Belt loops and waistbands

Here’s the waistband on a pair of trousers I have just made. They are 7oz denim, which isn’t super thick, but as usual I really struggled to sew the belt loops on. The one at centre back was completely impossible so I used a pair with one each side instead.

I long ago gave up on trying to use bar tacks and now just sew them down with a short straight stitch. I even support the back of the presser foot with a bit of folded scrap fabric but still end up with a wobbly result. My machine is otherwise pretty good on thick fabrics so I can only assume it’s operator error.

So after the latest failure I dug out a few pairs of trousers to see if there’s a better way.

The belt loops on my trousers above are made by folding both edges of a long fabric strip in to the centre, and then folding it in half and top stitching down both sides. They end up as four layers of fabric which makes them very thick. It gives a nice finish though. On some other projects I’ve made them with a narrower strip with one long edge overlocked and folded it in three before top stitching. This gives a flatter loop but the overlocked edge sometimes peeks out, or doesn’t get caught in the topstitching.

Ready to wear trousers of my husband’s use an even narrower strip with the edges folded in once to the centre and then coverstitched. That gives only two layers, but I don’t have a coverstitch machine so that’s not an option. And I don’t think my twin needle would cope with denim.

As well as reducing the thickness there are several different methods of attachment. I normally sew the top end of my loops into the top waistband seam and then after the waistband is finished I fold the bottom end under and topstitch it down to the trousers – if my machine would bar tack them I’d do a bar tack instead. But there are other ways.

The picture below are cargo trousers from a Burda pattern which called for sewing the bottom of the belt loops into the waistband/trouser seam and then catching down the top end instead. It’s not any easier that way around in my experience but it’s an option.

The pair of jeans below is Vogue 1573 which uses a method I’ve never seen anywhere else. Both ends of the belt loops are sewn into the waistband seams. The bottom end is sewn in first when attaching the waistband to the trousers. That whole seam is then topstitched. Next the belt loops are pressed down and stitched down to the trouser leg on the inside of the loop, which is easier than top stitching as it won’t be seen and it only goes through one thickness of the belt loop. Then the waistband facing is added, catching the top end of the belt loops in that seam. The top of the waistband is then topstitched right over the belt loops. It’s easier to get the position right this way, but my machine hated topstitching over waistband and belt loops together, and I was then left with the problem of how to secure the bottom of the facing on the inside. The pattern says to hand stitch, but I stitched in the ditch leaving gaps where the belt loops were in the way. Overall it’s not bad, and probably gives a better result, but it’s a lot of faff.

Ready to wear varies. Trousers seem to be mostly done the same way as the Burda jeans, only with bar tacks to catch the tops down instead of topstitching.

Jeans seem to not catch either end in a seam and just use bar tacks.

But then in RTW they have thinner loops so fewer layers to contend with, and more powerful machines too.

I think the answer for home sewing might be to keep the belt loop as flat as possible so constructing the loops using the three layer method rather than the four layer, at least when dealing with denim. I’ve heard hammering the loop after folding the end under can help too. My current project is denim again and has yet more belt loops so I’ll have a chance to try it out soon.

If you have any top tips for good belt loops I am all ears.

18 thoughts on “Belt loops and waistbands

  1. Excellent overview! I do my belt loops following the Ginger Jeans pattern. They are folded as three layers, with the outermost raw edge overlocked, and then topstitched twice from the side that will be facing out–this fakes a coverstitch, basically. I do have a coverstitch but I hate changing needles on it, and I don’t know how it would handle topstitching thread, so I just use my 1940’s vintage Singer, which can stitch through anything. Then, before attaching, I fold the loops and hammer them flat. Like you, I gave up on trying to bar tack them into place; I find that just stitching straight back and forth three or four times looks pretty good and holds things in place. Another crucial ingredient for belt loops is Fray Check on the ends, otherwise they tend to ravel after a while. RTW belt loops never seem to do that, although now I look at some RTW jeans, they do fray, just without peeking out. Maybe shorter seam allowances help? I also baste belt loops into position before doing any sewing on them, because pins just get bent, and other tricks I’ve seen (like fabric glue) have never held things in place for me.

    1. Definitely agree with lots that you say there – I have an old Singer too (1960s) and it works well with multiple layers, although I do find bar tacks too difficult, I actually go for a zig-zag several times which looks more or less like a bar tack. I agree that the only way to hold belt loops in place is with tacking (basting) I’ve learned that it’s best to use the same colour thread is the fabric so you don’t need to take the stitches out later.

      1. Heh that’s a top tip for sure. I remember when I first started sewing I used contrasting basting thread thinking it would be easier to remove 🙂

  2. I hammer the heck out of my denim belt loops before even getting close to sewing on. It it’s too thick I just leave them off. Unlike RTW jeans , my me made actually fit my waist so I can avoid the belt loops.

  3. Nice overview of the different methods, I don’t have any suggestions, unfortunately! . I think it can be difficult to replicate the factory finish on a home machine, without risking needles breaking with the layers. I have an industrial straight stitch but even that groans a little when it comes to multiple layers of denim!

      1. It’s very useful, once you get used to the speed difference, domestics start to feel slow and sluggish! . But it only has that one function, like you mention RTW tend to have one machine that has one function and does it well!

  4. I’ve found hammering helps with denim, but my machine (Janome DKS30) isn’t brilliant at lots of layers anyway so belt loops are a nightmare – I gave up on the bar tack function aeons ago, as I’ve never got that working on any fabric. I keep meaning to get my old Singer 201 out and see if it can handle the layers any better, but I’m too lazy to haul it out often, but based on the comments above I should pull my finger out and give it a go!

  5. This is a huge deal for me too – the hammer is a great thought, and one I’ll try next, but I’ve done them in all sorts of orders and never been truly happy (just less unhappy, haha). My machine (a midlevel Pfaff) can *sometimes* sew through all of those layers if it isn’t super thick denim. That “hump jumper” plastic bit that levels out the foot was a game changer – not sure why I didn’t just do that earlier. It still doesn’t completely help and I do get skipped stitches, but it’s better. I’ve found that I use belt loops for holding in the back part of jeans (not as necessary in the front) so I’ve also taken to using a bit of elastic in the waistband to draw it closer and then skip the belt loops altogether if they look like they’ll be too much of a nuisance. That said, I make jeans for my 15-year old and NOT having belt loops would be criminally out of fashion. 🙂

  6. Great advice on belt loops. My first few tries at loops were so bad – the loops weren’t tight against the pants and they stuck out in a ring from the waistband. Fun times! I also tried that Vogue method once – was a bit more work and I loved the clean finish, but the loops only work with skinny belts.

  7. Oh this was fascinating! It never occurred to me check this technique against RTW. I fold in thirds, as you described, usually using the fabric selvage as the sealed outer edge. I don’t bartack them on either. Sometimes I don’t even back*stitch* them on – I don’t yank on my belt loops while dressing, and I rarely wear a belt, so they’re just for show. Begging the question – why sew them on at all? Hmm…

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