DIY: shorten pants while keeping the original hem


In my many years of shortness there have been countless hem jobs. Many with duct tape, a few with emergency safety pins, none that looked very good. These days, my go to hemming technique is one I first saw on a pair of pants a friend was wearing in late junior high. A seamstress had shortened her pants but kept the original hem. I didn’t start doing this technique myself for a while after that, likely because I was lazy and without a reliable sewing machine. I started using it consistently at least 5 years ago.  It has only been in the past few years, however, that I’ve gotten confident enough to take scissors to the pants after the hemming is complete to make the change truly permanent. Maybe I was holding on to hope that I would grow and could let it out again. Now I know for sure there’s no hope for that.

1 – Figure out the length you want – To do this, I figure out how much length I want taken off the pant. Take that number, so say you want your pants two inches shorter, halve it and then fold the pant up so that there is that much fabric, one inch for example, between the edge of the original hem and the end of the fold which is now at the bottom of the pant as seen in the photo above.  Don’t count the original hem in the amount to be taken off because the original hem stays and you are just removing extra fabric above the original hem. You can check the length by pinning this fold in place and then flipping it under the pant leg and tucking the extra fabric up. In the case of the pants hemmed in this example they were stiff enough canvas that I could just fold and tuck under to test.


2 – Iron and/or pin – You may need to do this before you fold the fabric under as mentioned above. If your pants are stiff enough, just ironing will do, otherwise pin to keep things steady.


3 – Sew alongside the original hem – You will sew alongside the original hem which will be flattened up against the outside of the pant and the fold of the pant will be inside out. To the left of the foot is the inside of the original hem. To the right of the foot is the inside of the pant and the far right is the bottom of the fold (my apologies for the fabric choice, it is much more obvious if it is a pair of jeans as the inside and outside of the pant has better contrast).

I usually use just a straight stitch and go right up against the edge of the hem, but apparently I forgot that my machine was set to a zigzag so I just went with it.  When I go over the side seams it can get pretty thick since you are going through so much fabric. I backstitch a little bit over these areas just in case.  Also, you will probably want a heavy duty needle for your machine if you are doing jeans or, in this case, canvas work pants – you can find heavy duty needles at most craft stores like a Jo-ann Fabrics and it will likely say something like denim, etc.

4 – Test the length just to be sure – I would fold the extra fabric back under and iron the hem. Try the pants on just to be sure it’s how you want it before removing the extra fabric.


5 – Cut the extra fabric off – This is where I used to get a little scared and I would end up taping the extra fabric to the inside of my pants or just doing a little stitch at the side seams to hold the extra fabric up. Just do it! Cut it off. It ended up being problematic to leave the extra fabric in there as sometimes your toes could get caught in it when putting your pants on.


6 – Sew to keep from fraying – If you can only do a straight stitch, just do another straight stitch or any basic stitch will do. I used an overcasting stitch here. And with the white thread you can see both the zig zag stitch against alongside the original hem and then the overcasting stitch.


7 – Your new hem!  Iron if you want to really press it and make sure it all looks crisp. I have had no problem with all my pants and jeans that I’ve hemmed with this technique holding up in the washing machine and all that.


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