RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Knowing how to hem pants is a surprisingly useful skill that you may never have learned, or that you forgot the day you walked out of your last Home Ec class. If, like me, you like to shop at thrift stores, it can even help you score some beautiful but too long designer pants that you otherwise would have to pass up.
Hemming pants is pretty simple and takes a little over an hour. Don't be tempted to buy those as-seen-on-TV fabric glues or iron-on strips sold at fabric stores. When you sew a hem, you have the flexibility to make your pants even shorter later on, if need be, or to make the hem a little longer should your pants or a skirt shrink in the wash. You can't do that with permanent glues or semipermanent iron-on strips. And you really just don't know what chemicals are off-gassing from those glues, anyway, or from those strips when you iron them. The steps below can also be used with skirts, or with pants you'd like to convert into cropped pants or capris, which are both really popular styles this spring.
If this is your first attempt at hemming, work with a basic pair of unlined pants, with straight or only slightly tapered legs, made of a light- to medium-weight woven fabric with little or no stretch in it. Tackle jeans, lined pants, and very stretchy fabrics only after you’ve mastered the basics.
What You'll Need:
• Straight pins
• Tailor's chalk (optional)
• A small ruler
• A seam ripper or small, sharp scissors
• Sewing scissors
• A spool of color-matched or “invisible” (clear plastic) thread
• Sewing needle
• A friend to help you mark the length (helpful, but not required)
How to Hem:
1. Put the pants on and use tailor's chalk or horizontal straight pins to make a level line around each leg where you want your finished pants to end. This is NOT where you're going to cut your pants—unless you want the ragged edges. After hemming, the line will become the new "bottom" of the pant leg. Having a friend to help is useful, since every time you lean over the pants hike up, but with some perseverance you can do well enough marking out the hemline by yourself.
2. Carefully (pins are sharp!) take off your marked pants.
3. Fold the pants dry-cleaner style, so that there's a crease on the front and back of each pant-leg. Adjust the chalk or pins so that the line from the center front to the center back on each side of each leg is smooth. It is very probable that the back will be a little longer than the front right now. This is fine. When you're wearing the pants, all will be level once again.
4. Before removing any pins or cutting any seams, measure the width of the existing hem and jot that down so you know how wide to make your new hem. Then using a seam ripper or small, sharp scissors, cut and remove the thread holding the original hem up. Be careful to cut only the sewing threads and not the fabric itself. Iron the fabric to flatten the crease.