Finished Object: Denim Hummingbird

I hope you all had a lovely weekend!  Here, Easter weekend signals the end of summer.  Apparently.

Denim | Fishing

I’ve been down the coast for a few days, enjoying the water and a break from The ‘Bane, not to mention catching up with some old friends.  Before I left, I made myself a denim Hummingbird.  She’s a disaster.


It’s the denim.  I’ve had bad luck buying denim lately, and this is the worst yet.  After we took Hummingbird Pink photos the other day, I ducked into Lindcraft in the city (beware!) to pick up a tiny bit of denim for this skirt.  The Hummingbird Orange in my size uses very little fabric, around .75m.  I hastily ran my hands through all their denim bolts and chose one I thought felt substantial.


Nope.  That fabric had to have been “finished” with every filler known to the textile industry.  Once I washed it the grain sagged, the denim pilled and it frayed worse than velveteen.  (And let me tell you, velveteen frays like mad.)  I really really wanted to knock together a denim Hummingbird, so with limited time I cut and stitched this fabric.

Denim Hummingbird Orange

I used snaps on the shallow back pockets, and inserted an exposed metal zipper.  The seams are faux-flat fell, with double rows of jeans top-stitching at the front seams, hem, and pocket openings.  You can see here the disappointing quality of the fabric at the back seam.  I wore this skirt for an evening hanging out with buddies, and then for fishing and you can clearly see the dye has been rubbed off at the back seam.  From sitting.

Denim Side

At least she fits well!  To be honest, I’m not too upset that this skirt is already basically worn out and relegated to fishing wear.  I’ll strip out the pocket linings and the zipper and let her go without too much remorse.  I haven’t worked with denim and jeans rivets and hammers and metal hardware for a while, and it was nice to get my hand back in even if the resulting skirt isn’t fit to be worn.

Denim Fishing

So now I have a new research project!  I want to try to put together a list of “tests” for denim to determine if it’s good or bad.   Most of the time, I can pick it by touch and smell (and price is a good indicator of quality) but this time the crappy denim got the best of me. Never again!   This also means I can sit back, think long and hard about the particular jeans detailing I want, and then make a fantabulous visual reference for us!  (Because I must, I must have a nice basic little denim skirt from Hummingbird.)  I may try to source some indigo dyed hemp for a cast-iron “denim” skirt…

So lay your denim-purchasing tips on me, or tell me your own story of denim-buying woe.  I’d love to hear about your experiences buying denim.  Do you like rivets and snaps and sewing with hammers?  Do you have your own sewing hammer?

Hummingbird Peplum Top & Skirt

The Hummingbird Peplum Top & Skirt pattern is on pre-sale now through April 7.  $14.50 presale, $22 RRP.


  1. I purchased some fantastic Betina Liano denim from The Fabric Store towards the end of last year. It is fabulous. It has held its shape, it has been washed numerous times and has only faded a little – the way denim tends to (not like yours). I would happily go back and purchase some to make a pair of jeans if I had the time on my hands to do it. I’d have to admit, there weren’t many options the day I was buying as it was summer and I did know the particular brand name as I had a friend at college who loved this brand and they always lasted better than Sass in Bide jeans in terms of retaining shape and holding up to constant wear and washing. So I suppost my tip is – look for a brand label that you know. It can help??

    • Yes… I got some terrible denim from TFS a little while ago, but you’re right, their stuff is almost always wonderful. And so much of their stuff is designer end of rolls, I find those fabrics are usually really great washable quality.

      But you hit the nail on the head- getting out there to TFS! It’s such a hike for me….

  2. I would love any denim buying hints, with only Spotlight to buy from around here, I don’t even bother, the last few bits I have bought have not been good.

