Monday, September 17, 2012



Denim is a version of the French City for which it is named ( Nimes)

The term "jeans" comes from the Italian city of Genoa where the denim pants were first worn.The people who lived there were known as "Genes" and you can see where this is going...

Dungarees is a Hindi word meaning coarse cloth.

Almost all denim is cotton - though recently, some are cotton blends

Denim is traditionally a weave of cotton where the warp threads are dyed blue but the weft remain white. This is why jeans are white on the inside and also, why jeans fade in a unique manner.

The orange thread traditionally used to sew Levi Strauss blue jeans was intentionally selected to match the copper rivets that doubled the durability of the jeans.

George Washington toured a production line of denim fabric in 1798 in Massachusetts.

Levi Struass sold denim overalls to gold miners in the 1850s in California.

At about the same time as the gold rush, railway workers wore "hickory cloth" which was twill fabric weaved with tan and white threads. The workers who wore this hickory cloth became known as "hicks" and the word survives to this day - as a derogatory word for people who live in rural or out-of-the-way areas.

The darker blue twill, known as "denim", was more durable than hickory cloth because it didn't show the dirt as easily.

Denim was, until recently, reserved for work clothes - hence, the trousers and overalls.

The U.S. Navy introduced the bell-bottomed trouser in 1817 to permit men to roll their pants above the knee when washing down the decks, and to make it easier to remove them in a hurry when forced to abandon ship or when washed overboard.

Until 1960, "waist overalls" was the traditional term used for denim pants. By the late 1950s, however, teenagers were calling them jeans, so Levi Strauss officially began using the name, too.

Denim is almost synonoymous with the colour blue.

Before the 1970s, denim was only manufactured in the United States.

It is estimated that 2.5 billion yards of denim is manufactured each year!

Denim vs. Jeans

While the historical definition implies that all jeans are made of denim the word jeans generally mean a 5 pocket garment that has two pockets in the front two in the back and small change pocket inside the front right pocket. This style made in any fabric can be called a “jean” and certainly includes corduroy, and piece dyed cotton fabrics.

Fabric Weight

Denim is available in different weights - ranging from 5 to 20 oz. A yard of denim is weighed to measure the weight.

A 20 oz denim is not going to bend and move for most garment uses. A 5 oz denim is not going to provide heavy denim jeans or jackets, however it will make wonderful shirts, skirts and dresses that will drape well. Knowing that denim runs from 5 to 20 oz and that the less the weight, the lighter, softer, loft the denim will have, you can purchase or request samples of the weights you believe are in the scope you are looking for.

Before You Sew

It is always a good idea to pre-treat your fabric in the way you plan to launder the finished garment. This is just good sense.

Denim shrinks with washing, fades with wear, stretches when worn and its color tends to run in the wash, so prewash and dry the fabric several times before sewing.

This also removes any sizing, which can cause skipped stitches, and softens the fabric.

If the fabric has been "sanforized" then it has been pre-treated and will not shrink more than 1% with the wash. Look on the bolt to see if the fabric has been saniforized.

2 things I have learned to do: - I use pinking shears to limit raveling before I pre-treat denim and I test the fabric for excessive dye (I rub the fabric against a white towel, if the dye rubs onto the towel, I know the dye will likely colour all the wash and wash the fabric alone or with dark colours.)

Sewing Denim:

When cutting out the pattern, consider cutting facings from lining or contrast fabric to reduce bulk.

Be sure to use a with nap cutting layout (denim definitely has a directional pattern!)

Denim dulls needles quickly - start with a new denim needle and be prepared to change needles throughout the construction process.

Denim needles are longer and sharper and generally have large eyes so that thicker top-stitching thread can be accommodated.

Stretch denim requires a stretch stitch - I learned this the hard way!

Store-bought denim is often finished with flat-fell seams, which really clean up the inside of the garment.

The easiest seam finish is a pinked edge. Simply trim the seam allowance with pinking shears. For extra protection, run a straight stitch along the raw edge first and cut with pinking shears.

