Shortening Pants with Top Stitched Hems in 8 Easy Steps

Many pants for men and for women have top stitched hems these days. Most of the khaki pants and shorts have them, as well as many popular jean styles. The following directions are for pants that need to be shortened a lot. You do not need to remove any stitching because they are so long.

If the pants you are shortening have stitching that needs to be removed, simply use a seam ripper or a razor blade to take out the existing hem. Press the pants flat and proceed with Step One.

A Note About Terms I've Used ...
There are not too many technical words associated with learning how to shorten top stitched hems. It may help you to know these terms, though...

Top Stitch is the stitching that is sewn on the RIGHT side of the garment, able to be seen on the outside and inside. It can be hand stitching, but is most often done by machine. It is usually both decorative and functional. It is often seen where hems are secured or pockets are attached. Contrast thread is sometimes used for decoration.

Turnunder In Steps 3,6,7 and 8 I use this term. It is my way of describing the raw edge that you will "turn under" and hide, so that your hem allowance doesn't fray.

Here's What You'll Need ...

Scissors Jean Needle Hip Curve Ruler
Heavy Duty Needle

Chart One: Working From the Inside of the Pants

top stitched hems
The customer has pinned the pants. I press the new hemline in place. No need to remove the existing hem. There will be plenty of fabric left to turn under after those stitched hems are cut off.
top stitched hems
The next step is to measure the existing hem. Here it is 1¼". You'll want your new stitching to be just the same distance from the new bottom of the pants. Also observe the crease where the raw edges have been folded under.
top stitched hems
Measure how much the turnunder is. You can feel where the double thickness is. This hides the raw edges to hide so there is no fraying. It is usually ½".
top stitched hems
Straighten the part folded by the client. Do not press. Use the crease pressed in Step One. Start to measure the hem allowance from here. It is the ½" turnunder plus the 1¼" from Step Two. Mark at 1¾".
top stitched hems
Cut along your chalk line. If the pants are laid out evenly and you are careful, you can even cut across double thickness. You need to have a bit of experience to do that, so cutting a single thickness around the entire pant leg is your safest choice.
top stitched hems
Fold up your turnunder. Here I have folded up ½" Press this. Be careful not to press your hemline crease. Use just the edge of your iron.
top stitched hems
Now fold the new hemline back into place. Your pants are folded on the original line that the customer made, with the turnunder encased. Press well. Make sure the hem allowance is the same width (here, 1¾" ) all the way around the leg.
top stitched hems
Top stitched hems can be stitched from the right side or the wrong side of the pants. Here I am stitching on the inside of the pant leg. The needle is about &$8539" from the folded turnunder edge.

Chart Two: Working from the Right Side

Some people like to work from the right side when putting in top stitched hems. It's a matter of personal preference. Try substituting the following steps if you want to work from the right side.

Or, you may want to just try step EIGHT-A, especially if your machine is making pretty stitches on the needle side, but not so much on the bobbin side.

top stitched hems

Keeping the pants right side out. press the new hemline into place. Make sure your crease is firm.
top stitched hems
Unfold the excess length. After calculating the total hem allowance needed (see STEP FOUR), make a chalk mark all around the pant leg. It's 1¾" from the foldline here.
top stitched hems

Fold under the raw edges at about ½". You can sometimes "eyeball" this. Press under.
top stitched hems
Smooth the new hem in place. Machine stitch on the outside of pants. If you've done STEP SEVEN well, you'll see and feel the crease where the hem allowance begins. Stitch about ⅛" from the edge that you can feel.

In Closing...

Have you noticed what's missing here? Pins! These pants are extra long, so all my markings were done with the chalk and the iron. If you are new to this, feel free to pin at whichever steps you like.
Secondly, topstitching on the right side of the pants is a bit advanced. When you are just starting out, stitch from the under side of the pants, then turn them right side out. Press again and the look of your stitches will improve. If those bobbin stitches are wiggily or uneven, then your pants will look better if you do STEP Eight-A. You can add pins or a chalk line to help with your accuracy.

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