How do I get myself into these messes?

Hemming jeans. It didn’t start out so good:


All that to loosen the needle clamp screw*!

I swear it was tightened like the Jaws of Life! I tried to loosen it with a screwdriver, but eventually had to put a piece of fabric over it and go at it with pliers. It was SO frustrating. But finally I changed out the regular needle and put in the Schmetz Jeans needle.

Then I took an old pair of jeans destined for the trash and practiced on them with this new needle. Here are the results:


I’m quite happy with the way the hem looks across the side seams and in the middle.

Let me tell you a bit about how I got here, and ask for more advice.

Continue with the extended entry to read more.

I folded down the new hem and basted it into place. Then I ironed the hem, and bashed it with a hammer to flatten the areas where the side seams are incorporated into the hem. I sewed with the right side facing me, and placed a piece of tape on the needle plate* to indicate the proper distance from the edge. Still, I had some close calls, and some calls which weren’t close at all:


Either (1) I failed follow the taped guideline, or (2) my basting was a bit off in those sections, or (3) I sewed too close to the fold generally speaking, so it was bound to happen. Or a combination of the three.

I had to increase the upper thread tension* from the factory setting of “4” to the max, “9”, in order to keep the top thread from making big loops on the bottom of the fabric. I feel that even “9” is not enough. Any comments/suggestions?

As for the side seams, the bottom line is that there was no way for my machine to sew through three folds of such thick fabric. Although I tried, I tried hard.

For starters, it wouldn’t really fit under the presser foot* – I could squeeze it in there after a good bashing with the hammer, but it was too high of a stack to move (remind you of anything? I should’ve tried a hammer on that piece of shit, hehe.). Even if I could force it to move and/or released the presser foot, I had to turn the handwheel* with all my might, which caused a nasty blister on the inside of my right thumb (ouch!). A blister wouldn’t have stopped me if I was getting good results, but I wasn’t – the fabric wasn’t moving, it was getting stuck, the thread was tangling, and I was frustrated to no extent.

I definitely dig the concept of a hump jumper, and I used my own version (just some denim folded up) to prop up the back of the presser foot when approaching the hump. But once I was there, I had bigger fish to fry, like the whole thing getting stuck and not moving.

So, what was my solution? To fold the fabric only once and sew through only two layers of the seam:


This went very smoothly, no problems at all. But I don’t know if this is good enough. Is this construction, with some of the fabric fully folded under and other fabric folded only once, asking for trouble? Will it come apart? Will it fray? Should I do a zigzag just on that part of the edge before hemming it down? Should I try other things to sew through three layers, like releasing the presser foot? I don’t know about that last one since nothing would move even with the presser foot fully released.

I really want some jeans in time for the start of the school year!

*You betcha I wrote this entire entry with the sewing machine manual firmly placed in my lap, just as I would hold a dictionary were I writing in Spanish or French… ’cause you know I’m clueless when it comes to the bits and pieces.


23 thoughts on “How do I get myself into these messes?

  1. LORi

    I’ve been sewing since I was 5 or 6, and I’ve certainly sewn my share of jeans hems. I just wanted to let you know you’re doing a fantastic job, especially for someone who claims to be terrible at sewing… in fact, you seem to be becoming quite the knowledgeable seamstress!

    Sewing is like gluing in kindergarten – it usually takes less to hold two pieces together than you’d expect. Your hem will hold just fine, and looks very good too. Seriously, how many times do you find yourself closely inspecting the hem of other peoples’ pants (until lately, anyway)? And your idea with keeping the seam at only 2 layers seems to work very well; it will not unravel or anything, if that’s what you’re worried about.

    Great job! I’ve been enjoying your blog for about a week and wanted to add my two cents…

  2. jody

    I agree with Lori — the hem looks great. The part that’s only folded once might fray a tiny bit but probably not alot. If you’re really worried about it you could dab a little “Fray Check” on it (you can buy it in any sewing store). It’s basically a liquid that dries somewhat hard. It’s similar to dabbing nail polish on a run in a stocking.

  3. Sue

    Kathy, After reading all about your hemming struggles I would venture to guess the problem is your sewing machine. Are you using the heavy ‘jeans’ orange/gold thread? If so, your sewing maching might not be powerful enough to sew with that heavy thread thru multiple layers of denim. Bravo to you for getting as far as you did with that hem. I would recommend going to a sewing/fabric store and buy a little bottle of FrayCheck and applying to to any raw edge that is exposed and then call those jeans hemmed. That link you had in your comments (the ‘jeans’ blog entry) about Hemming Jeans the Cool Way works too. I tried it and liked the results but now it seems the link is gone. That method preserved the existing hem so you don’t have to use that heavy jeans thread in your hemming. Good luck

  4. Liz Cadorette

    Kathy, your jeans look great! Brava to you for getting through the beastly seam bits. I sew corsets for renaissance faires, and try doing four layers of heavy fabric around steel? NOT. FUN. 🙂

    That being said, I think your solution was lovely — if you are really concerned about the hem coming undone, I would get some nice wide satin ribbon and fuseable hem tape — apply the ribbon over top of your seam via iron and fusible tape, and it should hold indefinitely. 🙂 (Should being the operative word in that sentence)

  5. Judy

    I hate sewing machines — or rather, they hate me. Looks to me like your hem is done, though, and I doubt it will ravel. Ditto on the Fray Check if you’re worried about it, though.

    In the Grumperina spirit, I have a pictorial essay on mending a dropped stitch in a sock on my blog today. 🙂

  6. Rosa

    I think you did great. Some machines just have trouble going over large thicknesses of fabric. I have an old Singer that sews like a dream and a brand new Kenmore that can only make light things.

