Today we're looking at another very common alteration - taking up/letting down hems.
Of all the known alterations, this is the one most likely to be successfully done at home. It is also the one that costs least when done by a professional tailor (within the usual "simple" limits, of course). In other words, almost anyone should be able to do it. Happily, a too-low or too-high hem is also one of the most common complaints in store-bought garments. It's a perfect combination - if you buy a garment that isn't quite perfect, chances are that the hem is at fault AND you're probably able to change that quite easily.
The big question with hems, then, is how much to take up or let down? Is there a "correct" length for pants, or skirts, for instance? And what if you plan to wear different shoes -some with heels and some without- with the same pair of jeans? There are a few rules of thumb for pants hems, among them: they should not touch the ground, they should cover the heel, the pants should break only once, etc. Don't just take my word for it, though - this is what other people are saying here, here and here.
I just want to say one more thing about taking up the hems of too-long pants: wash them first, especially with fabrics with stretch in them. I altered two pairs of fresh-from-the-store corduroy pants to the perfect length, then after the first wash they were an inch and a half too short. I wore them that way -horrors! - for more than a year, and then decided I was tired of people seeing my socks. I doctored them - and you shall see the result later in this post when we meet them again.
Now I want to pretend I'm the Agony Aunt of Alterations (and Alliteration!) and dig into my virtual mailbag so I can answer questions to myself. Hee!
I have a pair of jeans that has a huge hole in the knees. I've tried patching the hole - but after the fourth time, there wasn't enough fabric hanging on the fibers to work. I've decided to cut them short - real short. I've seen those cute denim shorts with the turned-up cuffs and thought I'd like to do that. What do you think?
First, let me congratulate you on still being able to wear your jeans! How wonderful that the fabric wore out before the pants themselves became obsolete as a result of too much nutella/too many children. Oh wait, that was me.
Next, let me say what I think about turning jeans into shorts with cuffs: No.
More specifically, jeans-into-shorts = yes.
Jeans-into-shorts-with-cuffs = no.
You're going to regret writing to me, because here comes a lecture on layout and hem allowances, but -hey- you asked.
Let's look at a typical pattern for pants:
Let's imagine that we are going to lay that pattern out on fabric. We fold the fabric up at the bottom for a cuff allowance and a teeny bit of hem allowance above that,
lay the pattern on the fabric and cut it out, with seam allowance all around.
Now let's take the pattern away and unfold the cuff:
That's a funny shape - it isn't tapered like the rest of the pants.
Now let's do the same thing for a pair of shorts:
Look at the shape of the cuff area, unfolded - it sort of flares out, doesn't it?
Now suppose you had a pair of pants that you wanted to cut short:
You gave some allowance for the cuff, and cut off the excess.
Then you folded up the cuff and - eek!
The cuff is the wrong shape!
Here it is, compared with the green fabric shape of the left that it should be, for a cuff to work.
And here they are, superimposed, so you can continue to see how wrong the shape is. The green underneath is the correct shape of the cuff bit, and the purple, with the missing corner bits, is what your long pants were cut into.
What if the pants weren't tapered? Would shorts-with-cuffs work if they were cut from long flared pants? Sadly, no. The pants would be cut off in the thigh area, and even flared pants are still tapered down to the thigh, and only flare out below the knee.
Sorry, no go for cuffs.
Guess what? The same principle applies to sleeves!
Here's a sleeve pattern laid out on fabric, with the cuff allowance folded up:
Let's cut the sleeve out
and unfold the cuff part.
Do you see where we're going with this?
So here's a long sleeve that you want to cut short. You lay the short-sleeve pattern on it,
and cut it short.
And when you fold up the cuff allowance,
it doesn't work.
The moral of the story, therefore, is: only attempt cuffs if your original pants or sleeves are balloony through the thighs, so you have lots of extra side fabric to turn into the right-shape cuff allowance. Otherwise, best to stick to narrow hems, faced hems, rolled hems or frayed hems (I hear they're fashionable in denim shorts if you're still in high school, ahem).
So I hate everyone who complains that their pants are too long. I am, like 8 feet tall, and I can never find pants that are long enough to even count as deliberately fashionable the way, say, Michael Jackson's were fashionable. You can't let down a hem if there isn't any fabric to do it! You're supposed to be an expert - help!
Like, 8 feet tall.
Dear Like, 8 feet tall,
My commiserations. I know people who are so short that, after taking up their hems, they have enough leftover fabric to sew a small, matching coin purse. The world is just not a fair place, is it? You're absolutely right, though - you can't let out something that ain't there. You could add some fancy fabric to make a contrast hem band, if that's your cup of tea. Just remember to make it really contrasting, so people can tell it was not an accident. Now, if you own a serger, you might also be able to scrounge up (or down) an inch or two of extra length from the original fabric. I am probably breaking 1001 rules-of-therapy by sneaking in some self-disclosure, but nothing like
laughing at learning from the experts, eh? Let me share some photos:
My corduroy pants - behold: the fold lines from the old hem are violently obvious, but that's because they went in and out of the wash for more than a year before I buckled down and let them out. There is no folded hem now - it's just a rolled-hem edge. It bought me about 1.25" extra inches. If you do this while your pants are brand new i.e. BEFORE washing them one million times, they can look quite good. See next photo.
This is the hem of a skirt that was meant to be gathered and puffy. It was, in keeping with its design, also too short. I removed the gathers and turned it into a clean A-line skirt (long story, not relevant to this post), but here's the hem- unfolded, let down completely, and its edge rolled-hemmed.
Here's the skirt in full view - you can't see the old fold lines of the hem because (ooh, look who learned from her mistakes!) I did the hem when it was still brand new.
My husband has a polo shirt that is too long. I figured I could just take up the hem by a couple of inches, but there is a problem: the back hem is lower than the front, and there are side slits. With the higher hemline, they'll all but disappear. Is it worth the trouble to make new slits?
Sews For The Family
One question: do you love your husband? Really? How much?
OK, that's technically three questions, but listen up, because this will test the strength of your marriage.
Sometimes garments have, as part of the design, slits. These could be side slits or back slits or front slits. To take up or let down their hems, you will need to take those slits into consideration, especially if the alteration changes the length of the slit(s) so much that they look daft or disappear altogether. So you have a polo shirt that's, say, 3" too long. On the surface, it's a simple hem job - raise everything by 3" and Bob's your uncle.
But how long are those side slits? 3"? Almost, darn it. If we took the hem up high enough to obliterate the slits, the shirt would be too short. The solution - get ready for a can of worms - is to unpick the hem, unpick the slits, unpick the side seams and take in the side seams to create a wider side seam allowance to recreate brand new slits. It's like plastic surgery on clothes. The actual raising of the hemline, which is your presenting problem, will be a mere afterthought in the wake of all that.
More self-disclosure - my husband had a polo shirt that needed exactly that kind of surgery. I did it, and purely for the love of the man. So back to my question: how much do you love your husband?