If you’re like me, you have a drawerful of pants of varying wrong lengths. Maybe you don’t know how to sew and just haven’t gotten around to taking them to be altered. Maybe you have justifications: I wear these with heels sometimes. I like to do that cute rolled casual cuff. Someday I may try to sell them consignment and they’ll have a better chance of finding a new home if the length is still intact. And maybe you know how to sew but sometimes you’re just too lazy to get out the machine or make the time. (<—–Me. All the time.)
Today I implore you to get out those skinny pants and learn how to hem them. Truth be told, you would never want a skinny pant a longer length because they break at the ankle anyways. Only in a wider leg would heels be a reason to keep them longer. And if you can pull off that skinny or wide turned up cuff, by all means, rock on. As a shorter person, it chops me up too much and gives my length an extra line break it doesn’t need visually. Plus I’m favoring a cleaner look and have resigned myself to the fact that “messy casual chic” just looks like a plain mess on me. As for consignment, why would I keep them preserved for a potential future owner if one day I decide to part with them? Just no. Hem away, baby.
Ruler or measuring tape
Thread matching the color and thickness of the original hem
Machine needle- most likely a 14 for regular hems, and potentially a specific top stitching needle with a longer eye for thicker thread found on jeans and some chinos
Wash your pants. Several times. Cotton pants shrink a bit and you can end up with hems far too short if you hem them straight from the store. I can’t emphasize this enough. Sometimes I live in mine for a month before I think they’ve settled. I’ve had pants change by a full 2″, so please do not skip this step.
Start by trying on your pants with the shoes you will wear most frequently. Even a ballet flat has a marginal heel or can torque your foot angle. It’s wonderful if you have a friend to help you pin your length. When we bend over at the waist, our hems rise, and you can pin your pants too long. Fold them up to the outside. Pin both the front and the back. Walk around a bit and see if the length interferes with your shoes, how the legs rise and fall when you walk, and make sure it’s how you want them.
Measure both legs, front and back. Unless you have a known high hip or different leg lengths, average all of these measurements to get your final adjustment amount. You can measure the inseam to double check if you think the manufacturer hemmed the legs differently in the first place. Also measure the original hem width. Jeans are normally a double rolled 1/2″ to 5/8″; chinos can be an inch or two.
Some math: allow for your desired hem subtracted from the average amount you turned up. I’m allowing 1″ (for a double 1/2″ hem), subtracted from my average 3 5/8 I want them shortened. So I cut off 2 5/8″.
Press them (on a sleeve board if you have one) the full hem allowance. Open up and press the raw edge to the fold you just created. Then fold it over following these two creases to make your double hem. I find this is much more precise instead of pressing at 1/2″ and folding it over, which takes up excess fabric and creates a shorter hem. Not much, but it can be noticeable to you. I also trim the seam allowance away in a triangle inside the hem to reduce bulk while sewing.
Thread your machine, using your thicker topstitching thread (if you’re using it) on the top. My machine will not tension correctly if I try using thick thread in both the needle and the bobbin, yours may. Trial and error. I use a coordinating regular weight thread in the bobbin. Make sure to use a special topstitching needle if you’re using thicker thread.
Stitch from the right side of the pant, lining up the edge of the fabric a scant bit inside the hem allowance you turned up. I KNOW. I know you want to sew from the inside so you can follow the fold precisely, but DON’T. For one reason, you can’t use your special topstitching thread in the bobbin most likely. For another, it’s called TOPstitching for a reason. It’s done from the TOP. Most machines just make a stitch that looks better from the right side. So learn to stitch this way, press accurately, and sew accurately. You’ll learn to be able to sew by feel and know when you’re reaching the edge of the fold quickly.
You’ll get to the side seams and your presser foot will hesitate at the bulk. At this point you need to make everything under the foot level to your machine, so that it will continue to sew ahead with ease. I have a special thingamajig actually called a Jean-a-ma-jig that’s made to insert behind your foot so you can continue sewing. But you can also just use a sneaky trick: wad up the extra pant fabric scrap you cut off until it’s as thick as your hem, raise your presser foot, and place it behind the needle. Lower the foot and sew until you’re past the bulk. Ta-da! No wonky tension.
My machine doesn’t always like to reverse and backstitch at the beginning and end like you would normally do to secure your stitching, due to the thick thread. Instead, I make sure my stitching overlaps a bit, I draw both threads to the inside, double knot, fray check, and clip off.
All done! Now I know denim purists hate hemming jeans, because you’ve just undone any distressing that came with the original hem. If you so desire, you can take a fine grit sandpaper or a metal nail file right above the stitching where the hem bulk ends to sand a bit out. Or you can chalk it on if you don’t want to actually distress your pants. Or just wear them, and the distressing will happen naturally in time. Hem a pair or two or three this weekend. Take charge of your pants. You’ll be glad you did.
Love from Wisco,