Once you get started sewing, I’m guessing one thing you’ll want to tackle is to hem your jeans. You can definitely do it yourself, and keep that distressed hem just as it is. You’ll need just a few more pieces of equipment than for normal sewing.
(If you need to start with some basic instruction about how to use your sewing machine, check out my e-book for beginners!)
A zipper foot lets you stitch with the needle to one side of the foot, right next to the original hem.
Jeans needles for your sewing machine have a sharper point and a longer eye, for sewing through layers of denim. For the most part, you won’t have to stitch through too many layers with this method, but it still helps. If you don’t have jeans needles, use a sharp rather than a universal needle.
It really helps to have a spacer, something you can prop up part of the presser foot with as you sew over thick seams (you’ll see why below). This one came with my sewing machine, but you could also use something not too wide and about 1/8 to 1/4” (3 to 6 mm) thick, like maybe a popsicle stick.
A sturdy hand-sewing needle, and a thimble to push it with, is essential for the finishing of this method (I’ll go over that in the next post).
You’ll also need pins and thread. The ones you use for regular sewing are fine. I didn’t happen to have matching thread, so I used black. It doesn’t show at all on the finished jeans. Darker thread colors usually blend in easier than lighter ones.
Once you gather your equipment, try on your jeans, and fold up the hem to figure out where you would like it to fall.
You can get someone to help measure how much you want to hem your jeans up, while you try them on. Or pin, try them on, and adjust until you get the hem where you would like it.
Figure out how much in total you want to take out of the length. Make a fold that measures half that much, starting at the inside edge of the original hem. You’re going to stitch right next to that original hem, effectively removing the fold of fabric from the length of the jeans. Whether you’re using cm or inches, the principle is the same, your fold should be half the amount you want to take out, since both sides of the fold are removed from the length.
Make sure your fold is on the inside of the jeans, so it won’t show when you’re done.
Pin the fold in place every couple of inches. Put the pins in perpendicular to the fold, or at an angle as shown, to make them easy to pull out as you sew.
Pay special attention at the seams, making sure that the original seam lines and topstitching match on both sides of the fold.
Set up to sew right next to the original hem, using a straight stitch (width 0), length about 2.5 mm. Use your zipper foot so that the foot can sit flat on just the fold of fabric. Move the needle position all the way over to your left, towards the original hem, so that you can stitch right next to it (and not hit the foot with the needle). Let the edge of the foot touch the edge of the hem as you sew.
When you get to the leg seams of the jeans, you’re suddenly sewing through a whole bunch of denim layers, instead of just two. When this happens, the presser foot ends up at a steep angle, which makes it much more likely to skip stitches (resulting in a weak seam). This is where the spacer comes in. When the front of the foot reaches the seam, prop up the back of the foot with the spacer to make it level. Then as you stitch over the seam, move the spacer to the front of the foot, to keep it level until you are past the bulky seam. Be careful to keep the spacer in front of the needle, so that you don’t hit it as you sew!
If your machine still skips a few stitches, try sewing in reverse and then forward again over the part that’s giving you trouble. Going slowly over the bulky parts will also help. You can even use the hand wheel on your machine to make just one stitch at a time. If it’s skipping a bunch of stitches in a row, check to see if the bobbin thread has broken. If so, stop and cut the top thread too, then start again so that you overlap a few of the last stitches before the thread broke, to hold them in place. If the leg seams are giving you a lot of trouble, you can also try flattening them as much as possible using a steam iron, or pounding them with a hammer.
When you get all the way around the leg, sew over the first few stitches that you made, to hold them in place.
Do not skip this step: once you sew around the hem, try on the jeans again to check that the length is where you want it. If not, at this stage all you have to do is pull out this one line of stitching, and start again. If the length looks good, you’re ready to finish off your hem.
If you took out more than about an inch in total, it’s likely that your folded out fabric is long enough to show below the hem if you turn it down. If so, trim it to about 3/8″ (10 mm), or a bit smaller than the original hem (I repeat, try on the jeans and check the length of the new hem before you do this). To keep these cut edges from unraveling, overcast them with a zigzag stitch.
Use a regular sewing foot for this (zigzag and a zipper foot don’t mix). Stitch close to the edge.
This whole process is pretty darn simple once you get the hang of it. You can also use this method to hem other pants, when you want to keep the original hem intact. It will be even easier if you don’t have think layers of denim to sew through.
In the next post I’ll go over my method for tacking down the extra fabric to make the hem look natural. In the meantime, if you have any questions, just leave a comment!