Sunday, January 30, 2011

Reducing the Waist in Jeans (gulp!)

For years, I refused to do this alteration because the outcome was never up to my standards. After considerable begging on the part of my small-waisted clients, I came up with a method that works much of the time.

Jeans present some very specific challenges, first and foremost, the flat-felled seams--those iconic heavy, top-stitched seams that many a sewing machine refuses to sew through. The center back seam is always done that way, and attempting to re-sew it to take the pants in down the center back never looks right.  Secondly, many jeans have a metal rivet at the side seam where the edge of the pocket meets the side. These rivets cannot be removed without damaging the fabric, and thus you cannot take the jeans in at the side seam.  The third challenge is the upper back yolk of the pants, which can be rather narrow depending on the height of the rise. So what's a seamstress to do?

My alteration will only work to reduce the size of the waistline itself. It will not reduce the hip area.

STEP 1: Using a heavy T-pin, I make a pin tuck through all the layers of the waistband of the jeans while they're on the client. This lets me know how much I will need to reduce the waist.

STEP 2: Make a heavy chalk mark on the inside of the waistband right across your pinned tuck. Remove the pin, and carefully measure the distance between the two chalk marks. Let's pretend it's 3".

STEP 3: With a different colored chalk, mark the exact center of the waistband, lining up your chalk mark with the center back seam of the jeans.

STEP 4: Remove the stitching from the upper end of the center back belt loop. The lower end of the loop will usually be sewn to the center back seam of the jeans, and will not be affected by the following alteration.
      NOTE Sometimes two other belt loops on either side of the center back will need to be released from the waistband as well. It depends on how much you are reducing the band, and how far apart the belt loops are positioned.

STEP 5: Remove the stitching that secures the waistband to the jeans, beginning about 4" out from one of the chalk marks and continuing to 4" on the other side of the second chalk mark. This seam is frequently sewn using a chain stitch, with the "chain" showing on the inside of the garment and plain stitches sewing on the outside of the waistband. To quickly unravel the chain, work on the inside of the waistband and cut through the stitching on both ends of your removal distance. With a needle or the tip of your seam ripper, catch the small thread tail inside the loop on the left hand side of the chained seam. Give it a tug, and the whole chain stitched seam will unravel to the point on the right side where you also cut through the thread. If the waistband is sewn on with a regular stitch, remove the section using a seam ripper.

STEP 6: Remove the stitching that holds the outer waistband to the inner waistband along the top edge. Almost always, a jeans waistband is in two sections. A lightweight denim may have a waistband that is simply folded over and top stitched, but the top stitching will still have to be removed to do this alteration.

STEP 7: Divide the distance of the alteration by four. In our sample, 3" divided by 4 = 3/4". You will have to reduce the rear of the jeans by the full amount (3") to fit the new, smaller waistband, but you will not do it in one place, you will instead make four tiny darts.

STEP 8: Cut the waistband vertically at your center back mark. Cut both the outer and inner waistbands at the same spot.
      NOTE: You should now have two sections of back waistband flapping around loose from the jeans.

STEP 9:  The next step involves making tiny darts in the back of your jeans below the waistband. The top end of each of these darts is going to be the measurement we found in Step 7...three-quarters of an inch for our example. These darts will reduce the waistline in the jeans to match the smaller waistband.
        These darts need to be symmetrically located on either side of the center back seam. However, because the center back seam is a flat-felled seam, it is often difficult to accurately ascertain the true "center."  I use the pockets as my guides instead of the center back. Beginning about 3" out from the center back seam, place a straight pin above the pocket, often even with the edge of the pocket that is closest to the center back. The pin is placed perpendicular to the raw waistband edge of the jeans. On the mirror side of the back, place a second pin above the OTHER pocket, at the same point.  Next go over about two inches towards the side seam from these first pins, and insert two more pins, again making the left side and the right side of the jeans back look the same.
         You should now have four, evenly-spaced pins sticking up from the raw edge of the back at the waist.

