Denim - Page 3

Denim-related post. Learn things, see things.

How to hem a t-shirt video cover photo shows the hem being cut off the bottom of a white t-shirt.

How to hem a t-shirt professionally

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We take a quick and humorous look at the alterations process of hemming a t-shirt. Those looking to shorten the length of a tee or lightweight knit shirt that’s too long, or simply trying to restyle the look, should have a peek at this new tutorial video “how to hem a t-shirt.”

A short video that explains how to hem a t-shirt
close-up example of a chain stitching and selvedge at denim jeans hem
Close-up photo shows chain stitching on the hem of a pair of selvedge denim jeans.

What is chain stitch hemming?

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Chain stitching is a type of stitch produced by a sewing or embroidery machine. The name chain stitch comes from its looped chain-link-like appearance. In sewing, a chain stitch has a single stitch line on the top side and a looped chain-like stitch on the bottom side.

Single, double, and triple-needle chain stitching is popular in denim clothing and similarly constructed garments. It is usually found on high-stress seams which often incur stretchings such as the center seat seams, yokes, panel seams, inseams, and waistbands. The triple-needle is more often used in workwear.

Tension in the stitch pulls the fabric into a slight pucker, allowing a bit of stretching. A favorite in garment manufacturing because it provides a strong durable stitch that can easily be undone if needed. The tension creates a decorative puckering effect which is especially visible on denim seams and hems, as the fabric shows signs of aging, washing, and wear.

What is hemming?

Hemming is the sewing process of shortening the length or finishing the bottom edge on a pair of jeans or pants. Hemming uses a method of double folding into itself the raw fabric edge of the leg openings to make a clean smooth edge.

What is chain stitch hemming?

Chain stitch hemming is when a pair of jeans or pants are hemmed with a chain stitch sewing machine. The hem of most jeans is traditionally sewn with chain stitching about 1/2″ above the bottom edge. Some makers choose to make the height of the hem taller or shorter as a choice of design aesthetic. The below photo is an example of a chain-stitched hem with a traditional-sized hem.

Example of chain stitching on the hem of a pair of selvedge denim jeans
Example of chain stitching on the hem of a pair of selvedge denim jeans

Why are some jeans made with a regular stitch at the hem?

We see jeans without chain stitching predominantly in the work of novice denim brands or designers inexperienced in the category of denim. However, being a neophyte is not the rule as seen on the below hem of Levi’s jeans. Even the biggest most celebrated brands sometimes use factories accustomed to producing low-end / discount denim and commonly disregard chain stitching if not a design decision.

Lock stitched Levi's jeans made without a chain stitched hem
Lock stitched hem on lower price range Levi’s jeans
APC selvedge jeans with wide lock-stitched hem
APC selvedge jeans with wide lock-stitched hem

To be clear, we don’t know why any brand would purposely choose to use a regular stitch at the hem, especially if they are well-established denim brands, however, some are known to do so. Take A.P.C. for example, which is a major French brand that has a generally well-educated denim customer base and has been pretty successful in making jeans for a long time. They purposely choose to go with a hem fold that is larger than most jeans, plus use a single needle stitch (trouser styled). This is obviously an aesthetic choice.

That said, customers that send us A.P.C. jeans for hemming or tapering, almost always request traditional chain stitching and hem size. Very rarely do our alteration customers request trouser-styled hem construction, which may be an insight into the thinking of U.S. enthusiasts.

Photo shows what is a original hem alteration
Close-up of an original hem alteration

Avoid original hem alterations

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An Original Hem alteration. What is it? And, why you should stay away from this type of hemming alteration.

People often fall for this alteration because they like the washed or worn edge on the hem and believe it will be lost while shorting their jeans. Most choose the Original Hem alteration because a tailor or seamstress offers the option, or they learned of this novel alteration that touts keeping the tattered hem by cutting it away and reattaching it to the jeans.

Tattered washed hem edge removed from jeans in order to reattach it when performing an Original Hem alteration
The leg opening from an Original Hem alteration

ORIGINAL HEM ALTERATIONS – DON’T DO IT!

First of all, it’s cheesy, hacky, corny, wack… There are many ways to describe this bad idea. We get lots of jeans from those who tried this alteration with requests to have their jeans rehabilitated and hemmed with traditional chain stitching. A word of advice, don’t waste your time and money damaging your jeans or wearing this embarrassing look.

Close-up of light washed jeans with original hem alterations
Close-up of light-washed jeans with less flexible original hem alterations

Patience pays off. There is really no reason to hack up your jeans. If you wash and wear regularly, the wavy lines and abrasion highlights will return to jeans after traditional chain stitch hemming. If you want to speed up the process or have a lot of shredding, try roughing up the edges of the hems with sandpaper, an electric grinder, or cut them up with a sharp blade.

To fix bad hemming, the original hem has to be cut away or opening -up, depending on sewing construction.
This cleaner sewn version was sent in for removal. The customer said it was annoying to wear, like a ring around their ankle.

