Saturday, 16 May 2015

A sneaky way to shorten jeans


I always really dislike shortening jeans. It's one of those things that I'll put off for months and is eventually undertaken wearing sunglasses, as I feel so traumatised by the thought that when the needle inevitably snaps going over the massive hem-hump on the inner leg seam of jeans, it will fly off and spear my eye.

At the point of going over the hem-hump, my experience is that the stitches can falter and become irregular and ugly to look at. And then there's the issue of stitching on jeans being of so many shades of mustardy-brown, that a new reel of top-stitching thread* needs to be colour-matched and bought for each pair of jeans. The whole thing just feels slightly exhausting. But I've had a cunning tutorial saved that solves both of these problems and, yesterday, I finally tried it out. It's every bit as ingenious as I hoped it would be.

The tutorial shares a method that allows you to use the original hem of the jeans, meaning you don't need to buy any mustard top-stitching thread and you don't need to worry about what your stitches look like as you traverse over the hem-hump, as that will only be visible on the inside.


In the photo above, the top leg is completely unshortened and the bottom leg is the finished, shortened leg. The only thing you lose is the slight distressing of the denim above the stitching line. Visually, it's very slightly different to a conventional hem, in that, with a double-thickness of fabric in the hem, you'd expect it to be fractionally bigger than the rest of the leg of the jean, but with this method, it ends up fractionally smaller and the hem goes in very slightly at the side seams. Because this is viewed as a close-up above, the effect of this is very much exaggerated, but in reality, once you're wearing the jeans, it's barely perceptible at all, especially after an absolute pasting with an iron.


However, when I looked at these photos, I found the slight 'step' at each side intensely irritating, so I give it a another pasting with the iron, this time turning the jeans so that they were flattened out mid-leg with the side-seams more accessible and then pressing the seam upwards toward the leg, to flatten it better. This helped considerably. However, I do think this method of jean shortening is better suited to straight-leg jeans (see my husband's later in the post) than skinny jeans. Here's what the inside looks like:


You could make this look a lot nicer by using an overlocker to finish the hem, but I didn't feel enthused enough to get my overlocker out for the task...also I had visions of my overlocker really not handling the hem-hump very well and with its double-needle, you can imagine the visions I was having of what needle-snapping time would look like (my breakages seem to occur using a 100/16 needle, a jeans needle or any other kind of heavy-duty needle).

The above jeans are my own, but ones in the next photo are my husband's. Being 6ft2", it seems almost unimaginable that jean-shortening could even exist as 'a thing' for such a person; normally it's all about trying to find jeans long enough. But then I discovered that Boden make jeans for regular and giant men. While most shops seem to offer a leg length up to 34", Boden come in at just under 36". But the way that the jeans sit on my husband makes this a really long 36" when worn (and some of their trousers can be bought unhemmed with an inside leg of 39"!). It's a whole new world for the long-of-leg.


This photo shows the shortened jeans. I don't think that it's all that obvious where the join is and it's so good to have the thread and stitching style perfectly matching the top-stitching on the leg, that it seems worth the compromise.

The tutorial is fantastic. The only thing that I found unclear is when it tells you to stitch next to the original hem and shows a photo of the needle going in just next to the fabric edge of the hem. I tried this and the seam line looked really obvious, so I tried again, stitching right next to the original stitching line instead on the actual fabric of the hem, and that worked much better for me.


Can you sense the gratefulness pouring out of this photo that my jeans weren't any skinnier at the ankle! It's a perfect leg/arm fit!

However, even having found this great tutorial, I find that I'm still left thinking: why don't I just do what a non-sewing person would do and take them to the tailor and have them shortened for £10 on an industrial machine. The cost of the snapped needles, thread, extended procrastination when the jeans can't be worn (in my husband's case, it was a 3-month wait), time spent worrying over eye injuries, time spent doing the actual sewing, time spent taking the machine apart to fish out the other half of the snapped needle, surely amounts to more than £10. Sometimes being self-sufficient in this way can feel more of a hindrance than a help.