STEP 10: Using each pin as a guide, fold the waistline of the jeans  at pin number 1. Stitch a dart at that point, sewing down to the yolk line below the waist. Each dart will be sewn one half the distance of the measurement in Step 7, which in our example is 3/8" (3/8"+ 3/8" = 3/4", which is the total amount of each of our four darts.) Continue to sew all four darts. Press all of the darts towards the center back.

STEP 11: Sew the outside of the waistband together at the center back cut, making the seam one half of the total waistline reduction (1.5" seam, using our example.) Reduce the bulk in the seam after it is sewn. Repeat this process on the inside waistband. You now have reduced both the inner and outer segments of the waistband the desired amount. Press the center back seams open.

STEP12: Sew the inside waistband on to the wrong side of your jeans, using a threat that matches the color of the jeans and lining up the seam with the secured section of the waist. Next sew the outside of the waistband to the right side of your jeans, again using matching thread. At this point the waistband should be back on the jeans.
        NOTE: At this point, we are getting numerous layers of jeans fabric to sew. It's important that you use a #110 needle, or a "jeans" needle, here.

STEP13: Next, sew top stitching to match the manufacturer's stitching on the waistband. (See the blog on hemming jeans for thread tips.) Use a heavy duty thread as your top thread, and continue to use the color matching the jeans for your bobbin thread. Tighten the upper tension, and lengthen the stitch length setting. Beginning at the point where the original top stitching ends, begin to sew, back tacking at the start and finish of the seam. You will likely have to do this on both the lower edge of the waistband seam and the upper edge.

STEP 14: At this point, the only fabric not secured should be the top of the belt loop at the center back. Keeping the top stitch thread in the machine, secure the belt loop to the altered waistband. (If you have loosened additional belt loops, secure them as well.)

Yea! You did it! You, the lucky gal with the tiny waist! Way to go!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Making Women's Waistbands Smaller Part 2

OK, so the down-and-dirty elastic trick doesn't suit you for helping you fit your tiny waistline. It's on to Part 2!

It helps to have a friend to help you analyze the front and the back fit of your skirt or pants. As I said before, some women are quite tiny right at the spine in the back, but sometimes waistlines can be reduced at a variety of places. Using straight pins, have a friend experiment with you on different areas to reduce.

My number one rule is to AVOID THE ZIPPER. Even after 47 years of this, zippers are not my favorite part of sewing. If the zipper is at the side, I usually reduce the garment at the center back, or in the back where darts would be (about 4" on either side of center back.) If the zipper is at center front it's easy to reduce the waist at the side seams or anywhere across the back, so that is the best case scenario.

The one time you will probably HAVE to move the zipper is when there is a side zipper, and the hip curve of the garment needs to be changed. Then you will have to remove the side zipper, re-fit the side seam (and the waist) and then re-apply the zipper.

For now we are going to assume that you can avoid the zipper issue.

Step 1: Working with a fitting partner, determine by pinning where the best place to reduce the waistline might be. For now, let's assume it is at the center back seam.

Step 2: Using a large safety pin or large T-pin, have your partner pin the waist until it is tight enough to suit you. Pin through the total waistband (that's why you need the big pin!)

Step 3: Have your partner pin taper the center back seam towards a suitable fit at the hip line. This can also be done on both sides of true center back (about 4" out from CB,) just as long as the result is pleasing.

Step 4: Remove the pants and working on the inside of the garment, chalk a mark across the pinned fold in the waistband. Also chalk mark the pinned tapers, wherever they are.

Step 5: Remove the pins.

Step 6: Mark the center back point of the waistband if that is where you are going to take it in. If you chose to adjust the waistband at the side seam, mark that point instead.

Step 7: Unstitch the waistband from the garment, going about 5" out on either side of your mark. It is not usually necessary to remove the whole waistband, although you can if you prefer. I'm always looking for shortcuts, so I normally work at the rear or sides of a garment, and I do not remove the whole band. Also at this time, remove at least the upper edges of any belt loops from the waistband. You may have to completely reposition the belt loops if your tapers interfere with their positions, but at the very least you will need to release them from the waistband, leaving them sewn to the garment.

Step 8: Measure the distance between the two chalk marks that are now showing on the waist band. Let's say it's 3". Divide that distance in half (1.5") and make a note of your number.

