Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Jeans Project - Style Arc's Sally Jean Skirt

The jeans saga continues!  My sewing goal is to make my own pair of well fitting, non-low rise, 100% cotton jeans of quality heavy denim.  I've been flagging a bit, for various reasons, but achieved more progress today than I expected:  I finished a jean skirt.

Why a skirt instead of a pair of jeans?  Well, for a couple of reasons.  First, I was tired of making a muslins; I wanted to make something I could actually wear and a skirt doesn't take as much fitting as actual jeans.  Second, Style Arc,  an Australian company, has several jeans patterns that look like contenders, but I had never used any of their patterns before and a skirt looked like a painless introduction to their line.  Third, I really liked the styling of their Sally Jean Skirt:

The skirt has all the classic details of a jean skirt, and is slightly A-line - exactly what I love.  This looked like a good pattern to use all I had learned on the muslins - topstitching, fly zipper, pockets, etc.

I've never made anything from a Style Arc pattern before, although I bought a dress pattern from them years ago (which I never made up and now I can't find).  Ann is very high on them as a pattern company for making well drafted patterns that look like ready-to-wear clothes.  One of the most important things about Style Arc is that when you order a pattern, it only comes in one size, rather than in multi-sizes which most sewers are used to.

I ordered a size 10 based on my measurements, and based on the fact that Ann uses the same size (I use the same size as she does in other pattern lines, so it was a good guess).  Vintage patterns used to be sold this way - you only got one size with each pattern.  However, one of the advantages of vintage patterns in one size is that they usually came with the pattern pieces already cut out.  Not so for Style Arc.  Even though you only get one size, you have to cut out the pattern pieces.  

OK, no big deal.  But the instructions, or lack there of, was a big deal.  Here are the instructions:

Yep, that's it.  One small page of tersely worded instructions.  I note that Style Arc's website rated this pattern as "challenging".  Given that this is a skirt, I would say the only reason this jean skirt would rate as "challenging" would be the lack of clear, proper instructions that modern sewers expect.  If they had provided the type of instructions the Big Four provide, with diagrams for each step, there is no reason an intermediate sewer couldn't sew this without much fuss.

The pattern did include additional information on how to insert the fly zipper:

They look like Egyptian hieroglyphics and just as indecipherable.  I end up using the fly zipper instructions from Butterick 5682, which was my very first jeans muslin.  I have found they are the best and most clear for inserting a fly zip, and I think I'm going to have to copy them and tack them up on my wall for future reference!

I used a white bull denim from  I had bought this fabric previously for muslin purposes because it was 100% cotton, it was 10 oz in weight, and it was reasonably priced.  I didn't know what "bull denim" was but research revealed that it is solid colored twill denim where the threads used to weave the denim are all the same color, as opposed to classic denim, where some of the threads are white and some are dyed indigo blue.  (Just so you know).

I thought a white jean skirt would be classic for summer, and by using white topstitching thread, I wouldn't have to stress about whether my stitching was perfect or not.

Cutting out was no problem.  The pattern called for different seam allowances in different areas, but mostly required a 3/8 seam allowance, which precluded any real flat-felled seams, so I went with mock-felled ones.  I used a size 16 needle, jeans thread for the seams, and topstitching thread for my topstitching.  All of my topstitching was done with a stitch length set at 4 on my Bernina.  I found that my topstitching looked best with jeans thread in the bobbin, and the topstitching thread only in the needle.

The pattern pieces went together beautifully, but thank God I had learned how to do jeans pockets from prior muslins, particularly Kwik Sew 3193, or I would have never figured it out.  For my pocket bags, I used white oxford cotton from an old button down shirt.  

Everything was going along pretty well, until I tried to make the buttonhole in the waistband.  Berninas are known for their excellent buttonholes but I think mine got flumfloxed by all the denim layers.  It wasn't working, and I ended up ripping out the buttonhole - twice. So I skipped that part, and went on to the belt loops - nope, my Bernina wasn't having any of that either.  

