Hemming Jeans:A Tutorial

I know a lot of us are going to be receiving jeans as Christmas presents and for many of us those jeans are going to be too long.  And not just a little.  For us to even walk about something will have to be done.

If you frequently buy super expensive jeans, you know the ones that cost 3 digits $$$– get thee to a proper seamstress.  A shop will have thread that matches your jeans exactly and you won’t be sweating a possible mess up on a luxury item.

But for those of us who buy jeans of a more practical variety, and depending on your frequency of wear, a basic sewing machine may pay you back in alterations bills. For those with even a mild interest in sewing jeans hemming is well within reach.  If this is the only sewing project you ever learn you will be doing yourself a huge favor.

What you will need

A basic sewing machine and working familiarity with it.  Meaning you know how to thread the machine and wind the bobbin.  You understand that stitch lengths go from very short to very long.  You have successfully worked with your tension to create a passable line of stitching.  You can use the stitch guides on the throat plate so your stitches are straight.

Thread that matches, at least somewhat, the topstitching on the jeans.  Special jeans topstitching thread is available, but for most projects, I use regular thread in the light brown – rust color variance.

Sewing machine needles that will cut through tough denim.  Schmetz makes special needles just for denim n various sizes.   In a pinch I have also used embroidery or universal needles at the 90/14 size.

A bunch of jeans that you don’t mind making mistakes on.  The best source for these is a thrift store.  Trust me, however bad you feel about screwing up thrift store jeans, you will feel loads worse ruining your $75.00 pair.  Twenty dollars of jeans used for practice may save you tons in alterations costs later on. 

These are the steps I take to hem my jeans.  I have done it a gazillion times.  It does work with a little practice.

 And now for you adventurous souls, let’s be on our way.  

1.) The jeans are too long for my taste.  I am using a pair of shoes with a middling heel.   I don’t mind if my jeans are a little long for flats, but I abhor too short jeans with heels.

2.) Fold up the hem at the desired length.  This may take a few tries.  I err on the side of overlong because I have mistakenly hemmed too short in the past. 

3.) Pin the hem so you don’t lose it when you take the jeans off.

4.) Measure your desired hemline.  The fold is where you want your new hem.  The turned up bit is what you have to work with to make your hem.  My jean hems are usually ½ inch.  I need two of those ½ inch widths so I can complete the folded over hem (1/2 inch on the inside of the fold, ½ inch on the outside). So you would measure one inch or so from the fold.  Any more is excess.  (You can see that my measurement is 1 ¼ inch.  I went ahead and kept that extra ¼ inch.)

5.) Cut away your excess.  On these I decided to just cut away the previous hem.

6.) Choose your thread color and sewing machine needles.  I am using Coats and Clark general sewing thread in a color that matches the jeans topstitching.  I am also using standard Universal 90/14 Schmetz needles as I know from past experience that they will work through denim, at least for the short time I will need them sewing just a hem.

7.) Choose a long stitch length.  The illustration on the machine stitch length dial (marked C pointing up) shows the length you are aiming for.  The reason you are choosing a longer stitch length than normal is because that thick jean fabric is going to eat up your thread.  Thicker fabric has more length of thread sitting within the fabric making for a shorter stitch on top.  This is all hard to explain.  But too short a stitch on jeans will drive you crazy.

8.) Use your freearm if you have one.

To access your freearm see if there is a section of your sewing machine that can be pulled away to make a smaller bed. That way you can get the short circumference of your jeans around your machine making them easier to sew.

9.) 3/8 – ½ inch into the hemline make a staystitch line.  There are no folds on my jeans yet.  Just a line of stitching along the bottom bare edge.

10.) Cut away any bulky seams best you can under the staystitch line.

11.) Turn your jeans inside out.  Many times I do my topstitching from the outside where I can see, but on jeans I use the inside. Using your staystitch as an arm to fold over upon turn your jeans hem under the machine as you sew.

