We all know what denim is, right? It’s what our jeans are made out of, what our little brother’s dungarees are made from and it’s, y’know, self-explanatory, right? Maybe so, but for the sake of completion…
Denim is a dense twill weave fabric, traditionally made from pure cotton and featuring white yarns in the weft and deep blue yarns in the warp. It’s used for pants, jackets, skirts and children’s clothes.
It’s available in a myriad of colors other than blue – dyed and printed – and weights can range from lightweight – for skirts or even casual shirts (although such are more likely to be chambray) to heavy-weight – workman’s overalls and trousers expected to face hard wear.
Denim is frequently made with a blend of cotton and elastane, to grant some stretch to the fabric. I must admit, I’m having an increasingly hard time finding 100% cotton denim on the bolt at the typical home-sewist stores. They’re blended with elastane for stretch, or with another fiber to reduce cost or give it a different hand. These days, if I want a twill cotton from a retail chain fabric store, I’ll look where they’ve stocked their canvas and duck, first and then I’ll examine what they have in the denim section. Odds are I want it for corsetry and, in those cases, only pure cotton will do.
Denim is machine washable, but it’s cotton and it will shrink. I like to run any denim yardage through the washer (hot) and dryer (high) twice before cutting it. Some of my fabric books swear that denim should only be dried on a low temperature to minimize shrinkage but, heck, I’ve been drying my jeans on high heat for thirty years and I never had them quit fitting on me unless I’d been visiting the bakery counter too often…
Denim can be the very devil for “bleeding” dye in the first few washes – especially those deep-dark colors – so either wash them alone or with like darks during its first trips through the laundry. I always wash jeans with each other in a separate load and haven’t run afoul of anything yet. My worst encounter with “bleeding” denim was when I wore a brand-new pair of dark blue jeans straight out of the store (I’d had a wardrobe failure at work) and my skin was dyed a natty shade of dark blue for the next couple of days – and it took three washes for that to stop happening, much to my annoyance (who wants dark blue legs?)
Because denim is available in such variety (ask me about the metallic lilac denim I found at an overstock place) the price can vary, too. Lightweight denim can be as little as $6/yd. Heavyweight – 12 oz – denim retails for closer to $16/yd. Decorator denims designed for upholstery use can be $30/yd or more.
Unsurprisingly, you’ll want to sew this with a denim needle – better suited for the fabric than a regular universal needle – and match the weight of your needle to your fabric. Seriously heavy denims are going to want your stoutest needles. Learn more about sewing machine needles.
Depending on how heavy your denim is, you might want to use a rolling foot to get over bulky seams, otherwise a regular foot will be fine.