Step 9: Cut through the whole waistband, front and back, at the point you marked in Step 6. There may be top stitching on the upper edge that has to be removed, the waistband may have a back facing, but in all cases, you want to deconstruct the waistband about 4-5" on either side of your cut.

Step 10: The order of work here is important. Next, reduce the body of the garment, following the pin marks that indicated the taper down from the waistband. If you're just working at the center back, this will be a single seam. If you're working at the dart positions on the right and left of the center back, there will be two seams. Refer to the measurement you got in Step 8, and make certain that the upper end measurement or measurementS of your tapers equal the full amount of the waistband reduction. In our example, your total amount of fabric reduction at the top edge of the tapers must equal 3", which is the amount which you are reducing the waistband. Remember--reduce the body of the garment first.

Step 11: If you wish to remove the seam bulk from the seams you just sewed, do so at this point.

NOTE: In my experience, a woman's life is one of being "an accordion." We go in, we go out. We gain, we loose. If your body fluctuates, and the garment in question is a classic, expensive garment, I usually opt to retain as much of the seam allowance as possible. This way later, the seam can be let out if necessary.

Step 12: Next, reduce the waistband by the amount determined in Step 8. For our example, that was 3". We divide that 3" by two, which equals 1.5".  Pin the cut edges of the waistband right sides together and sew a seam equal to one half of the total reduction. In our example, the seam width will be 1.5".

NOTE: Depending on the type of waistband on your garment, you may have to do Step 12 twice, once on the inside facing of the waistband and once on the outside piece. If it is a fold-over waist band, you will just make one single seam.

STEP 13: Reduce the bulk of this seam if you must. Again, I try to leave room for later adjustments.

STEP 14: Re-apply the waist band to the garment, matching the manufacturer's sewing and top-stitching processes. Re-apply belt loops if necessary.

Now, enjoy your lovely, tiny waistline!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Quickest Way to Make Your Garment Waistband Smaller

First of all, if you have a tiny waist, I'm jealous. I've always been built like a tree...first a twig, now a giant redwood. But I have NEVER had a waistline.

But YOU do, and the waistband of your slax, shorts, skirts and jeans are always too big, and it gaps, particularly at the back.

There are going to be several posts on this subject, but we're starting with the quick fix that's the first step up from using that oversized safety pin to close the gap. Our first assumption for this quick fix is that the fabric that makes up your pants or skirt is light to medium weight...i.e. it is NOT denim or heavy wool.

STEP 1: Purchase a length of "no roll" elastic that is longer than the waistband. There are many kinds of elastic, but "no roll" means that it will keep the vertical firmness and not fold over when worn. While there are elastics that are more stretch-y than the "no-roll" kind, they tend to twist inside a waistband and eventually become uncomfortable. Most stores that sell fabric notions will sell elastics by the yard.

STEP 2: Starting very near one of the opening ends of the waistband, but past the point where there is either a hook, a button or a button hole, remove about 2" of the stitching that secures the waistband to the garment. 

NOTE: Usually, one side (sometimes the underside) of a waistband is sewn to the garment, and then the opposite side of the waistband (the front of the band) is top stitched in place. Alternately, the front side of the band can be sewn first, and then the waistband is folded over towards the inside, and a line of stitching is made right along the horizontal waistline seam in front . (This is called "stitching in the ditch" and is often virtually invisible on the outside of a garment, but on the inside of the waistband you will see a line of stitching.)

For the purposes of this quick alteration, remove 2" of that second row of stitching that secures the waistband to itself, whether it happens to be on the outside or the inside of the waist band.

STEP 3: Pin a large safety pin to one end of the elastic, and starting at your opening, slowly begin to push it through the center of the waistband area. Push the pin along 1-2", then hold the pin with one hand, and allow the elastic to work its way into the waistband. Continue doing this until you get to the opposite end of the waistband opening. This takes a bit of time, and some coaxing of the elastic.

     NOTE: On occassion, belt loops can interfere with this process, particularly if the upper edge of the belt loop is sewn lower than the very top edge of the waistband. To avoid the belt loop issue, a) select a more narrow elastic or b) unstitch the top of each belt loop and re-apply them at the end of this adjustment process.

