It is very difficult to shop for jeans that fit off the rack, especially in terms of length. Most retailers sell jeans that are longer than the average inseam, so people of varying heights have to deal with jeans that bunch at their ankles or catch under their heels. If you have a sewing machine, shortening jeans is one of the quickest alterations you can do, so it is well worth the effort to fix those dragging hems once and for all.
How To Hem Jeans
Want a copy of this guide to keep by your sewing machine? Download the PDF to save and print for anytime, anywhere!
The following tutorial will demonstrate how to shorten jeans and keep the original distressed hem so the alteration is barely noticeable.
First, try on your jeans and put on the shoes you prefer to wear with them. Your jeans may seem too long when you’re wearing them barefoot, but look fine once you put on shoes with a slight heel, or even seem too short when you’re barefoot but look fine with thick boots. You can only make this determination if you measure your new hem while wearing the appropriate shoes. Another thing to note is that skinny or tapered jeans usually need to be hemmed shorter than wide leg jeans because they sit above the shoe opening instead of around it, so don’t assume that once you know your inseam measurement, you can make the same alteration on each pair of jeans in your closet. Try on each pair and make separate adjustments.
Roll up the excess fabric and pin the new hem all around the leg. Mark both legs in case your legs are different lengths. Be sure to stand up straight, adjust your waistband and belt, and make sure the jeans are sitting exactly where you want them to, or else your final alteration may be inaccurate. Use safety pins instead of straight pins if you won’t be sewing the alteration right away or you don’t want to poke yourself with straight pins as you remove the jeans.
Measure the amount you pinned up from the fold line to the edge of the original hem. In my case it is 2-1/2″.
Unpin the hem and fold it back down flat. Mark the measurement you just took with a line of straight pins all around the jeans as a point of reference. This is where you want the hem of your pants to end. Now mark another line of straight pins 1″ above that line. In my case, I want to remove 2-1/2″ from the hem, so my the upper line of pins is 3-1/2″ above the original hem edge.
Most jeans have an original hem depth of 1/2″. I doubled that measurement to determine how much above the first line of pins I needed to pin the second line, which is why I marked 1″ above that line. If your jeans have a 3/4″ original hem depth, you will need to mark 1-1/2″ above that first line. If the jeans have a 1″ hem depth, mark 2″ above, and so on.
Now remove the first (lower) line of pins, then fold the jeans outward so the original hem edge meets your second (upper) line of pins. Pin this fabric in place evenly all the way around. Make sure the seams align at the sides.
Take the jeans to your sewing machine and stitch right next to the original hem. It helps to fit the tube of the jean legs over the “free arm” of your sewing machine, if you have one, so the fabric lays flat.
This is what the stitching line looks like afterward:
Trim this excess fabric and then serge or zigzag over the raw edge to prevent fraying.
Press the original hem down.
To secure the hem, you can either topstitch above the new seam with matching thread, or stitch in the ditch at the side seams to tack it in place, as I did here:
Do the same steps for the other leg and you’re done! Can you see the seam above the original hem? Barely!
It’s like magic! You didn’t even have to mess with annoying topstitching thread. Now you can wear your jeans confidently and no one will know they were shortened.
Want to learn more about creating professional-quality sewing projects? With 20 pages and 5 tutorials, sewing expert Christine Haynes will teach you all she knows about constructing the perfect seams.