How to Hem a Pair of Pants

If you’re exceptionally short or tall, you might benefit from learning how to hem your own pants, shorts, and skirts. I’m short and my husband is tall, so I’ve hemmed multiple things for each of us. I can buy stuff that’s too long (mostly pants) and hem them up; we buy his pants unfinished and I can hem them to just the right length.

The keys to a nice looking hem are these:

  • Match your stitch length, thread color, and thread weight as closely as possible to the existing stitching on the garment.
  • Match the width of your hem to the width of the original hem.
  • If the garment has a hem that doesn’t show from the right side (like on suits or other dress pants or dressier skirts), you will either need to sew the hem by hand or find a tutorial about blind-stitching for your machine :) Don’t sew one of these hems on it! It’ll look funny :)

Note: If you’re considering hemming jeans that already have a worn/weathered look to the hem stitching, be aware that you probably won’t be able to replicate that look without repeated washings. Your jeans might look “freshly hemmed” for awhile, just like if you cut someone’s bangs stick-straight across the bottom and for the next week he looks like he just walked out of the barbershop. :)

Decide how much shorter you want your pants.

The easiest way to do this is to have the owner try on the pants. Fold the pantleg up on the outside of the pants until it’s the right length and place a pin (or two or three) around the crease to hold it in place. Remove pants (don’t let the pins poke you! :) ) and place on your cutting surface.

Measure the length of the folded piece.

I folded up 12 inches on these pants.

Decide how much fabric to cut off.

Decide how wide you want your hem to be (measure the existing hem or find a comparable garment and measure it. Or just decide. :) ) I chose 1 1/4 inches.

Note: you’ll need to sew your seam 1/4 inch less than the width of your hem fold. I wanted my stitching line to be 1 inch up from the bottom of the pants, so I planned to fold up 1 1/4 inches of fabric. (Does that make sense? :) )

You’ll also need an extra half inch to fold up at first (more on this later). Add together your hem width and this half inch: my total is 1 3/4 inches.

Do the math: 12 inches – 1 3/4 inches = 10 1/4 inches that needs to be cut off of the pant legs. (I know it looks like I cut off 10 1/2 in the picture. I’m not sure if I changed my mind about something halfway through or if I just did something different than I meant to :) )

Press up the raw edge.

Press up (yes, with your iron!) half an inch all the way around both pant legs. This gives you a nice clean edge to work with that won’t ravel.

Press up the hem at your desired width.

I did 1 1/4 inches. Pin the hem in place as you press it for best results. :)

Sew that baby up!

A straight seam all the way around will finish the hem :) Make sure your stitch length is similar to any topstitching that is on the rest of the pants. This particular pair of pants had very long stitches, so I lengthened mine almost to basting-stitch length. I didn’t have quite the right thread weight, but it worked out all right.

Give it all a good press.

One final press will get rid of the wrinkles you created while sewing and will also help set in the new hem stitches.

maybe I should also have done a double row of stitching; don’t want to add it now! :)

Enjoy your pants and the satisfaction that you didn’t have to pay anyone else to do it for you :)

Do you alter your clothes, pay a seamstress, or only buy things that fit right off the rack? I’d rarely have clothes that fit if I didn’t know the basics of alteration :)

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