided to reinforce the pockets and the bottom of the fly with rivets.

Nothing sells as well as a walking advertisement. One happy customer with riveted cotton duck pants convinced other miners to request the same. Eighteen months later, Davis had sold 200 pairs. Soon he started making denim pants with rivets as well. Of course the denim came from the Levi Strauss and Company of San Francisco. Not only did other miners catch on to the success of rivets, other tailors caught on and started duplicating Davis' work.

Davis sent Strauss 2 samples of riveted waisted overalls (as the pants were then called), one made of the white cotton duck and the other made of the blue denim. With the samples Davis enclosed a letter explaining the story behind them and the competition now ensuing in the tailoring trade in Reno. Because Davis was short on money for a patent, he invited Strauss to join him in a business if he would provide the cash. Even though Davis had written for other patents, he asked Strauss to join him in the business, and to draft and submit the patent with Davis being the inventor. In return Strauss would get half the business. Strauss agreed. Meanwhile Strauss invited Davis to join him in San Francisco to help oversee production. Davis arrived with his family in April of 1873.  On May 20, 1873, the patent was issued and a partnership was born.

Davis sold his part of the patent to Strauss around 1907, although he continued to oversee production until his death in 1908. Today the Davis descendants run Ben Davis, another rugged clothing line.

Meanwhile there are many mysteries to these riveted pants that would one day be called "blue jeans." An earthquake in 1908 destroyed most of San Francisco, including the Levi Strauss Company's building. Original source documents are forever gone, so now it is the work of curators to piece together history. There are some great videos on that at the Levi Strauss website.

However there are also many details that we do know, so I shall share some details of the history of the garment we now call "blue jeans." All of the following information is an abbreviated punch list from the far more fully detailed Levi 501 Jeans history page at the Levi Strauss website. Knowing some of these details can help one identify old Levi's as to age and value. There is an example of this on one of the videos. A lady found a vintage Levi for 25 cents at a yard sale that is worth $1000's. What fun if we could simply hold a pair of history in our hands. (The cash would be fun too.)   

  • one back pocket with Arcuate stitching
  • one watch pocket
  • a cinch
  • suspender buttons
  • rivets to reinforce each pocket as well as the base of the fly
  • button fly

Most pants of the era had a cinch, suspender buttons and button flies, so why change that? The original Levi jeans (which were not yet called jeans in 1873) employed a common pattern of pants and common durable fabrics (cotton duck or denim).  The newness in these Levi pants were in the rivets. It was all about the rivets. That was the purpose of the patent.

  • The Two Horse brand leather patch, which represents the durability of the pants, is first used, in preparation for the patent going to public domain. 
  •   Lots numbers are assigned. We are not sure why. Perhaps this information, too, was lost in the earthquake. However this is where the lot number 501 originates, and is now trademarked.

  • There are now two back pockets
  • The pants now have a felled inseam. Previously a mock fell was used. 
  • There are now belt loops 
  • The iconic red tab identifying the pants as Levi's are placed on the back pocket. 
  • Suspender buttons are no longer sewn on, however they are provided for customers who wish to use them.
1941-1945 WWII rationing needs minimizes iconic elements to necessary elements.
  • Cinch discontinued
  • Rivets at the base of the fly and for the watch pocket are discontinued
  • Arcuate stitching is discontinued to save on thread-the design is painted on instead. 
  • Arcuate stitching is now patented for Levi's.
  • Rivets return to the watch pocket
  • Arcuate stitched with double needle which obtains the iconic diamond shape.
  • Zipper now used for the fly
  • Teenagers call these riveted pants..."jeans." The name stuck.
  • Rivets on the back pockets no longer used 
  • The "Big E v little e" now begins, differentiating vintage jeans from modern 

First the miners, then the cowboys fell in love with the riveted pants. During WWII, Americans packed a favorite pair or two to take with them "over there." They quickly caught on in Europe, and then Japan. After the war, rugged durable Levi's for the laborer became more of a fashion statement and moved east. Easterners preferred zippered flies. Westerners preferred button flies.  By the 1950's teens enjoyed their blue jeans, although parents met their desires with a bit of resistance.  Then by the 1980's designer jeans became popular.

This is only a smattering of information I found. Levi Strauss provides numerous detailed articles and videos on the history of the blue jean.  For those who are interested in the origin of the fibers of denim v jean (yes that is a type of fiber that somehow became a name of pants that had no jean fibers in it) is all detailed at the previous link, along with other mysteries, and known facts, for blue jeans...and more specifically, Levi's!

Below all of the links are listed in order of use. In case the links ever break, the information can be more easily found with the list below.  


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

On the Matter of Sewing my own Blue Jeans...and Properly Fitting my 18th Century Stays!

