Brain Tanned Deerskins
It has been a while since I made a pair of leggings. My last set was stolen out of my friends pickup truck during a trip. The bag held all my buckskin clothes and was the only thing taken. It's been long enough now that I smile when I think of what the person who took this bag must have thought when they got home and opened it up!
When making clothes of any kind with buckskin it is crucial that the skin needs to be washed first. I don't mean a trip through the washer (which you can do with buckskin!) but rather a dip in some water. When buckskin is worked soft in a frame, which I do, it tends to come out in a 2 dimensional shape. Deer are obviously not 2 dimensional so getting the skin wet and slightly working a little as it dries allows it to come back to a more normal shape. After giving the skin a dip I wring out the smoky water, catching it in a bucket to be used later for a braining. The smoky water helps keep the brains from going sour and also make it a little easier when softening the skin. The reason you want to soak the finished skin is because if you don't you might end up with one leg that wants to twist weird ways or a sleeve that is shorter than when you started.
One should also try to find matching skins when making clothing. That is to say that the skins should match in overall thickness as your first priority and optionally in coloring. To help with color matching smoke two skins of the same thickness together. The skins I use here were not smoked as a matching set and you can tell the difference if you look carefully.
I have found it much easier to use old clothing that you like the fit of and taking it apart rather than using patterns or measurements. I went to the second hand store and picked up these old jeans for 2$. I simply cut out the crotch and then split them up the outer side seam. They are now my pattern. You can see in the pic where I have laid the "pattern" on the washed skin. You will note that the skin is not flat but has curves in it. This is normal. Buckskin is not like working with any other material. Your finished garments will never look like they came out of a factory.
I traced an outline of the pattern onto the flesh side of the skin. You can use some sort of straight edge to help make up for the ripples but again, it's never going to be perfectly straight. Be sure to keep track of which side of your skin will be the front part of your leggings and which part is the back. The side of the pattern where you can see the old pocket from the jeans is the front side. It will be that side that is eventually made into the fringe.
This pic shows the buckskin that has been cut away from the back side of the legging and also the crotch area. Before you cut into buckskin make sure you think about what your doing, then think about it again as you cant really fix a screw up too easily with buckskin. I made the cut about 1/2 inch away from the exact tracing line of the back part of the leggings. This is to allow for a little overlap in the seam of the sides of the leggings. Next I used an awl to poke holes on the line of the back side of the leggings, or the side that has been cut. Do not expand these holes by shoving the awl through the holes. Leave these holes small. All holes exposed to stress will become larger over time. This is why you want to leave the holes small. These holes are about 1/2 inch apart. You can space them wider or smaller to charge the appearance but much further apart and you run the risk of the seams becoming saggy over time. Much closer together and you run the risk of having the seems rip into each other.
This pic shows the seam on the outside of the skin. This is called a running stitch. In this case this would be called lacing as this skin is not really stitched as much as laced together. There are many variations of making seams. I like this one for it's simplicity. You can get really crazy and make seams that look like little x's or seams that look braided. Whatever seam style you decide to do you want to make sure that when you cut your lace that you take note of the different thicknesses of the skin. Thinner areas on the skin will stretch much more than thicker areas. So when you cut your lace make the cut wider in thinner areas and a little narrower in thicker areas. Get your lace wet and pre-stretch it. No need to let it dry before using it but you can. Note also how the same side (hair side of skin) is showing on the lace as well.
When I lace, I lace from the bottom of the leg and work my way up. I leave about 8 inches of lace on the bottom just in case I need to make adjustments somewhere. When I finish off the end of a lace I tend to just weave it on the inside of the garment rather than tie it off and cut it. That way I have something to work with later if needed and I also know I have a little stash of lace on me in the event I need one and don't have one. I don't lace the very top and will show what I like to do there next. Now we have the skin laced up the side. The big flap on the right can be left as is or made into fringe. To me half the fun of buckskin is the fringe and as you will see I love to get nuts with the fringe.
There are a number of ways to make the part that keeps the leggings on you. Some folks suggest a suspender type set up while I prefer a belt. To make the belt loop I lace the inside part of the flap that is left on the inside of the legging. I fold it over to create the loop and include this in with the lacing on the top and keep going all the way up, folding over the outer extra skin. That way I have a strong loop that does not want to stretch.
Making the fringe is pretty simple. Just cut strips of skin until they are as small as you would like them. I like to make some initial cuts all the way along the lateral flap just to make sure my fringe is as even as I can get it.
I like the look of twisted fringe which was practiced by some aboriginal American tribes. I wet the fringe and then stretch each individual part of the fringe and twist them tight, giving a nice pull on the end.
I really suggest wearing the whatever your making around a bit before you do a lot of trimming. Again, you can't correct mistakes too easily and buckskin takes a lot of work to get to the point where you're making clothes and don't want to waste all that work. After you've worn it a while you will see and feel where you want to make some different trimmings. I am going to leave the upper parts of these intact for a while before I do any trimming.
And there you have them, leggings.
I really prefer leggings to pants for several reasons. My favorite reason is that they are adaptable. When you get up in the morning you put your skirt/breech cloth on and then add your leggings. When it warms up you simply take off your leggings, no need for a wardrobe change. When it cools back off then your leggings come back on. Leggings also cut down on laundry especially when used with a skirt which I what I prefer to wear with leggings. This makes them go for longer stretches where they don't need to be washed than do pants. While buckskin is pretty breathable it can get hot and musty in a hurry. Leggings cut that right out. Leggings also allow for much greater flexibility and range of motion than do pants and you never get butt sag as buckskin pants tend to do over time.
Some may think this a little drafty of a system but I have never had any problems with it having lived year round in a skirt and leggings outdoors. Buckskin is so naturally warm that a little ventilation is nice and the extra ventilation helps keep one cleaner in my opinion.
In final analysis the most important part of leggings is that leggings are just damn sexy!