I do not like high rise jeans, or so I thought before a few weeks ago. They are uncomfortable and restrictive, and I dislike the feeling of stiff denim around my waist. But the Helene jeans by Anna Allen changed my mind completely at the first try-on. Not only are they shockingly comfortable, but they have just about everything I want in a classic jeans pattern.
The Helene jeans come in 4 views: straight leg, slim straight leg, wide leg, and shorts. They have a super high rise and a straight waistband, along with classic 5-pocket jeans styling. The front pockets are traditional pockets bags (no waist stay) like you would find on a vintage pair of Levi’s.
For more on the drafting and fit, see my previous post.
I used to avoid pants with straight side seams (or no side seams) because they were always so difficult to fit with traditional fitting methods (my beloved knock knee adjustment was impossible!). But now that I use Top Down Center Out to fit, I feel much more confident exploring some of these more interesting and unique designs. And turns out I don’t need that knock knee adjustment after all.
With Top Down Center Out, fitting was relatively straightforward. First, I had already done my homework to understand the intended fit of the pattern and the historical origins of the style, so I knew to expect some ease in the front crotch, as well as extra ease through the hip and thighs. I could keep my fitting expectations realistic; Helene is not drafted to fit like skinny jeans or the popular Persephone pants.
I chose the slim straight view and made my one-legged toile (as well as a video about the process). I decided not to change much about the original drafting, because I did not want to overfit these and lose the vintage character.
I cut a size 12 for the front and back leg. My hip circumference (42 inches) puts me between a size 12 and 14 on the size chart, but closer to the 12. Following the Top Down Center Out guidance, I decided to go with the 12 based on my anatomy and posture.
My optimal waistband circumference matched a size 8, so I cut the size 8 yoke too. Then I added extra fabric to the side seams and blended it with the size 12 leg as I was fitting the toile.
I also added 1/2 inch to the rise front and back so that the bottom of the waistband sits right at the smallest part of my waist. I’m 5’10” so increasing the rise is standard for me.
The fit is exactly what I’d hoped for, not too tight but not too loose either. The denim shrinks up considerably after a wash so there is just enough room to zip them up, but then it loosens and molds to my body within a few minutes of wear. The result is a VERY comfortable pair of jeans, I’ve been wearing them non-stop for several very active weeks.
It’s worth noting that the sample photos for Helene show a snugger fitting jean than I think the pattern will deliver if you cut your true size. The hashtag seems to have a more realistic representation of the fit, based on my experience with my own Helenes. If one wants a snug pair of Helenes like the sample photos, I would recommend going down a size. Anna has said on IG that she wears two different sizes in her Helenes, one a size up and one a size down, which is a smart idea.
I chose a 12 oz denim for this pattern, which I like as an everyday, all-purpose weight for jeans. It’s light enough that it will soften up quickly, but heavy enough to retain some structure. For my next pair, I’ll go with a 14-15 ounce denim for something a bit more rugged.
Anna’s instructions and illustrations are generally excellent, and if you haven’t sewn a pair of jeans before, this would be a good pattern to start with. The only additional note that I add to Anna’s zipper fly instructions is that the zipper stop should be placed ABOVE the dot on the pattern (I typically place the zipper stop about 1/4 inch above the dot). If you place the zipper stop on the dot, then you will not be able to topstitch the bottom of the fly correctly in subsequent steps, because the metal zipper will be in the way.
Finally, about that zipper: the least enjoyable part of making these jeans was the zipper length. Each size requires a slightly different length for the metal zipper, which means you either need to buy a custom length zipper (which can be pricey), or trim down one that’s a standard length. I opted for the latter, but removing the heavy gauge metal teeth can be tricky, and it is easy to accidentally nip into the zipper tape. With patience and practice, it’s doable, but not my favorite activity.
Notes for Next Time
Next time, I’ll try sizing down to a size 10 in the crotch seam and leg so I can have one pair of Helenes that’s snugger and one that’s looser. I cut the longest length (34-inch inseam) for this first pair, but next time I will add 1-2 inches to the length, since I want a bigger cuff that sits slightly lower on my ankle. Finally, I’ll also shorten the zipper length next time so that I can use a standard 7″ zipper.
My one critique of this pattern is that the fit that I got by cutting my size seems to fit a little looser than in the sample photos. Happily, this was exactly the fit that I wanted and expected, but it would be easy to think that the Helene jeans will fit exactly like the Persephone pants based on the sample photos alone, which could lead to some initial disappointment for those wanting a snugger fit. To be fair, the pattern website does link to the hashtag, so we can see the pattern on many body shapes, but I usually set my fit expectations on the designer photos.
Sample photos aside, my Helene jeans have been in non-stop rotation since I finished them a few weeks ago, and they’ve already seen a lot of activity: gardening, biking, and hiking. This pattern changed my mind about high-rise, straight side seam jeans: they fit incredibly well, they are supremely comfortable, and they are highly functional. They also deliver a timeless look and feel that is unique among all of the jeans patterns out there today. This is a special pattern, and one I will be coming back to many times.