Last month my old blue jeans fell into such a condition that I finally got around to ordering new blue jeans. I ordered the exact same pair I always have, completely identical to the current style and size I had been wearing. When they arrived I happily put them on, only to discover a horrible fit and extreme discomfort. They were too tight in the thighs, perfect fit in the hips, but extremely wide in the waist. They also stretched enormously while wearing them. I was forever  pulling them up. I finally gave up and returned them.
Meanwhile I looked at the reviews on-line. Although the overall rating was 5 stars, the more recent comments (after years of 5 stars) only gave 1 star. Every customer was complaining of the same ill fit that I had.
One thing I had noticed when ordering them is that they, along with many other jeans today, are made with a bit of spandex along with the cotton. I did notice that when I ordered them, but the ones I've been wearing for the past few years also had that fiber combination. The jeans I'm currently wearing were uncomfortable when I first got them, mainly after I washed them. Washings horribly shrunk them. Now they are comfy but I think I must have blasted the spandex content between the washer and dryer over the years.
However now the "newer" way to mass produce jeans have become the last straw...for me anyway. One of my other issues with any pair of pants I purchase is fit. They area always too wide in the waist even when properly fitted in the hips. It was about time I learned how to sew tailored pants!
At the beginning of January I shared on facebook my announcement that I was going to sew my own blue jeans and the reason why. Everyone shared their favorite jeans, which I researched but they are made with the same spandex and are currently receiving the same dissatisfaction ratings as the jeans I've always worn. It seems that the latest jeans, no matter the company, are quite what their previous counterparts used to be.
I'm not sure that anyone believed that I could pull this off, sewing my own blue jeans. I had to admit that I wasn't sure either, but something had to be done. Surely even I could do better than the mass production factories. I was hoping anyway. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Mid-month one of my friends contacted me to say she had been recently trying on blue jeans of a different brand from mine. She was trying on the exact same brand, cut, and size as she had always worn. However she experienced the same problems I had. I have a feeling this is just the way it's going to be.
Well, I can happily announce that last week I finished my blue jeans! And they fit! And they are the most comfortable jeans I have worn in years!  I've been anxious to blog about them so I'm going to try to get to work on that!
Meanwhile also stay tuned for my newly fitted 18th century stays. I dismantled the pair I had made at the Burnley and Trowbridge workshop in order to make them more comfortable while maintaining the proper silhouette. I've worn them all day 5 different times a few years ago, and have been in agony. I've procrastinated in fear of ruining them, but then I wasn't wearing them. Finally this was the weekend since I was snowbound for several days until the plows came to dig us out (yesterday).
Well, I think I have finely succeeded in both comfort and fit! I tried them on today and happily sat for an entire 20 minutes without dying from pain. So in between blogging about blue jeans (think I'll do a history post too so I can really detail the construction post) I'll be sewing my stays back together. Then I will show them off! Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Free! No Longer Snow Bound

Late last night, near midnight, a small plow came to trudge through the snow to clear a one lane path. We watched it slam forward to push what it could with all it's might, then back up and huff and puff a few minutes to gain strength and momentum for the next slam into the formidable wall of snow.  When it reached the top of the hill, we went to bed, knowing it would now free the residents on the last set of cul de sacs from our road.
We awoke to discover that we were wrong. The plow, after reaching the top of our hill, turned away and didn't return until late the next day. The residents of that final road, feeling completely forgotten, ganged up as a team with all of their snow blowers and shovels to clear their road. By the time they were done, the snow plow arrived to find a perfectly clean street.
Meanwhile 2 bobcats arrived to widen our road. 
We found out that we were supposed to have had the plow come through during the storm with clean up quite soon afterward. However our entire neighborhood had been forgotten. Something I've learned here in NoVA, is that the plow admins seem to be rather paralyzed with the first few storms of each snow season despite the readiness of all of our plow and bobcat operators who are the real heroes!  















That afternoon we went for another walk through the neighborhood, which was far more difficult to do. All the previously cleared sidewalks were now dumped with the snow from the cleared roads. Therefore schools remained closed for the remainder of the week. I was rather surprised. On our neighborhood fb page I noted many teens were wonderfully anxious and willing to shovel snow for neighbors. I thought they would be a perfect team of volunteers, especially if they dubbed their volunteer snow removal club with a clever name, to clear all the neighborhood sidewalks for the students and runners, etc...especially with all the parents now returning to work and coming home after a long day quite tired, as usual. Oh's just an interesting way of doing things around here. We homeschooled so the closure of the public schools during snow were never an issue one way or the other with me, although it has always puzzled me a bit. =)

The parkway now cleared...  














I took many a walk that week despite the snow covered side walks. I had to grab the beauty of fallen snow on our lovely hilly terrain while I could. Besides it was rather warm so it was a comfy walk.
My daughter and I also continued our nightly sled runs with fireworks sometimes bursting overhead. So fun!
When it snows like this, I'm always glad to make the most of it! Odd that I saw few kids playing in it.