How to Sew: Tricky Hems

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At one point or another, we’ve all needed one basic thing- to have our jeans hemmed. I’ve walked on the back of countless pairs of mine, so that it looks like something took a huge bite off of the back of my pant leg. It’s annoying to say the least, but cutting off your jeans and turning them under gives them the “oh-look-I’m-vertically-challenged-and-my-mom-hemmed-these” look. To fix that, you do what’s called a “tricky hem”, where you put the original fancy hem back on your jeans.

I did a few hundred of this type of jean hem in my last job doing alterations. One of the keys to making sure your hems will be long (or short) enough is to wear the right shoes with them and take a look at the fit. If you want to wear a pair of jeans with both flats and heels, too bad. They’re either going to be long or short, so buy a second pair. Second, don’t pull them down so that they’re straight on your legs if they’re really tight and will gather behind your knees when you walk. Instead, put them on and walk around or sit down in them so you’ll have them hemmed where they’ll actually sit when you wear them out.

To mark jeans (or other pants):

Have the person who is begging and pleading with you to have their jeans hemmed put them on and and stand facing away from you. It’s important that they don’t look down at you to see what you’re doing or they won’t be marked correctly. Mark each pant leg at the 12″ mark on a ruler. You can use chalk if you’d like, but if you use pins, be sure to put them in parallel to the floor. Next, mark the hem on one leg, making it about a 1/4″ off the floor, or shorter if they like.

Tell them to take off their pants:

Say it in a deep creepy voice- it’ll make the whole experience much more memorable.

Line up the pant legs:

Lay the legs of your jeans flat, lining up the inseams. This is where the 12″ marks come into play. When you line up your pins (or chalk marks), you will be able to see if your legs are uneven by seeing the difference between the two original hemlines. If they are different, that’s fine- just don’t let it be more than 1″. If it is more than 1″, I would try them on again and double-check to make sure your markings are correct. If you’re satisfied with how everything lines up, make a line perpendicular to the outer seam where you want your finished hem length to be.

Cutting the hems:

This is where it might start to get scary. Yes, you actually cut off the old hems, exactly where you want your new hem to be. I know it sounds crazy, but I promise it works.

Prepping old hems:

To do this, use a seam gauge to measure how wide the old hem was. You will then use this measurement to cut a seam allowance just above the old hem’s stitching. This will make more sense when you start sewing.

Pin the hems:

Line up the two cut edges you have made and pin them together. Make sure that you have the right hem on the right leg! You can check this by comparing the inseams to see if the stitching goes the same way.

Sew the hems:

First, before you even begin sewing, you’re going to want to put in a VERY strong needle. I recommend using a leather needle, and nothing smaller than a 14, because at a few points you’ll be going thru at least 6 layers of denim. It’s okay to go very slowly here and even turn your hand wheel to help your needle go thru everything. You’ll want to stitch barely to the right of the old hem’s stitching (with a long basting stitch). This way it will be almost seamless when you finish. After these are sewn and pressed, the old hem will flip down and be exactly where you wanted the hem of your jeans to lay.

These hems are going to look so good, no one will even think about how short you are! Yaaaaaaay!

Finish the edges:Now I’m lucky enough to own an ancient serger that can get the job done and put up with denim like a pro. Thanks, Craigslist! If you don’t, and can’t finish your edges with a nifty second machine, use whatever you have. A zigzag stitch, binding tape, or don’t do anything if you don’t care.

Turn, iron, and glue:

For you, this step may or may not be interrupted with an annoying smacking sound from the little dog behind you. You’ll realize that he’s trying to chew his bone without actually holding on it, because he’s being incredibly lazy.


I glue the edges down with something called “Stitch-Witchery”. You can find it at Modern Domestic with the rest of the notions, and it’s pretty handy stuff. Put it on the underside of your hem and iron it down. The more steam and heat you use, the better it will stick.

You’re done! Eat a cookie!

If everything went according to plan, your hems should look like this. No one will be able to tell they’ve been done! YOU’RE FREAKING MAGIC NOW.

  • Glad you know how to do this. Now I know you’re totally legit :o)

  • Maggie

    I was wondering how long it would be for you to give up some of our secrets.

