You’ve found the perfect pair of pants. They’re a comfortable material, the price is right on budget, they look awesome—but they’re a little too long. 

When you know how to hem pants yourself, there’s no reason to leave the store empty-handed. You can make all the adjustments you need from the comfort of your own home and don those new threads immediately.

What is Hemming?

Cream fabric stitched with a contrasting dark thread to produce a perfect hem.
A finished hem should be both functional and neat. Still from Skillshare class Sewing Basics: Make Your Own Clothes by Denise Bayron.

When it comes to basic sewing techniques, hemming is one of the simplest. You can hem pants, skirts, dresses and shirts to neatly finish the edges with a stitched fold when trying to adjust the length or tidy up a stitching mistake.

No one wants pants dragging on the floor as you’re walking along. It can look sloppy and you’ll quickly ruin the fabric. Learning how to hem pants by hand or machine means you can adjust your pants to fit you just right. 

How to Hem Pants with a Sewing Machine

When time is of the essence, hemming pants with a sewing machine will be your best option. You should have several stitching choices on the machine and the end result will be more precise than working by hand.

Materials and Equipment for Sewing Machine Hemming

A blue and white sewing machine being threaded for an upcoming hemming project.
Sewing machine hemming is ideal for quick alterations when you’re in a rush. Still from Skillshare class Sewing Machine 101 by Jaime Johnson.

The number one item on your list—a sewing machine. You’ll want to learn some sewing machine fundamentals first and all the different types of sewing stitches you could use before you put your pants under the needle.

Keeping essential sewing materials on-hand is always a good idea. In your sewing kit, you should have:

  • Fabric scissors
  • Sewing chalk or a white pencil
  • Pins
  • A tape measure
  • An iron and ironing board
  • Thread bobbin in the color to match your pants
  • Replacement sewing machine needles

For already hemmed pants, you’ll also want to have a seam ripper.

Hemming on a Sewing Machine

Start by removing any existing hems on both pant legs with your seam ripper. Unfold the fabric and put the pants on.

Cream material folded and pinned to create a crease needed for fabric hemming.
Pinning your fabric stops it from moving during the hemming process, allowing for a more precise finish. Still from Skillshare class Sewing Basics: Make Your Own Clothes by Denise Bayron.

Fold each pant leg up inside itself to your chosen length and insert straight pins just above the fold point on the front and back. This will mark the new hem length. Carefully remove the pants and turn them inside out. Pull the legs parallel to check for matching lengths.

An iron runs over fabric to form a crease that can be used as a stitching guide.
Ironing your fabric will keep creases firm while you stitch your new hem. Still from Skillshare class Make Your Own Clothing: Introduction to Garment Construction by Joshua McKinley

Turn the pants back the right way out and iron across the bottom of each leg where the new hem will be. This allows you to take the pins out, while keeping the crease of the new hem in place.

With the pins removed, unfold each leg at the crease and mark with a white pencil or sewing chalk about one to two inches below the crease all the way around the leg. This gives you some hem, or seam, allowance. Cut off any excess material below the hem allowance.

Fold the new end of each leg up into the pants twice, once with the raw edge up to the crease line, then again to create a pocket-like fold. This will stop the new edge from fraying over time. Repin at the crease line and iron flat. 

A blue and white sewing machine being used to create a straight blind stitch as part of a hemming project.
Sewing machines can produce different stitch types, from straight to zigzag. Still from Skillshare class Sewing Machine 101 by Jaime Johnson.

You’re now ready to move to your sewing machine. Set your bobbin on the machine and adjust the settings to the stitch type you’re after. Place your pants under the needle and slowly stitch around the pocket fold of the pant leg opening, pushing and turning the end of the pants as you go. 

Once you’ve made a complete circle around the leg, your pants are fully hemmed. Take out the straight pins and iron the legs one last time to maintain the new hem crease.

