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How to Hem Jeans with the Original Hem (Ultimate Guide!)

Ever since I started sewing as a teenager, I quickly became the designated seamstress in our family. My parents and sister would regularly give me their pants, skirts and dresses to hem or alter.  Over the years, I learned how to hem jeans by keeping the original hem and why this was one of the best ways to shorten jeans.

A stack of denim pants in different colors with a measuring tape in front.

By keeping the original hem, you preserve the look of the denim with all it’s unique distressed and washed out features. Furthermore, you keep the contrasting thread color from the original hem.  If you have jeans that are a dark indigo or black wash, than this method is not necessary although it still makes a great option.

As I will also mention below, this method of hemming pants works best for jeans that have a straight leg, meaning that the leg opening is the same (or close to the same) width as the knee. The method also works for jeans with a tapered leg, in other words, the leg gets skinnier towards the leg opening.   Whereas for jeans that have a flared leg (the leg shape widens towards the hem), keeping the original hem is not possible. If your flared jeans need to be hemmed, you can refer to my other post on How to Hem Pants: the Ultimate Guide!

 

To this day, I have a pile of my family’s clothes on auto-replenish that needs altering in some shape or form. I promise to get to them eventually, I really do. And if you’re like me, and you’re holding on to jeans that no longer fit or are out of style, consider making a DIY repurposed denim checkered picnic blanket or a quick DIY Easter bunny wreath like I did here.

 

A stack of denim jeans of different colors on a white surface behind a measuring tape

Supplies Needed to hem jeans with the original hem:

  • Jeans (works best with straight leg or skinny leg jeans; CANNOT do this type of hem for flared leg jeans)
  • Sewing Machine (for lock stitching (also known as straight stitching) and for zig zag stitching)
  • Fabric scissors (these are my absolute favorite fabric scissors)
  • Thread (in a matching color)
  • Measuring Tape
  • Pins

Determing which hemming method to follow:

Before you begin, ask yourself: “what type of leg shape do my jeans have?”

The simplest way of checking which hemming method to use is by following these few steps:

  1. Try on the pant with a pair of shoes and mark the position for your new hem with pins or washable chalk / wax.
  2. Remove pant and lay the pair down on a flat surface.
  3. Using a ruler or measuring tape, measure the width of the leg opening – let’s call that position “A”. Record that measurement. 
  4. Next, measure the width of the pant leg just above the new marked hem position – let’s call that position “B”. Record that measurement.

Diagram of different types of leg shapes for determining how to hem jeans

How to hem jeans with the original hem:

For Straight Leg Jeans

Lay the jeans on a flat surface with the position for the new hem marked with pins or washable chalk / wax.

pinning the new hem position

Fold the hem up to the marked position. Then mark a NEW position ABOVE that fold line that is the amount equal to the current hem height.

In my case, the hem height is 3/8″ (the measurement from the bottom of the hem edge to  the stitch line) – see photo for how to mesure hem height.

Measuring original hem height

And then adjust the fold to that new marked position.

measure the hem height for new fold line

Next, measure the amount from the folded edge to the stitched hem as shown. In my example, the amount is 3 ¾”.

measuring the new hem for hemming jeans with the original hem

Refold the hem by half the amount you measured previously. So in my example, I folded the hem at 1 ⅞” (this is half of 3 ¾”).

measuring the new hem

Pin hem in place around the entire leg opening.

pin hem in place to shorten jeans while keeping the original hem

Using a right sided presser foot, insert the folded leg opening under the sewing machine.

using a right pressor foot for hemming jeans with the original hem

Stitch all the way around as close to the original hem as possible. Reinforce the stitches at the start and end of the stitch line. Take care to not catch the other side of the leg opening as you sew.

Cut the excess folded length leaving no more than ½” seam allowance from the new stitch line.

You can use a zig zag stitch or a serger to finish the raw edge. Since my industrial sewing machine doesn’t have a zig zag stitch setting, I’m using my serger to clean finish the cut edge. This is an important step to prevent the fabric from fraying. Stitch all the way around using a matching thread color to clean finish the raw edges.

Fold the new hem down and press into place.

For Tapered Leg Jeans:

Have you ever found your hem puckers after sewing? If you have a pair of tapered leg jeans, there is one extra step required for hemming that is different from a jean with a straight leg.  The reason for this extra step is to make it easier for hemming and to prevent the hem from puckering. If you fold the bottom hem up to align with the new hem position and find the fabric bunching, continue with the instructions below for  hemming a tapered leg.

Lay the jeans on a flat surface with the position for the new hem marked with pins or washable chalk / wax.

hemming jeans with a tapered leg

Turn the jeans inside out and lay them down on a flat surface. Make sure the position for your new hem is marked on the inside too. I drew a line on my pair with yellow wax.

mark position for new hem on tapered leg jeans

 

Next, take the jeans to the sewing machine  to reduce the width of the leg at the new hem position. To make it a gradual transition, begin the stitch along the inner leg several inches above the new hem as shown. 

reduce leg width at knee hem level

Reduce the leg width at the marked position by the same amount you got when you calculated the difference between “A” and “B”. Continue sewing the inner leg, merging back to the original inner leg seam at the bottom opening.

Remove the previous inner leg stitching to reduce bulk.

And then fold the hem back up to see the difference: no more bunching when folded!

Fabric no longer bunches when hem is folded up!

Having reduced the leg width along the inner leg, you can proceed with hemming the jeans with the original hem (same as the instructions for the straight leg jean). FOLD, PIN, SEW and CUT same as above.

Frayed jeans are all the rage these days!  In the next few weeks, I’ll show you how to hem jeans to achieve a professional frayed edge.

Do you have any tips and tricks for hemming jeans?

Like it? Pin it for later!

Collage of images showing how to hem jeans

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Evelyn

Saturday 6th of November 2021

Thanks for this tutorial! My only question is - what if I don’t have a right-sided presser foot? I just have the standard one (not sure what my mom did with the other accessories). Can I still do this?

Jane and Sonja

Monday 8th of November 2021

Hi there, it can be done with a standard presser foot although you won't be able to get the stitch line as close to the original stitches as you would with a right sided presser foot. This technique definitely works best with the other foot but you could try on one pair and see if you like the look of it? Many thanks, Sonja

Ginger

Thursday 4th of November 2021

I’m a little confused and frustrated by the step where you redid the hem to half the length after all the initial calculations and folds. I thought maybe it had to do with how the hem would lie once finally stitched. Whatever the logic, it resulted in my pants being too long even with shoes, so I have to redo them. I think they would have been perfect if I had skipped that one step. Thanks for the detailed instructions though, that was there only problem I had.

Jane and Sonja

Monday 8th of November 2021

Hi Ginger, thanks for your comment and sorry you had troubles with the instructions! I did recheck and found the result to be ok for me so I'm not sure where the problem is. But I'm glad you were able to resolve it. Many thanks, Sonja

Brenda

Saturday 15th of February 2020

Where is this diagram posted? I would like to try it.

Irene

Sunday 19th of January 2020

Please send me the diagram. Than you for the instructions.

Janel

Friday 17th of January 2020

Thanks for the great instructions. Trying it and realized I also have a tapered leg jean and would love for you to send me the diagram/instructions on how to avoid the puckered look at the hem. Thanks again!!

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