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How to: Shorten a hem

DIY Style Jun 14, 2013

Although my skills in the sewing department were learned though modifying and altering thrift store finds, the rise of online shopping means that now more than ever a few skills in the sewing department can help you look and feel great in the clothes you wear. I mean, who hasn’t ripped the tape off a package from Topshop or Shopbop only to find your new item doesn’t quite fit, but is too pretty to send back or throw away?

I recently had the pleasure of hosting my friend Sara on a visit to Hong Kong, who needed help transforming a jumpsuit that had a gorgeous back, but whose length she felt didn’t quite suit. Although I couldn’t agree with her on that one (everything looks good on her!) I understood where she was coming from – if your don’t feel great in something, chances are you’ll rarely wear it, period.  So we took the morning out to do little sewing 101: hemming garments – the first place to start in any aspiring seamstresses repertoire.

This how-to is obviously for those of you who are new to sewing, for all you master seamstresses out there – bear with me and feel free to add any additional advice you have in the comments.

You need:

  • a garment that requires hemming (we updated this jumpsuit)
  • scissors
  • thread
  • a measuring tape
  • chalk
  • a sewing machine (you can also do this by hand too in which case you will also need a needle)

How to:

1. Decide how much hem you want to remove. To do this try on your garment and measure the right length using a tape measure. Alternately you can also mark your chosen length with chalk or a pin.

2. Lay the garment flat and mark the new hem with the chalk pencil, making sure to add a a few inches for the hem. A tip here – when it comes to hems ALWAYS air on the side of caution, the last thing you want is to cut too much. In my experience it’s better to have it be too long to start with than too short.

3. Cut the garment. Some people fold the garment in half so it will be easier to get a mirrored cut but I prefer to do one side and then measure and draw again to do the other side, or just cut straight across for a skirt.

4. Put the garment on and pin the hem to the right length, making sure to fold the hem twice so no raw edge is showing – you may have to cut some extra fabric if you added some as a safety net. You can have any width of hem you like – a wider hem will sit more heavily while a more narrow hem will fall softly. We chose  a narrow hem. We also wanted a hem that angled up ever so slightly towards the outside of the leg (fyi – this flatters the thighs). To pin the other side we folded the garment in half and used the pinned side as a guide.

5. Iron the pinned hem.

6. Jump on your sewing machine and sew the new hems. Start at the inseam and work your way around, making sure to double back on the first and last stitches (using your reverse setting) so they hold. If you don’t have a sewing machine, don’t despair, simply sew by hand using this stitch.

7. Pull the pins out as you go.

8. Once you have finished sewing, give the garment another good iron.

If your garment has lining follow the above steps for the lining itself, making sure when done it is just a little bit shorter than the outer shell.

I  must say I love the finished product – I’m even contemplating picking up one of these jumpsuits myself to wear a few times and then shorten into a playsuit – talk about your clothing working for you rather than the other way around!

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