Friday, August 26, 2011

How to Take in the Legs of Jeans

I think I blinked and a month went by. So much for a productive summer. School starts in a couple weeks and I feel like I've accomplished so little this summer. Does anyone else feel like a slow moving vehicle on a Nascar track?

My kitchen cabinets still don't have all the knobs, my counters and walls still aren't painted. But life keeps getting in the way. That and Pinterest. Hello, my name is Deborah and I'm a Pintaholic.

Seriously, it's just been one thing after another. Umpteen graduations, including my son's, 3 family weddings (I only had to show up, but it does eat up the weekends), No. 2 son's birthday this week, No. 1 daughter heading back to college next weekend, and No. 1 son starting college in two weeks. Add in 8 lia sophia parties in July and one of the hottest summers on record, and I'm still reeling.

I am going to get these walls painted. I am going to get the counters done. I am going to build at least two huge cabinets in the soon to be office...I am, I am, I am!

And it's probably going to be in September, because I'm having  a big yard sale in a couple of weekends. Another reason the projects are on hold.  I've been dredging out the basement. Then it's on to the barn. Do you have any idea how much stuff can accumulate in 20 years?  I've had lots of garage sales over the where does all this stuff come from?

Before Jamie returns to school, she asked me to do some mending and alter some jeans and a dress. While the sewing machine was set up, I decided to take in the legs of a couple pair of jeans I bought at a garage sale. They were a little too flared for my taste, so I slimmed them down to a boot cut.

Since I haven't blogged a single project, let alone anything else in way too long, I decided to bore show you how I did it. It's not too hard, but it does take about an hour per leg. I only paid a dollar or two each, so I felt it was worth it to put a little time into it. Factor in that I need talls, and not many jeans fit me well, it was worth it to me.

There are a few tricks that help make the job easier and faster, so I'll share those too. Fair warning, this is a picture intensive post.

The tools and supplies you will need are:

Sewing machine (one that will handle heavy seams)
sharp sewing scissors
seam ripper
heavy duty straight pins
heavy duty thread (see below)

First I laid a pair of jeans I like on top of the new jeans. Turn them inside out and lay them so the fronts face up.  You can see that I needed to take off at least an inch from each side.

Following the line of the top jeans, pin the new jeans where you want the new seams to be.  Note where the two pair of jeans become about the same size at about the knee.  Put a pin sideways at that point on each side of the knee.  That marks the point that you will start as you taper your new seams.  Leave all these pins in until I tell you to take them out (now I sound like my daughter would say I sound like her mother ;0).  Really though, you don't want to take them out too soon, or you won't know where to stitch later.

The supervisor put his foot down (almost on a pin!).  No work goes on without him overseeing it!

Work can commence!  Before commencing however, you will need some heavy duty thread.  You can buy "jean thread," but the colors are very limited and it's expensive.  I wanted a thread to match the original topstitching on my jeans.  I used regular "heavy duty" thread, by Coats and Clark.  I can't remember the color name, but the color number is 8530.  It looks like this:


First you need to let the hem out about 3 inches on each side of the seams. The toughest spot to cut is at the seams.  You may need to slip your seam ripper under the hem at each seam and gently cut the stitches from underneath.  Be careful not to cut the fabric.

If you want to rip the whole hem out and resew it later, you can.  It might be faster than the way I did it.  Instead I used the following method.  On each side of the seam, I used my seam ripper to carefully pull each stitch out, without cutting the thread.  I pried the stitch up with the back of my seam ripper, or with a pencil if I felt it was going to snap. 

When I got about 3 inches away from the seam I stopped and left the threads intact.   There will be a piece of hem thread on each side of the hem like this:

Don't cut those threads.  You will be knotting them later.  For now, just leave them, in case you need to take out a few more stitches.  Unroll the hem like this:

There are usually two different types of seams on a pair of jeans.  The inside seam is usually a normal straight seam with no topstitching.  The outside seam usually has the more decorative topstitching and is often a flat felled seam.  The pair of jeans I am showing today do not have a flat felled seams.  I will post how to stitch a flat felled seam later.  Whether you have flat felled seams or not, you will still follow most of directions in this post.  Here is a good description of a flat felled seam.

The edges are also finished using a factory zigzag stitch.  All these seams need to be ripped out up to the knee or wherever you put the pins at the point you want to start tapering the leg.  Be sure to clip the seam about 1/4 inch under that pin so you don't end up pulling out more seam than you intended.

Most jeans seams are looped seams that will pull out fairly easily when clipped at the right spot and on the right end.  It works like a potato sack; when you find the right thread to pull, you can pull the whole seam out at once.  The trick is finding the right thread. I have a very sophisticated method...not!  I just snip a little at each end of my seam and start pulling threads to try to find it.  If it doesn't work, I just snip again and I always find it.  Once you find it, it's like magic!

The finished zigzag edge is more of a pain.  I've found the easiest way to deal with it is to use my seam ripper to rip through the outer edge like so:

Then I just rip out the rest of it however works best, either with the seam ripper or scissors.  Now both seams should be open.  You will see that the back leg is wider than the front leg.  It is important that when you take up the leg, you keep it that way, or you will have a seam that ends up twisted towards the front or back.  The back leg will be about a 1/2" to 3/4" wider than the front on each side. 