STEP 4: Just as you did in Step 2, remove about 2" of the second row of stitching at the destination end of the waistband, but stop short of the button hole or button.

STEP 5: Continue to thread your elastic all the way to the point where your second opening is in the waist band seam, and bring the pin out in plain view. Pull hard on the elastic to allow yourself a bit of excess elastic to hold. Remove the safety pin, and slip the raw edge of the elastic up between the two layers that form the waistband. Pin it securely with straight pins, and then, using thread the same color as the garment fabric, stitch through all the layers (2 waistband sections + 1 elastic) two or three times. Do this about 1/4" in from the end of the elastic, and make sure everything is secure.

STEP 6: The elastic is now firmly anchored at one end of the waistband opening, and the 'tail' of the elastic should be hanging out the other end. Pull on the tail to tighten the elastic inside the waistband, guessing about how tight you will need it to be to fit your waist. To secure the second end, pin the tail end of the elastic through the waistband, and then try on the garment.

STEP 7: Adjust the elastic to a tightness that is comfortable for you. Focus on your comfort. Re-secure the end of the elastic with a pin through all the layers.

STEP 8: Securely pin the elastic through both layers of the waistband  about 2" in from your opening. Cut off the tail of your elastic, and, as in Step 5, secure the end of the waistband elastic up inside the waistband, again sewing through both the elastic and both layers of the band.

STEP 9: Stitch the two opening at either end of your waistband closed. Begin your stitching right on top of the stitching you had not removed, and pulling on the band if necessary to keep it smooth, individually stitch the two openings at either end of the waistband closed, stitching on top of the still-secure stitches at the opposite side.

STEP10: If necessary, work the elastic gathers with your hands to make them even around the whole waistband. The more spread out that any gathers are, the less they will show when you wear the pants.

The Quick Fix is now done, and you can expect those pants to stop gapping and to stay up better!

Monday, January 10, 2011


Ah, yes -- the zipper! A wonderful invention that is, recently, increasingly prone to failure. In fact, there seems to be an absolute epidemic of zipper failure going on. I don't know whether it is quality control in China and India, where most zippers are made, or just what, but if you're having zipper problems, you're not alone.

My first piece of advice is that you always zip a zipper closed prior to washing the article of clothing. It only takes a moment, and this is 'cheap insurance' because it reduces wear and tear on the zipper components during the laundry process.

In this section, I'm writing only about SEPARATING ZIPPERS, such as those found on most jackets.
If the zipper is not working

STEP 1: Carefully inspect the teeth of the zipper, as well as the hard starting point at the bottom that is inserted into the zipper pull on the opposite side of the opening. IF EITHER THE TEETH OR THE STARTING SLIDE ARE DAMAGED, the zipper will need to be replaced.

STEP 2: If the zipper teeth and the starting slide point are in good shape, then most likely the culprit is the zipper pull itself. These do indeed wear down over time, and it is far easier to replace a zipper pull than to replace a whole zipper, particularly in winter-weight jackets with multiple layers of fabrics.

NOTE: If you have a garment from a reputable outdoor manufacturer (North Face  and Patagonia come to mind) they will often guarantee their garments for life. Contact the manufacturer of your garment and inquire if they will replace the zipper. If they will, you don't have to bother with any of this!

STEP 3: Remove the old pull. You'll notice that the pull is just on one side of the zipper. At the upper edge of the zipper on that side, there is a 'stop' which keeps the zipper pull from flying off your jacket when you close it. These days, this is usually a bar-like section of  plastic that does not look like a zipper tooth or coil, although it may also be made of metal if you have a quality metal zipper.  This 'stop' must be removed before the zipper pull can be removed. If it is plastic, I simply grab this bar with a pair of normal household pliers and break it off, sometimes with a slight twist to my hand that helps crack the plastic. It breaks up and falls away. If it is a metal stop, you may be able to actually pry it off using a fine screw driver to open up the metal seam that is clamped over the base tape material of the zipper. Some metal stops can be re-used, so don't throw it away. During this process, do your best to prevent cutting or tearing of the zipper tape, for it will fray if it is damaged, and you'll have to replace the whole zipper.

