The Design and Pattern
Lauren of “Baste and Gather” recently posted a pair of flared jeans she had designed and made, and called for testers. As you can see these jeans are obviously flared from the knee down. They also have an additional 1970s feature – the relatively high waist.
Here you can see Miss Birkin herself in her flares. Of various widths. With a nice high waist. But you can see from these pictures that the denim of the day is essentially something worn by manual labourers. It is very thick, tough and hard-wearing. The only stretch in these jeans would happen after they were occasionally laundered and we struggled to get them on. Then, in wear, they would stretch out a bit. Today’s “Birkinflares” are designed to be made with modern stretch denim allowing a close fit on most figures.
I offered to test the pattern.
Now you might be thinking I don’t really have the figure for flares, and you would be right. Lauren herself has a semi-straight body and she looks pretty good in trousers of all sorts. Women with a more shaped silhouette (small waist, big hips) often struggle to find trousers that fit. However the retro high waist can flatter a slim middle, and this was what I was thinking. High waist and tailored to fit my actual dimensions. It was on this basis I thought these might be a good pair of jeans for me.
Please note I have never made jeans before. Having read an article in the Guardian I worried about working with such a heavy, stiff cloth, and the top stitching and all those rivets and bits of metal.
In terms of design I decided to narrow the flare down just a bit. Having cut out my size (29) I reduced the flare to the width of the smallest size (24). They were still around three inches wider than my widest (bootleg) jeans. I shortened the leg by an inch and a half.
Fabric and notions
I looked around for stretch denim. I tried Cloth House which had lots of denim, but not much stretch. And what they had ranged from about £12 to £16 per metre – a bit pricey in my book. So I jumped on the tube to Brixton and found a good basic range at Simply Fabrics. For just £5 a metre they had blackish/charcoal, navy and brown stretch denim. I chose the blue although it was a bit on the dark side.
With all the modifications I found I only needed 1.5m of fabric (rather than the 2.5m proposed – I have enough left for a skirt).
What about top stitching? I decided not to sew with the traditional mustard thread. Instead I chose a light grey. Which when I got home I found I already had, from when I made button holes on my Chanel jacket. Anyway as you can see there is virtually no difference between the pink, lemon and grey when put against the deep grey-blue of the denim. I used the grey which my daughter said made my jeans look like they were £10 from Peckham market. However she marvelled at the fit and asked me to make her a pair, but with navy top stitching. That is a good idea I think.
I selected greyed off brass for the rivets, buttons and a denim zip with silver teeth. I got these items at Maccullouch and Wallis as it was convenient, but of course paid list price for everything. The notions cost more than the fabric. For the pocket lining I used up a bit more of my African Wax fabric (six yards seems to go on and on).
Unlike Lauren I have a curved figure with a small waist and wider hips. My bottom is round and my back waist comes in a lot. This figure type is not the best for RTW jeans, but obviously I these were my jeans, made for me, giving me the first chance ever to make a pair that fitted.
Once the pattern arrived I immediately looked at what the finished garment measurements would be. I was amazed that for my size the finished garment had 3″ of negative ease at the hips, but 3″ of ease at the waist. Lauren set up a Facebook page for testers and I immediately thought there must be an error. Discussion continued. In the end we were both right. The negative ease at the hips turned out fine, but the waist band and back yoke were too spacious and Lauren altered the pattern before release. So I felt quite excited about that.
As it happens I had expected, having chosen a size to fit on the hips, that I would alter the pattern at the waist. I chose a size 30 for the trousers (one size up from what the instructions said) but narrowed the yoke and waist band down to size 27. It was still a tiny bit big at the CB so I took a little wedge out of the waistband which was covered by the back belt carrier.
The pattern now released is true to size and relatively easy to fit in my view. Obviously working with a stretch fabric is helpful – these jeans do have a slight corset effect in common with most jeans.
If you make these, or any, jeans, here is my suggestion on fitting.
- Cut out your size based on the hip measurement.
- Alter the pattern to fit your other measurements – waist (which may not be on the waist), thighs and length. I shortened by three and a half inches (i am 5’5″).
- Alter the pattern to suit your design preferences. I narrowed the flare. In future I would choose a slightly smaller pocket and narrower belt loops – this is just a personal preference due to being a bit “petite” in the waist area.
- If you are confident of the CB shape, make up the back and front. This includes top stitching so don’t do it if you are not happy with the CB shaping. In this case make up the front but just baste the backs together. Machine baste the front and back together and try on.
- Assuming they work well at CB by now make sure the trousers fit well through the waist, hip and leg, pinning (or letting out) anywhere that is needed.
- Now you can alter the paper pattern and the jeans and make them up.
I will provide my construction notes in a future post.