    • I have to share my wealth of knowledge, Maggie- I learned from the best. 😉

  • Qristy Kurtz

    I like the added stitch witchery idea; albeit temporary after a few washings. Do you have any tricks for doing an original hem on the expensive stretch denim? I have seen professionals try and try and it always comes out wavy – stretches the spandex in the fabric just enough. Plus, the bulk is hard to deal with on such thin denim.

    • You can add two layers of the Stitch Witchery, and if you press very well, it should stay. By pressing it very well, I mean that you leave your iron on it for at least 15 seconds, and apply steam liberally. If you still have a problem with it sticking for some reason, use a touch of permanent fabric glue, or a heavier weight of Stitch Witchery.

      As far as working with stretch denim, you will probably need to take in the original hem before re-attaching it. If it hasn’t been taken in, it’s going to cause problems, especially if you’re sewing it back onto a circumference that’s smaller than the original hem. And example of this would be hemming a pant with a huge flare from the knee down. If you were to flip the hem up and compare original hem circumference to the pant leg circumference of where you want it to be hemmed, you’ll see that it’s much smaller. Trying to attach the original hem without taking it in means it’s going to have to be stretched and pulled and that it will look like junk (even more so after pressing). I’ll work on a second post about how hem stretch denim properly- thanks for the question!

  • GREAT tutorial! Thanks! And 3 cheers for Modern Domestic!!

  • That is the coolest thing ever!! I’ve been sewing for 30 years, and never have come across such a good solution for hemming jeans! Learn something new everyday 🙂

    • You’re in for a treat- I’ve got all kinds of tricks up my sleeve! 🙂

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  • beth

    wow! thats great thanks!

  • Awesome tutorial! Even those of us tall chicks need to do this when, say, our inseam is 35″ and pants only come in 34 or 36. Thanks!

  • Excellent! That tutorial will come in handy! Thanks for sharing, Amy!

  • Ashley

    Fan-flippin-tastic, Amy! Love, love, love.

    • Thank you! 🙂 I feel the love!

  • Dawn Espino

    My daughter was telling me this is an English hem but I couldn’t find it listed as such.
    Maybe this time around I will do it right. Thanks to you.

  • Kevin

    This should be forwarded to ever Tailor’s inbox

    I can’t tell you how many times I tell the tailor.. “I want the hem to look original. I don’t want you to roll my new $70 jeans only for it to look hemmed.”

    (2 days later) .. “Just how you wanted!”..

    me: “dammit”

  • Ricky G

    Love it! Especially the creepy voice part. That is a crucial part. Lol. By the way, any idea how to hem slacks without a cuff? I know its sewn somehow but it invisible like magic. Is it just hem tape?

    • Thanks, Ricky! I do know how to hem slacks without a cuff, and the pairs you’re looking at are most likely sewn with an industrial blind hem machine. Which means they use a very hard-to-see nylon or polyester filament thread, and a curved needle that *should* hardly grab any fabric, making it appear invisible. The stitches are there though!

  • Shawn Hagewood

    Thank you for this! I literally went to two different tailors in Pittsburgh and even after explaining it, they both got it wrong! Incredible! And I pay $200+ for Diesel brand jeans and one pair is now ruined because of the incompetent old woman who lied to me and told me she knew exactly what a “tricky hem” was! Arrrrgh!!! Have still yet to find someone in Pittsburgh who can do this, and do it WELL!

    • You’re welcome! I’m sorry to hear that someone ruined your jean hems. It’s never good when someone lies to you. Does this mean you’ll hem your own jeans now?

  • Lorretta from NH

    Incredibly awesome! Thank you!

    • You’re welcome! The post will be here soon. I had a set back from a migraine, but I’m back to working away on the post.

  • Darryl from Oregon

    Nice tutorial. And I love your awesome Corgi!!! 🙂

    • Thanks so much! He’s a ham. 🙂

  • Nicholaix Nukemall

    Haha I bought your serger class at Craftsy and thought I’d check out your blog! I just ran and hemmed THREE pairs of jeans that have been in my sewing basket since last summer and I am now SUPERMOM( swishes cape)! At least until they hate me again……….

    • Wonderful! I’m glad my tutorial was helpful to you, SuperMom. 🙂 They’d better not be mean to you after you so nicely hemmed their pants!

  • My corgi is as lazy as yours 😀