Garment Construction

Pro Alterations: How to Shorten Jeans With the Original Hem

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 with the Original Hem

How to hem jeans

How To Hem Jeans

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The following tutorial will demonstrate how to shorten jeans and keep the original distressed hem so the alteration is barely noticeable.

Step 1:

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.

Trying on jeans that are too long

Step 2:

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 new hem on jeans with safety pins

Step 3:

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″.

Measure the amount to hem your jeans

Step 4:

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.

mark new hem line and 1" above new hem

Step 5:

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.

Step 6:

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.

fold new hem of jeans to meet second line of pins pinning new hem of jeans with straight pins

Step 7:

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.

stitch hem on jeans with sewing machine

Step 8:

This is what the stitching line looks like afterward:

stitching line on new jeans hem

Step 9:

Trim this excess fabric and then serge or zigzag over the raw edge to prevent fraying.

trim excess fabric after hemming jeans serge raw edge inside new jeans hem

Step 10:

Press the original hem down.

press jeans hem down

Step 11:

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:

tack jeans hem in place at side seams

Step 12:

Do the same steps for the other leg and you’re done! Can you see the seam above the original hem? Barely!

Finished jeans with original hem

Step 13:

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.

finished jeans hem with boots

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95 Comments

Robin Stowers

Nice tutorial! What an awesome way to keep the original look! Thank you…

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MOE

That seems like a lot of work. It’s easier to take out the old hem and re-hem using same color thread.

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roxy

I tried, won’t look the same. The original hem will always look slightly discolored / worn / distressed, giving it a more original look.

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Wendy Kaufman

So wear them and wash them. Couple weeks, they will be distressed.

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Vicky Penoyer

I was thinking the same thing – way too much trouble but might be worth a try just to see if I can do it.

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kat

It’s actually really easy. I did three pairs of pants this afternoon. This particular tutorial (unfortunately) makes it seem a little more complicated than it actually is.

Put on the jeans, cuff to your desired length (like a regular cuff so you cans ee the excess on the outside, don’t flip the excess under as shown above), measure the excess from the bottom of the original seam to the fold where you cuffed (so don’t include the original hem in the measurement), then divide that length by 2. This is your new cuff measurement. So, if I measured two inches between the base of the original hem and my new fold, I would divide that by two to give me 1 inch as my new measurement.

Refold and pin to the new cuff measurement (again, not including the original hem in the measurement), then sew along just underneath the original hem. Cut off the excess, turn the new hem right-side-in, iron, and you’re done.

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Sherrie Ramos

KAT, I love your directions, and would love even more to see a VIDEO of this done, if you had the time!

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jo smith

It was a really good tutorial and I successfully completed a pair, which were not too old, so everything matched well. I found the difficulty was the stretchy character of the denim made it difficult to get the tension right, any ideas? I would always do an alteration this way in the future.

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Pauline Smith

Ha, ha. Considering the previous critical comments, yours demonstrates how difficult it is to describe in writing a process like this. Well done you for doing so. The others should try it!

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KB

The two rows of pins makes a simple exercise complicated. Now this way it doesn’t matter whether the original hem is 2 cm or 1 cm or whatever. If you want a 3 cm reduction in length, then, when folded over as in Step 6, the distance between the bottom of the fold and the original hem should be half the required shortening, in this case 1.5 cm. Why, because you have folded it over so when you sew along the hem-line you will have taken 2 x the distance to the base up off the length of the leg. Simple. Again, with this method, the size of the original hem is irrelevant. It is (almost) impossible to get it wrong.

Katrinka

Kat, you are absolutely correct. If you follow the directions in the tutorial, your jeans will be shorter than you want.

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Katrinka

You are correct, KB. Kat’s method will make your jeans too long by the length of the original hem. For those who want steps, thy this:
1) Try on jeans and cuff to where you want them.
2) Measure your cuff and divide by 2.
3) Measure the original hem and add this length to the number from step 2.
4) Re-cuff the jeans using the result from step 3.
5) Stitch close to the original hem as described in the video.
6) Finish using video instructions.

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Siggy

I did this and they came out great! Thank you! It took me a couple of hours because it was my first try.. I followed instructions exactly checked and double checked every step because i didnt quite grasp the concept at first.
Measure and remeasure pin. Pin and mark. Sew and remeasured before cutting off excess fabric. Im thrilled with the results! I hate hemming jeans but this worked great. It is not a 15 minute chore.