Tailors and seamstresses use multiple techniques to make original hems. The results in our opinion are all bad. In every approach, a seamline is added where there was none before, losing the flexibility of the original leg bottom. Layers of fabrics are sewn together and create a stiff, unsightly, (depending on how heavy the fabric or which method is used) uncomfortable line above the new hem. Other less stiff techniques leave the inside of the jeans looking so hideous, that you would never want to turn up the jeans to make a cuff. Also, if you don’t tack the hem down (which leaves additional visible stitch lines) the hem can flip up exposing the embarrassing-looking sewing construction.

Mangled insides exhibited on Gustin selvedge jeans that are badly tailored with an Original Hem alteration
Example of a bad tailoring technique with an original hem alteration on Gustin selvedge jeans.
3-needle chain stitched tapering of Carhartt work pants before and after photos

Tapering Carhartt & other work pants

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You love work pants but wish they came with a modern fit for casual wear. Here we explain the step-by-step process that went into tapering a pair of triple-needle flat-felled chain-stitched inseam Carhartt carpenter pants from a 20-inch wide leg, down to a 15-inch opening.

It’s a job that not many tailors or alterations services do because of the skill and equipment needed. As a denim factory with all the heavy-duty machinery required to deal with triple-needle stitching at both the out-seam and inseam of work pants, one can argue our added enhancements look better than the original manufacturing.

The tapering process

Step – 1: Inseam length

In the above before & after photo, you can note the lines drawn above the hem of the pants. It marks the requested inseam length. 1-inch is added to account for the two 1/2-inch folds of the hem.

The hem of pants are cut 1-inch longer than the request inseam length

From the start, we cut the inseam to match the customer’s requested inseam length. However, the inseam always grows during the sewing process when we put the inseam back together. The fabric stretches while being pulled through the flat-felled sewing machine. Pressing at the end of sewing also causes the fabric fibers to flatten and grow. We leave the length as-is, which is usually longer, anticipating the pants to relax back into place after wash and wear.

Step – 2: Undo the inseam

The requested inseam for this pant was 28-inches. After cutting the pants down to the new length, plus 1-inch, we pull the chain stitching apart at the inseam. This is a fairly quick process. For factories, the chain stitch is the strongest, and most effortless to pull apart in cases when re-sewing is needed.

The 3-needle inseam stitching of carpenter pants is taken apart

Step – 3: Re-Draft leg shape

The pants are opened and placed on the table to re-draft the leg shape. The leg of this Carhartt carpenter initially measured 20-inches in total circumference. The customer requested to bring it down to 15-inches.

Carhartt work pants are opened to re-draft the leg shape for tapering.

Below, note the leg opening measurement is 16 1/8 inches. 1 1/8-inches is added for seam allowance. In the photo above, markings for the knee can be seen. It highlights the area where we make the turn towards the crotch.

Close-up of leg opening measuring shows how to taper the leg of the pants.

Step – 4: Sewing

Finally, using the three-needle flat-felled sewing machine, the inseam is closed, and the hem is chain-stitched with a Union Special sewing machine. Last, the garment is pressed and packed for shipping back to the customer.

Under our alterations services menu, we offer triple-needle taperingDouble-needle, and single-needle tapering services. We charge slightly more for triple-needle work because of the machine set-up and change-over.

Bad DIY lockstitch hemming done by home sewing machine
Example of poor quality DIY lockstitch hemming done by home sewing machine.

Fixing Tailor’s & DIY Hemming Mistakes

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We fix a lot of professional tailor shops and DIY home sewing machine hemming jobs. People learn the hard way that home sewing machines aren’t up to standard when working with denim and then send jeans to us for re-hemming. The thick seamlines are just too much for most domestic machines, so we often find thin broken needles stuck inside of hems.

Others discover that the difference between the quality of denim alterations from a suit tailor or local cleaners, and us is like night and day. That’s because the heavyweight fabric requires specialized machines and the workmanship required for denim is worlds apart from suits, fine trousers, dresses, and style of garments commonly worked on at most tailoring shops.

Lockstitch sewing on selvedge denim jeans hem
Lockstitch hemming is often what you get at Cleaners or Professional Tailoring shops.

Hems are commonly sewn with chain stitching at jeans factories. Most professional tailors will try to hem jeans on single-needle lockstitch machines, but they often can’t handle the thick fabric or seams. Again, home sewing machines aren’t nearly capable.

Chainstitch vs lockstitch hemming
Example of chainstitch vs lockstitch hemming compared. Chain stitching at the top of the photo, lockstitching at the bottom.

When it comes to stitching sizes, professional tailors will use threads that are a little heavier than the small thread sizes which must be used in domestic machines. But still, they usually don’t stock the thicker thread sizes commonly used with denim. The difference is plain to see when it comes to jeans- have them professionally altered by a denim specialist.