STEP 4: Unstitch the upper end of the zipper from the jacket. On a zipper, when the teeth stop, the base tape material of the zipper usually continues on for an inch or so further, with no teeth attached. This smooth end of the zipper tape is usually folded under, and stitched into seams of the jacket front. Using a seam ripper or a very fine pair of embroidery scissors, open up these seams at the upper end of the zipper until you can pull out the plain tape. You may have to remove more than one seam, including some top stitching.

STEP 5: Pull the failed zipper pull right off the now-completely-open end of the zipper tape. DO NOT DISCARD IT QUITE YET! On the back of each pull, there is usually a number. Also, the pull will have a very distinctive shape depending on what sort of teeth are on the zipper. YOU WILL NEED TO KNOW THE NUMBER AND THE SHAPE of your zipper pull to get the correct replacement. The number indicates the size of the zipper teeth, and the shape differs depending on the type of teeth on the zipper.

NOTE: In my experience, zippers on quality garments made in Europe seem to have pulls that are not the same as most domestic garment pulls. Don't be surprised if you fail to find the proper replacement pull for a European-made garment.

STEP 6: Purchase a zipper repair kit at a sewing notions store, or purchase an individual replacement pull if possible. We recently found pulls for sale individually at Pacific Fabrics in Seattle, and Seattle Fabrics also has individual pulls for sale. I have purchased boxes of multiple kinds of pulls in the past at JoAnn's Fabrics. It's a good idea to take your jacket and your old pull to the store with you.

NOTE  Be sure to note whether your zipper has a double-headed pull or a single pull. They are sometimes slightly different, and you will want to purchase exactly the kind you had before.

STEP 7: With the correct pull in hand, carefully slide it back onto the zipper tape, reversing the actions in Step 5. Make sure the bottom goes on first, and that the pull lever is on the correct side of the pull. You will start out sliding the firm, woven edge of the zipper tape through the track, and then the slide will go down over the teeth.

STEP 8: Slide the new pull all the way to the bottom stop, and zip up the jacket as if you were going to wear it to make certain the the new pull is working correctly. Even tug lightly side to side to make certain the teeth are fully engaged.

STEP 9: When you're confident that the zipper works well, the next step is to replace or create a stop for the top of the zipper near the neck. Some zipper repair kits come with metal stops that you can pinch into place over the edge of the zipper tape, just past the position of the last tooth or coil. You can also form a stop by zigzagging over the end of the coil area, but be sure to create a bulky thread mass that will actually stop the zipper pull. Another possibility is to fold the 'eye' portion of a hook and eye set in half and sew it over the end spot. You can also sew a tab of small ribbon across the zipper tape to stop the pull.

STEP 10: Finish your repair by re-stitching the fabric around the zipper near the neck. Fold the end section of the zipper tape under as it was when you opened the seams, and then top-stitch close to the seam edge, and re-sew the decorative top stitching if there is any.

While this may read like a big hassel, replacing a zipper pull is MUCH easier than replacing a whole zipper! And it is a lot cheaper than buying a new coat!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

How to Patch Jeans

I made most of my spending money in college in the late 60's patching jeans, and I've been doing it ever since. You can extend the lives of jeans and/or create some art out of your old jeans by learning how to patch effectively.


The fabric you choose for your patching will depend on your intention. If sturdy wearability is the goal, use a denim-weight fabric. While you can certainly use new fabric (pre-wash it to remove shrinkage and sizing,) I prefer used denim. I keep a bag of denim scraps in my studio, some of them claimed from hemming jeans that were way too long and some of them salvaged from jeans that could no longer be worn. In the latter case, I recommend cutting away the back of the lower leg for salvaging fabric, for this area rarely gets very worn. It is important that the denim you use for patching be sturdy. After awhile, you'll find yourself with a scrap bag containing all different shades of denim, and you will be able to match the jeans you are mending.

You can also pick up used jeans at thrift stores and cut them up for patches. Locally, try the Bargain Boutique, which has recently reloacted to the west end of Winslow Way, or the Goodwill Store across from Costco in Silverdale. Also, you can swap scraps with your friends to increase the variety of denim colors you have.

