How to Turn Old, Wide-Legged Jeans Into New Skinny Jeans

In fashion, the trendiest width of pant legs has been all across the map, from extreme flares to super skinny. But it looks like the trend for slim or straight-leg pants has staying power!

If you’re like me, you have some pants in your wardrobe that have fallen out of favor due to their less-than-fashionable, wide-legged silhouette. But you can’t part with them because they fit and flatter your waist and backside. Put those jeans back into favorite status with this “shop you own closet” alteration. 

before and after skinny jeans

How to turn wide-leg jeans into skinny jeans, step by step

Step 1: Check for topstitching

topstitching on side seam

Most often, jeans and other pants have a line of topstitching very close to the inseam. This stitching makes it difficult to press that seam allowance out flat, so remove it.

You can leave a few inches of the topstitch at the top of the inseam, which you won’t change during your alteration. You can also take it out around the knee area, which is where your new seam will likely intersect with the existing seam.

Do this on the inseam of both legs. (By the way, I don’t go back and add more topstitching after adjusting the pant legs.)

Once that stitching is removed, turn the jeans inside out and press both seam allowances flat.

Step 2: Check width and determine how much to take out

check width against existing pants

The quickest way to determine how much fabric to remove is to compare the pants to an existing pair that you like. The red pair are straight0leg jeans, and they have a circumference of 14½” at the hem.

The blue jeans have a circumference of 18″, so I will reduce them by a total of 3½”.  To determine how far in to start the new seam, divide that 3½” by 4, because you want to take away an equal amount away from the front and the back at each leg seam. For me, this equals 7/8″ taken away at on either side of each leg piece.

Note that slimmer pants will likely be shorter, so I cut off the hem on the blue jeans, since I will be shortening the hem later. If you’re not removing any length, then it’s best to unstitch the hem. Yes, it’s a bit of extra work, but it makes sewing up the new side seams much easier.

Step 3: Mark and baste

mark new stitch line and baste

Starting at the bottom of the pants leg, mark in from each seam the amount you calculated to remove.

I like to mark with chalk and then pin along where I marked on the inseam and outside seam, tapering back to the original seam around the knee or a bit above.

Be sure to keep the seams flat when pinning. There will be excess fabric in the middle of the pants because the back pant leg is larger than the front (something you want to retain during this adjustment).

Next, machine baste along the marked line using a contrasting thread and bobbin. Use a basting stitch because you’ll likely need to fine-tune this stitching, and the basting is easy to remove. The contrasting thread makes it easy to see where you stitched.

Remove all the pins, turn your pants back right side out, and try them on. It will be apparent if you need to taper them up higher towards the thigh and also if there are any small bubbles where the new stitching meets the original. 

Step 4: Fine tune the new seams

adjust seaming to fit with text

After giving the pants a try, adjust seams as needed. I find that the area where the new seam meets the original usually needs a bit of adjustment.

Also, every pair of pants or jeans fits differently, so it’s not easy to see how much adjustment is needed above the knee until you actually try it on. You can try on the garment inside out and pin the seams that way as well. 

Step 4: Copy adjustments to second pants leg

mark and stitch 2nd pants leg

Once you have the first pant leg adjusted, it’s time to copy those seams on the second leg.

Start by placing the pants on your work surface so the adjusted leg is on top of the unstitched one. Line up the edges from crotch seam to hem.

Measure the amount taken in on the first leg, then mark with chalk on the second leg. Measure about every inch, mark with chalk and connect the markings with a chalk line. Pin and stitch the seam, again with a contrasting thread and basting stitch length.

Repeat the process for the outer seam, lining up the pants legs and marking the new stitching line. Again, machine baste with contrast thread. Time for a final try-on to make sure both legs are equal and the seams are smooth. 

Step 5: Stitch in matching thread

stitch in matching thread 

Once you’re satisfied with the new shape of the pant legs, stitch all the seams in a matching thread. Stitch along the basting, just alongside that row of basting stitches but on the side of the pant leg so that you can leave the basting thread in. No need to remove it, as it will never be seen. 

Step 5: Trim and finish seams

trim or serge off extra width of seam allowance

The last adjustment is to remove the extra seam allowance. If you have a serger, you can use that to trim and finish the seam allowance, or you can trim off use any type of seam finish you like.

Hem the pants, noting that slim and skinny pants and jeans are typically not as long as boot cut pant, since they end at the top of the foot or even shorter. Now you have a “new” pair to wear — no shopping required!

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