Fabric Types

Denim Fabric: What It Is and How to Sew With It

Denim Fabric: What It Is and How to Sew With It

Denim is a strong, durable fabric that’s one of the most worn types of fabrics in the world. It’s known mainly for being the fabric that makes jeans but also great for making other apparel and home projects. Below, you’ll find out how denim is made, what the different types of denim fabrics are, what you can sew with denim, how to care for denim and some tips on sewing with denim fabric.

What Is Denim Fabric?

Traditional denim fabric is a cotton twill fabric where the horizontal thread (the weft) is passed under two or more vertical threads (the warp) going the opposite direction. This weaving makes a diagonal ribbing which makes it different from cotton duck.

In traditional blue jeans, the weft thread is left white and the warp threads are blue. This is blue jeans are usually white on the inside and blue on the outside.

Types of Denim Fabric

There are many types of denim fabric but the two most relevant one to sewers is colored denim and stretch denim.

Colored Denim

A pair of red jeans

@kelly/flickr

Denim can be dyed by indigo dying to create different shades of blue and sulfur dying is used to create black, red, purple, gray, green, and other colors of denim. They don’t change the fiber content at all so it’s just like sewing with regular denim.

Stretch Denim

A woman wearing stretch denim jeans

@kelly/flickr

Stretch denim has become very popular over the last few years because it’s so comfortable to wear. Stretch denim is made like regular denim but it also made with a small amount (usually 3%) of an elastic fabric like Spandex. This small amount of elastic gives the denim up to 15% more stretch. Although it’s comfy, it also won’t last as long as normal denim fabric. Stretch denim can also be dyed in a wide variety of colors.

Sewing Projects Using Denim Fabric

A jacket sewn with denim fabric

@Jamie/Flickr

Denim is a bottom weight fabric, meaning that it makes a great choice for “bottoms” such as pants or skirts, but you can use it for much more. Since denim fabric is so sturdy, it’s great to use in accessories and home dec projects that you really want to last. Of course, you can make jeans and jackets out of it but there’s also a lot of other apparel pieces it lends itself to. Here are some ideas:

  • Jeans
  • Jackets
  • Dreses
  • Hats
  • Overalls
  • Shirts
  • Shorts
  • Skirts
  • Blazers
  • Handbags
  • Tote bags
  • Bean bags
  • Upholstery

Tips for Sewing With Denim Fabric

Sewing a zipper on denim

@kelly/flickr

Since a lot of denim fabric has some weight to it, there are some things you want to keep in mind when you’re sewing with it.

  1. Choose the right weight of fabric for your project
  2. Use sharp scissors and rotary blades while cutting
  3. Stitches can be tough to remove from denim so test on a scrap first to make sure your stitches are behaving
  4. Use a jeans needle (100/16 or 110/18)
  5. Use a walking foot or felling foot if you have one
  6. Use jeans thread for topstitching
  7. Use sewing clips instead of pins
  8. Sew slowly over the thick fabric so you don’t break your needle
  9. Press seams flat while sewing and consider using a clapper to get things nice and flat
  10. Eliminate bulk by trimming seams and clipping corners
  11. If you experience your denim fraying, use a zig-zag stitch on the edge

Buying Denim Fabric

Denim fabric comes in all different washes, colors, and are printed with patterns. You’ll also see a weight assigned to the denim fabric in ounces, ranging from 0 to 25 ounces per square yard. The more ounces per square yard, the heavier the denim is going to be. The lower the number the more lightweight the denim will be and the higher the number the heavier it will be.

  • Lightweight Denim: 12 oz. or less
  • Midweight Denim: 12-16 oz.
  • Heavyweight Denim: 16 oz. or more

A lightweight denim is great for making clothes like shirts and dresses and a heavyweight denim can be used to make jeans, jackets, or use as an upholstery fabric. Here are some great places to buy denim fabric:

  • Fabric.com: There are almost 200 washes, colors, and weights of denim here including stretch denim, chambray, and even knit denim
  • Hart’s Fabric: A great place to buy quality denim fabric for all your sewing projects
  • Nick of Time Textiles: Buy solid denim, brushed denim, distressed denim, print and stripe denim, and stretch denim

Caring for Your Denim Fabric

Here’s how you can best care for your denim fabric and things made from denim:

  • Pre-wash denim fabric before sewing with it
  • The more you wash denim the softer it will get
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