The Bell-bottoms

Vintage wranglers (with accessories)

In about 1997, I stumbled upon two pairs of bell-bottom Wranglers, presumably vintage but more or less pristine, at a garage sale. They were a little big, but at least that meant they sat a bit low on my hips. In those days, stretch denim and low-rise pants had not yet penetrated to my little backwater… I was still wearing my Levi 501s and trying to figure out why anything that fit at the waist had huge flaps at the hips. Β At seventeen you don’t really have a clear sense of your body… all I knew was that the look I was seeing wasn’t quite right. I was also still wrestling with my 80s-bred distaste for any pants that flared at all.Β The wranglers hung off my hips at the perfect level, though, and if they didn’t hug or skim anything, well, as long as I could show off my tummy, at that point I didn’t much care. I wore them with boho shirts and a metal-link belt that had belonged to my mother in the 70s, if not the 60s. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I would be wearing bell-bottoms more-or-less exclusively for the next decade.

Ellen Bellbottom Jeans

Although I was never a serious devotee of the flare (I don’t have the hips for wide ones), I was a late adopter of the skinny jean, as well—I got my first only a little over a year ago. Β But I haven’t had non-stretch, old-school flares since I ousted those Wranglers, round about the birth of my first child.

Then, Joy’s Bellbottom Challenge cropped up and, coincidentally, I wound up with two metres of absolutely gorgeous dark-indigo non-stretch denim. Obviously the two would have to combine into some seriously retro bellbottoms.

Not, however, as huge and sloppy as my old wranglers, however. So, I went to my handy-dandy Ellen pants pattern, which is my only non-stretch pants pattern (that I know fits, anyway…), traced it off, made the adaptations for jeans (back yoke, front pockets), brainstormed a couple of different ideas for the closure and the pockets, and got to work. Ellen is a great pattern for mods like this because it’s completely free of style details if you leave off the pockets.

I opted to have the legs flare from about mid-thigh. I probably could’ve gone a bit lower, but I wanted, for whatever reason, more of a wide-legged look than a hip-hugger look. I added what seemed like it would be a modest, but definite, flare.

Front lace-up fly

I decided, for no particular reason, to make a corset-closing front rather than a traditional fly… I had a pair like this shortly after Tyo was born, and I always loved the feature (I have a bit of a weakness for things that lace up.). I haven’t decided whether to add grommets to the waistband itself, or buttons with a tab stretching between them. We’ll see. Although inserting grommets is always a little nerve-wracking, this was still simpler than a fly, for those of you who are chicken of flies and not afraid to look a little out there ;).

Bound waistband interior and flat-felled seams

Bound waistband interior and flat-felled seams

I did my new favourite waistband-finishing technique, binding the inside with bias tape (this time the blue satin left over from my springy coat facing), and, since the Ellen has 1.5 cm seam allowances rather than the 1cm of the Jalie pattern, I decided to try my hand at (ulp) felled seams.

They were… ok. Definitely not perfect. In particular, although my yoke seams lined up at the seam-line, the way the seam-allowances interact in a flat-felled seam means that after they were folded over, the yokes look offset. Boo. On the up-side each seam is only stitched twice, instead of three times, and there’s less swapping back and forth of threads. The trimming and pressing takes a lot longer, though, and I think I get more even topstitching with the “cheater” method. Hmm. We’ll see. A big part of me is still convinced I’m not making proper jeans if they don’t have felled seams. Hmm.


Bell-bottoms: back

I hemmed them LONG. If they don’t shrink up in length, I may have to shorten them. That’s ok. I’ve been traumatized by too many too-short pants over the years to mind a bit of extra length. And it’s fun to put on heels and still have only my toes peek out.

So... much... leg...

Click through to the full-size rear photo to get a better view of my back pockets… I made them shield-shaped to echo the corset-fly.
My hubby, a diehard child of the 80s, has already expressed his dislike of them. I explained that I think I’m allowed to own one pair of jeans that he doesn’t like. He countered that he doesn’t own any jeans that I don’t like. I pointed out that’s only because he won’t go shopping without me. I think this means I win, don’t you?

It really doesn’t show in the pictures, but I also did one vintage thing that I’ve never before attempted on jeans.

I pressed creases front and back in them. I think they look very smart.

