Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tutorial: How to Hem Jeans Like a Pro

The Backstory
I am short. All the jeans I buy are too long for me. But I sew. So I thought I could cut off the excess length and rehem the jeans, no problem. I was wrong--they looked awful and hand-sewn. In addition, I often broke a needle or two in the process--even thick needles labeled for leather and denim. I tried all sorts of gadgets invented for the home sewer hemming jeans, including a hard-to-manage plastic plate called "Jump the Bump" (I'm not kidding), but nothing worked.

Over time, I realized my inability to get a professional hem was because I do not have (a) an industrial sewing machine capable of sewing through several layers of denim, or (b) a professional sandblasting machine which gives the original hem that lovely worn look.

Then one day a college roommate, who was also short, plunked down a hundred or two for a pair of designer jeans and changed my life. Like most high-priced items, the schmancy store was willing to alter them (re: shorten them) for her for free. They still had that professional look. I couldn't figure out how the store tailor had achieved it as I doubted he had a sandblasting machine back in his little corner. So I asked to look at them. Up close. She obliged. And what I discovered on closer inspection was...

They were cheating!

And since then, I've been cheating, too. I've also converted several other people to the cheater's method. I once derailed an entire baby shower by mentioning this technique in a side conversation to someone who was bemoaning her inability to find jeans short enough and others overheard me and asked me to explain it and, well, derailment ensued.

So, since I bought a new pair of jeans yesterday, I finally decided to document it in pictures. I did not invent this method. I think you'll find others on the internet touting the same thing. But here's my take on it...

Step 1: BEFORE

Put on your new jeans. Look at the elephant legs their excess length creates. Shed a few tears over not being 6 feet tall. Mourn the NBA career you will never have.

Step 2: Cuff jeans to desired length.

Make sure the bottom of the cuff grazes right where you want it to. Also make sure you are wearing the type of shoes you plan to wear with your new jeans. Here, I am wearing flats as I plan to wear mostly flats and sneakers with these jeans. Notice how I still have it skirt the ground a little bit--don't get greedy and go too high. This is especially true of bootcut jeans*, like these ones, or straight-leg jeans--if they are above the ground, they will look like high-waters. If you wear skinny or cropped jeans, you can take them to the ankle if that's how you like it.

Step 3. Measure the cuff.

For this measurement, you want to go from the bottom edge of the cuff to the end of the original hem. In other words, you want to INCLUDE THE HEM in this measurement (it will be different for the next one; don't mix these two up). Here, mine worked out to be 2 inches from cuff to hem. This is the amount that I want to shorten the jean.

Step 4. Take that last measurement and divide it in half.

My measurement was 2 inches; therefore, half of that is 1 inch.

Step 5. Reduce cuff to reflect new measurement and pin.

Here, I reduced the cuff until it was only 1 inch from the edge of the cuff to the hem. This time, DO NOT INCLUDE THE ORIGINAL HEM in your measurement. Pin along the inner edge of the hem as shown below.

Step 6. Sew along the inside of the original hem using a straight stitch.
Here, I am using a zipper foot so I can get as close to the original hem as possible without actually stitching through any part of it.

This is the brainchild of the cheater's method--because you are only going through two layers of denim instead of three, it is much easier on you and the machine. The original hem also provides a perfect guide for your stitch (although, in the process, you may discover the professionals are not as precise as you assumed).
It will still be a little rough going over the leg seams (particularly the inner one), but far easier than if you had the fabric doubled up again.

If you have a bootcut or cropped jean, the original hem might not be the same width as the part of the leg to which you are sewing it. Fortunately, most of these cuts of jeans also include some stretch--just pull on the shorter part as you go to make it work.

Step 7. Turn the cuff into the leg.
Once you have done this, here is how it looks on the outside of the jean...

... and here is how it looks on the inside....

Step 8. Stitch in the ditch.
Place the leg back on the sewing machine as pictured below. Using thread that relatively matches the denim (nobody will get close enough to see it), stitch about one inch in the ditch of the leg seam, tacking the cuff you've created into the leg. Reinforce this stitch by going over it again in reverse.
Repeat for each leg seam (i.e., twice per leg, four times total).
You might be tempted to skip this step, but if you do, the cuffs you've sewn will forever be falling out and exposing themselves. If you were going for that look, you might as well have just rolled your jeans.

Step 9. Press seam.

When you are finished, it should look like this:

I brightened this picture so you could see the seam I created. However, none of your friends will ever get close enough to your leg to notice it, unless (1) your friend has some serious personal space issues, or (2) you are in the process of kicking your friend in the face, in which case, I seriously doubt the hem on your jeans is going to be the matter that ends your friendship.
As you can see, the manufacturer's top-stitching and sandblasted hem remains intact.
Step 10: AFTER
Revel in your petite-ified look and intact sewing machine needle.

A few other notes
The cheater method is virtually idiot-proof. That is, if you measure wrong, you can take out the stitches and start over--you didn't actually cut any of the denim off.
*I know that bootcut jeans are passé, but I have bought no less than three pairs of skinny jeans and, after wearing each around the house for at least a day, have decided to grant mankind the favor of not wearing them in public.
Writing this blog post took about 5 times longer than hemming the jeans did.
Am I the only one who's having serious paragraph-spacing issues on Blogger lately?


  1. WOW! and thanks! I have to hem my jeans too, unless it's the summer and I don't mind wearing short ones.

    And I am SO happy to hear that a stylish girl like you prefers boot cut to skinny. As you know, I am well endowed in the butt and thigh area and I will not even try the skinny jeans as they will only magnify that already very large part of me.

    And I always have paragraph troubles on blogger when I upload a lot of photos. I think the trick might be loading them all first and then writing (and in the html format it's easier to erase the spaces). Kind of an annoying glitch.