Topstitching gives denim its trademark look. If you don’t have topstitching thread, use two strands of regular thread so the topstitching stands out. Use regular thread in the bobbin. If the threads bind up, loosen the needle-thread tension slightly.

Use contrast colour threads for top-stitching.

Be sure to use a good, quality top-stitching thread that will maintain its colour through repeated launderings.

Denim softens with age, so there is no reason to line this fabric, unless you want to.

Uses for Denim

At one time, denim was reserved for work clothes. Toay, denim fabric can be made into jeans, shorts, overalls, skirts, jackets, bags, capris, shoes, dresses , duvet covers, curtains and shirts.

Care of Denim

Denim is a rugged fabric. It can be washed in hot or cold water and dried on high or low heat. Since denim is made of cotton, it has a tendency to shrink when first washed. To reduce the risk of shrinking, wash in cold water and dry on a low heat or hang to dry.

Hemming Denim Jeans:

I think everyone, seamstress or not, has hemmed jeans. Here are a few tricks:

From TLC:

1.Decide on the length of your jeans. It's always a good call to have the hem just brush the ground when you're standing up straight and wearing the shoes you're most likely to wear with them. When you pin, be sure to take the jeans off, measure to make sure the hem is even all the way around, iron where the new hem is, and put them back on
2.Trim the excess material leaving a 1" hem allowance below the new hemline. Cut an extra
3.Fold the hem
4.Start sewing near a seam
5.Once your hem is sewn, take your sand paper and gently rough up the bottom of your hem and a little along the outer side. This will give it that aged, worn look that matches the rest of the jeans.

Here's a trick from Delusions of Retevance:

After you've cut off the existing hems (don't lazy-out on this step), ironed the raw edges under, and pinned them to the appropriate length, grab a hammer and take it and your jeans to a hard surface. 

Now, whack the seams a few times to break down the fibers and you'll be able to sew through with relative ease with no broken needles or missed stitches. 

Depending on the fabric and the construction of the seams, you may need to go slow (very slow) and help the needle through by turning the wheel with your hand. Sewing through full-speed-ahead is what breaks the needles when they come upon a particularly dense section of fabric.

Denim Crafts for Recylcing old jeans:

Denim baskets from old jeans

Also check out some ideas from my scrap fabric lists here and here.


  1. You are a fountain of knowledge! I just learned so much, and I love the fun facts about the origin of the words! I've never had to hem a pair of jeans (or any pants). I must be the exception to the rule. I used to do the opposite, take the hems down. Now I buy pants that are sized "tall" or "long". (Hopefully soon I can make my own.) I have way too many pairs of jeans (which i can only wear to work on fridays) but I keep wearing the same 2 pairs over and over again! I like my denim very dark and trouser style. Have you made your own jeans yet?

  2. I've been dying to try and work with denim! Thanks for the post!


  3. I love the info on how to hem jeans. Flattening them with a hammer is a great idea (and way to work out some residual issues ;)). But just one thing. The name of the town jeans are from is Nimes, not De Nimes. The word "de" in front of a word in French simply means "from", among others. So it's correctly "de Nimes," or "from Nimes".

    1. Okay thanks...I didn't know that - even after all those years of French classes.

  4. Wow! I certainly learned something today. Great post, very informative.

    I have made two pairs of Jalie jeans with stretch denim. I am now ready to try some non streth denim.

  5. If almost all denim has historically been made in America, why is it named after a French city, and why are jeans named after an Italian city?

    1. Good question! Here is some more information: It was first made by a Frenchman and worn almost exclusively by sailors. Denim became more mainstream in Genoa, a city in Italy, and the fabric became synomous with the town (hence, "Genes" or jeans). The Americans adopted this fabric as their own in the 1800s and its widespread use in workwear made it forever popular in the US.

  6. Seriously, I love these 'info' posts you do! (The origin of the word 'dungarees', and the explanation of denim weights were especially interesting parts, I thought.) I don't know how you put all this information together, but this post's definitely getting bookmarked, along with that silk one from a while ago.

    1. Also, thank you for giving me the Leibster Award, and congrats on getting it for A Question for the Teacher! I enjoy that blog as well.



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