This is a piece of Hemp-Cotton blend denim sent to me by Cake Retailer Stromming Designs. Susanna runs Stromming and also participates in Sewalongs. After my first denim Hummingbird, Susanna sent me this sturdy piece of fabric to play with (she may carry it if we find it handles well!). Thank you, Susanna.
I like hemp fabric because industrial hemp plant rejuvenate exhausted farmland, require little water and no pesticides to grow and also because I know it wears and washes well. It’s like linen, but tougher and with more body. Hemp fabric can be very stiff at first, but wears in soft and basically indestructable- perfect for a casual staple skirt. This particular fabric is also rather heavy. It weighs in at 475 g/m² or 14 oz/yd².
Fabrics are often sold online by weight. Sometimes the listing will just say “7 oz.” instead of “7 oz/yd²,” but it means the same thing. This is the organic cotton twill I used to make a Hummingbird Skirt, the one you’ve seen all over my internets:
The 7 oz twill is fine for this skirt, though definitely toward the lighter-weight end of the fabric suitability spectrum. The Hemp-Cotton Denim is about twice as heavy as this fabric, toward the heavier end of that spectrum. I’m making it from the same pattern, I’ll be interested to check out the differences between the two finished skirts.
For more on calculating fabric weight (and handy worksheet in imperial and metric), visit sewingcake.com.
Often, before I work with a “new” fabric, I’ll see what it takes to destroy it. I wash swatches to check for shrinkage (Susanna pre-shrank this fabric for me!), I crush it (this fabric doesn’t crush), and sometimes take sandpaper to it. This fabric withstood a medium grit sandpaper pretty well. These tests are rather fun, but they also help me understand what I can expect of the finished garment.
My favorite test is the burn test. This is handy when the fabric is an “unknown,” or if your fingertips disagree with a fabric label. The fabric ignited reluctantly, probably due both to the hemp-cotton fibers and the tight weave. I like to check for tell-tale “beads” in the ash, which is an indication of synthetic fibers.* This checks out as hemp-cotton with the scent of burning leaves/hay and the soft gray ash.
Threads and Sample Stitching
For a convincingly “jeansy” denim skirt, special attention should be paid to the top-stitching. Denim topstitching thread is readily available (here) from a variety of makers. I grabbed a Gutermann (darker) and a Mettler top-stitch thread for my sample stitching. I think I like the darker one better. The blue shows a regular thread weight for comparison. I’ll use a darker thread for my own construction, but it doesn’t photograph well.
Denim needles help create smooth and tidy lines of top-stitching. They’re heavier than average needles, with a sharper point to help power through tough denim fabric. In my own sewing, I find the overall stitch quality is improved when I use a denim needle for denim fabric. Just be sure to use a brand that works with your machine! (Schmetz works well with most modern machines, or use the needles from your machine brand.)
After I cut the skirt, I saved a small swatch of fabric for sample stitching! If I stitch a few different thread weights and stitch lengths on a scrap of fabric before I start sewing, then I know what works best. It prevents potentially nasty surprises later on in the process and I think it’s a great way to improve the sewing.
Topstitching Alignment Tiplet for Beginners
While we’re on the topic, I thought I’d mention how I create even lines of topstitching- either an equal small distance from an edge/seamline or as a double line of top stitching. See the first line of stitching? The scalpel is pointing to a little “crack” in my foot, and as I sew the second line of stitching I keep my eye on that crack. I watch my first line of topstitching and feed it into that crack.
It’s a simple way to align the stitches, but effective.
Can you see the difference in the stitch lengths here? I like to use a longer than usual stitch length for top stitching (left) because to my eye it looks more like “clothes.”
Tomorrow: The big reveal, and also sewing with hammers! I love sewing with hammers- rivets, snaps, jeans buttons, grommets, all of it.
Oh- and I thought I’d show you how my newly drafted lower skirt and back yoke look before sewing:
It really shows how the yoke seam functions as a dart, doesn’t it? The wider seam allowances and my waist to hip ratio exaggerate the dart effect.
What do you think?
I know there’s newer sewists out there reading this, and also some who are extremely knowledgeable in the field of denim wrangling. What are your favorite denim sewing resources? How do you line up your topstitching? Has anyone found a decent source of denim? (I’m working on it…)
*I do work with synthetics sometimes, they’re alright but I generally stay away from them.