  2. They look great! As I often buy "tall" jeans I most likely won't need this technique for myself, but I can see using it for my kids.

    Blogger's always dumb w/ spacing. I always upload all the pictures first and then go back & add text & desired spacing. But I often have to go into the code to edit spaces because they don't turn out right when you "preview." Seems like they would've fixed the bugs by now.

    And I love your shoes.

  3. those shoes are dynamite.

    your tutorial is much more witty than mine. :)

  4. Thank you!!!!!!!!!! Your explanation was the best I've found.....skipping no steps to confuse a 'semi-sewer'. Sharon

  5. Hi

    That's great! I am gonna do the same with my jeans. Just discovered that too on my hubby's cargo/utility pants, I Live in Durban - South Africa - and I recently gave his trousers for hemming at the Indian/Pakistani tailors here and they did exactly the same thing! Thought they were cheating and maybe they should redo but discovered i could use the same method for my jeans without having it look unprofessional and also saving me money! Thanks for your step by step tutorial!

  6. YES I have bootcut jeans that finally fit my 5'1" self! Thank you for this tutorial :)

  7. Hiya Gin -- I just looked up this post and intend to hem some jeans today. I am in the unfamiliar position of having lost a little bit of weight and having very few of last winter's pants fitting me correctly: the ones that "fit" are either too short or too long; so either I looked like an idiot all last winter or my proportions continue to fluctuate.

    "Regular" jeans are sometimes too short for me, so I end up getting "tall" ones which are often too long... I'll be using this excellent hemming method on some of my Tall jeans in order to make them just right! Thanks! And I hope everything is going well for you.

    I am happy for your mom to be moving to CA but bemoaning the fact that you will inevitably NOT be visiting AZ as often. Let me know when you come to town again!

  8. Thanks so much. I can't wait to try this with my daughter's jeans!

  9. This is awesome as my son just went up a size in jeans but they are way too long right now and I was so worried about cutting them off and him growing 2 inches during the course of the year..now I can let out the hem and re-sew again if that happens!!

  10. Okay, I found you because I couldn't figure out what Steph was talking about at barefootinthekitchen. So your extra few steps made this all clear to me, and I am sitting on the couch with freshly hemmed jeans! Thanks!

  11. Awesome tutorial. Thanks so much! My jeans look great. :)

  12. Will someone please explain why you half the measurement--step #4. If your jeans are two inches too long and you half the measurement to one inch, it seems to me the jeans would still be too long? I must be missing something here ????

    1. It's a little hard to explain in words without a picture, but you are actually folding the cuff back over itself, so that makes up the other half.

  13. It doesn't seem to make sense (the half-measurement thing), but it works. Thank you for writing this blog, you have saved me from a tremendous headache. I don't understand these jean companies. They think if you wear a size 18 then you MUST be 6 ft. tall. Really? I thought this is what "Tall" sizes were for.

  14. You are funny - and this tut is what I'm using right now to do hubby's jeans. Thank you for being thorough in your instructions.

  15. The best tutorial I've found. This is how my tailor hems designer jeans, but I don't want to pay $25 and go out of my way. I am glad I found someone who explains it and shows PICTURES so well. BTW, I have only worn bootcut as far as I can remember. They complement me the best, why stray? It's not like I'm wearing some crazy style. They're just bootcut jeans! Thanks!!

  16. This works great and looks great. The only thing I did different was that before stitching in step 6 I turned the leg inside out so that I was sewing on the inside of the leg circle and didn't have to fuss with the other part of the leg being underneath and possibly getting stitched because I couldn't see it.

  17. Thank you!!!!
    I was thrilled to follow your excellent instructions to achieve a tailored result on two pairs of recently purchased jeans.
    In the past, cutting off extra and rehemming using heavy denim needle and thread had often caused frustration, broken needles and a home sewn look. I would often procrastinate months before hemming new jeans knowing I might be disappointed with the result.
    Now I'm feeling fearless about heming even the fancy expensive jeans I might get next!

  18. Thank you so much for this tutorial!! I have 10 year old twin girls. All of their new jeans are inches and inches too long. I was so dreading the idea of cutting them off and trying to hem that mess. I was able to zip right through their jeans, and they look great!!

  19. Thank you'!!!!!!!!!! So easy to do and it worked perfectly!

  20. Hey thanks for including the very important "stitch in the ditch" step..I had gone by another one of these tutorials about hemming the jeans while keeping the original hem, and I couldn't figure out why my extra material would always end up "exposing itself" as you put it. Haha. I have the perfect pair of jeans that I am going to try this out on today. Thanks!
    PS LOVE the shoes!

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  30. Absolutely awesome hack, thanks for sharing! What I love about this is the fact that if later one, I need to lengthen/shorten slightly, I would be able to. Again, awesome!

  31. Que buena idea ,gracias por compartirla

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  33. Hey!!

    Just wanted to say thank you for sharing this!!!

    I am the short girl in the family and for several years have been wanting to wear some jeans that my mom has passed down but couldn't because they were to long:( But as of today short little me can wear them with no problem:D I especially like that you don't have to cut anything!

    So thanks again!

  34. I'm a short gal too, much to my disappointment!! My 12 yr old just passed me up :(
    So I too have to hem just about all of my jeans which is annoying.
    I love this way of hemming so that you still have the orginial cuff.

    Dynamite shoes!!!!

  35. Found this page on Google while searching how to shorten the hem on a pair of jeans that were 4.5 inches too long for my liking. This tutorial was easy to follow thanks to all of the photos and clearly detailed steps. It's like the equivalent of Grandma's classic banana cookie recipe. I am going to keep on using your tutorial and pass it on to friends and family. Thanks!

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