You first want to work on the outer seam.  This is the seam that has topstitching on the outside, and is sometimes flat felled.  First, iron the front leg down along the pinned line.  It will gradually taper off toward the knee. This is where your new seam will be on the front leg.  Open it back out.  You will have a visible crease to mark where the new seam will be.

Open the front seam back out and trim about 1/2" away from the crease.  It should taper towards the knee, eventually  running back into the original seam.

Next trim the back leg about 1/2" away from the front leg. Repeat this procedure on the other seam (the inside seam).  Now you can take your pins out.

At this point, if you have a flat felled seam, you will skip the next step.   I will post how to handle a flat felled seam later.

Starting at the knee, repin the front and back legs together, matching the edge of the seams.  Remember, the back leg is larger, so be sure you aren't pinning a crease into it. 

Starting at the bottom of the leg, resew the outside leg seam following your crease line from ironing, tapering into the original seam at the knee.  Back stitch. At this point I rezigzag the edges so they don't fray. 

To reduce bulk in the hem at the seam, clip the bottom of the hem as follows:

First clip along the bottom most creased line of the hem.  Clip towards the seam to about 1/8 inch from the seam stitching. 

Next clip up from the bottom of the hem along the seam line, again 1/8 inch from the seam.  You are cutting a bit of bulk from the hem. so that when you turn it up to sew, it won't be quite so thick.

You should now have a L-shaped "bite" out of the hem like this:

Before sewing the inside seam, you'll want to topstitch this seam first.  It's much easier while the other seam is still open.  Open up the legs and iron the seam you just stitched, making sure it's not twisted.




Starting at the knee, where the original stitching stops, topstitch the new seam.  You can either backstitch a couple of stitches or leave your starting threads long, pull them to the inside, knot and clip.  Stitch all the way to the bottom of the hem.

Now you are ready to stitch the inside leg seam.  Pin and trim your seam like you did for the outside seam. Stitch and zigzag the raw edges like you did with the first seam.  Iron the seam flat, again without twisting it.

Finally it's time to resew the hem.  Iron the seam, folding it back up on the original folds.   If you took the whole hem out, start sewing near the inside seam, just on one side of it.  I don't like to start on the seam itself because it is so bulky.  The reason I start at the inside seam is that when I get back to my starting point, I backstitch to lock the threads.  That backstitch will show, but won't be noticed on the inside of the leg.

If you only took out part of the hem you need to find the threads that you pulled out earlier.  Remember these?

You are going to pull the thread on the outside of the hem to the inside.  To do that, gently tug on the inside thread.  You may need to pull it to the left and right a couple times, but you should see a loop pull up at the base of the thread.  That is the thread from the other side.

Insert your seam ripper into that loop, but be sure to keep the cutting blade facing down, using the back of the seam ripper to gently pry that loop up.  You don't want to cut it.  You could also use a knitting needle or pencil to pry it up.

Pull it all the way through.  Tie the two threads in a knot.  I like to tie the knot three times to make sure it won't pull out.  Then snip the threads, leaving about 1/4 inch tails.  If you snip too close to the knot, it might pull out.

Repeat on the other 3 sets of threads (two for each seam).  You are ready to stitch the hem back up.  Insert your machine needle one or two stitches from the knot, into the original stitching like this:

Leave extra long thread as you will be knotting these the same way you just did.

Keep your thread pulled taut so that it doesn't get tangled underneath.  Stitch until you reach the next stitches, then stitch two more stitches. 

Pull jeans away from the machine, and clip the threads, leaving a long enough tail to be able to tie a knot.  Pull these threads through to the inside and knot just like you did previously.

The advantage of pulling all these threads through and knotting them, is that you get a seamless look on the outside.  As you can see below, you can barely see where the original thread starts and the new begins.  The seam ripper is pointing to the spot where they meet.  If you choose to skip all this, and just rip out the whole seam, be sure to start and backstitch your hem near the inside seam to hide the backstitching.

There you have it.  You can see the before and after in the photo below. 

I've linked this post to these parties.  Be sure to pay them a visit for tons of great ideas!

Wow us Wednesdays at Savvy Southern Style
Sundae Scoop at I Heart Naptime


  1. Woow... It was a really great job!!!
    Pants now look wonderful!
    Thank you sharing with us this beautiful work!

    I want a nice weekend:)

  2. This is a fantastic tutorial! I remember my mother teaching me to do this when I was a new bride. It was so cool to be able to buy thrift store jeans and make them stylish again. Great tute, and great photos!

  3. Thank you!! Took in my skinny sons baggy mc hammer dress pants!!

  4. Brilliant Deborah! Funny and light hearted! I'm definitley going to try this method, just because you say sew ( Pun intended) I too am a pinaholic!

  5. Thank you! Excellent explanations and great pictures!

  6. Thank you for the step by step lesson, I really like this kind of how to method, easier for a beginner like me, keep it up, Thank you

  7. You did a Beverly Hills taylor job.
    Excellent tutorial.
    Keeping the original thread is so important to preserve the beauty of a pair of jeans. I removed the yellow mellow thread, soak it in water, iron it and wind a bobbin with it. Puff puff!


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