Fabric Focus: DENIM - The Switzerland of fabrics!

Denim is one of the few fabrics that crosses all walks of life and as such I wanted to find out more about it and how tips on using it when making clothes.

In a recent episode (35) of the Sew Mindful Podcast I got chance to pick the brains of Harriet Kjellman. Harriet is a woman of many talents, one of which is her own design collection based on this fabulous fabric - denim.

Harriet Kjellman's denim collection 6.2 Design Company
Denim collection courtesy of Harriet Kjellman

You can listen to the full interview on your favourite podcast app or here but I have also included some of the highlights from our chat here for you.

Jacqui: A huge welcome Harriet! Can you tell us a bit about who you are and what you do?

Harriet: I am a...

  • Fashion educator : private, vocational, college, university

  • Creative Entrepreneur : supporting mainly university students and start-up and small businesses with their product development through my fashion consultancy and tuition business

  • Fashion designer : Small collection where I put my own creative vision and philosophy into > focusing on education

Harriet Kjellman
The fabulous Harriet Kjellman

Jacqui: Why did you decide to use denim as the focus for your design collection? What properties does it have that particularly stand out for you?

Harriet: Firstly there is the symbolism of denim. I think of denim as the Switzerland of fabrics: no religion, social, sex, region. It is accessible to and worn by all walks of life.

It is also an ideally appropriate material for my business ethos. I focus on creating garments with minimal manipulation. I can also create the whole collection from two versions of this versatile fabric meaning there is no waste as all garments are cut to order.

As a fabric denim has some great qualities that make it not only easy to work with but comfortable and functional to wear.

  • Wearability: breathable, mainly made from natural fibres making it comfortable in a range of climates for a variety of activities

  • Durability (depending on fabric) / longevity: it generally has a long life and is one of the few fabrics that is still considered fashionable even when it is worn through or damaged

  • Versatility: Broad range of use from clothing to accessories

  • Sustainability: Opportunity to source sustainable options

  • Upcycling: because of it's durability it can be crafted into different garments and accessories throughout it's life

Jacqui: What would you say are the biggest challenges in working with denim?

Harriet: Denim does require some preparation especially for first use. Because it is made from cotton it can suffer from shrinkage when washed so when making garments from it be sure to wash the fabric before cutting out.

I tend to wash my fabric a few times not only to reduce the chance of shrinkage but also because I use black denim which is dyed. To reduce the transfer of dye from the fabric while making up the garment and also when first wearing the garment, pre-washing is key.

Pre-washing denim fabric
Pre-wash denim fabric before cutting out

Washing does have environmental considerations as I am conscious of the impact of detergents. However the nature of denim is that it can be worn many times before washing so pre-washing before making can be countered by fewer washes once made.

There are also considerations in terms of cutting out your fabric. There are different weights of denim ranging from lighter weights like Chambrays to much heavier weights.

The lighter and medium weights can be cut like other fabrics where you fold the fabric and cut two layers at the same time or cut pattern pieces on the fold.

Heavier weight denims can be too thick to cut through easily when folded so are best cut as a single layer. This can mean you need to create full pattern pieces for any that would have been previously cut on the fold.

As with cutting any fabric it is best to use sharp shears or rotary cutters.

One of the key distinguishing features of denim garments is the addition of the haberdashery. The zips, rivets and buttons are often metal and add distinctive details to your finished denim clothes.

To add rivets and some of the specialist denim buttons it is best to use tools designed for that purpose. These are available for home use on small scale but if you are thinking of doing a lot of denim projects then more industrial tools might be a consideration.

Denim metal rivets and buttons