Now all I need is a 70s blouse to go with them… πŸ˜€

(I think I’ll have to do a 70s week in Me-Made June, what do you think?)



Filed under Sewing

51 responses to “The Bell-bottoms

  1. I’m jealous. You did one bang-up job sewing these, with so many creative touches and they look great on you.

  2. You torment me with your gorgeous jeans!! Seriously, they look fantastic. The width is perfect and I love the pockets.

  3. Your jeans looks fabulous! I love bell bottomed jeans! :]

  4. Those pockets are super sweet! Love them!

  5. love them! the flare looks great on you.

  6. These are great jeans! I love everything about them. Flared jeans are my favourite. Pockets are v. cool and that lace-up opening is a detail that I have not seen before.

  7. Joy

    Woohoo! Welcome to small (but elite?) bell-bottoms club.

    The lace-up fly is marvelous. And imo, the flared legs work very well with your figure. Forget the 80’s!

    I like flat-felling seams. Maybe because it leaves no bulk inside the pant legs.

    I’m definitely doing a groovy tunic/blouse challenge this summer. I’m sure that club will be a little bigger (:

    • I’d gladly forget the 80s (I didn’t even like them that much the first time round) if I didn’t live with 80s-boy. He does have his good qualities, though…

      I find the flat-felled seams are actually bulkier than pressed-to-the-side-and-topstitched seams. Four layers of fabric in there instead of three. Flat felling does look better on the inside, though.

      I will totally be in for the groovy tunic challenge πŸ˜€

  8. I think these jeans are great. Very stylish, very you. Have you tried pounding super thick denim seams? yes, with a hammer. It helps flatten them.

    • Yes, pounding the crap out of the thicker seams in denim is definitely on my techniques list :). Mostly where the yokes meet and the crotch point on the inseam. It’s amazing the difference it makes, isn’t it? πŸ˜€

  9. Ali

    Amazing! You really make sewing jeans look so easy. I was awe when I first came to your blog last summer and even more so now (I’ve been grappling with the fit on my self-drafted pants pattern, it feels endlessss). Thanks for pointing out your shrug pattern!! Will def. check it out.

    • Well, you may have noticed that I use only two pants patterns, both of which pretty much fit already? I am pretty chicken to pick up any new ones, I feel much more secure just morphing these ones how I like… πŸ™‚

  10. I have the pattern, I have the material…..after seeing the terrific job you did I have the inspiration. Thanks, great jeans!!!!

  11. Kat

    These are great – I’ve always loved jeans with a little extra width at the bottom. I think they compensate for the width at my own bottom! Not that you have that problem.

    One of my favourite outfits in the mid-90s was my bell-bottomed lace-up-fly jeans, with a chain link belt (also from my mum!) and a velvet t-shirt. Maybe my fashion wasn’t so misguided after all πŸ˜‰

  12. yes to to the 70s week! and holy gorgeous jeans!!! damn lady you find the best denim, i’m sooo jealous! those look amazing!

  13. That look amazing. I really love the design on your back pocket.

  14. These are super rad and I want a pair that fit me as well, right now!! I love the lace up front but would worry about it coming loose, at an inopportune moment, of course. I like your idea of a button tab. Then again, a belt would probably suffice too. How about a leather lace through those grommets?

    Well done!!

  15. Love them!!! The lace up fly is a fun detail – I had a pair of jeans like that in college and wore them until I spilled sodium hydroxide on them in chem lab and they literally fell apart. I mourned those jeans for many moons. Now I must make my own…

  16. Elle C

    Holy Awesome Jeans Batman!

    Seriously, they are fantastic! The yoke seams line up just like they do on RTW jeans. I know because I have been staring at the a$$es of everyone wearing jeans since Peters sewalong began. Like the pocket detail, and do I spy a belt loop idea from my Pinterest jeans detail page 😎 ?

    • I like to do SOMETHING extra at the centre back, as this tends to be the area of maximum stress on my beltloops. This is a ribbon-shape belt loop (think those pink breast cancer ribbons). On other versions I’ve done a triple loop or a plain criss-cross.

  17. love ’em! I’ve been thinking of making a flare-pair. The seasons are so goofy, though…. I’d only like wearing them with HEELS, and i only like heels in the summer (snow + heels = sadpatty) and in the summer, well, who needs jeans?? Now I’m going to be all obsessy about making my own pair!