!!!! POTENTIAL PROBLEM!!!! When your reach the bulky side seams, slow down.  Turn the needle by the handwheel if you have to.  You may also have to push and pull the fabric along a bit.  If you hear your machine sounding harsher, or like it is straining, STOP.  Gently start again with the handwheel and kick in the pedal when you are over the worst of the hump.  If you have a jam, don’t force it.  Pull out the jeans and cut the thread.  If you can’t get over the side seams you do have the option of sewing up to that seam, skipping the bulky portion, and beginning again on the other side.  I don’t often use this method, but some denim can be incredibly thick and unworkable.

12.) Iron your new hemline down for crispness.

Now check in the mirror.

These jeans are now at an acceptable hem point for me. Long enough for a slight heel without dragging the ground.

At this point, ask yourself some questions.

Is this the length that I want?

Is my topstitching compatible with the overall look of the jeans?

If the jeans look wonky, is that because of my sewing technique, or is it something funny about the length.

If the sewing details are off, take a practice pair of jeans and just keep cutting hems up the pants leg until you have the technique down.  For example, each person has to work out their own way of getting past that huge bulky seam.  If your stitching is uneven or comes loose, practice technique.

If you jeans are the wrong length, are they too short or too long?  My tendency is toward such exactitude that I get the hemline too short.  Standing still the pants look fine but they ride up a bit with movement raising the hemline to undesirable heights.  Knowing my proclivities I often add an inch to my pinned hem.  You may have the opposite tendency of allowing too much hem.  The only way to know your own tendencies is to hem.  Find several pair of dirt cheap thrift store jeans and practice. 

At first it seems like a lot of work, but after a few practice pairs you can successfully hem a pair of jeans within twenty minutes.  What used to be a chore is now one of the easiest sewing projects I do, in less time than it would take me to drive to the alterations shop.  After about six pairs you will be fearless even in the face of three-digit-dollar jeans! 

Next Post: Tuesday, December 28, 2010:  I am taking a few days off for the Holidays to visit family.  I’m sure after all of that food and family I will be eager to get back to my machine.  Looking forward to showing you what new things I have done.


Tidying up the Unfinished Edge of a Hemline, or Getting Ready to Hem: A Cheater’s Method

When I was a beginner I wondered what to do with the raw edge of fabric at the hemline.  Most often when I got to the end of my side seams there would be a tiny portion hanging over at the bottom. 

A typical bottom edge mismatch for me on shirts.

As a new sewer I did ask for a solution, but my advisors, both in person and in book format, sidestepped or just didn’t get it.  

The first advice I was given at the time was to measure my hem from the floor, mark, cut and then sew.

Problem: Seeing my hemline accurately was hard when it was slightly uneven.  I was then told if I had sewn the garment correctly the seamlines at the hem would not be uneven.  I think I was getting this admonition from ladies who mainly sewed aprons.  They sidestepped. 

Result of taking such advice: Guilt and I still had my initial problem.

Next piece of advice:Mark your hemline from the unfinished edge. Problem: If you mark your hemline from an unfinished edge that is uneven, you get an uneven hem. They didn’t get it.

Result: I got dorky looking hems.

I find this maddening as this is the kind of stuff that trips up new sewers.

I did not know it at the time, but my garment was not ready to hem.  I have never seen it in a book, or even read in any manual or magazine, but tidying  your raw edge is an actual step before hemming.

All those photographs of perfectly even raw edges being hemmed in manuals, someone has evened the edge before photography began!

Though my method is hardly sacred sewing technique, I am going ahead and offering it as I wish someone had given me some kind of solution when I was a new sewer.

It looks haphazard but I am using the accurately sewn (I hope!,) garment itself as the base.

[My only caveat:  If I found a huge seam mismatch, say five inches, I would not do this.  If you have a huge gap at the bottom, dear reader, please retrench and abandon this technique I am showing, because it won’t work to correct that situation!]

 But the unevenness I typically experience is not enough to worry about, by that I mean it won’t affect the hang of the garment.   The photo at top shows a mismatch of one inch or less.  This technique will work on a simple shirt hemline or a basic non-back-vented skirt.  I am going to use a shirt to illustrate.

