The Best Way to Hem Sweatpants

Sweatpants are a casual wardrobe staple.

Photo: Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images

You might be the most put-together woman at the office, never without a manicure, perfect hair and sophisticated shoes, but come the weekend, there’s nothing like lounging around the house in a pair of comfy, cozy sweatpants. Being casual, though, is no excuse for ill-fitting clothes, so if your sweatpants are too long, you need to hem them. The task is pretty simple for anyone with basic sewing skills, but it is worth taking the time to measure, pin and sew carefully to get the hems perfect. Slightly-too-short pants are never a good look.

Supplies

Make sure you have access to a full-length mirror, and if possible, recruit a friend to help you for a few minutes. Ask a crafty friend, not the one who asks you what hemming means. It’s possible to pin your own pant legs up while looking in the mirror, but bending over distorts the shape of the pants and makes the job more difficult, so it’s useful to have an extra pair of hands for this task. You should also have a pair of shoes that you would typically wear with your sweatpants so that you can make sure the hems look right with shoes on before cutting or sewing them. Essential sewing supplies for hemming are pins, sharp fabric scissors, a measuring tape, tailor’s chalk or a fabric marker, a sewing machine and thread that matches the color of the sweatpants.

Measuring

Wear the sweatpants with shoes and stand in front of a full-length mirror. This will remind you how silly you look with extra-long sweatpants on and encourage you to get on with the task at hand. If you have a friend to help you, have her fold up the excess fabric of one of the pant legs, determine the ideal length of the pants and place a few pins through the lower part of the pant leg. If you are working alone, pin the leg up yourself, but check the length carefully in the mirror while standing up straight, and re-pin as many times as necessary until the length is perfect. You only need to pin one pant leg. Take the pants off with the pins still in place, being careful not to poke yourself, then turn them inside out.

Cutting and Pinning

With the pants spread out smoothly on the floor or a table, unfold the hems and place a few pins at the fold level (the pins act here as markers). Use tailor’s chalk or a fabric marker to draw a neat line all around the pant leg at the fold level, making sure it is perfectly straight. Now measure the length of the inseam from the crotch down to the drawn line, and use this measurement to mark a hem line around the other pant leg at the exact same level. Use sharp fabric scissors to trim the excess pant leg fabric down to 2 inches from the drawn line. Remember to hide the fabric scissors away when you are finished -- well-meaning boyfriends, children and roommates don't always understand the concept of "good scissors." Now it’s time to fold and pin the hems ready for sewing -- fold the raw, cut edge of the fabric over to meet the chalk/marker line; fold it over again to form a 1-inch, double-folded hem; place pins all the way around the hem; and repeat for the other pant leg.

Sewing

Set your sewing machine to a medium-length, medium-width zigzag stitch. A zigzag stitch is better than a straight stitch when you are sewing stretchy fabric. Place one of the pant hems under the needle, making sure there is only one layer of the hem under the needle before you start sewing. Stitching your pant leg together is guaranteed to make you feel like a fool. Start with a few backstitches to secure the stitching, and then sew slowly and carefully along the upper folded edge of the pants, just less than an inch from the new bottom of the pant leg. End with a few backstitches, then cut the excess thread. Repeat with the other pant leg.

Alternative Methods

Sewing is the best way to hem sweatpants, but if your sewing skills are not so hot and you can’t recruit a friend or family member to help, there are some alternatives. You can use fusible web tape, a special material that sticks to fabric when you press it with a hot iron. Think of it as double-sided sticky tape for fabric. Another option for non-sewers is fabric glue. Bear in mind that hems made with tape or glue will not be stretchy and may make the bottoms of your sweatpant legs look a little stiff. A better option is to take the pants to a tailor, or see if your local dry cleaner offers alteration services. For a simple job like hemming, you will get a professional finish for a minimal cost.

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