How To Hem – Jeans, Trousers, and Unfinished Hems
As many readers here know, most jeans come in one standard inseam length usually between 35” and 38”. This cuts down on production costs while still allowing most people to wear most jeans. However, if you are like me–with short legs and generally not a fan of cuffing–learning how to hem jeans is a necessity. Of course, you could pay a professional between $5 and $25 to do it for you, but where’s the fun in that?
There are a few different ways to go about hemming a pair of pants. Functionally, they are all the same, but you can use different hems to drastically change the aesthetic of a pair of jeans. Here I’ll demonstrate how to do a pretty standard jean hem (and how to get roping without a chain stitch hem), a larger trouser style hem, and finally a finished raw hem.
What You’ll Need
- Sewing machine
- Measuring tape
- Tailor’s chalk
- Pants to hem
There are a few ways to determine the length you will need on a pair of pants. The easiest way is to simply measure the inseam on a pair that fits you well, and possibly making some adjustments plus or minus an inch or two. If this is not an option, I find that one way to determine the length on your own is to put on the pair you are hemming, and cuff one leg inside until it sits where you want it to. Mark this point on the inseam and take the measurement.
Once you know how long you want the leg to be, mark a line from this point on the inseam 90 degrees to the outseam. If you find that the legs of your pants tend to “swing” in one direction or the other, this is a good time to fix that. You can cut the side of the leg that swings away from your leg shorter by a small amount, 1/4″ – 1/2″ will be enough. This will cause the leg to swing in the opposite direction it was before, and to sit correctly.
This is the hem everybody here is probably most familiar with. It is used on just about every 5 pocket style jean, usually under 1/2 an inch in width, and often chain stitched to achieve that oh so desirable roping effect. This style of hem is also versatile, and lends itself well to most sized leg openings, and lengths anywhere from enough for cuffs to cropped.
Stitching for this style can be high or low spi, and either tonal or contrasting. Take cues from the other stitching on the pants you are hemming when deciding.
- Mark a line square to the inseam at the desired length.
- Measure the width of the original hem (in this case it was 3/8″). Double that, and mark a line that distance down from the desired length. This is your seam allowance.
- Cut off the excess fabric at the seam allowance.
- Press the cuff inwards at the line marking the length.
- Starting at the inseam, fold the raw edge of the fabric so that it is held inside the crease you pressed and leaving no raw edge exposed.
- When you begin to sew, very gently push the fabric on the inside of the pant leg with your left hand, and slightly pull the un-sewn folded edge with your right. This will mimic the roping effect caused by the folders on old chain stitch hemming machines, and is an optional aesthetic choice. This has to be done really gently so the machine is moving the fabric and not your hands, otherwise the stitches will end up a little uneven.
- When you reach the point where you started the seam, sew over the line of stitching for an inch or two to lock in the stitches.
- Press the hem.
Construction wise, this hem is almost the same as the standard hem (although the method to pull it for roping does not work well here). The main differences between the two styles is this style is much wider, about three inches in width, and heavier, both physically and visually. As such, I find that this style works really well on wider leg pants, and with either no break or a crop, so that the legs of the pants drape nicely. On lighter weight fabrics, such as linen, chino cloth, and some wools, a break can work to create a sort of “pooling” effect.
Almost all of the time, the stitching for this style is going to be a higher spi, and tonal. Again though, take cues from the pants that you are hemming, a really casual, textural pair of trousers could look very nice with contrasting hem stitching. In this case, I used white thread because the other thread on these jeans is all white, and it shows up better on camera.
The method I will show you can be done on a standard sewing machine with a standard presser foot. However, it is best suited for more casual trousers, as the line of stitching will be visible. A blind stitch, which is more suitable for finer and more formal trousers requires either a different presser foot or a dedicated blind stitch machine.
- Mark a line at the desired inseam length, and square a line across.
- Mark a line for the seam allowance. In this case I wanted a 2″ hem, with a little extra fabric so I could lengthen the legs in the future if I wanted. 1″-2″ is good for this. My total seam allowance ended up at 3″.
- Cut off the excess at the bottom most line.
- Since there is no twisting to achieve the roping effect on this style of hem, I like to press the entire seam into place at this point, so there is no hand folding required when sewing.
- Start sewing at the inseam.
- Sew over the beginning of the seam for about an inch to lock in the stitches.
- Press the hem.
The construction style for this hem is a little bit different. Since the edge of the fabric isn’t enclosed, and the general style is a little bit more relaxed than the others, this is also the easiest style to create. This type of hem works best on slim to straight leg pants with no break.
One thing to play around with for this style of hem is the amount of fraying you want. I decided to let a little under 1″ fray for this particular pair. For more fraying, just sew the seam higher up the leg. For less, sew closer to the raw edge.
- Mark a line at the point of no break.
- Cut off the excess.
- Cuff the pants 1″ and press this cuff.
- In thread that matches (or is close to) the color of the pants, sew a seam 1/4″ around the cuff, sewing over the beginning of the seam a little bit to lock in the stitches.
- Unfold the cuff, and press it into position.
- (Optional) Wash the pants. This helps the cuffs to fray entirely. You may need to press once more after this.
Finally, before trying these out on nicer pairs of pants, I would recommend picking up a similar fitting pair to the ones you intend to hem from a thrift store. This will allow you to nail down details such as inseam length, seam allowance, and the width of the hem, all without worrying about being stuck with a hem or inseam length you aren’t happy with. Remember, you can always cut shorter, but adding length may be a little difficult.