Tutorial: How to Shorten an (Old) pair of Jeans Shortening Jeans Pic 6A Full view

Tutorial: How to Shorten an (Old) pair of Jeans

Most of us have an attachment to a favourite pair of jeans, and when they wear along the bottom hems we often wish we could give them a new lease of life. As some of you may already be aware, it’s possible to do this by turning up the hems to create a shorter, unworn pair of jeans. In fact, a common cause of wearing out the bottom legs of jeans is the fact that they are often worn when they are too long and thus become frayed and torn at the hem, so you may find this actually makes your jeans look better overall, rather than making them too short.

Shortening Jeans 8B

So, for our Men!ding month, I’ve created this guide to mending worn jeans by shortening them and adding a new hem. New jeans that are too long should be shortened using another method that maintains the original hem but is not covered in this article.

Materials and Equipment:

  • An old pair of jeans
  • Scissors
  • Thread – preferably heavy jean thread (You can choose a contrasting thread for a more striking effect, but in this example we have used a colour to match the light denim, for a more subtle look)
  • Tailor’s chalk or pen
  • Measuring tape or ruler
  • Pins
  • Sewing machine
  • Iron and ironing board


1. Put on the jeans and determine how much they need to be shortened.  It’s often best to have a helper for this part, so they can roll up the hem of the jeans to the required length while you are wearing them. Your helper can then mark your jeans where you would like the new hem to be. You can try to turn up your trousers yourself, but you may find that all the leaning over to adjust the hem and make marks messes up the new hem and marks, making the process confusing and time-consuming. It also helps to try your jeans on in shoes during this step to get an accurate length.

Shortening Jeans Pic 1A
Shortening Jeans Pic 1B
Turn up the jeans legs and pin the hem to the desired finished length. Make sure both front and back are equal, measuring with the tape or ruler if necessary

Shortening Jeans Pic 1CShortening Jeans Pic 1D

2. Take jeans off and turn them inside out. Lay the jeans put on a flat surface, and check visually to see if the legs, when laid completely flat and straight, are of equal length with the new hem.  If they look alright, measure both jeans legs from the inside seams to make sure the distance from the crotch to the planned new hem is the same for each. Then fold the turned up fabric to the inside of the jeans (currently outside), keeping it the same length.

Shortening Jeans Pic 2A Shortening Jeans Pic 2B

3. Press the jeans legs at the new hemline.  This ensures the turned up new hem is flat and easy to work with.

Shortening Jeans Pic 3A

Measure how much of the end of the jeans leg needs to be cut to enable a suitable hem. You don’t want to have to fold the fabric over too many times to create the hem, as it could become too heavy. Pin to secure the new hemline.

Shortening Jeans Pic 3B

In this example a 1 inch (2.5cm) is allowed and turned over twice for the new finished hem of 1.25 cm. The denim in this case is relatively thin, for heavier material, it may be desirable to turn it over fewer times, and thus cut more fabric. A mark can be made with a fabric pin or tailors chalk to show where to cut off the excess material.

4. Carefully cut both jeans legs along the second set of marks. Measure the cut legs to make sure they are the intended length (The desired final hem length plus the allowance you’ve decided on).

Shortening Jeans Pic 4A   Shortening Jeans Pic 4B

5. Fold the rough edge of the fabric (called the raw hem) under twice to give a neat hem, ensuing the raw edge of the leg meets the pressed new hemline on the inside. Pin the new hem across the turned fabric all around, as in the picture below

Shortening Jeans Pic 5A

6. Base (this refers to making an initial rough stitch, which doesn’t need to be too tight or precise) in the new hem with a needle and thread using a large running stitch (You can find instructions on how to sew a running stitch here). This helps to hold the new hem in place while you do a more final stitch with the sewing machine.

Shortening Jeans Pic 6A   Shortening Jeans Pic 6B

7. Remove all pins. Press the folded and based hem along the new hemline.

Ensure the sewing machine is set to the right stitch length for hemming the jeans. It should be set at a stitch length a little longer than a normal stitch. Also, make sure the machine is set to take heavy-duty denim material. Starting at the inside leg seam carefully machine stitch the new hem of each jean leg close to the top of the turned up hem. It is necessary to stitch slowly as you sew over the leg seams as the material is at its thickest point here.
Shortening Jeans Pic 7A

8. Turn the jeans right side out and press the new hems. Admire your newly mended and shortened jeans.

Shortening Jeans Pic 8A

This tutorial was kindly written for us by Kaye Poole, who also provided the images. Kaye volunteers at Significant Seams on Wednesdays. She runs the Stories and Sticking session for Pre-schoolers on Wednesday mornings and the Mending Club on Wednesday afternoons. Kaye has been sewing since she was a teenager and enjoys making clothes and toys for her granddaughters. She also does quite a bit of mending for the whole family.

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