If you're on the shorter side like me, you may find that a lot of jeans are too long for you. Or if you're in between inseam sizes, you have to choose between jeans that are a bit too long or a bit too short. Either way, you're faced with jeans that are the wrong length or the expense of taking them to the tailor.
In this tutorial, I'm going to show you how to shorten your jeans and keep the original hem to give it a professional finish. Traditional hemming calls for cutting off the excess fabric and re-hemming the bottom. In jeans, that causes the hem to lose the signature distressed and worn in look of most denim hems. It then becomes quite obvious that the jeans were altered. I'm going to show you how to keep the hem so that the jeans look as close to the original as possible. Even the underside of the jeans will have a clean finish, so if you still wanted to wear your jeans cuffed (for fashion rather than necessity), you could still do that.
Before I get to the tutorial, I want to let you know I have filmed a version of this tutorial and published it on Skillshare. If you've never heard of Skillshare, it's an online learning community with over 2 million students and over 14,000 classes. I began teaching on the platform a couple months ago and just published my fourth class. If you want to try out Skillshare, you can use my referral link to get your first month for free. That means you'll get to try it out and have access to thousands of classes covering everything from sewing to culinary to graphic design for free!
If you prefer the written tutorial, continue on below...
Optional, but highly recommended:
Note that this tutorial works best for relatively straight-legged pants. If you have very flared jeans you want to shorten by more than an inch or two, this method may not work.
First, try on your jeans. This is best done with the shoes you are most likely to wear the jeans with (i.e. flat, sneakers, or heels). Fold your jeans under to determine the length you want your new hem to be. I recommend walking around and sitting down to get a feel for the length you want. Once you're happy, mark the bottom edge of the desired hem with a safety pin or sewing pin. (Be careful taking off the jeans if you used a sewing pin!)
Measure the length from the bottom of the jeans to the pin. That is the amount you want to shorten the jeans by. Next, divide that number by 2. For example, if you want to shorten the jeans by 2", you would divide 2" by 2 and get 1".
Cuff up your jeans by that number. DO NOT include the original hem when measuring (we're keeping the hem so it will be added back into the length). For example, if you want to shorten your jeans by 2", you would cuff up your jeans by 1" measured from the bottom of the cuff to just before the hem.
Pin into place.
If possible, remove part of your sewing machine base so that your jeans can fit around the arm of the base. (My leg opening was too narrow to fit around my sewing machine, but it does make it a lot easier to sew if it fits).
Thread your machine with the matching thread and a heavy duty jeans needle. Put your zipper presser foot on your machine to the right, with your needle position in the center. Line up the edge of the hem along the left side of the zipper foot. You will be sewing a line of sewing right below the hem. Remember to backstitch to lock your stitches.
If your sewing machine struggles to get over the bulky side seams, you can try hand cranking the needle through the seam. If you have a jean-a-ma-mig, place it behind the needle under the presser foot, and sew a few stitches. Once you get halfway through the seam, if you're still having trouble sewing, move the jig front of the needle and sew a few more stitches until you get past the seam.
Before sewing the other leg, I recommend trying on your jeans again to test the length. That way if you decide you want to change how much to shorten it by, you'll only have to unpick one seam. If you're satisfied with the length, go ahead and sew the other leg.
Using a seam ripper, unpick the original hem. A tip to make this go faster is to just unpick every 2 or 3 stitches, then pull up the thread from the other side.
Cut away the excess fabric from the folded cuff you sewed earlier down to 1/4". DO NOT TRIM THE ORIGINAL HEM! Take care to ensure you are only trimming the excess fabric from the folded seam.
Now it's time to press down the seam you sewed. Press it down into the hem allowance. I'm using a tailor's clapper here to make sure the seam lays as flat as possible. This will help the hem blend into the jeans so it doesn't look it was altered.
Re-fold the hem, making sure the seam inside is tucked into the hem allowance. Use a hot iron and a clapper to press and flatten the side seams. The flatter they are, the easier it will be to sew over them.
If you don't have a clapper, place your jeans on top of a wood block or hard surface that won't get damaged, and use a hammer to hammer down the side seams. I used fabric clips to help hold the hem in place while sewing.
Thread your machine with the jeans topstitching thread and place the standard zig-zag presser foot back into your machine. Increase you stitch length to 3mm-3.5mm. Sew the hem into place right on top of where the previous stitches were. I choose not to backstitch here, but rather tie the knots by hand afterward to give the topstitching a cleaner look.
You are sewing through a lot of thick layers here, so it is likely that your machine will struggle to feed the denim through bulky side seams. I recommend going slowly and hand cranking the needle as needed. If you have a jean-a-ma-jig, use it to help get through the thick seam.
That's it! I hope you found this tutorial helpful. If you have any questions, you can ask them in the comments below. If you still have trouble understanding any steps, you can watch my online class on how to Shorten Jeans & Keep the Original Hem since I go into much more detail over there!
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