The Jeans that Broke the Machine

Handmade Skinny Jeans | Cloth Habit

Ahoy! Long time, no talk, and I have so much to share. This past month was full of sewing shenanigans. My Juki had a tantrum and is still sitting in her box awaiting someone (anyone) who can fix her, I started on a new lingerie dyeing project, and the biggest news of all–I have a new dedicated sewing space! It’s very exciting but means I have to be more organized and intentional with my sewing time because this space is outside our home.

Before I run over myself and you with newsy news, I’ll share my new pair of jeans, and I apologize in advance for my sheepish photographs. I’m out of practice (I didn’t take a single photo for over a month and it was awesome!). I even put on Prince’s Sign O The Times, one of my great loves in high school, and brought out some big lights to make it feel a little more fun but as you can see I’m feeling a bit shy!

Handmade Skinny Jeans | Cloth Habit

While we were traveling over Christmas I went on a bit of a pants-drafting extravaganza. I refined my jeans pattern, drafted some trousers for myself, then even started in on a couple of pairs for my man. I couldn’t wait to get home and sew up my new and improved jeans but what do you know, just as I was topstitching over a particularly chunky seam, I suddenly heard a snap… then CAAAHRUNCH. After carefully disassembling the housing around my machine, I discovered that the one plastic part in the timing mechanism, a little gear, had snapped in half. Apparently my beloved Juki is not the infallible creature I thought she was. I should probably mention I was trying the “go fast and it will go over the hump” technique rather than cranking the handwheel. So other machines had to get involved.

Handmade Skinny Jeans | Cloth Habit

For this pair I decided to go skinny. I only had 1 5/8 yards of this denim, which contributed to the decision to cut them narrower, and thankfully I was able to scrape all the pieces down to the belt loops. I think I could have made them even skinnier especially around the knees because the denim really started to loosen up in wearing.

With my recent pants & jeans projects I’ve been taking the time to baste up the pattern without details to make sure it fits in the fabric, then unpick and re-cut the pattern with all the alterations. It’s a bit like making a muslin, except I plan on using the muslin to make the final jeans. It’s also been a good way to visualize where I want the back pockets, how much of a “V” I want the yoke to make in the back, and how deep the front pockets should be. It’s amazing how the placement of these little details can change the look.

When I basted these up I also noticed just a slight amount of leg twisting. I’ve had this trouble before with twill fabrics and realized that this particular denim had a very strong skew to its weave which is really hard to cut around. I’ve learned that there is an art to cutting out twill fabrics. If you fold your denim in half you can usually see how skewed it is–no amount of pulling on the bias or artful folding will get the fabric perfectly square across and down the grain. That is just a consequence of twill weaves. When cutting on a fold, at least one of the pieces will end up off grain, which I have learned the hard way! Now I cut them in a single layer, and line up the pattern grainline with the selvages. It takes extra time but it’s worth it.

I decided against rivets on these and just went with the red topstitching. I went through about 20 rivets trying to insert them on my last pair, and I thought I’d bought the good kind. I probably just need some practice.

Handmade Skinny Jeans | Cloth Habit

I had so little fabric left for the waistband that I decided to cut it down the selvage and use the selvage as a finish on the inside.

Handmade Skinny Jeans | Cloth Habit

Handmade Skinny Jeans | Cloth Habit

Overall I’m very pleased with these–at the very least they have been keeping my legs warm in what has turned out to be a verrry cold Texas winter!

Happy sewing, all!

Stretch Denim: Hotpatterns (aging in my stash)
Pattern: self-drafted


  1. Helena says:

    Those jeans look great, especially the red topstitching! They don’t need no rivets, the topstitching says it all!
    I was just cutting a skirt out and had the same off grain issues…of course I should have cut them one layer at a time! Thanks!

  2. Jenny says:

    Wow, I reckon these have got to be the best fitting pair of pants I’ve ever seen, EVER! The beauty of a self-drafted pattern, huh?! Jeans are one of my up coming projects so thanks for the twill tip, too πŸ™‚

    It doesn’t take me long to get out of the habit of taking photos either, so I love your idea about putting some music on- will definitely have a play around with that next time πŸ˜€

  3. poppykettle says:

    Another seriously gorgeous pair of jeans… you had me belly laughing at the ‘go fast and it will go over the hump’!! Fascinating about the twill tough – I’ve got a pair of RTW jeans where one leg twists around and the other doesn’t – I’m not sure if they cut on the fold, but we already knew just from the twisting that the grainline was off! I’ll keep that in mind. Stay warm πŸ™‚

    • Amy says:

      Thank you! The twisting is definitely a strange phenomena until you actually look close at the weave and see what’s going on!

