Downtown – no finer place, for sure

Downtown – everything’s waiting for you

(I would’ve never known this song if it weren’t for Seinfeld)

For me, going downtown is a bad idea on two accounts: first, it’s bad for my health. Tourists keeps the city buzzing, but when they block sidewalk traffic not to sightsee, not to buy souvenirs, but to take pictures of squirrels, my blood pressure either jumps to 160/100 or drops to 75/50, I swear! Second, it’s bad for my wallet, because they have jeans that fit. At least for the most part.

I won’t mention how much I spent on these, but I’ll say that I threw out four pairs of ratty jeans last week, and two of them I’ve had for at least 5 years. My jeans wear out on the bum, most often, and that’s one of those things that, once it happens, there’s nothing I can do but to toss them.

And now, exhibits A, B, and C:


Can I get a Schei?e! in here?!?

Okay, typically I would, on my own, mark how much I need taken off, and take them to the tailor. $18/pair later, I’d be all set. But I think I can do this myself, no? I have the good scissors, a decent sewing machine, a chalk wheel and a ruler, and even spools of matching top stitch thread (the Gütermann brand, no joking around!). When I’m feeling particularly lucid (particularly lucid), I can even thread the machine without checking the manual.

I don’t care enough to do that thing where you detach the hem and then reattach it; I’d prefer to make entirely new hems – since I wear jeans every day, they get the “worn-out” look soon enough. I think that maybe the first thing I need to do is launder these, so that they settle in and shrink as they may.

And then…

HELP! Please! Any special tricks for sewing denim? Especially with contrasting thread, I need the stitches to look as perfect as I can get ’em!

You know what I’ll do? For starters, I’ll take yet another old pair destined to join the other four in the trash and practice on it. Brilliant 😉


29 thoughts on “Downtown – no finer place, for sure

  1. Carolyn

    I hate joining the old hem…no way for me. Just make a new one. Sure, practise, get the look you want. My machine doesn’t do anything fancy…so it’s on the straight and narrow for me. No one really sees…unless you do some wonky hem job. I am constantly doing my DH’s because of his short legs…

  2. Alexandra

    Denim needles are your friend. Don’t even bother with a normal size 14, it will break.

    If you have the sort of machine with an adjustable pressure foot mechanism, lessen the pressure and the layers of denim will feed more easily. If you can’t do that, don’t worry about it.

    Loosen the upper tension a little when working with topstitching thread, since it’s thicker than regular thread.

    Lastly, don’t freak out. You can’t hurt denim, even if you have to rip out some stitches.:-)

  3. claudia

    Considering what those jeans probably cost, the practice pair is an excellent plan!

    And I second the comment advocating a jeans needle.

  4. olivia

    Do it really, really slowly, maybe even by detatching the belt thing that runs the needle and turning the wheel by hand. And definitely wash first, it softens them up. Sometimes I baste it by hand first (after washing)– it’s much less stressful that way.

  5. Agnes

    As far as I know from my mother’s experience, you need a special needle to create the stitches you see on jeans. Ordinary needles creates stitches that are too closely packed. Good luck.

  6. V.

    All that’s been said(practice, wash + denim needle), plus make sure your stitch length and tension is correct. You’ll need something to get over the multiple thicknesses where the hem meets the seam – you could buy a hump jumper, but I’ve always just folded paper and placed it under the back of the presser foot to level it out:

  7. Jenifer

    Without having read the previous comments, I’ll say that I have a really nice sewing machine that I bought before I learned how much money I could spend on yarn, and when sewing denim, I’d definitely pin it to death (helps to keep it even), and use a nice sturdy needle (mine tend to break on denim). Having said that, I have no denim karma to offer you. Sorry. Good luck! You’re smart to practice! (But we all knew that.)

  8. Heather

    Are you doing a single row or a double row. You can get denim double needles and it creates that oh so perfectly symmetrical finished final look. You’ll do great. And as long as you cut them at the right length, you can always tear out your stitching and try again if you don’t like the way they turn out.

  9. Susan

    When I was in college, there was a version that went something like:

    “When you’ve got finals and a paper due Monday you can always go


    When the parties are dying but you are still flying you can always go


    So now that’s what the song always reminds me of.

  10. Rosa

    1. jeans needle (everyone is so right).

    2. jeans thread to match the color of the other thread (if you like, you can buy that anywhere that sells thread–even Walmart)

    3. Stitch Witchery Hemming bonder thing. It basically allows you to iron onto the jean, take off label, fold over, iron again making hem. Then you can (without witchery) fold again and make the hem you like and press with iron. You can use the stich witchery again on the second fold to hold before you sew. You have a chance to try it on without the pain of poking yourself with pins. I would turn pants inside out first.

    4. Keep inside out, so that you can you can make sure you are sewing around in the same vicinity. Place jeans at needle and mark on machine or sewing plate where you want the end of the jeans to be while you sew for consistent sewing. It is a nice guide so as not to veer off and make sloppy stitches.