    • Hmmm… I’ll have to get to work on it.. I feel like this denim got the best of me! ;) I can’t remember finding good denim at Spotlight, but I do like their corduroy. I just stocked up on wide wale and pinwale during their 40% off sale…

  3. I love denim, the best I’ve bought so far was from Rathdowne fabrics in Melbourne, nice and thick with a little stretch, i bought 5m home with me last trip over! I got some good stuff from Lincraft about 2 years ago but all of it since from there has been too thin, smells for ages, pills and has worn out way too quickly. I have got some from Spotlight I haven’t sewn up yet, it’s quite thick but is still soft and is meant to be rigid but still has a bit of give/stretch so fingers crossed!
    I got myself a Set of Prym pliers and it is so much better than using a hammer for rivets and buttons! I couldn’t source any more Prym buttons here in Oz so have been using the buttons and rivets from mrecht online (have to buy in bulk but is so cheap and great quality) and they still work in the pliers and I’ve had no bent or squashed buttons since I got the pliers!
    Can’t wait to see your tests for denim, I go off the thickness and like a little stretch but still get caught out sometimes

    • Thanks for that, Suzy. Yes- I’ve had pilly length after pilly length and it’s most tiresome. By the time I was hemming and finishing this skirt, I’d given up so it just has a faced waistband and the hem is nothing to write home about if you know what I mean.

      I’ll have to look into that! I have a pants pattern with heaps of hardware coming up, so I stocked up on every button and rivet and snap type that I could find, so I can give it the ol’ 3 Hours Past torture treatment for y’all. :) I look forward to it. Covered snaps, ball zippers, mmmm…

      Also- I found a place where I can get jeans buttons custom embossed. Sure, I have to buy 1000 of them, but… ;)

  4. Bugger on the denim, sadly spotlight will serve you no better in my experience. Where to buy…
    The Fabric Store – I picked some up there a while ago and its lovely, however last time I was in there they had limited selection
    Wholesale go F.D. Textiles in Melbourne and they have a lovely 6.5oz and 10oz denim – I got a bolt of their 10oz and its worked equally well for skirts and handbags! I think their min is 5m which isn’t that much if you are planning a few projects.
    I tried some organic hemp / cotton similar to you link and to be honest I was not that impressed, but if you want more eco then Bamboo Fabric Store has a bamboo/cotton denim what is quite nice – albeit on the expensive side. However given you needs such a small amount for the skirt then its economical even at a higher price per m.
    Avoid – I’ve ordered denim from then twice and it was not pretty so I’ve given up on them generally
    Tessuti has denim but its stretch, and thats what I’ve found with most places, finding a non-stretch is the hardest.

    • I often buy good fabrics in 5m lengths… The handy utilitarian fabrics I like to go back to… So 5m of good denim would find its way into a garment pretty quickly.

      Hmmm… Hemp can be an acquired taste, it’s often extremely stiff at first and then softens nicely. Like linen, but more so… .If I can find a nice weave and color, I’ll go that way for my “denim” skirt for sure… I’ve had heaps of bamboo go pilly on me, it’s put me off bamboo for a while.. For rayons (most bamboos are) I like Tencel best.

      I wonder what was bad from I’ve found their service and fabrics are always what I want, except that time they sent me the wrong color jersey which was promptly replaced… In fact, my other Hbird Orange (the one that’s actually yellow…) is an organic cotton twill from them… But denim can be quite difficult, can’t it?

      I’m ok with stretch denim, as long as it doesn’t pill and go gross.. Come to think of it, I’ve had a pretty bad run of denim the past few times I’ve had it… :)

  5. Finding good denim can be so hit or miss! Although, this could be a fun opportunity to play with distressing techniques. ;) I do have a sewing hammer, although I should really get a proper rubber mallet.

    • I dunno, if I showed this skirt a bit of sandpaper or bleach she might shrivel up and disappear completely… I don’t know if she could handle it… But sandpaper is fun… Where do you get your awesome denim?

      • LMAO! Fabricland, and it is mostly not awesome, although they do get some ends in that are pretty nice quality. Usually not enough for a pair of pants. But a hummingbird, now… Hmmm…

  6. I just use my regular household hammer. Found it on the side of the road when out on a walk — it’s about a two-pounder, construction-grade claw hammer, solid metal from handle to head with vinyl handgrip over the metal. I live in the city where (until recently) 90% of the world’s denim was woven. Anything from Cone Mills is reliable in the extreme, but I don’t know if it is possible to find out who weaves the denim sold in shops or on-line. I’m still sewing out of a denim stash amassed when I worked for Wrangler Jeans in the early 1980s.

    • Ahahaha! I love that! The sewing shop around the corner from me has pretty ladylike flowery hammers and I must admit I’m tempted… But for what they cost I could go to the hardware store and get my own rubber mallet and some pliers, too.