If the goal for your patching job is more decorative, you can use any washable fabric, but do make sure it has been washed. For true patching (ie, there is a hole underneath) it is best to stick to a firmly-woven fabric, for thinner ones are likely to just wear through again.

Fusible web is a non-woven fabric-like product that is usually found near the interfacings at a fabric store. Fusible web is used to adhere two layers of fabric together and keep them from shifting from side to side and creating wrinkles. With heat (from an iron) and water (steam from the iron, plus a damp cloth,) fusible web turns into "glue" that temporarily adheres the patch to the jeans. Esthers, our local fabric store, carries several different kinds of fusible webs, including "Misty Fuse," "Steam-a-Seam," and "Heat and Bond." These products all come with printed directions included with the yardage, and they come in differing thicknesses. Consult the clerk to help you select the right product.

I recommend running test fusings while you are becoming familiar with these products.


Once you've selected your fabric, you will need to decide whether to place the patch on top of the hole in the fabric or underneath it, because the recommended sewing process does differ. A top patch results in a cleaner, more finished look, while an underpatch falls more into the 'art form' area of patching, and will allow the fraying denim to show on the outside while actually covering the hole.


Step 1: Cut the patch slightly larger than the worn or torn area you are covering. When sturdiness is the goal, you want the outer edges of the patch to be sewn into sturdy portions of the existing jeans. Do not sew a patch onto a worn area.  When cutting the patch, you will want to pay attention to the grain of the fabric, or, if it is a stretch denim, to the direction of the stretch.  You will want the grain of the patch material to run the same direction as the jeans fabric under the patch. You will want the stretch of the scrap to be the same as the stretch of the jeans fabric. In each case, this assures that the patch will work with the base garment.


The grain of the fabric is the direction that the woven threads run. The lengthwise grain of the fabric yardage runs parallel to the selvedges of the fabric. In jeans, it will be a line running straight down the front or back on the leg right in the center of the leg. The lengthwise threads are the stronger of the two, and they are what make the pant leg hang straight. The crosswise grain of the fabric runs at a 90 degree angle to the lengthwise grain. In most fabrics, the crosswise threads of a fabric are thinner or weaker than the lengthwise threads.

Step 2: Get out your fusible web material. Lay your patch upside down, UNDER the fusbile web. Because the web is somewhat sheer, you will be able to see through it. Cut the fusible web just 1/8" smaller than your patch.

Step 3: Place your torn jeans on the ironing board right side out with only one layer of the jeans on top of the board and the hole facing up. If the jeans you are mending are smaller than the pointed end of your ironing board, you can use a sleeve board and slip the leg onto it. Iron the area around the hole flat.

Step 4: Place the fusible web patch on top of the jeans, and then place the fabric patch right on top of the fusbile web. You should now have a sandwich; lower level = jeans; second level = fusible web; third level = patch.

Step 5: Following the instructions for using the fusible web, place your iron down on top of your patch sandwhich and hold for a moment. Next, take a dampened pressing cloth (a clean hankie works great) and place it on top of the pile and press again, usually for 10 seconds.  Now the patch should be firmly stuck to the jeans.

If you have a significant hole in the jeans, the residue from the fusible web could soak through onto your ironing board cover. To prevent this, use a scrap of fabric to 'soak up' the fusible web, and immediately after pressing, pull the scrap off so it doesn't stick to the underside of the jeans.

Step 6: With your machine set to perform a zig-zag stitch at the largest width your machine will do, but with the stitches VERY close together, zig-zag all around your patch, through the jeans and the patch fabric.

When the patch must be placed lower on the leg, around the knee for example, having a free-arm sewing machine can be really helpful. When working inside the leg, I usually start sewing at the upper left-hand corner of the patch, going horizontally across the patch and then down to the lower right hand corner of the patch. I end my stitching there, and then I go back to my initial starting point. This time I work vertically down the patch and then across the bottom of the patch, to meet up with my first zig-zag line of stitching.