 * Fold up the garment so the side seams are together exactly.  For example, with a shirt I lay the side seams atop one another, match and pin the armpit. 

Here I am flattening and pinning my front bodice. You can see the pins on the button front. The back gets a bit scrunched when you do the front. After cutting the front even, repeat with the back, flattening and matching up seams.

* Pin again at bottom if the fabric tends to shift. 

*Make sure the back and front bodice are divided equally in half.  If there is a collar or button placket it is easy to lay those seams atop one another and make a perfect match.  Skirts are handled the same way using the waistband or yoke and side seams as your match points.

*Take a deep breath, because every sewer knows once its cut its gone, and carefully take your scissors and tidy that seam. 

The uneven portions coming off the bottom raw edge. See that front placket. Now there will be no mismatch at bottom as long as you hem as evenly as you have cut.

Because it is back to back, front to front and the garment is folded in half exactly the right and left sides of your unfinished edge should match.  One side should not hang lower than the other.

* Now I am ready to mark my hem, on a new pattern, or sew it up for a TNT. 

Why do you need to tidy your raw edge before hemming?  To get professional looking results. Though this method looks a little funky in the picture, like it could never come out even, before I started doing this step, it was my shirt hems that were funky and uneven.  If you are a newbie having the same issues with this as I did, I hope this helps!

Next Post: Tuesday, November 30, 2010: Even I am going to be surprised as I haven’t chosen a topic yet!

How to Find Your Hottest Hemline? Just Look for the Diamond.

Recently I attended a “Modest is Hottest’ Party.  The hostess gave her testimony concerning her struggles with body image, her battle being especially poignant as she was born a thalidomide baby and had to deal with both her own and others perceptions of that condition.  She also spoke of how her Christian faith has helped her in healing those issues.   This spurred the participants to think about their own self-image issues while taking part in the fun of doing our colors, looked at our figure types, and playing around with the jewelry brought along by a local seller.

Our Modest is Hottest hostess Kim Hacker with her friend, a local jewelry seller of Just Jewelry. After the party everyone enjoyed trying on the beautiful jewelry and visiting with each other.

The local-ness of the whole thing struck me.  The hostess was from a local church, the participants largely lived in the same local area, and it was local merchants who donated goods.  High fashion is marketed to us like what is great in Manhattan will fly anywhere.  It doesn’t.  Locality matters. Different regions admire different fashions.  The community feeling seemed counterculture to the mass market fashion that I am used to and I really appreciated it. 

We received a lot of good advice but one thing stood out to me as a fashion sewer. 

Why are some skirts dumpy even though we know we have worn this particuliar style in the past.  The missing link could be the hemline.

Where should our hemlines fall?

In the diamond sections of our legs.  The diamond is the open sections where our legs do not meet.

The open areas are the "diamonds". The top one I haven't had since around sixth grade, but it would be a good indicator for where a mini should fall. I am sticking to the knee and calf diamonds.


 A few ladies stood up and demonstrated by moving material around their calves and the hem did indeed look best when situated within the diamond open space.  At times it can be hard to reconcile a fashionable hemline with one that is flattering for me, especially with long skirts.  Sometimes I look short in long skirts, while in others I look fine.   Keeping a long skirt hemline to the open part of the calf was most flattering and it still “read” to the viewer as a long, full skirt.  When the hemline was moved to the touching parts of the calf the woman began to look shorter and less “together.”  

As the diamond is individual to each women, that explains why some skirts are more flattering than others though they are the same style. 

As every fashion item we sew ends with a hem I thought this advice might be helpful.  We need to consider where the open diamond area is on our leg and then hem our skirts within that area. Sometimes I am reluctant to cut too deeply into a hem because I feel guilty getting rid of all of that fabric, or I think a long skirt must have tons of fabric.  Sometimes I then resist wearing these skirts because they make me feel dumpy. Now I have a tool that I hope makes for fewer wadders.

Next Post: Thursday, August 26, 2010; Vogue 8605 Short-Sleeve Dolman Jacket: Pattern Review