Fabrics 101: Embroidering on Denim


Fabrics 101: Embroidering on Denim

Denim is a magnificent fabric to embroider. It's hearty, sturdy, and lasts forever. Anything that I embroider on denim is still going to be around a hundred years from now, and still look perfect.

The words "denim" and "jeans" have interesting origins. A French family in Nimes developed a hearty fabric known as "serge," The official name included the town's name, so the fabric was named "serge de Nimes".

Can you see the "denim" in "de Nimes"? And "jeans" are from "Genoa" Italy, where the first denim pants were made. And, if you want one more fun fact, "dungarees" (which is what Deb's great-uncles called their jeans) is from Dongari Kapar, cloth made in India and made into pants for sailors.

Denim is a sturdy cotton twill that has a diagonal ribbing. The traditional and familiar color is dark blue (indigo), but fabric stores carry denim in every color of the rainbow.

Any type of design works well on denim. I have the most fun when I'm working on dark denim, and using bright colors to make the designs "pop." This jacket was made by Terry who stitched bold Jacobean flowers on the jacket. She had never stitched onto jeans material before, so went to a thrift store to find a "test" piece. Can you believe she bought it for only $2.99?

Denim will support solid fills, complex fills -- so designs of any size and stitch count will look great.

Denim jacket stitched by Terry on a Designer SE.

Be cautious when using light designs, such as Redwork or toile. Those designs might get "lost" in the grain of the fabric. Denim is aesthetically bossy and powerful, so if you want to use light designs, use thread that's bold or contrasting with the denim.

Denim is such a forgiving and hearty fabric that you can use pretty much any type of needle. I've stitched with a 75/11 sharp, universal, stretch, embroidery, and ballpoint needle, and had excellent results every time.

You won't need to use a topping, as denim has a flat nap.


Denim jacket stitched by Terry on a Designer SE.

For stabilizer, use a medium-weight cutaway (2.5 ounce). I used to use a tear-away stabilizer, thinking that denim was so hearty it didn't need the support of cutaway.But then one day I noticed that my stitches on denim weren't as crisp as they should be. I tested a few different designs, and realized that even though denim is sturdy, it still stretches. Put on a pair of jeans for an hour, then take them off. See how the denim is stretched in different areas? That stretching also occurs while the machine is embroidering the design; the needle moves the fibers back and forth as stitches are formed. If you use tear-away instead of cutaway, you will likely see shifting and gapping - and perhaps have thread tension issues, too.

To see examples of how embroiderers have used denim in their projects, click here. You'll find a fantastic variety of pants, jackets, vests, shirts, skirts, and purses, and oodles of ideas for your own denim projects.

Stitching tips for denim:

Needle 75/11 sharp needle; an embroidery needle may also be used
Stabilizer Cutaway (2.5 ounce)
Design Choice Any types of designs are great for denim, but sometimes the running-stitch Redwork designs can get lost in the grain.

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