If you don't have a zig-zag machine, you can prepare the patch in a slightly different way before you fuse it to the jeans. Cut the patch at least 1/4" larger than the area to be covered all the way around the patch. Using an iron, fold under each side of the patch 1/4" and press. Then cut out your fusible web and adhere as above. When you sew the patch to the jeans, use a straight stitch rather than a zig-zag stitch.


Step 1: Cut a patch exactly the size you want it to be

Step 2: Using your serger, serge all the raw edges of the patch. Press it flat

Step 3: Get out the fusible web. With the patch facing up, slide the patch under the fusible web. Cut the web just slightly smaller than the patch.

Step 4: Turn the jeans inside out and place them one layer thick on your ironing board or sleeve board. Flatten the area around the hole with your iron.

Step 5: Place the fusible web on top of the hole; place the patch on top of the fusible web, completely covering it (as explained above.)

Step 6: Set your iron directly down onto the patch and hold for a moment. Lift the iron, place a damp pressing cloth on top of the patch, and set the iron face back down onto it for about 10 seconds. The patch should now be cleanly attached to the underside of the jeans. (See above notes about using a scrap of fabric to catch any fusible material that could stick to your iron.)

Step 7: Using a bobbin that is exactly the same color as the jeans, and a top thread the color of the patch, sew with a straight stitch all around the perimeter of your patch, just inside the line of the serging. This secures the patch to the jeans without it showing much on the outside.

Step 8: Turn the jeans right side out. The patch material will show through the hole in your jeans, but the hole will be showing on the outside.

Step 9: Change the top thread on your machine to a color that exactly matches the jeans being patched.

Step 10: Zig-zag or straight stitch around the perimeter of the hole opening, securing the worn jeans fabric around the hole so that it cannot get caught on other objects.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

How to Hem Jeans

Hemming jeans is a basic life skill, and if you own a decent sewing machine, you can do it!


Step 1: Prepare the jeans. Never pin up a pair of washable jeans, pants, or trousers unless you have first washed and dried them. This very first wash/dry will cause a reasonable amount of shrinkage, which means that when you shorten them with the new hem, you have an expectation that they won't shrink much more.

Step 2: Find a helpful friend. You need one person to wear the jeans and the second person to set the hem. Trust me, you cannot accurately set your own hem.

Step 3: (duh!) Put on the jeans.

Step 4: If you are a belt-wearer, put on the belt. Depending on your body type, using a belt can lift the pants legs 1-2" in some instances. Since we're going for the perfect finished length, we want to minimize miscalculations.

Step 5: Put on the shoes. Which shoes? The shoes most likely to be worn with the jeans. No, ladies, it is NOT possible to have one pair of jeans that looks great with both flats and heels. Hem one pair for going out on the town in heels, and a different pair to wear with boots or flats.

Step 6: Set the hem. Most of the time, this is done at the back of the heel. I turn the pant leg under and line up the folded edge with a) the line between the heel of the shoe and the upper of the shoe, b) the floor (for those who like really long jeans, or c) pick some other agreed-upon distance up from the floor. Pin one leg...then pin the other leg. Injection mold dolls are the same on both sides of their bodies, but people aren't, so don't succumb to the temptation to just pin up one leg. Setting the hem at the back will usually create a slight break in the pant leg at the front of the foot, allowing a bit of excess length to cover socks when the wearer is sitting down.
     Exception: If you want the pant leg to fall straight down the front to the top of the shoe or boot, and to form no break, then pin the pants at the front of the foot. This is often preferred by shorter people of both genders, who object to any excess fabric around the foot.


Step 1: Take off the jeans (duh!)

Step 2: Place a pin right on the fold line that your formed when you set the hem. Measure up the distance from the original hemmed edge to that pin you placed at the fold line, and place a pin through a single layer of the jeans leg. Do this about every 4" around the leg. Repeat on the second leg.

Step 3: Measure down 1.25" from each pin toward the lower edge to create the fabric amount  that will actually become the new turned up hem. Use fabric marking chalk to mark 1.25" down from each of the pins you used to mark the whole circumference of each leg.