    If you are concerned with the stitch coming undone where the bulky parts are, then I would “stitch in the the ditch” in the areas of the last photo. Stitching in the ditch means sewing (tacking) where there is already vertical stitches. You would just sew over those in the very spot where it has been sewn by the manufacturer; the original stitches would camouflage your stitches. I hope I am making sense. Good luck

  7. Kathy

    I’ll just echo everyone else. Most likely your machine isn’t *quite* up to doing jeans hems easily. It can still be done – here is proof! – but it takes a bit of finageling and elbow grease. The best way I have found to coax a wimpy machine through multiple layers is to manually scootch the fabric forward a little (the feed dog will be completely overwhelmed so don’t rely on it during very thick, heavy spots) then turn the wheel to get the needle through all layers. Scootch the fabric forward a wee bit again, rinse, repeat. It’s usually only 3-4 stitches that need special treatment on each seam, so it’s not a lot of extra effort. Hump jumpers are also great, though if you’re not doing a lot of sewing that calls for one I wouldn’t bother.

    The seams you have will hold just fine and heavy denim barely ravels at all so I wouldn’t bother with zigzagging on the raw edges. In the future, I’d suggest setting the topstitching a bit further away from the inside fold of the hem. That close it’s just about impossible to catch all stitches unless you have the folded side up while sewing.

  8. Colleen

    Yeah, I would say that you did a fantastic job. The straight lines of the topstitch thread: beauty!

    If you’re concerned about the fraying, you could do the fray check mentioned above, but I think that the line of thread running through that fabric will stop any fraying beyond that point.

  9. Stephanie

    And you said you couldn’t sew. Hmmm. Sure looks to me like you do just fine. I can’t really add anything to what the more experienced people have said, but I can tell you that Fray Check is a wonderful thing. It’s the only thing that works on Travis’ pants when I patch them – makes the patches last longer than 2 weeks. Are you going to model the newly hemmed pants for us?

  10. Alexandra

    The fact that you had to increase the upper thread tension so much says something’s screwy in the bobbin case/shuttle. The needle and bobbin threads need to be held under nearly equal tension to make balanced stitching, and that tension needs to be relatively looser with heavy thread and fabric. Here, the bobbin thread is under tight tension because it’s thicker than normal thread, causing loops, so you tightened upper tension to even it out. That could contribute to your problems sewing over the seams; with both upper and lower threads under tight tension and sewing through heavy fabric the needle mechanism can’t move freely. I would try using the jeans thread in the needle only and normal thread in the bobbin. (It is possible to adjust the bobbin tension to use heavy thread but a pain in the arse getting it back to normal.)

  11. Anna

    Hemming jeans is no easy feat–for a sewer, or a sewing machine. It takes a tough machine to get through denim, especially over the seam. I think you did a great job.

  12. cheryl

    The jeans look great! I am a very experienced sewer, and they are as good as I can make them on my best day! I don’t think that those side seams are going anywhere, however, you might occasionaly have a thread hanging if you don’t use the Fray Check. Nice hem!

  13. Linda

    Sorry, no advice. I take my jeans to the tailor to be hemmed. But I think your hem looks great, and I don’t think its a problem that the side seam is only folded once. The stitches will stop the fraying. I think.

  14. Eve

    I hem my jeans inside-out and the heavy jeans thread in the bobbin only (regular thread on top). This means I’ll always catch the hem all the way around and the machine doesn’t have to deal the heavy thread going through the contortions up top and through the needle.

    Sometimes you can get the needle through if you hand turn the machine over the seams. On my old machine, I had to cut out that third layer of seam. The layers are so thick that the fraying doesn’t go anywhere.

  15. Martha

    You are my inspiration–I just bought a new pair of jeans that have to be hemmed and I was debating how to approach it. Thanks for all the tips! I think it looks great. The side seam spots might fray a bit but the Fray Check is a superb suggestion (I’ll have to pick up some of that myself!) I think you and I must have the same machine–every time I sew, the tension is wonky and has to be severely adjusted. It’s as emotional as a teenage girl, my sewing machine.

  16. Laurie

    I laughed at your method of using a hammer. Very resourceful!

    I usually cut away the bulky part of the seam so that there’s only 1 thickness of it. And I overcast that edge so it doesn’t fray.

    But you did a wonderful job.

    I have about 7 pair of capri pants, waiting to be hemmed. I’m only 5’2″ so the “normal” length makes them look like flood pants, on me.

    But, summer is almost over. Guess I’ll let them sit until next year! Maybe I won’t even fit in them by next year!

  17. Cindy

    Your jeans look great, but you might want to know how I hem them. With 3 teenagers, I have hemmed many pairs of jeans. I turn the jeans inside out, measure and turn up the amount to be hemmed and press while measuring. Pressing clearly marks the future hemline. Then I cut the excess fabric, leaving a little less than 1/2″ from the foldline. I open the hem out and zigzag closely over the raw edge. Then I turn the single layer of fabric back up at the pressed line, and sewing from the wrong side (which makes the bobbin thread what shows on the right side, so be sure to have the color thread you want to see in the bobbin), I stitch the single layer hem, using one of the guides on the plate (or tape as you did, if there are no guides). They look great. Nobdoy knows I didn’t turn up the hem twice and it’s much easier to get a straight hem only turning up once. As long as the “extra” fabric above the stitching (on the inside) is less than the distance from the stitching to the new hemline, you will never see that extra fabric, even if the fabric falls downward. I even do dress pants this way now. It’s even nicer when you have a serger to finish the edge, but not everyone does. Good luck.

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