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JoAnn Palmer

Sue Diamond

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Robin Stowers

Nice tutorial! What an awesome way to keep the original look! Thank you…

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David

Am I missing something? Following this method, surely 7 inches would come off the jeans, not the 3.5 inches you desire.

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Andrea

No, because you’re folding up TO the 3.5 inch mark, not AT the 3.5 inch mark.

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Cyndi

What a clever idea, but it seems like there are unnecessary steps included in the tutorial. I don’t think the first row of pins is needed. Couldn’t you measure how much you need to cut off and add one inch (1.5 inches if the jeans have a 3/4-inch hem)? Then fold up that many inches to the outside of the garment, measuring as you work around the pant leg, stitch very close to the original hem, and proceed as in your directions.

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Brenda Jordan

Thanks…..I love a short cut!!

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Sandie Freeman

Great tutorial – one suggestion for those sewers worried about stitching through multiple layers of denim at seams – try using a hammer from the wrong side of the seam to flatten it sufficiently to soften the layers, making it easier to stitch through.

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Marlene Agostino

I absolutely hate hemming new jeans. This tutorial is just what I needed to get me motivated to hem the 3 pair I have waiting for me. Thank you!

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Sue Scholey

Brilliant! My son needs his jeans shortening and i was worried they were going to look ######. Not now ! Thanks

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Linda

Very nice, thank you. Now I just need an affordable sewing machine to replace the Singer one that must work fine until I am ready to sew with it and then each and every time it mis-behaves. And it must be one that will sew heavy fabrics too, that is not mostly the case with some of the newer machines. Thank you!

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John Shalack

May I suggest 2nd hand stores, thrift shops, craigslist and fabric stores. I just bought a Singer 638 in mint condition with the table and accessories for $25. I was able to test it in the store and he even carried it to the car for me…

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Susan

Pawn shops often have sewing machines as well.

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Durene Russell

This is great! I’m too tall for “average” jeans, but not enough for “tall” . Makes me crazy! I have 2 pairs of jeans I need to shorten right now. The timing of this article is just perfect.

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Vivien Matthews

This seems a very complicated solution for a very simple problem. Why not just just cut off all but an inch for a new hem turn 1/2″ twice and sew with the strong orange thread used for denim.

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BeckyMc

@Vivien. This way is preferable because 1) the original hem has been strategically distressed. Note the fade line at the hem and the distressed vertical lines between the orange stitching and the hemline. 2) When you cut that off and re-hem them, the “new, un-distressed hem” looks obviously altered, or worse, homemade. 3) Turning under twice for the new hem means getting your home sewing machine to power through three layers of denim, and NINE layers at the seams. Only 6 layers at the seams with this method. I’ve done it both ways, and the first time I tried this I was stunned at the ease and much happier with the results.

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Bonnie Carpenter

This was a fabulous tutorial and it worked so nicely on my jeans that I tried it on shortening sleeves on a long sleeved t-shirt that had been ruined at the cuff. It looks brand new. WOW!

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jamonie maharaj

Great idea. I must try this idea in future. I have difficulty stitching a new hem with so many layers. I do think this idea is preferable. Thank you …

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Heather

Did my first jeans hemming today! If I can do it, anyone can. They look perfect.

Thank you!

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Nancy Gross

What a great tutorial! Thanks so much for the step by step and pictures to go along with it. This is a keeper and I will be printing it off if possible. Thanks again

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Irene turnbull

Brilliant, i have to alter every pair I get for myself and hate doing it. Looks like you have just made it easy for me. Thanks

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Jackie Foord

This method of taking up jeans is great for those straight legs.. For those that need taking up the regular way, cut 3 cm longer than finished length. Using a hammer &block of wood hammer the seams to flatten. Then fold the 3cm up & hammer again. Steam press the 3cm hem in place turn the raw edge to fold & hammer both seams again. Set machine with large needle & go….
Test on off cut if unsure

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Margaret Love

Boy that sure sound good I’m going to try that on my new jeans. I always have to make my jeans shorter. Thanks for that good idea..

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Kay

Am sooooooo going to be following this tutorial a lot! I live in jeans and am so fed up with frayed hems/ having turn ups. Have tried trimming of them and redoing but such a nightmare. Now, where are those jeans?!?! 🙂

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Cher

I was all excited to try this method out. The way it comes out looking I really don’t like it- I’d rather leave them long then have them looking like that- sad. Oh well it was worth a try

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Cynthia

Nice clear instructions. I have read other instructions in which I never could figure out what do do. Well done.