      You might be interested in this document at fashion-incubator on leg twist. It’s from Cone Mills, who are the largest denim supplier in the U.S. It’s technical but also helped me understand what my fabric was doing! In manufacturing they do cut in a single layer, but also need particular pattern arrangements and sewing order to avoid twisting as much as possible.

  4. lisa g says:

    wow these jeans look great!! very impressive. i’ve made loads of pants, but i’m just about to finish my first pair of jeans. hope my fit is as good as yours!

  5. oonaballoona says:

    your amazing booty. YOUR AMAZING BOOTY!!!! god i get so excited when you post. those jeans are perfection, i think your machine died of too much happiness.

    (and i pored over that album cover, because one ALWAYS buys the album when it’s important, for endless hours. was prince cat? is that a car?)

    • Amy says:

      ME TOO!! When I first bought this album, my friend and I were like, what is that? and that? and that? And wha? I read through every part of the insides. Oy, I miss record stores.

  6. kim says:

    wow!!! impressive!!! amazing pair of jeans!! you should be very very proud!
    what a great feat of sewing! i am inspired – there’s snow headed my way…maybe i’ll spend that time sewing…..

    • Amy says:

      There were definitely snow days involved in these! (Well, what passes for “snow” in Texas is a light bit of freezing rain, but it keeps me inside!).

  7. Angela says:

    Wow is all that I can say! I just love the red, perfectly sewn top stitching! They look so amazing in you. I really really want to tackle a pair of jeans now.. must find some good denim…

  8. Wow! Those jeans look amazing and are so cute. I am so impressed with your sewing skill and panache. You have the it whatever it is. And I love your use of lights for your photo. You have really motivated me and got me going.

  9. Sallie says:

    One should ALWAYS blast Prince when taking photos! Such a great idea!

    And these jeans!!!!! Look totally fantastic! I love love love the red topstitching! And I completely agree that the details really make jeans JEANS. Also, love your tip about basting first, then sewing and cutting in one layer. I’ve been visited by the dreaded ‘leg twist’ myself and it is no fun.

  10. Michelle says:

    These look outstanding. I’m in awe at your topstitching! Pants, especially pants from denim, is one of those projects I’ve been building up the courage to try. Thanks for the pointer on cutting twill flat.

    • Amy says:

      Thanks Michelle, I hope you do try them. I swore them off for years! I just had to set aside time and determination to fit them, as that is the hardest part. But so worth it.

  11. shawn says:

    I love the unique color you used for the top stitching! What a great idea and one I might have to steal if I ever get the nerve to sew some jeans.

  12. Lauren says:

    These look incredible!
    And thanks for sharing about cutting twill weave fabrics. I always wondered what had happened to it in the past, but now I’ll be sure to cut in a single layer.

  13. Tilly says:

    Wow, these look amazing! Sorry to hear they broke your machine, but on the plus side they are fab, the red topstitching is super cool… and so neat!

  14. Molly says:

    Great jeans! I am a bit of a jean freak and I love adding rivets (not that these jeans need them!) maybe this will help next time you want to give them a try… I always use wire cutters to trim down the stem on the rivets, and I make a ‘washer’ out of a few layers of denim. Also,using an awl or something similar to make a hole in the fabric (without tearing the threads) helps too!

    • Amy says:

      Thanks for the great tips, Molly! The button is definitely easier. When I did the rivets, I added “denim washers” and used an awl, then hammered them over a concrete surface, but each rivet went in sideways or bent terribly as it was going in. I think I need a day with a lot of rivets till I get it right πŸ™‚

  15. Maddie says:

    Funny you mention grainline perfection. I’ve been researching the topic over the past month and am currently knee deep in a post about it. You’re right that getting it on grain is an art form, the nature of the weave will never allow the cross grain to be at a right angle with the selvedge, and I’ve read about so many ways to get it “on grain.”

    • Amy says:

      It’s such a fascinating subject, isn’t it? You can do some patternmaking tricks, too! I cut the leg a bit differently than my last pair to accommodate some of the skew.

  16. Heather Lou says:

    I’ve been trying to get rid of some of those pull lines on the back thigh but I’m starting to think it’s impossible. I know you need a few for sitting ease but I think it’s impossible to remove them entirely with skinny jeans, right?

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