I gave up, and went over to Vicki's and used her new Brother Laura Ashley which has this thingy-ma-bob that automatically measures your button and stitches your buttonhole to the correct length.  Awesome.  It made a fantastic keyhole buttonhole in my waistband and now I want the Laura Ashley so badly, I can taste it.  

But Vicki's machine still couldn't handle my belt loops - I got three on but in a very haphazard fashion - so I decided my belt loop technique was probably the problem.  I had too many layers for either sewing machine to handle.

(And by the way, while the instructions tell you to sew the belt loops where indicated, no where on the pattern pieces are there any markings for belt loops.  I ended up pulling out various Levis I own and figuring it out.)

So that is where my jean skirt sat for several weeks.  Things I still needed to do:  attach the jean button which I had ordered from Taylor Tailor, make less bulky belt loops and attach them, and hem the skirt.  This morning, I picked up the jean button and read Taylor's instructions, and decided this was a job for The Carpenter.  I was able to get the nail through the waistband in the exact spot I wanted the button to go, and then The Carpenter nailed the button on, wacking it from the wrong side of the waistband until the jean button was attached and did not turn.  After all my worrying about this step, it ended up being the easiest part of the whole project!

Then I made two new belt loops, where I cut a strip of the denim 3 times the width I wanted the belt loops to be, and folded it in thirds, and topstiched.  Voila - easier than the original belt loops, and less bulky.  My Bernina sewed them on (I only had the two left in front to do) like a boss, so any problems previously was my error, not the machine's.

Next, since I was on a roll, I put in the hem.  The skirt called for a 3/4 inch hem, but that wasn't going to be above my knee - I ended up putting in a 2 inch hem and topstitching 1 inch from the skirt edge.  And I was done.  Before noon.  Here's the finished skirt:

It's a real jean skirt, y'all.  Here's the back:

What I like about this skirt is that the back waist hits at your real waist, while the front waist is lower, a little below your belly button, which is how I like my jeans to fit.  

I didn't put any fancy topstiching on the back pockets for the simple reason that I forgot:

I didn't use rivets on the pockets because I didn't want the stress of making holes in my skirt after all the work of making this skirt!  Plus, I think the white skirt looks fine without them.

The skirt fits great.  I mean, there is nothing about it I would change and I would even be willing to make this pattern in "real" denim and proud to wear it.  While I was making it, the lack of clear instructions made me eliminate the possibility of using any of Style Arc's jeans patterns, but now that the skirt is done, and looks so ready to wear, I might have to give Style Arc another look!

I'm getting closer to my jeans reality.  One issue I still haven't dealt with:  using a real metal jeans zipper.  On this skirt, I used a regular nylon zipper.  My concern with a metal zipper is that sewing over the teeth is probably going to break a needle.  I need to figure out how you shorten a jeans zipper or sew over it in the waistband without breaking a needle.  (I think it involves pliers and pulling the teeth out one by one.)  More research.

And more fitting muslins need to be done.  But at least now I have a finish that has gotten me closer to the goal!


Vicki W said...

Well done!

niema said...

Fantastic! The fit looks perfect.

I've wanted to try this pattern for a while now. I will order it asap. Thanks for the review.

Lauren of Rosie Wednesday said...

Your top stitching is amazing!!

Anonymous said...

Looks great. I like the simplicity of the unembellished white pockets. As far as the metal zipper question, I don't know how to shorten one, but I do know that I have a very limited local selection of zipper lengths. is now my go-to place for ordering zippers, and they have metal ones in pretty much every length. Once I found that out, it was so much easier to make kid's jeans.

Audrey said...

Great looking skirt. Your topstitching look fantastic. Removing metal teeth from a zipper is easy and might be a way to use the carpenter's skills again. The teeth are made of soft brass pressed onto the fabric tape. I use small pliers designed to strip and cut electrical wire, to clip the teeth off the tape.

L said...

I'm working on this pattern right now and you are spot on about the "instructions." Man I have no idea what they're trying to say and I've made many pairs of jeans and fly fronts. The drawings are equally useless.

Your skirt is nice and encourages me to keep at it.