      OH! Your denim stash sounds amazing. Wow.

  7. Stretch – the last time I bought denim at a major retailer, I swear the only denim available was stretch and stretch it did. In every direction. I didn’t have the courage to take a picture.
    New follower from Denver, CO. :)

  8. I love, love the denim Hummingbird skirt, it’s the perfect style. The back zipper is much better/nicer than front zippers on denim skirts. All of my RTW denim skirts have front zips, and something oddly funky happens to the bottom of the zip, and the fabric sticks OUT! It really looks weird.
    The denim I’ve used has ranged in weight and stretch, but I’ve only bought remnants at my local fabric store (Fabricland). So far all the stuff I have has worn well, but then I typically don’t wash denim often. Despite prewashing 6 times and rinsing a couple of times with vinegar the inside of my dryer is now permanantly blue!
    Yes I do have a special hammer, but I like Tanit’s idea of using a rubber mallet.

    • Yes… I remember reading something years ago that pointed out that flies on the front of pants or skirts for women was a bit silly considering the practical use of flies. I have a few things with flies on them but I can’t get around that thought…

      Permanently blue! Oh no! I guess it’s alright if the blue doesn’t come off on the other stuff.

      Yes, I like the rubber mallet idea, too.

  9. I found and bought 4.5 yards of italian denim with stretch in Fabric Depot, which is mostly stocked with quilting cotton, in Portland, Oregon. Took a chance and brought it home. I cut a 4 inch swatch and abused it in hot water and then air dried. So far it has retained its shape and shine with a minimal of shrinkage. Wish me luck as I haven’t sewn with denim in years. I would be interested in your test. Do you have any tests for linen??

    • Tests for linen? Well, if I’m shopping to buy, the first thing I do is close my eyes and lay my palm on the fabric. Good quality linen will feel cooler to touch than the surrounding air due to fiber conductivity. If it’s cool, then I slowly rub my hands along the grain of the fabric, paying close attention to any rough patches or pills or broken fibers. Then I unroll a bit of the linen and grip it in my fist to check that it has the “linen bounce”- it’s a bit like jello, the way it should tremble. If it’s cool and smooth and moves properly, then it comes home with me. Compared to denim, linen is a breeze to pick for quality.

      And, of course, cheap is cheap. There’s no such thing as good and cheap linen, unless we’re talking about some kind of marvelous sale.

  10. Bummer about the crap denim – the skirt looks really nice! I’ve all but given up on buying denim, at least for making pants (the verdict is still out on skirts). I just don’t care much for the stuff that available for the home sewer – especially if it has any stretch in it, then it just tends to sag and bag over time. UGH! I know TaylorTailor sells denim & all the little goodies you need to make jeans in his supply shop ( and while I can’t personally vouch for the quality of the stuff… he uses it to make his own jeans, and the pictures are pretty freaking impressive.

    • Ding ding ding! I’m going to pick up some of his redline denim. Even with shipping, it’s cheaper than the garbage I just worked with. Thanks for the tip, Lauren! I’ll name my next denim skirt after you. hehe.

      I really, really want to make some perfect jeans some time.. Except I don’t really wear jeans so they’d be my own weirdo version of perfect. Hmm… :)

  11. I’m sorry the fabric didn’t work out quite the way you hoped, but this pattern is stunning and versatile in denim! To me, it’s so difficult finding a pattern that makes up well in denim. I’ve tried two skirts (both semi-disasters), but I’m still holding out hope! Your version is lovely – do you think you’ll replace it?

    • Thanks Meg. I absolutely will replace it, I haven’t had a little denim skirt for years but I LIKE it so much. Except for the fabric quality. I want to cover it in rivets, too…. Maybe do something gently subversive with the zipper like a fly on the back.. .Maybe. It would be rather fun… And you’re right, it’s all about finding a good cut for the skirt. For the next and “proper” version of the Hummingbird in denim I might chop up the back to make a jeansy yoke. That’d be fun…. :)

  12. Awww man, how annoying! At least with denim, if you start to lose more color at the seams, it might seem intentional. But it’s ridiculous that it was such poor quality! I hope you find some nice denim soon because this looks to be the perfect little pattern for a jean skirt!