Guide showing the key hemming and tapering points in jeans

A detailed guide for hemming jeans and tapering them to perfection

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How to taper and hem a size 30x36 jean to size 30x28

When smaller and mid-sized denim brands manufacture jeans, they try to cover a wide range of customers by producing jeans as long as 34 to 36 inches. For those who have to shorten jeans or pants offered by most better producers, we would like to share this example of how to hem a pair of jeans and achieve the original optimal fit through the leg shape.

Graphic shows hemming jeans size 30x34 to 30x28 with added tapering
  • A – The leg opening is also known as the hem. The inseam of this jean originally measured 34-inches long.
  • B – Hemming is shortening the inseam length. These jeans have been hemmed to measure 28-inches in length. The leg opening appears slightly smaller at this point in the photo, however, with added tapering, the hem has been trimmed to the original size. It is only because the width of a tapered pant gets larger the higher up you go. The raised leg opening looks smaller at this point as compared with the original width.
  • C – This is the original knee position of the uncut 34-inseam leg (12 ½ ” below the crotch). The knee is where the leg circumference begins enlargement into the thigh. Without raising the knee position on shortened jeans, the area around the knee will be bigger than it was originally designed.
  • D – By tapering, we trimmed the denim slightly to match the original measurements at the lower leg and raised the knee placement so the leg keeps its original contoured shape. The new knee is located 10 ½ ” below the crotch. Without raising the knee, you can see how much extra fabric would remain if hemming alone.

Unless you are up for laying out good money for a pair of custom-made jeans, it is likely a brand that offers multiple inseam options will simply make its standard size and cut the length down before shipping, without consideration of moving the knee position. Like most brands, if you order hemming without additional tapering, we would do the same.

Let’s say a brand offers pants or jeans sizes 30×28, 30×29, 30×30, and 30×31. That’s four different inseams within a single waist size. To have the proper knee location on each and every size would require four different sets of patterns. One pattern per waist size, per each inseam length. It is unlikely a brand would do so unless they are a mass producer. Now that you have an understanding of why it is so difficult to find pants off-the-shelf in a multitude of inseam sizes and the behind-the-curtain factors associated with those who may, let’s get to the workaround.

Our suggestion is merely hemming jeans and adding tapering. For this is a simple alteration where we take apart the legs, make the adjustments, then put them back together. If constructed with a lap or flat-felled seam with double stitch lines, we only need to take apart the inseam. If the jeans are constructed with a serger and single-needle stitch line at the inseam, we start by removing the inseam’s topstitching. Next, we draft the new shape at the inseam and sew it back together following the original thread colors. The outseam is never touched.

Constructions details that help explain how to hem jeans

Before explaining how to hem jeans with added tapering, we will first explain the two types of construction found in most jeans. Inseam design is especially important when it comes to tapering but it does not matter for hemming.

  • E – Denim and work clothing most often are produced with a flat-felled seam. It has a double-needle chain stitch (sometimes 3-needles in work pants) at the inseam for strength and durability. It would be surprising if your local cleaners, tailor, or even most denim specialists have the machine required to sew this seam. It is mainly found in factories and small-batch jeans makers. Without the need to open the outseam, it sews the topstitching and closes the seam in a single pass.
  • F  –  Pictured in both images are selvedge (selvage) outseams. The vast amount of jeans sold will not be produced in selvedge denim. Top-end denim brands will offer selvedge in their line-ups. Some only offer selvedge. Selvedge does not factor in the quality of the fabric. When jeans are not produced in selvedge denim, the outseams can also be constructed with an overlocked edge and pressed open. Low-end denim producers routinely close the outseams with a closed overlock for speed.
  • G  – The hem or leg opening on jeans is commonly sewn with chain stitching in better denim. Low-end makers will frequently use a standard lock-stitch. Home sewers and fine tailors often run into difficulty working with the hem using sewing machines not suitable for sewing through multiple layers of denim fabric.
  • H – Makers of very heavy jeans will construct them with a single-needle topstitched inseam to avoid the difficulties of folding and sewing through multiple layers of thick denim. On women’s and skinny jeans, single-needle topstitch construction is also most often used for comfort and flexibility. Lower-priced jeans also prefer the serger seam for ease and speed.

The heavy lifting in the leg shape of jeans is at the inseam. Selvedge and a good deal of non-selvedge jeans have a straight outseam from the hem-to-hip curve. Unless the jeans have a flared or bootcut, tapering should be done at the inseam. Tapering selvedge from the outseam would be unforgivable.

Even though outseam tapering alterations and regular lockstitch stitched hems are simply amateur, there are commercially produced YouTube videos where one of the world’s biggest and most popular denim brands gets it wrong. Perhaps because it’s faster, more convenient or they don’t have the right equipment and skilled operators in their stores for factory quality alterations. Good advice before letting anyone begin work on your jeans ­­ – ask how they intend to do it.

For more information on hemming and tapering, check out our many other articles and alteration services.