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Choosing Fabric: denim

Choosing fabric for clothes can be an intimidating and confusing process.

This Choosing Fabric series aims to demystify the types of fabric you will likely come across in the shops, and make helpful suggestions on what to use for your intended project.

What is denim?

Denim is traditionally a stiff and sturdy cotton fabric, usually dyed black or indigo. When the fabric is made, the horizontal threads (the weft) are woven underneath two or more vertical threads (the warp). This gives denim its characteristic texture.  

Modern denims often have a little bit of elastane to give stretch to the finished garment.

Blue denim

How does it feel?

Denim tends to feel quite stiff and hard, only softening with wear. Think blue collar workers and cowboys; that's your typical heavy denim feel. There are also lighter denims out there that are softer to the touch and yield more easily to wear and folding.

What is it good for?

There's nothing like denim to achieve the perfect balance between durability and effortless cool factor.

Garments that look good in heavy denim include jeans, skirts and jackets. Lighter weight denims make great shirts and dresses.

Front zip in denim jeans

What isn't it good for?

Heavy, pure cotton denim is not going to be a natural choice for a very close-fitting garment. If you're making skinny jeans, you're going to want a bit of stretch. But if you're going for a '90s revival denim jacket, it should be just the ticket.

In the same breath, lightweight denim probably won't be your first choice for a pair of mom jeans, but you can make a great shirt with it.

Denim is one of the fabrics that most people are familiar with, so you can probably trust your gut when picking it out.

What is it like to work with?

Lightweight cotton denim is great to work with as it keeps its shape as you work and slides under the machine foot with ease.

When working with heavyweight denim, it's best to use a denim needle in your sewing machine to help you handle the thick layers of fabric. If you encounter sections where your machine labours to get through, try releasing the downward pressure of the foot slightly. Using the manual side wheel instead of the pedal can also be helpful here.

What if I can't find denim?

The weave of denim is essentially the same as cotton twill. If you're looking to replicate the feel of denim, cotton twill will set you on the right track. But no fabric is really a substitution for the look of denim. If you want that rich indigo that will wear into the perfect pair of jeans, you're better off just looking for the real deal.

Need a lightweight denim project? Try the Cali dress.

Take a look

Side view of Cali dress