    Good luck.

    5. Then sew around by taking the extension plate off your sewing machine to allow for comfortable sewing.

  11. CatBookMom

    I think your commenter Alexandra has it right – for denim you need a heavier needle and patience with the presser foot. And Mint seems to have pointed you to a tutorial – god, how much help the Internet is, on so many of life’s problems!!

    I used to just give up and pay the $18 to get someone else to have to wrestle with the *&#$%# denim in three layers!!

  12. sara

    You’ve got a lot of good advice above. When you’re practicing, keep in mind that you’ll likely go over 7 layers of denim when hemming jeans: three layers on most of the hem, add 2 seam allowances doubled on the hem for another 4 on the sides.

  13. Saun

    One tip. Instead of folding the hem in twice, fold it once to the length you want and iron it well. Then trim the hem edge so it is a half inch longer than where you want the stitch line to go. Unfold and then zig-zag stitch the edge (just the single layer) to keep it from fraying. Refold and then sew the hem with the right side facing you. That way you can see the stitches that everyone else will see and make sure they are straight. What the inside stitches look like are irrelevant.

  14. Nancy

    Everyone’s advice is good.Definately use a jean/denim needle. Use a regular jean-color-matched thread in the bobbin. Make a hump-jumper out of scrap denim or cardboard. Biggest industry secret…. After folding up your hem before sewing use a HAMMER to pound that baby flat.It “tenderizes” the layers and seams of denim really well and makes the sewing go like butta’.

  15. Christina

    Buy an extra jeans needle. Because, if you’re like me, you’ll break the first. Just saying, so you don’t have to go to le Wal-Marte two times.

  16. AmyP

    Sorry to repeat but: buy a jeans needle. And sew slooooooowly. Take your time. I didn’t and I ended up with a tangled, wobbly mess!

  17. Winnie

    Definitely use a jeans needle. Practicing on the old pair is a great idea. I always end up seaming jeans for DH. Iron the hem, pin it up and sew. Good Luck!

  18. Diana

    I have little to add in the way of how-to-hem-jeans, but just want to express my LOVE for too-long pants. As a quasi-tall person, most of my pants end up just a little bit on the short side. Your photos remind me of really comfy jeans.

    After hemming, how about a light brushing with sand paper to expedite the worn-in look?

  19. Stephanie

    This hemming jeans thing is completely new to me. What’s the inseam on those pants – if it’s 34″ or more I’m ordering some today? Never had a pair of pants in my entire life that needed hemmed so I can’t help you on that front, but it sounds like you got a lot of sound advise.

  20. Sarah

    Gosh, doesn’t anthro just kill you!! I could honestly buy everything everytime I go in there. And they do stock killer jeans. I have a huge problem buying jeans as well. The butt’s never big enough or the waist band sticks out or, or, or, or… My particular fave are AG jeans, which I’m sure you know how much THOSE cost!!! And they’re always a foot too long on me too. I usually end up buying them at Nordstrom though, who hem for free. Couldn’t tell you how to hem, just thought I’d sympathize 🙂

    p.s. Have you tried Gap’s new curvy girl jeans?? FAB! And for only $40. It’s worth a shot.

  21. MJ

    I get kind of lazy and just fold up the legs. Sorry I’m not any help Grumpy! But Nancy’s hammer to the hem trade secret sounds interesting, doesn’t it?

  22. Vicki Stammer

    1. Hold out for using a jeans needle. It has a different point that pierces the denim more effectively than even heavy (size 16 or 18) needles do. You can order one from Nancy’s Notions if you can’t locate them in your area.

    2. When you approach a seam, if you do not buy a hump jumper or use a wad of fabric, go slowly (maybe even turning your wheel by hand for a few stitches) and prress down on the BACK of your presser foot. What you are doing is keeping the foot level to the feed dogs. This will help keep your stitches the same lencth through the thickness changes.

    3. If you’ve already cut off the excess of your new jeans, use the scraps to practice. If your discards are still around, you can practice on them as well.

    Nice to see that someone else still sews. Much luck!


  23. Laura Neal

    Good luck on hemming, it is an experience that is well, not a good one to have to deal with. It bites!! I beg family members who can sew so much better than I to do my hemming, you should see my version of hemming, what a laugh. I have a family member who asked me once to hem his jeans and now he calls them his Frankenstein jeans. What does that tell you? Hee hee!! ;b

  24. patricia

    wash and dry ’em twice first is my only advice.

    That’s what I do before I take them to the tailor.

  25. Heidi S.

    Hi, I’m a first time commenter & want to say I really enjoy your blog. I haven’t tried this method myself, but it looks interesting (follow the link from figandplum to Z. Cavaricci). It demonstrates a way to hem jeans while preserving the original hem – I’m not sure how obvious the extra seam will be. But it looks like something you can try first & if you don’t like it, just rip it out without any damage done.

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