Fabric Considerations

An orange, yellow, white and green fabric forming a hem as it passed under the needle of a sewing machine.
Pant fabrics like cotton or linen are ideal for using with a sewing machine. Still from Skillshare class Sewing Alterations: Fit Shirts To Your Body with Darts & Seam Adjustments by Maura Marcks

For most everyday pants, you’ll want to use a blind hem. This is where the stitching is almost invisible and can be done either by hand or with a machine. 

A zigzag stitch is typically the best option for dress pants, as the fabric these are made from can stretch slightly during rehemming. A zigzag gives you more flexibility in the final stitch than a straight machine stitch.

If you’re working with denim jeans, where the hem stitch is visible, you’ll only be able to do this on a sewing machine. As denim is one of the thickest fabrics, you should use a chunky needle on your sewing machine—the instructions for your machine should tell you which one is best. You’ll also want to use a contrasting thread color to make the stitching more obvious.

How to Hem Pants by Hand

While a machine makes quick work of hemming your pants, hand sewing can be easier to manage as a beginner. It’s also much cheaper if you don’t sew often, as you’ll need fewer expensive tools like a sewing machine.

Materials and Tools for Hand Hemming

Basic sewing tools are laid out ahead of a new stitching project on a wooden table.
Hand sewing requires only a few tools, like scissors, needles and thread. Still from Skillshare class Hand Sewing Basics: Work Wonders with Fabric, Needle & Thread by Bernadette Banner.

Like with machine hemming, you’ll want to have:

  • Fabric scissors
  • Sewing chalk or a white pencil
  • Pins
  • A tape measure
  • An iron and ironing board
  • Thread in the color to match your pants
  • Sewing needles

Hemming Pants by Hand

Unpick any existing hems before you start. As with machine hemming, you’ll want to try on your pants and fold each leg up to your desired length. Hold this new hem in place with pins on the front and back of the pant legs.

Take off the pants, turn them inside out and measure each new hem to make sure they’re even. Measure and mark approximately two inches from the new hem crease for seam allowance, then cut off any extra fabric under this line.

Cream fabric is folded to create a hem allowance, which will be used as the base for hand stitching an invisible seam.
Keeping additional fabric under your hem as a seam allowance makes the finished product more robust and neater. Still from Skillshare class Sewing Basics: Make Your Own Clothes by Denise Bayron.

Fold the end of the pant legs up two inches and iron to keep the material flat. This crease should now be the correct new hem length. Repin through the fold of the seam allowance to hold everything in place.

A needle being passed through white fabric to demonstrate a basic hand sewing technique.
Carefully threading your needle through fabric allows you to have greater control over the finished stitch. Still from Skillshare class Hand Sewing Basics: Work Wonders with Fabric, Needle & Thread by Bernadette Banner.

Thread your needle and tie a knot at one end of the thread. Stitch through the seam allowance and pull all the way through until the knot hits the fabric. This keeps the end of your thread on the inside of your pant legs, rather than visible from the outside.

Keep stitching around the pant legs using small stitches. Take care to only grab a couple of threads on the outside edge of the leg to make your stitching invisible on this side. Feeding the thread through the fabric around every quarter inch as you move is enough.

Once you get back to your first stitch point, tie another small knot by looping your needle through the thread and pulling tightly. Cut off the excess thread, iron your pants, and you’re done.

Fabric Considerations

Several rolls of green, yellow, orange and pink fabrics are lined for sewing enthusiasts to choose from for their next project.
Consider your pants fabric before deciding whether to hand stitch or use a sewing machine. Still from Skillshare class Sewing Basics: Make Your Own Clothes by Denise Bayron.

Hemming pants by hand is best for delicate fabrics. You have much greater control over the speed and intensity of your stitching when you don’t use a machine.

For fabrics like silk, chiffon or lace, hand sewing can prevent errors that might tear or otherwise damage the material. Thicker fabrics like denim or leather are generally easier to work with using a sewing machine.

The Days of Puddle-Drenched Pant Legs Are Over

Altering your clothes through techniques like hemming are budget-friendly and can save thousands of discarded items from being wasted. You’re well on your way to a pair of custom tailored pants with your newfound stitching skills.

Written By

Holly Landis

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