If you are only shortening the jeans a very little bit, you will have to remove the original jeans hem that was sewn by the manufacturer before you can get your 1.25" of hem length. Remove the hem stitching, and then press the folded hem flat with an iron set on "cotton" for standard denim, or use a slightly lower setting for stretch denims. Then mark as in Step 3 above.

Step 4: Cut off the bottom of the jeans along the chalk marks you made 1.25" below the pins.


Step 1: Put a #118 or 'jeans' needle into your sewing machine. The thickness of many denims is too much for the standard #80 or #90 needle. It is worth buying the right size needle.

Step 2: Thread the machine with a bobbin thread and a upper thread that are the exact color of the jeans you are working on.

Step 3: Set the machine to do a long stitch (6-8 stitches per inch.)

Step 4: Turn the jeans legs inside out.

Step 5: Fold the hem towards the inside of the jeans along the pin line. You can press each hem fold if you choose.

Step 6: Fold the lower edge of the fabric under once again, so that the raw edge barely hits the pinned fold line. You will now have a total of three layers of denim, and should see a narrow (5/8") folded hem.

Step 7: Start sewing the hem on the rear half of the jeans leg, just before the inseam. Beginning to sew at that point allows the back tacking/seam ending to occur at the spot least likely to be seen on the jeans.

Step 8: Sew all around the hem of each leg, back tacking to secure the seam at the starting and ending points.


The hardest part of hemming jeans is the thickness of the denim at the points where the hem crosses over the vertical seams of the pant legs. Here are two recommendations will help with theses areas.

First, purchase plastic "hump jumpers" or other plastic shim-type tools that will lift the presser foot even with the thickness of that bulky seam area. These go by a variety of names, and can be found in the notions department of any well-stocked sewing store or online supplier. I purchased mine from Clotilde.To use these lifts, sew the hem until you get about 3/4" away from a bulky vertical seam. Place the plastic lift/shim under the BACK of your presser foot, lifting it to a height even with the bulk of the seam, and slowly sew forward. As the presser foot begins to clear the bulk of the seam, move the lift/shim so that it is placed at the front on the presser foot as it moves away from the bulky seam, again keeping the presser foot at the same height as the bulky seam.. As soon as the presser foot has completely cleared the seam bulk, remove the lift/shim and sew as usual.

Secondly, I recommend that you hand turn the average home sewing machine across these bulky seam areas, rather than trying to power through with the machine. If you go slowly, the stitches are more likely to form properly.

Happily, the vertical seam bulk on many fashion jeans is not as much of an issue as it is on true Levi brands or other heavy-weight jeans. Many fashion jeans hems can be hemmed without the help of the lift.


Once you have the jeans hems seamed with matching thread, the hem itself is secure and the jeans may be worn. However, if you want your jeans hem to have the same contrasting thread color that many manufacturers use on jeans, you still have one final step.

Step 1: Purchase special heavy-weight, 'Jeans' thread in the color of your choice. Be sure to take your jeans with you to the store, for there are many subtle variations in thread color that can make or break the 'authenticity' of your hem job. I prefer Gutterman Threads, and keep 15 different colors on hand to meet the discriminating standards of my clients. Surprisingly, I often use a thread color that looks 'brown' to the eye, but sews up as a dark gold on denim. Because these heavy cotton hem threads easily absorb the dark dyes from washing a dark load of clothing, the thread on your jeans do not stay a true, say 'gold' color, once the jeans are washed. Thus it is the slightly-over-dyed color that you want to match.

Step 2: Turn the jeans back to right side out. Because the heavy weight threads cannot be easily used in a bobbin on a domestic sewing machine, I use the heavy, colored thread only as the top thread.

Step 3: TIGHTEN the tension for the top thread only. Leave the bobbin thread (blue or black) as it was when you sewed the initial hem. When you look at the new stitch line on the underside of the hem, you should not see any of the colored thread showing. (You may need to test the particular tension levels of your machine to get this just right.)

Step 4: Top stitch around the jeans hem, right on top of the hem you sewed in the matching color thread. Use the lift/shim as described above, and once again start and stop on the rear pant leg, just before the inseam.

Step 5: Remember to return your upper thread tension to normal when you are finished with the colored top stitching, and to remove the jeans needle as well.