Denim Month: Cultivating Patience and Self Kindness in Sewing Jeans

After almost six years of sewing, I’ve successfully made myself a pair of well-fitting pants. These Lander pants are a sewing triumph for me; more details about the make can be found on my blog. I’m proud of this accomplishment, but even more so of the journey to get here.

Coincidentally aligned with the Sewcialists denim month, I finally feel ready to make myself a pair of classic blue jeans. My readiness has nothing to do with sewing skills necessarily. In fact, if you’re a brand new sewist who wants to make jeans, then go for it!

For me, making my own jeans is a special project and before I dive in, I want to reflect on the two most important skills I have developed through sewing: patience and self kindness. In this post, I’ll also give suggestions of some of the ways you can incorporate these skills into the practice of making jeans.

The author faces away from the camera, standing in tree yoga pose wearing Lander pants

Patience in Sewing

Patience is a virtue, but in this epoch of consumerism and on-demand information, media, and service, it can be a difficult virtue to cultivate. I believe that anyone who finds joy in DIY projects inherently has this virtue. It requires patience, time, and commitment to make something that could be purchased.

Developing new skills requires patience. With sewing, the first test is getting through the seemingly random issues with bunching thread, machine jamming, and endless thread tension issues. If you make it past understanding how to thread your machine and finding the right tension, voilà – you have demonstrated patience.

Next comes construction skills: setting a sleeve, gathering stitches, placing button holes, making welt pockets, sewing with elastic, and so on. Regardless of which technical skills have given or still give you trouble, each time you attempt them, you are developing a mindset of patience. The sewing tools below are what I consider my main tools for patient sewing.

Tools for patient sewing, including a pin cushion, seam ripper, tweezers, and a pattern master.

Related to the development of technical sewing skills is the acquisition of textile-related knowledge: choosing the right fabric, finding the right needle, understanding the importance of grainline and interfacing, and so on. My approach to acquiring this knowledge is by making mistakes. With each error, or awkward finished product, comes an appreciation for the new information I have learned.

After building the basic skills and knowledge, patience has seeped into my sewing practice through planning ahead and taking pause while sewing. It’s become about cultivating mindfulness – an awareness of your thoughts and feelings– in my sewing practice. This can be exhibited through the little things that you stop to admire while you’re working on a project: the flatness of your pressed seam, the neatness of your top stitching, the lovely contrast of the bias binding you selected, or the elegant french seam you decided to use. In other words, patience in sewing is also about enjoying the journey, not just the destination, and expressing gratitude for well, frankly, how bad-ass and creative you are.

The author is standing in reverse warrior yoga pose wearing Lander pants

Self Kindness

Self kindess and patience go hand-in-hand; it’s really just about being patient with yourself. One aspect of self kindness is embracing the errors you make. There are some errors that you can fix with a handy seam ripper and the patience to try again. Then there are those errors that are a bit more fundamental to the project that require you to either re-imagine the look or repurpose the fabric. Either way, it’s important to embrace those errors and take them as opportunities to learn or get creative!

Another aspect of self kindness in sewing is learning to love and appreciate our own bodies. For many sewists, sewing has liberated our ability to learn more about our own body shapes and to appreciate that people come in all shapes and sizes.

Finally, self kindness is about recognizing that you are human, and that means we have varied abilities and multiple, competing commitments. If you’re like me, you make sewing plans as if it is your full-time job, but sometimes only find an hour in the week to actually sew. If sewing is a hobby, then try not to let it be a stress factor in your life.

The author is sitting in a meditation pose wearing Lander pants

Ways to Cultivate Patience and Self Kindness in Sewing Jeans

Because sewing a pair of blue jeans was such an important project for me, I wanted to take my time and enjoy every part of the journey. Here is a list of just a few of the ways that you can incorporate patience and self kindness in a denim jeans project.

A few mantras for self kindness when sewing jeans

  • Getting the right fit on a pair of jeans is a lovesong to your body.
  • Let go of the perfectionist mindset. Your first pair of jeans will not be perfect, and neither will your sixth.
  • If you make a mistake, jot it down and express gratitude for what you’ve learned.
  • Take your time. This is YOUR project; stop to enjoy every step of the way.
Using a seam ripper on the Lander pants back pocket

Take your time with these steps

  • Pre-wash your fabric; it is absolutely necessary to pre-shrink cotton fabrics. Miss Maude has a fantastic set of tips for correctly pre-treating denim.
  • Have a practise-run by making a toile, heck make two or three if needed to get the fit you want. Take time to identify fit issues and take notes about the adjustments you made to the pattern for future reference. Closet Case Patterns, Melly Sews, and Colette have detailed tips for identifying the adjustments needed for various trouser fit issues.
  • Spend a painful amount of time cutting out the fabric on a single layer to ensure you’re getting the grainline right. It is worth taking the time with this step because it’ll have a subtle but extraordinary impact on the way the jeans look and fit. Follow Closet Case Patterns tutorial for cutting out jeans leg pieces to prevent leg twist.
The author stands in triangle yoga pose wearing Lander pants
  • Use a high-quality interfacing! Listen to the Love to Sew podcast episode on interfacing for an entertaining lesson on why we use interfacing and how to find the right interfacing for your project.
  • Test the tension on the machines you are using before digging into the project. If you are using a serger for any seams, it’s worth a bit of fiddling to get a balanced tension. I love the serger-tension troubleshooting guides by DIYB Club and Make It Handmade.
  • Press your seams carefully and meticulously. Use a wood clapper for professionally-finished seams. It doesn’t have to be a professional clapper, you can try scoping out a piece of flat, solid, and dense hardwood, like oak or maple, from a local woodworker.
Pressing the front pocket and waistband of the Lander pants

Make it your own

Handstitching a label into the back waistband of the Lander pants

I’d like to include two caveats to this post. First, not every project needs to follow this patient/slow-sewing approach. Sometimes (or for some of us, most of the time) you just need to whip something up in a day, to make something, anything. Second, your project doesn’t have to have flare to be special. If you want to make a classic pair of denim jeans, they will be special.

Samantha is a sewing addict, data enthusiast, political-economy observer, and clumsy figure skater. You can follow her on Instagram @modicumsew and find her blog at www.modicumsew.com.


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