Before I had kids I was self-conscious about being
short petite super-concentrated. Sure, in my head I was 5’9″, but I knew the truth every time I bought jeans; even ‘petite’ length pants were an inch too long. So I took to wearing taller shoes – I had cute little wedge-heeled Mary Janes that made my pants exactly the right length, and bonus! – I didn’t have to hem them.
So what happens when you go from walking sedately through midtown Manhattan in cute shoes to chasing toddlers through the park in whatever pair of flats you can find that morning? Well, this:
Yikes. I’m a little embarrassed that I let them get this far, but I sat down at my sewing machine last night and decided that mommies need cute pants too. Here’s how to resurrect a pants hem that’s gotten too friendly with the pavement:
What you’ll need: embroidery scissors or a seam ripper, a sewing machine, an iron, scraps for patching, and two strips of durable contrast fabric, each 3″ wide and long enough to circle the hem of your pants with 1″ overlap (if the hem of your pants is 14″ around, you need two strips 3″ x 15″).
To start, unstitch the hems of your pants with the seam ripper or scissors and iron the pants leg out flat. You should have a good view of the damage from here. Cut patches to fit the holes in the fabric and stitch them down. My personal patch formula is make the patch one inch larger all around than the damaged area. Here’s what mine looked like:
If you have a three-stitch zigzag on your machine, it’s ideal for this kind of repair. If you don’t, a regular zigzag works fine. Stitch along each edge of the damaged area, and if need be, stitch a third line down the middle, joining the two together. This part doesn’t have to look pretty, it will be covered up. When you’re done, it should look like this:
Now I need you to visualize with me for a moment. We’re going to shorten the pants by about half an inch, and cover the mended area with a circle of cute fabric. This will eliminate the problem (pants are too long) and conceal the mended area. Press a new hem line into each pants leg 1/2 ” higher, so that the mended area sits inside the pants leg. You’ll use the crease as a guide to stitch on your contrast fabric. Fold your contrast fabric in 1/2″ on each long edge and iron it. Open each pants leg back out and pin your contrast fabric over your old hem so that the edge is 1/4″ away from your new hemline.
Stitching time! Using a straight stitch, attach the contrast fabric along one long edge. If your pants leg is open and pulled onto the free arm of your machine, you would be stitching the left side of the new fabric.
Now, back to the ironing board – press the hem into place using your first pressing as a guide, but now, you should also fold the contrast fabric over the cut edge of your original pants hem – the new fabric acts as binding for the raw edge, and saves you the need to finish the hem. Neat, right? Pin your folded hem in place. Sewing is easier to explain with pictures than with words. Here’s what your final pinning should look like:
Now stitch your hem in place. If your pants are a bit…um…aged, like mine are, stitch in the old hemline, since the jeans have already faded around that line.
You’re done! Take your pants back to the ironing board and, not to put too fine a point on it, iron the crap out of them. Part of what gives jeans their polished, worn-forever look is that they’ve been pressed to a fare-thee-well in the factory. The flatter you can make your hem, the less it will look like you hemmed them yourself. Crank up the steam and go to town! (Remember, if you’re using a fabric with a lot of synthetic fiber in it, use a press cloth between your clothes and the iron to prevent shine).
Now that you’ve got the hang of it, this technique can be adapted in a number of ways – you could fold the hem outside the pants instead of in for a cute contrast cuff on kids pants, or you can do a stealth-fix on your professional wardrobe – just use a closely matching fabric instead of a contrast one.