    • I know, right? Thanks Ginger, I’m sure I’ll find something because now I’m on a mission… I think I’ll give Taylor Tailor’s denim a try, it looks like really good stuff and I love buying from indies… :)

  13. I’m sorry to hear it was the wrong denim. :( Obviously you need to try it again with better denim because this is such a cute skirt! I love the zipper and hardware. :D

    • Thanks, Heather. I’m a sucker for hardware, too. The first time I ever put a rivet into denim I thought “OH WOW! It looks like clothes!” :)

      • I just spent the last two days searching the city for rivets for my denim trousers, but apparently you can’t buy them in the Yukon. I’m really eager to hammer my garment! (I have a tiny little hammer – regular hammer head but a stubby handle – that’s perfect for hanging picture frames and, I suspect, hammering rivets!) I’m going to have to either convince someone “down south” to send me some or try ordering online. :P That TaylorTailor place looks promising though. I’ll have to see what shipping to Canada is (usually crap – but probably worse to Australia, eh?) I WANNA HAMMER MY PANTS! (no, not make hammer pants – although I could probably find some shiny gold fabric at our only local (crappy) fabric store. Decent knit fabrics? Pfft no. Shiny thin synthetic crap? Oh heck yeah! lol)

  14. Even with subpar quality fabric your skirt looks so great. You must have been reading my mind because I was hoping to make a denim skirt with Hummingbird. I have never sewn with denim before. I have some denim in my stash, but it does have some stretch. Don’t know if that means it won’t work well with Hummingbird. What do you think? Here are the specs:

    Kaufman Stretch Denim
    Contents: 96% Cotton/4% Spandex
    Fabric Weight: medium weight (6 oz)

    I can send you a swatch if you’d like — for science! Looking forward to the results of your research project!

    • Thanks, Tanya. I had ideas for more rivets and making a jeans-style waistband, but I was so disgusted with the denim by the time i got to that point I just quit..

      It will probably be fine. I could try it out, I have some stretch no-wale cord around here but for a simple shortie skirt like the Hbird Orange, it should be fine. I have a guide for taking out ease, ease preferences for straight skirts, etc to release too. :) Should be useful.

      Kaufman generally do good work, and a 4% stretch is a good number. Did you wash it yet? That’s a big indicator of quality.

      • I just washed the stretch denim. It still looks good to me. Doesn’t seem faded or strangely warped. There’s no noticeable pilling and the fraying is not too bad. Yay!

  15. That’s a bummer — the skirt was so cute! I love the details you put in it, especially the exposed zipper, though I was an extremely slow convert to that trend. :) Can’t wait to get this pattern!

    • Thanks, Susan… I haven’t been much into the exposed zip thing either, I had to text a friend while I was sewing this up to ask if exposed zips are still a thing, and whether it’s alright to put one in my skirt or is it hopelessly dated? She told me a royal was just recently pilloried in the press for wearing a dress with an exposed zipper to Easter services, so the royals are still wearing them at least… Which is… good enough. :) They’re so simple, though, I think I rather hold that against them…

  16. What a great skirt, Steph, despite the fabric disaster. Love the exposed zip down the back! It’s a great stylish basic. Love all your research projects, and am looking forward to following along with everything you discover about denim!

    • Thanks, Tia. :) I do always have a few projects on the go, don’t I? I’ll do my best to figure out the denim shopping tricks in time to get Hbird out… Will give me something to do while production is wrapping up.. .:)

    • Thanks, Chica! I’ll chalk this up to a lesson learned about cheap denim (except… it wasn’t cheap… Maybe I should take the skirt back to the fabric shop and ask them why they sell that garbage… Hmm…) and make another one once I can source some decent denim.. What do you think of the pockets higher up the back? I had the idea they were more “flattering” than patches right over my bottom…

      • I agree about the patches – makes a smooth line with the natural curve of the back rather than highlighting the bottom (not that there’s anything wrong with your bottom!). And I think telling the shop, at least, that the fabric is not fit for purpose is a good move. I’d want to know if something I sold was making my customers unhappy.

  17. Yes, what a shame, because the skirt looks lovely at first glance – and it’s a beautiful fit. I can see that a denim Hummingbird would be a very useful skirt for a slender young like yourself (.75m indeed, lol! I’d need that much to make a hat …) Think I will be making the flouncey version, maybe in some soft washed linen?
    When will the sewalong be? I’m off to California for a couple of weeks, so I think I might miss all the fun this time :(
    (But I’ll be looking for fabrics whilst I’m there, all tips welcome).

