Clever Life Hacks: How to Hem Dress Pants Yourself

Clever Life Hacks: How to Hem Dress Pants Yourself

Are your pants too long? Often, the pants that you find at regular stores just don’t quite fit properly. And if you’ve got a pair of pants that are too long, then you’re probably tired of them dragging on the floor, or not hanging properly. Plus, pants that you are dragging or regularly stepping on, are generally pants that won’t last particularly long… On the other hand, pants that are hemmed to a proper length look fantastic and hang beautifully, so making an adjustment to pants that are too long will make a huge difference to the way they look.  Of course finding the time or cash to head to the tailor isn’t always a viable option… That’s why I have put together this handy guide to help you to hem your pants yourself! I have tried to write this guide in easy to understand terms, so that it’s suitable for sewing experts and newbies alike. Right then, let’s get started!

Get supplies

You will need:

  • A needle, or sewing machine if you have access to one
  • Thread that matches the color of your pants
  • Scissors
  • Tape measure
  • Stick Pins
  • Ruler / straight edge
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Tailor’s chalk, regular chalk or a pen/pencil that will wash out
  • Seam ripper (nail scissors will work in a pinch)

Rip out the seam at the hem

Now, when I say ‘rip out’, I mean gently! Use a seam ripper if you have one, or some nail scissors if you don’t, to carefully remove the line of stitching that is holding the existing hem in place. Do this for each leg, and be careful not to catch any of the material when you’re ripping out the stitches. 

Mark your new hem

You want to get this right first time, so to start with, try your pants on with the shoes that you’d normally wear them with, and turn up the cuffs to an appropriate length. You may need a little assistance for this part, as the pants will naturally move around a little as you bend down to adjust the cuffs. Make sure that the rough hem line you’ve just created is an appropriate length – take a look here to find out just how long those hems are supposed to be depending on whether you’re wearing chinos, jeans or suit pants – and pin the cuffs in place.

Decide which method you will use

This will largely depend on whether or not you have a sewing machine to work with. If you have a sewing machine, then you can use a zigzag stitch to stop the fabric from fraying. If you don’t have a machine handy, you can use the rolled hem method, which will encase the ‘raw’ edge of the material inside.

Make markings on your pants

This is where your tailors chalk / washable pen will come in handy. Measure the length of the cuff you have just created, and make a note of the number. You may want to skip this step, but trust me – it’s easy to forget where the hem is supposed to be and you don’t want to realize you made a mistake once you have finished the stitching. Remove the pins from your cuffs, turn your pants inside out, and iron your pants if you haven’t done so already – this will allow you to achieve a professional finish. Using your ruler; measure up from the bottom of your pants to where your cuff was situated (that number you just made a note of), and make a small mark using your tailor’s chalk. Do this another two times, at least, and then draw a line across your pants, joining the marks together. The more marks you make, the more accurate your line will be. Repeat for the other leg. This line is where your hem will reach to.  Now, you need to mark your seam allowance. If you’re using a zigzag stich on a sewing machine: Measure 5/8″ underneath your original line, make a few marks as before, and create a new line. If you have different coloured tailor’s chalks or pens, this will be useful so you can easily see which line is which. Repeat for the other leg. If you’re hand sewing: Make the 5/8″ line as per the instructions above, and repeat, so that you have three lines in total.

Cut off the excess fabric

Double and triple check that you have marked your measurements correctly, then carefully cut the excess fabric away by cutting down the lowest line you have marked – the one closest to the bottom of the pants. Cutting away the excess fabric will prevent the end result from looking bulky.

Press your pants

In the sewing world, ironing is referred to as ‘pressing’. Ironing your seam allowances helps to make it easier to create a professional finish as you sew. If you’re using a zigzag stich on a sewing machine: Skip this step for now. If you’re hand sewing: Fold your fabric so that the bottom of the pants meets the seam allowance line, and press to create a crisp edge. Fold again, with the crease along the chalk hem line, and press, again creating a crisp edge. Pin along where you have just pressed to keep the fabric in place.

Protect your edges from fraying

Phew, we’re finally sewing! If you’re hand sewing, your edges will be protected already, as they are encased within the material. If you’re using a zigzag stitch on a sewing machine: Set your machine to a zigzag stitch at an appropriate length. Set up your machine with your thread – if you need a little help on how to do this, Laura at Sew Me Your Stuff offers a step by step guide. “Not every machine is exactly alike, so take these as general guidelines because your machine may have some slight differences” says Laura. “The basic idea is the same!”  Sew along the bottom edge of your pants, remembering to include a couple of back stitches to hold the thread in place when you start and finish. If you’re not confident with back stitching, take the tails of your threads and tie them together after you have finished sewing – you should be able to bring the outside thread to the inside of your pants by using a pin to tease it through – pull on one of the small loops with your pin. Now that your ‘raw’ edge is protected, you’ll need to go back to your ironing board. Fold the bottom of the pants up, with the crease along the chalk hem line, and press to create a nice crisp edge, then pin in place. The next step is the same for both methods.

Sew your hem

For this part, you’ll need to hand sew to create a professional finish. You’ll want to use a stitch that will show through as little as possible on the outside of your pants, so a ‘blind stitch’ is best. This involves only catching a tiny part of the fabric with your needle. Natalie from Makezine offers a clear tutorial here, with helpful photos. “I learned this hand-sewing technique from my mom, who was constantly hemming my Catholic school uniform from too much play or to extend the length of my jumper as I grew taller,” says Natalie. In her tutorial, Natalie is hemming a skirt, but the stitch can also be used for your pants.

Wear your pants!

All that you need to do now is remove the pins, and get rid of those chalk lines by putting your pants in the washing machine. First, though, try them on to make sure that they fit properly, and check to see whether any adjustments need to be made.


Well that’s that… I hope that this post has been useful for those of you who may already have pants in the closet that don’t fit properly. However, next time you need to get a pair, I would recommend choosing a retailer that can offer you pants that are already properly tailored to your size… Like us, perhaps, at Shameless promotion aside though, I understand all too well that sometimes pants just don’t fit right, so learning to hem your own is well worth the effort! 

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