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Cortney

Thank you for this!!

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Kay

This is incredible! I always have to hem my jeans and put it off, thus having brand new jeans hanging in my closet unworn. Can’t wait to try this. Thanks!

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Beth

Is there a reason that you didn’t just take the 2 1/2 inch and add the extra 1″ and just measure and pin at 3 1/2 inches as the first and only measurement? I was just curious if that could be done or if their was a specific reason that I just hadn’t realized. Thanks!

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Laurie Park

I do alterations and am asked more and more often to do the hem in this way. I have two pair I am going to do this morning. I always struggle with figuring out the exact measurment. The results always turn out great but I have had to talk my way though it (litterally!). NOW I know the formula. THANK YOU!

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Inez Dacken

I have 2 pair of cotton/spandex slacks that need to be hemmed – but they have the matching stitching on the bottom. Do you think this would work for it – or do you have a better idea for them….?? I am worried that the seem line will show on the cotton/spandex material?? Any ideas’?

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liroru

For best results wash and dry new jeans as you normally would and start the alterations afterwards. If you would like to go the extra step topstitch the overlap as close as possible to the original thread. With a smoked clear thread that gets rid of the bulk and. Also makes them fall better and eases the aftercare.

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Denise

This is a great method for straight jeans. Does anyone have any tips for jeans that flare out, as there is extra width when shortening.

Thanks!

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Kaye

I’ve been sewing for 30 years and didn’t know this trick. I just hemmed my new jeans and they look great, so glad I found this method while scanning the internet today trying to get some tips on hemming jeans. Thanks, it worked great.

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Michelle

Awesome way to measure up the new hem!! I just shortened 2 expensive pairs, without the $20/pair charge and the 2 week wait!! Thanks!

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Victoria

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! You saved me hours of time and frustration with this simple method!

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nayanani

Great idea. Thank you somuch.

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Lois

I don’t consider this a shortcut…. You can buy “blue Jean thread” that is the gold/yellow color and cut the hem off and stitch a new one. It will look like the original. I did this for someone and the guy thought I forgot to hem them because it looked exactly like the original.

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Judy Heady

It only looks original , if the jeans aren’t stressed.
I’ve hemmed several hundred pairs of jeans .

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Rebecca

Love this … Can’t wait to try

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Shamima

I love the idea.

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Denise

How novel! I would never have thought to do it that way! Thanks! I so love this site!

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Cathi

Perfect! Thanks for the tips 🙂

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Piyush murarka

Did i get normal thread stiching last long for my denims?

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Maricela

What if the jeans don’t fit on the free arm?

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Amelie

Thank you for this great tutorial! I just shortened a pair of jeans for my grandma and finally established myself as the family taylor 🙂

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Mary

I wish there was a video. I don’t know stitching but would love to experiment!

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Karen

I did this but cut above the caulk mark and when washed came apart on one leg. Now don’t know what to do. Real good jeans. Any suggestions???

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Andrea

What a great idea! As a shorty, this makes buying jeans way easier! To all the people saying this is unnecessary: I’ve hemmed jeans normally before and didn’t like the result. A new hem on distressed jeans can be very noticeable. Thanks for the tutorial!

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girlfriday

Sorry, I would never do it this way. The only way that MIGHT work is if you have ‘stove pipe’ jeans. Why go to all that trouble and then if the thread comes undone, you are very embarrassed because then Everybody will see how lazy you were. Just hem it up the proper way and forget this garbage!

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Andrea Letourneau

Great tutorial…. I wish someone would provide tricks for lengthening pants because most of the time store bought pants are too short for me (tall sizes are hard to find and sometimes are still too short).

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Diane

I recently had a customerwho had me shorten her slacks, then wore heels with 2 pairs of them. Wish I had had this tutorial while I was trying to work it out! Finally got it but this could have saved me heaps of time, it works!

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crystal hampton

Thanks so much! My son never fits the length in his jeans. Nothing fits right. Now all his jeans look like they were made for him.

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Magda

The best explanation I’ve read. Thank you. Good pictures, too.

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BD

Tried to use this method to shorten jeans by 4 inches. But jeans has a slight taper in the last 4 inches to the hem.. This method doesn’t work without producing wrinkles. Any suggestions for accommodating the slight taper at the last 4 inches of the jeans?

