How to shorten length and hand sew hem of DRESS PANTS properly

This post details on the best ways to hem dress pants.

When you buy dress pants, it may be unfinished at the hem and not your preferred length.  If the shop has an in-house tailor who will hem the pants for you according to your height, well and good. If not, or if you bought online, you are on your own. You have to shorten the length and then finish the hem yourself.

How would you shorten the length of your pants the best way?


Invisibly Hemmed dress pant hem
Successfully altered the hem of too long pants

The ideal length for Pants

Measure the correct length to hem the pants.

The best length for pants is personal but there are some standards. Here are the 4 options –

how to shorten the length of pants
Length of pants above ankle

1) The hem of the pants rests well above the shoe

This is the above-the-ankle style which is difficult to carry off unless you are very slim or slim and tall. This style is found on modern tapered pants and will expose your socks and may further shorten in the wash if fabric is not preshrunk.

2) The hem of the pants rests on the top of the shoe.

This is also a short length and better suited for a slim and tall person.

3) The hem of the pants rests 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch down from the top of the shoe.

The front hem will rest on the top lace of the shoe. This is a universally liked pant length.  

4) Longer length

The front hem of the pants cover most of the laces on the shoe and the back hem rests just above the outer sole of the shoe.

Narrow legged pants are usually shorter in length. If you have very wide flared leg pants it is ok for it to be floor length.

To measure your ideal length, make the owner of the pant stand straight in front of you on a flat uncarpeted space, wearing the pants. Wear belt if you habitually wear one. Wear shoes if that is possible. Decide on the length and the pant break (the break in the pant leg as a result of excess fabric) you want. Measure the pant length you need.

length of the pants measured on the body

You can also use a well fitting pants to measure the correct length.

1 1/2 – 2 inches is the extra hem allowance you need to add above this mark you have made. The hem allowance depends on how you mean to finish the edge of the pants – turn under twice or serge. If the edge is already serged take 1 1/2 inch hem allowance.

If you want to shorten the pants, cut off the extra, after taking  1 3/4 to 2 inches as hem allowance.  

How to hem dress pants to the correct length

When I try to shorten or simply hem an unfinished bottom edge of pants, I am particular about 3 things – 1) I do not like the stitching line which is visible on the outside – the one made by a sewing machine. If possible the hem stitches should not be visible at all on the outside. This is possible only with a hand stitch

2) I also do not like the bulk at the hem that results from the edge turned over twice. (But this may be impossible to avoid)

3) And I like the stitches to be secure and strong, not flimsy and easily shattered apart. The stitching that I would be doing in this post meets all these criteria.

Mark the exact length on your new pants and the hem allowance. The hem allowance is to be folded to the back and stitched on.

Usually, the bottom edges of ready-made pants are finished with a serger. But if your pant length is too long and you have to cut off the extra, you will have to finish the edge of your pants – ideally, you should use a serger to serge the edge. Or you can use a close zig-zag stitch to finish the edge. If you do not like serging or zig-zag, turn under 1/4 inch first, stitch in place, and then fold the extra to the inside.

Press with an iron to make the hem folding line semi permanent. Use a hand stitching needle and thread to baste stitch the new hem in place.

Normal dress pants have a 16″ to 18″ circumference at the bottom edge. If you have a flared pants the hem edge will be wider than the above portion, so the bottom edge should be reduced to match the top. You can either steam press to ease the fullness or make gathering stitches along the edge and gather to ease the fullness.

Blind Catch Stitch

The hand stitch that I use to hem the pant bottom edge is called a catch stitch. It is the same as a herringbone embroidery stitch. Here the stitch is called a blind catch stitch because it is invisible from both sides – outside as well as inside. It is a very secure stitch that will stay put with heavy use but also have some stretch.

To continue with the hem, Start stitching – here the catch stitch is made in between the fabric layers ie between the hem and the garment outside.

sequence of stitches made for using Blind Catch Stitch to hem dresspants
blind catch stitch

Direction of stitching – You can stitch from left to right or right to left. If you are stitching from left to right, Remember that at all times your needle is to be pointed to the left ie the direction you started from. If you are stitching from right to left, your needle is to be pointed to the right. 

Hide the knot of your thread in between the fabric layers and make the catch stitch in between them.

start sewing the Blind Catch Stitch from the side seam at the hem of the pants
Start the blind hem stitch on the side seam

Make a 1/4 inch stitch on the inside of the hem, but on the outer garment, you should take only 2 or a maximum of 3 threads. This will make the hem truly invisible from the outside.

Take a small stitch from the outer fabric - one thread
Take only one or 2 or a maximum of 3 threads from the outer part of the pants

And the stitches should all be made 1/4 inches apart. This is very important to make the stitches really secure.

Catch stitch is used to hem the pants with a strong stitch but invisible on the outside
Blind stitching on a pant hem

There is another way to hem pants – with the help of a blind hem stitch made by a machine. Checkout the tutorial to make a blind hem stitch 

Related posts : 20 different ways to hem with a sewing machine; 18 different ways to hand sew a hem; How to do invisible hemming.

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Author: Sarina Tariq

Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.

2 thoughts on “How to shorten length and hand sew hem of DRESS PANTS properly”

  1. I would like to know what to do if the circumference above the hand stitching line is greater than the circumference of the serged edge. Do you open up the seam on the turn up?

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