But either way, over the last few months I've had so much work to do that I haven't turned my machine on very often and in the evenings I've felt so tired that I've barely done any hand-sewing either. Having a relaxed afternoon of measuring, cutting and hearing the whirr of my machine again was a delicious thing; as was actually finishing something. It's made me turn my thoughts toward some summer dressmaking.  

Wishing you a lovely weekend,
Florence x

* If you aren't familiar with top-stitching thread and want to shorten your jeans in the conventional way, you can read about my bearded, heavy-breathing, and macintosh-wearing delight on discovering this thread back in 2010.

15 comments:

  1. Flossie, you are bonkers, of the certifiable kind....! I am still laughing at the sunglasses but completely get where you are coming from and avoid shortening trousers or jeans entirely which means I am really limited to finding really short ones to buy. This idea is brill and one I'll definitely bear in mind.
    Ps I cut my cats nails wearing a big pair of 'Deirdre Barlow' style reading glasses less because I need the extra vision and more because I am terrified one of their sharp little pingy nails will pierce my cornea!

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    1. RedSetter, I fear calling me bonkers may be a pot to the kettle style of accusation, when only moments later you confess to having Deirdre Barlow eye defenders for nail clipping! ;) x

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  2. I learned to sew from an alterations woman, and she told me her favorite sewing tool for denim is a hammer. So I have always given my denim seams a few good whacks -- before and after stitching. It really helps!

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    1. That's such a good idea and would almost certainly help with some natural 'distressing' too.

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  3. Sunglasses, ha! My problem with this method would be that by the time I get around to hemming jeans I've usually been wearing them for months even though they were much too long, so the original hem is completely destroyed at the back, 90s teen-style... Have you ever tried a Jean-A-Ma-Jig for the hem humps? I keep meaning to get one. Last time I did a pair that needed proper top-stitching I did it by hand with embroidery floss, which actually seemed like less hassle than trying to persuade the machine to do it, but was possibly more hassle than taking them down the road for someone else to deal with! x

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    1. I did the fraying thing with one of my favourite pairs of jeans too! It's so maddening. What an ingenious idea - I hadn't heard of that at all and may buy one...or may just start taking my jeans to the tailors in future as I mainly wear skinny jeans rather than bootleg ones and I'm still not convinced this method works as well for the former from an aesthetic point of view...x

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  4. I'm the same with hemming, I hate it and put it off as long as possible. I tried this method quite awhile ago and the seam looked really obvious and lame so I undid it and did them the usual way. But I wonder whether I fell into the trap of sewing where you did and I should give it another go along with pressing and hammers!

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    1. *sewing where you did first

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    2. As in my comment above to Nina, I think this method is fantastic for bootleg or straight leg jeans, but I'm not convinced that the visual wrongness of the hem going 'in' works for skinny jeans as it somehow feels more noticeable. Although I'm not sure if this is just because I know about it, so it doesn't feel right because of that.

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  5. Tutorial about why it's tricky to sew over the thick seam and what you can do about it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7UVoCX1oWwc

    There is also something called the hump jumper - similar to the gadget in the comment above. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZKdW_vIZLBo

    Alternatively use some folded paper or card at the back of the presser foot, using the same principle.

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    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to leave these links - I really appreciate it. The first one especially is the fantastic! I will definitely try with a nail file or some folded card next time.

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  6. I have also tried this method and it's fantastic.

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  7. This method has been around for years. On a slim-cut jean you should open the side seam when you do it.
    This method also works for stitched cuffs.

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    1. I think at the point of opening side seams as well, would be the point that I took the jeans to the tailor's! While I really love sewing, I'm less enamoured with altering existing garments, unless it's creatively, rather than for utilitarian reasons, if you see what I mean.

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  8. genius. ive heard of this but the photos really helped me understand

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Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a message - it's always really lovely to hear from people.

I now tend to reply within the comments section, so please do check back if you've asked a question or wish to chat.

Florence x

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