Monday, June 27, 2011

Another Sewing Lesson~ How To sew A Jean Hem

If you have a sewing machine and a few basic tools it is very easy to hem those jeans that are too long and residing in your closet waiting to be worn.  You can save yourself time and cash doing this yourself and you won't even need someone to pin them for you if you follow these instructions.  BUT before diving into your newly acquired skill, go NOW and pre-wash/dry those pants IF you haven't yet done so.  New jeans will shrink as will most clothing made from cotton.  I advise ALWAYS pre-washing ANYTHING new (or as yet un-laundered)  that is going to be altered in any way, but especially pants.  Why?  Because how bad will you feel if you hem those pants and THEN wash them to find they have shrunk so much that now they are no longer too long, but too short?!?!  Pre-washing.  Veeerrrrrry Important!  

Now that we have the laundering issue covered, here is what you will need to hem your pants;

Sewing machine
Ironing board and iron
Straight pins (2)
Seam ripper
Marking chalk 

As with all my tutorials, I will write the descriptions immediately ABOVE the corresponding photos. 

Put your pants on and the shoes (or height of shoe) that you intend to wear with them.  *Why would this matter?  Because if you plan to wear the pants with a flip flop but pin the pants while wearing a high heel or bulky boot, the length WILL be different once you slip into the flip flops.  Wearing the right shoe makes for a more accurate fitting.  IF you plan to wear the pants with lots of different shoes then try on different types and figure out the best length.

Also, check to make sure that the pants are located at the waist where you want them.  Usually with jeans the fit is natural but some other types of pants can settle higher or lower at the waist.  Just make sure they are positioned where you will actually be wearing them.  

Stand facing a mirror so you can see your feet easily.  Turn UNDER (to the inside) the excess length that you want hemmed and pin it with a straight pin.  Stand up and recheck to make sure it is the length you want.  This usually takes a couple tries to get it right as the length will shift as you bend over.  Keep at it until you are pleased with the length.  All you need is ONE pin at the center front.  

To pin the back, do the same as above.  You only need ONE pin on the back too.  Do not worry about the sides.  They will take care of themselves at the ironing board.

Generally the back of the hem should be a bit longer than the front.  Not a lot.  Maybe 1/4" to 3/8".  A general rule of thumb is that the back hem should hit the top of the heel but if your shoes are very flat such as a sandal OR if you are wearing heels you may have different ideas about what is right for you.  If wearing sandals or ballet flats you probably won't want your pants to drag.  If wearing heels you might want to consider going longer as it creates the look of a longer leg and who doesn't want that?  Bottom line-  Do Whatever You Want.  You will be the one to wear the pants so pin them where you want them.  :)

Here I have one hem pinned and one still the original length.  At 5'3" I hem a lotta pants!

You only need to pin ONE leg UNLESS your legs are two different lengths.  If that is the case then you will have to pin both legs.  Don't pin them both unless you have to as it is HARD to get them perfectly even.  Especially when pinning them yourself.  It is much easier to line them up on the ironing board and mark them than to try to pin them the same.  *years and years of experience talking here...

(Before continuing I want to insert here that after I pin the one leg, I almost always rip out the existing hem stitching before heading to the ironing board.  I use a seam ripper to remove the original stitching.  The exception to this is when the pants are extra long and the existing hem doesn't interfere with the area of the new hem allowance. )


Once you are satisfied with your pinning and have removed the original hem if need be, lay your pants on the ironing board and line the inseam up with the outseam at the hem so they lay nice and neat.  You can gently tug where the pins are at the front and back to pull the sides of the hem straight. 

Next, remove the pins and press the hem in place.  Flip it over and press the other side.  You want the fold line to be very defined as this is your finished length and you will be using it to measure off the hem allowance.

Next, lay the unpressed leg on the ironing board (outseam-side DOWN on the board) and line the inseam up on top of the outseam.  This helps to smooth the leg so that it lays flat as well as helping to line up the seams at the hem.

Lay the other pant leg on top of the leg on the board and line up all the seams so that the top leg is laying neatly on the bottom leg.  *Also make sure to line up the 2 "layers" of the waistband so that it is even at the top of the pants.  This is important since you will be marking the length of the unpressed leg by using the pressed one, and you want the waistband edges to be aligned with each other so nothing is 'off'.*     

Once you have the legs laid neatly together with all the seams lined up, use the newly pressed-in hem as a guide and mark the unpressed leg.  The newly drawn hemline below is the one closest to the chalk.  The other 'white' line is the old hemline which is lighter due to the manufacturing process.  Ignore it.

Once you have marked the hem, fold the excess under to the inside.  As with the first leg, tugging at the front and back will straighten the sides of the hem at the seams.  Press both sides well.  

Once you have both hems pressed, pull the excess hem allowance out from the inside and press well to flatten the creases from the original hem.  Using a ruler, measure FROM THE PRESSED HEM DOWN INTO THE HEM EXTENSION and mark at 1 1/4" all the way around the pant leg.  Do this for both legs.    *  Yup.  I know my ruler is upside down.  It's how I roll.   ;)

Next, cut on the line you just drew.  Do Not cut on the fold line or you will have a raw edge where you want your finished hem to be.  Cut off the excess material following the cutting line you just created.  This is how it will look.  *this is a good photo to point out that the lines you see in the hem extensions are the original stitching lines.  Note how uneven the bottom leg is.  This is WHY we always mark the unpinned leg using the pinned leg.  Pant legs are often uneven or different lengths, even on the same pair.  Experience speaking again.

Next, fold the cut edge to the inside to meet the hem crease and press.  Do this all the way around on both legs.

Then, fold again so the raw edge is neatly tucked into the hem crease and press the hem.  

Once you have pressed the hem all the way around you are ready to sew.  But before doing that there are some considerations to this I would like to shed some light on.  The pants in my example here are lightweight fabric.  Most jeans are heavier and require some extra attention.  When stitching through regular denim or other heavyweight fabric set your stitch length to the longest length on your machine and use a large needle.  I like #16 or #18 needles for heavy fabrics.  This will help accommodate the extra bulk.  Another tip when sewing jeans is to take a hammer and pound the thick parts of the seams.  The flat felled seams are especially thick and pounding them with a hammer will break down the fibers so the needle can sew through it easier.  I also suggest using the handwheel on your machine to 'walk' the needle through these thick areas.  It will save replacing broken needles.  Start stitching at the inseam side of the pants so that the overlapping stitches of where you begin and end will be hidden at the inside of the hem.  It will also help you to start and end, off to one side of the inseam as opposed to on top of it because of the bulkiness. 

The last step is to press your newly finished hems.  

I hope this helps you hem those pants you aren't wearing due to the long length.  It is easy to do and doesn't take much time.  One of the nice things about being able to do your own alterations is that you can consider buying clothing that doesn't quite fit and make it fit perfectly without extra expense.  Think of all those marked down pants on sales racks you passed up because they were 6 inches too long.  Now you can buy them up and hem them for free.  Just make sure you pre-wash/dry them first.  :)  


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