Have you noticed that as soon as your friends and family know that you own a sewing machine they are constantly asking you to do alterations? Personally I just say no to everyone except immediate family, but if you are newish to sewing then alterations are good practice. The most common alteration tends to be taking up (or shortening) a pair of pants. Here is how to do this job quickly using just one pin.
Firstly, wash and dry the pants. Then get your client to put the pants on while wearing the shoes they plan to wear the pants with most often. Get down on the floor to the side of your client’s leg and turn the pants up by folding the hem up inside right around the leg. The folded edge will be your finished length so adjust the fold at the back of the leg only until you are happy with the length. The rule of thumb is that the finished length should be half way down the heel of the shoe. Put in one pin horizontally on the fold at the back of the leg to mark the finished length.
Step 1 – lay the pants flat on the table and measure down from the pin twice the depth of the finished hem. For example the finished hem on the pants I’m shortening here is 1.5cm, so I measure down 3cm from my pin and put a chalk mark. Then measure up from the existing hem to your mark, in this case it’s 13cm from the hem to my mark. Put a couple more chalk marks across the leg measuring the same distance up from the existing hem. You can use your ruler to join these marks if you prefer to have a line to cut along.
Step 2- Check that the existing hems line up front and back and then cut through both layers along your line.
Step 3 – Lay the second leg out flat on the table. Place the piece cut from the first leg on top of the second leg carefully lining up the existing hems. Cut the second leg off to match the first leg. Note: if you don’t feel confident with this step, you can measure up from the hem as you did with the first leg, make marks and draw a line to cut along. I just do it this way cause it’s quicker.
If you have multiple pairs of pants to shorten the same amount you can just keep placing the cut off piece from the first leg onto each pants leg and using it as a guide for cutting each leg off.
Step 4 – Now it’s time to sew the hem. You need either a stitch gauge or a small ruler to measure the hem as you sew. Watch this video where I show and talk you though the hemming process in a very monotone voice. (Sorry about that). If you follow this blog and the video doesn’t come up on the email you get just click through to the post itself to view.
Important things to note are:
Choose a thread that matches as closely as possible to your fabric. If you can’t find a thread that is exactly right, slightly darker than the fabric is better than slightly lighter.
Start about 5cm before the inside leg seam as seams can be tricky to sew over. If your seam is bulky and giving you grief, carefully trim out half of the seam allowance inside below the hemline to reduce the bulk. Sew really slowly over seams.
You need to sew aprox 1mm from the folded edge inside the hem. The foot on my machine is great because I can line up the left hand side of the U shape cut into the middle of my foot with the edge of the fabric which gives me a perfect 1mm distance. Your machine foot will probably be different from mine, so experiment before you start sewing the hem to find the place or mark on your foot you need to follow to keep your stitching line straight and parallel the the fold.
As you sew, watch the point on you foot you have chosen to follow like a hawk. Don’t look at the needle or the bit you haven’t sewn yet or anything else, keep your eyes on that point – this is the key to straight and accurate sewing.
Don’t back tack (go forward and back a few stitches) at the beginning, just start to sew. When you come to the end sew over your first 2 to 3 stitches. This will secure your stitches and avoid ugly-looking nests of thread. Trim your thread completely off front and back with sharp scissors or snips.
Now this is the most useful sewing advice I’ll ever give you (I’ll probably keep repeating it during future blogs cause it’s so important). Ninety nine percent of the time you do not need to pin before you sew (there are a couple of exceptions, but sewing a hem is not one of them). Pinning is a waste of time and can lead to inaccuracies and broken machine needles. This is the secret to sewing without pins:
- Before I sit down to sew any seam or hem (or anything else) I have pre-checked to make sure that pieces of whatever I am sewing fit together by checking that my notches and seams all match in advance.
- I prepare just the first couple of centimetres and I place my work under my machine foot. (It pays to lower your needle at this point as well to keep everything secure).
- I then arrange and prepare to sew the first 10-20 centimetres only. When I start to sew I work slowly, closely watching whatever point on my machine foot I have designated as my place where the fold runs along to keep my stitching straight and accurate.
- My fingers are close to the foot, usually one to the front and one to the side and I have my fabric under control constantly. Never put your left hand behind the foot and pull on the fabric to feed it through. You have no control in this position.
- When I reach the end of my 10-20cm I stop, drop my needle and prepare the next 10-20 centimentres for sewing. Then I continue.
I’ll talk more about this way of sewing in relation to sewing seams, putting in zips etc.. in future blogs.
Finally, press your completed hems. They should look just like a bought one!