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Maggie Budd

I think this hem looks untidy you can see the line above the orange stitching. the best way to do the thick hems on jeans is to use a jean magic tool very easy and neat. After the hem as bean done the distress look will come back after wearing the jeans a few times

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Maria Speidel

This is how fancy pants L.A. tailors do it. It tricks the eye every time. I am going to try it myself and save $20.

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Debbie Missi

Wonder how this will work hemming flared jeans that are back in style?

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Marilyn Johnson

I’ve learned to hem jeans this way and have hemmed jeans for many people. They love it. I do it a different way but the result is the same. It is an easy way to hem jeans and yes, they look great. I’m not your 1st class sewer but this is fun and I can make a little money on the side as it’s hard to find someone to hem your jeans and not cut off that fancy stitching on your jean’s hem. I also have a serger so it leaves a nice finished edge.

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Lloyd Graham

Thank you for this tutorial. I’ve just done my first alteration as a total newbie to sewing and it looks great. My wife now wants me to do hers 🙂

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Maria Edrozo

Thank you for sharing this. I don’t sew but thought I’d try this as I bought some jeans that were too long. It worked!

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Cathy W

Thank you, this worked great. I needed to shorten by one inch and just had to fold up on the outside by a half inch from the hem, stitch, then serge, then fold back flat and I did top stitch all around and also up a little on the side and inseam. I used the Dual Duty Denim thread for Jeans and you can’t even see it.

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Rachel

This is amazing! I’m not a fantastic sewer and I DREAD hemming jeans but always have to. This is the first tutorial I’ve understood super clearly the first time! Thank you!

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Jackie

I think it looks nice. Certainly easier to do. Will be interesting to see how it washes. Will I have to iron it every time?

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Jamie Noonan

Ugh. Must. Iron. Every. Wear. 🙁

Tried this on my husbands jeans. While it looks good initially it won’t stay flat unless you iron it every day. We both agreed it’s not worth doing to another expensive pair of jeans – it was not a good option.

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Jaime

I thought of something that might help. I have some fusible interfacing I had bought for multiple projects, and I’m planning on trying this hemming trick, and afterwards cut a strip of interfacing about an inch or two wide to place over the entire hemmed area. My assumption is that it will not only stiffen up the bottom and hold it in the hemmed position, and will also help keep the newly cut parts from fraying. Havent tried it yet, just read this tutorial today, but it might be worth a try.

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Suellen

I love how detailed this is. As a beginner, I like when people don’t assume we know everything. Thank you

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Phuong Tran

Lovely and easy! Now I know why my ‘cut off’ jeans has that original look! But Now I can do it myself. Thanks for sharing good tips.

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Jennifer Georgia

This is great, but I’m a little confused – why double the width of the hem and add it at the top? You’re not unfolding the hem, just folding it back down, so won’t that make the pants too short by one hem-width?

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Dawn Woodroof

Very good idea,must try,have done lots of jeans for people over the years.

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Pauletta Fisher

Love this method but how would you do it if the hem is not the same all the way around? I have a pair of jeans that need to be shortened more in the front than in the back. Example 2inches in front and 1 1/4 inchs in the back. Can you still use this method and if so how would I do it?

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Tara

I used to have a gal in El Salvador hem my jeans and pants (for $0.25!) and she would cut off the hems, then turn them inside out and sew them on the bottom of the pants. They looked great! Essentially the cut pant leg fit into the already folded hem. You can zig zag over the rough edge on the hem piece you cut off. Take out the stitching on the hem piece and then restitch the hem line with same color once you have stuffed in the pant leg. Wish I had a picture but this was years ago.

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Sam

This is great, thanks!
A lot of my jeans are chainstitched hems, so this keeps the expensive chainstitch intact

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Janis Harrison

For those who have trouble with their sewing machines “misbehaving,” skipping stitches, etc.: Change to a new needle, the right size for the fabric. Needles come in multiples because they lose their sharpness. We’re supposed to change them frequently!

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Susie

I hem all of our jeans this way and it is NOT complicated at all. You can have a pair done in no time once you get them pinned where you want them. The above instructions do seem to make it more complicated and time-consuming. There is no need for two rows of pins, etc…. There are other tutorials that show it is much easier.

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HC

Thank you for the tutorial! I am short and have never had properly hemmed pants. Now my teenage daughter is in the same boat I used to be, so I bought her new pants, followed your directions and they came out perfect! She was really excited too!

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