Learn How To Hem Anything Yourself—And Save Loads Of Money On Clothes

This basic sewing skill allows you to keep your clothing longer and alter inexpensive thrift store finds for the perfect fit.

January 5, 2018

It's probably happened to you: You find an awesome pair of designer pants, or a dress, or a skirt at a thrift store that's a total steal, but just a little too long, and you tell yourself you'll eventually get around to hemming it—but you don't. Maybe it's because you don't have the time, or maybe it's because you've never hemmed anything before and feel somewhat intimidated. But trust us, knowing how to hem properly one of those surprisingly useful skills that you'll use time and again; and once you know the basics, it's pretty simple. 

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—something you can't do that with permanent glues or semipermanent iron-on strips that you see on TV. 

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. The same directions will work for a pair of pants you've caught on a heel and partially unhemmed or a dress or skirt that needs updating. (Here are 8 invaluable things you should always buy at a thrift store.)

So give it a whirl, have some fun, and get yourself a new wardrobe update for the cost of a little thread.

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supplies needed for sewing
Julia Ardaran/Shutterstock

Straight pins
Tailor's chalk (optional)
Small ruler
Seam ripper or small, sharp scissors
Sewing scissors
Spool of color-matched or clear plastic thread
Sewing needle

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tailor chalk on fabric
Mark your fabric

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. 

Got an old pair of pants beyond repair? Upcycle them into a DIY succulent planter:

folded pants
Prepare your hem

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's probable that the back will be a little longer than the front right now and that's fine. When you're wearing the pants, all will be level once again. 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.

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cutting hem
Cut the hem

To make your cut line, add ½ inch to the measurement you just made of the original hem, and then with pins or chalk, mark a line at that distance below the first line you made—the one marking the new bottom of your pants. For example, if the original hem was 1½ inches wide, measure 2 inches from the tailor's chalk or straight pin line you already made and make a second cutting line. Cut along each of the cutting lines with your sewing scissors, and then turn the pants inside out.

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making adjustments
Make adjustments

Fold ½ inch of the fabric up, using pins as needed to hold in place, and press the fold with the iron. When your pants are hemmed, this fold will keep the cut fabric from fraying. Then, fold the pants again so that the first line you made becomes the bottom edge of the pant leg and you have a new hem the same width as the old hem. Press with your iron and pin the top edge of the new hem to the pant legs in the center front and back. It's a good idea to try the pants on at this point and make adjustments as needed before you sew anything. 

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sewing hem
Africa Studio/Shutterstock
Sew your new hem

Thread your needle with a long length of thread—I use about two yards of thread—and tie the ends together to make a double strand. Starting near one of the pant leg's side seams—which will anchor your thread—sew the edge of the hem to the pant leg. Hold your needle at right angles to the edge of the hem and carefully put the needle under a single thread of the pant leg. Run the needle through the folded hem about ⅛ inch from the edge and repeat every ½ inch all the way around the leg, removing pins as you go. Leave the thread a little loose, because if you pull it tight, the pants will pucker and the tiny stitches will show on the outside. Every few inches put in a second stitch just through the hem, right through the same holes as the last stitch, to protect the finished hem from being pulled out if you should ever snag it. When you get to your very last stitch, put three stitches through the same holes to keep the end from coming loose, and cut the thread.

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Ser Borakovskyy/Shutterstock
Admire your work

Turn the pants right side out, give the hems a good press—cover them with a moist press cloth or tea towel and iron both at the same time to really set the folds. Try them on and admire your handywork—and enjoy your updated wardrobe!

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