    I, too, love a good lacing! I can’t get over your lacey-fly!!

    I LOVE flat felled seams. And even though it junks up the needles, I really like using a glue stick to hold that seam over and flat!

    Yay! Love em love em love em!

    • Oooh, glue-stick for the felled seams… hadn’t thought of that. I use it for positioning the pockets, but it didn’t occur to me to try it on the seam.

      I could try out wonder-tape, too. I have some of that. Although it wasn’t keeping the folds in place, so much, as getting the folds even in the first place. πŸ˜›

  18. Holy cow! I can’t believe how awesome these are. I lived in flares most of my teenage and adult life, even when they weren’t really in style anymore. My first pair was a light blue super bell bottom pair from Goodwill when I was in middle school. I still dream about those jeans πŸ™‚ It was only a few years ago when I went up a size (or two) I started wearing straighter leg jeans. I’m obsessing over these now….

  19. LOVE THEM! You HAVE to wear these with wedges in summer, preferably with a wooden/straw-woven bottom πŸ™‚ Ooooh, how would dark-golden laces look on the front I wonder (to pick-up on the top-stitching thread)?

    • You know, I had those exact sandals (belonging originally to my mother) back around the same time as the above wranglers. I’m not sure if I gave them back to her or quite what became of them… /sigh.

  20. Incredible! They are a super yummy shape & fit you spot on – the flare is just right in my opinion & very flattering, which seems perverse considering the bad press given to bell bottoms in the 80s (yes I too remember those heady early days of s-t-r-e-t-c-h skin tight jeans). It was a while before I could bring myself to wear “flares” (which is I’m sure why they were marketed to our generation as “bootcut”). I love your attention to detail – pocket stitching, lace fly & wow flat felled seams.
    I think a 70s week in June would be huge fun πŸ™‚
    Sorry you can’t get THE Hushpuppies in Canada – have you tried Amazon or maybe Ebay UK can ship overseas? (Apologies for attempting to corrupt you if you are trying to stay resolute!)

  21. I’m afraid I’m beginning to find your blog slightly depressing : after the ‘Oh! I can sew on knit top a day’ and the ‘Aha, I can sew one jacket a week’, it’s probably time for the ‘Hey! d’you know I can sew jeans in 2 seconds?’…

    As someone who didn’t touch her sewing machine during the whole month of May (and probably most of April, too) and is afraid both of knits, sergers AND pants, I wonder if it’s still very healthy for me to read your daily ramblings…

    On the other hand, these back pockets look freakishly good. Oh, and I use bias or my waistbands too, so that I feel like at least we have something in common.

  22. Gosh, your legs are long… I’m jealous!
    Very pretty jeans, I love the lace-up fly!

  23. Man, those look awesome! I can’t believe you can draft so easily with just a TNT pattern. I have a few TNTs, but have mixed luck changing the shapes. I really should make more pants and shorts, but I’m such a wimp and skirts are so easy…. Maybe you should do a sew-along so I’ll be forced to finish some more pants!

  24. Your legs look endless in these trousers, wonderful! I have many flared jeans (I always am a bit, well, years behind when it comes to fashion, so I only recently discovered skinny jeans ;-)) and always feel very sexy in them. No idea why you man doesn’t like them, because I think you look stunning! Great job.

  25. LinB

    Hahaha, you DO win that “fight” with your own Dear Husband. I found a school choir photo of 150 girls wearing the 70s dress, with the high collar, circa 1974 . It’s an amazingly flattering silhouette — we were all heights and weights and stages of chestal development. Ahh,memories. Try that pattern, sleeveless, for your sundress, vote I.

  26. You’re the Queen of Jeans!

  27. Wow, you amaze me! These jeans are awesome… each and every detail…

  28. They are incredible, your husband must be blind if he doesn’t like them!

  29. Beyond cuteness I tell you! Love the jeans and LOVE The lace up front!

  30. Ok I went and printed off that Burda pattern! Thanks! Now how on earth did you do the lace up closure on them? I am fairly new to sewing clothes so maybe I will see it when I look through this pattern? A tutorial would be so great, if you felt like doing one. That is total cuteness the lace up closure!

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