    • Thanks, Fiona… I worked worked worked on the sizing scheme for this one, and I’m rather pleased with the way it came out. Basically, each hip “size” is more or less the equivalent to xs-xl type sizing. There’s 5″ between each hip size. Each hip has four waist measurements, with the back waist seam and the back darts calibrated to the waist. The overall effect is that the back will fit more peeps without having to do back fitting adjustments, and the side seams are customizable. I even tried it going up a full size and reducing the seamlines down to my hip (a bit of sarcasm on my part) and it was fine. :D But I get ahead of myself. This skirt was made from the final linework for the Hbird, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the ease of fitting and ease adjustment….

      A flouncy version in soft washed linen would be lovely, I think. :) The tailfeather might get a little rumpled but still lovely. And you might be surprised, the straight skirt at knee length is eminently wearable for a lot of figure types. But then it’s all down to personal comfort levels and that’s entirely up to you. :)

  18. Sorry to repeat what has already been said but all the denim sold at Spotlight and Lincraft seems to be sub standard stuff made in China. Designer denim from the Fabric Shop is the way to go or thrifted jeans cut up.

    • Yes, their denim is absolute rubbish. I wish I could do their buying, I keep finding wholesale end of designer rolls stuff that would be amazing I’m sure… But one has to buy like 500-1000 meters of it. If only I could get a job sourcing their fabrics… Hmm…

      And I’m way overdue for a trip to TFS, too..

  19. I got some good, dark, heavy denim from Spotlight last year, which I used to make jeans for my daughter and a skirt for myself, but they don’t seem to have anything like it anymore, just weird floppy printed stuff. I wear my skirt pretty much nonstop during the week, only reluctantly giving up when it needs washing, and its held up amazingly well. I wish I could find some more, good denim is so hard wearing.

    • Yes! Weird printed floppy stuff! What’s the deal with that?? Ugh. And I completely agree, that’s the kind of denim I thought I was buying. The stuff that’s so tough you have to hammer the seams in place when pressing so they stay. But alas, no, not this time…

  20. I have a hammer now! From the last, and so far only successful, pair of jeans I’ve made.

    Before that successful pair, which so far is holding up well even though it gets washed at least once a week and worn even more, I made a pair a couple of years ago that didn’t work out so well. I usually have pretty good luck with, and had bought some lightweight denim with the intention of making “summer” jeans to go with a miniwardrobe I was attempting to make. I did finish the jeans, the fit was decent enough, but I’d only worn them about twice when I noticed the back crotch seam had already begun to rip open! The worst of it was that I didn’t notice until AFTER I got home from the movies…eek. Lesson learned: the lighter weight denims should be left for the projects that won’t have quite as much stress on them as jeans!

  21. I have bought denim twice. Once I got some medium weight from Jo-Anns that stretches and sags and after a few washes it has unraveled at all the seams even though I zig zagged them (pre-overlocker days). The second I got from and while it has held its shape and seams better by the end of the day my hands look like smurfs from the dye rubbing off from putting them in the pockets. It doesn’t seem to get on anything else, including in the wash, though. Maybe I just need to line my pockets and call it a day.

  22. What a great comment thread. I’ve found it really great to read right through.
    I love your skirt. I’m sad to hear it’s not going to have a long life because it looks so cute (and seriously good bum shot when you’re fishing) and denim skirts are so practical. I have one (RTW) that I wear and wear. My employers dress policy is denim friendly unless you are seeing a client and I’m not much of a jeans person. That skirt gets worn every single week – summer and winter.
    I have a piece of denim in my stash, super dark wash that I bought from fabricmart if I remember right. I haven’t washed it yet but I sure hope when I am ready to cut into it that it meets my expectations.

  23. I do love how your posts generate such great discussion. I love a denim skirt and the one I have is made from denim I bought at The Cloth House in London years ago and still looks great…although is a smidge tight at the moment due to my expanded waistband. I’m so tempted to make another (a smidge bigger) to fill the gap until the weight is shifted. Your version is lovely, despite the best efforts of the denim to spoil things. I’m intrigued to see what your experiments reveal.

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