Bar tacks – denim v machine

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After – one good, one a bit messy

You might have noticed I haven’t finished my Ginger jeans yet. As well as the epic (and still ongoing) fitting process, I’ve been struggling with the bar tacks. So in case sewists of the future are also battling bar tacks, I thought I’d jot down what I’ve learnt.

Back up a minute – what’s a bar tack?

It’s a really dense stitch that you use to reinforce areas that undergo a lot of stress when you wear the garment. For example, you might use them to secure the edges of your pockets, or in the case of the Ginger Jeans, to strengthen the fly front.

Nothing to do with the Dior Bar Jacket, or this rather stylish eatery in Amsterdam (which is pretty much all you’ll find if you search Instagram for #bartack).

How do you do a bar tack?

It’s a lot like a buttonhole stitch – a short, narrow zigzag stitch. For jeans, it’s usually done with the same topstitching thread as the other decorative stitching.

This Seamwork feature shows you how and when you might use a bar tack, and some more decorative variations.

The Closet Case fly front zipper post in the sewalong for the Ginger jeans has tips on achieving the perfect bar tack on stretch denim.

Sadly, my machine didn’t want to follow the instructions.

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This was my machine’s initial reaction to be asked to sew a bar tack

My Janome DKS30 even has a specific bar tack stitch, but each time I tried a test tack, it jammed up and almost broke the needle. I fiddled with the tension, the presser foot pressure and tried four different presser feet but nothing was working.

After a cry for help on Instagram, some helpful suggestions came back. (Thank you @liwarlin, @heatherarnatt and @penguinandpear.)

I switched back to a regular zigzag stitch, swapped my denim needle for a topstitching needle and things improved a little. I swapped the bobbin thread for a slightly thicker sew-all thread (still nowhere near as thick as topstitching thread), and opted for the buttonhole foot with the stabiliser plate. Lastly, I lowered the needle using the wheel rather than the button, and when it began to look like the whole thing was going to jam up again, I used the handwheel to finish the stitch instead of the pedal.

They’re not the neatest, but at least I didn’t ruin the whole front of the jeans. Thinking I might go for rivets elsewhere though…

I’m still not sure my machine is supposed to behave like this, so I’d be interested to know if you’ve had similar problems – and whether you’ve solved them.