How to Alter Pants

Three Methods:Hemming PantsLengthening PantsTaking in the Size

Finding pants that fit your body can sometimes be a challenge. It's unlikely that store-bought pants will fit you perfectly, even if they are your size. Performing alterations on pants allows you to tailor the size and shape of the clothing to suit your body, and is easy and cheap when done at home.

Method 1
Hemming Pants

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    Find your perfect length. Determine how short you want to make your pants, and therefore how much length you need to hem. Use a measuring tape to decide how much of the length should be removed (while you’re wearing the pants). Typically, the bottom of the pants should be about ½ an inch from the floor, although this is dependent largely on personal preference.
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    Make your measurements. Take the pants off and lay them out flat on a smooth surface. Use a measuring tape to measure the distance from the current hem to the bottom of the pant leg. This is typically about ½ an inch, but will vary between styles of pants.
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    Pin your pants. Use a series of straight pins to pin across the leg of the pant at the point you want your alteration to be made; this is the place you will hem the pants to. Then, add a second row of straight pins above the new-hem-line in the measurement you just took from the original hem to the bottom of the pants (normally ½ an inch). The original hem will remain intact through the process, so the second row of pins compensates for the small amount of added length that the original hem adds.
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    Adjust the pins. Remove the first row of pins nearer to the bottom of the pant leg. These were used to give you the proper location for the folded pant leg - with the added measurement for the original hem. Save the pins though, as they will be needed for holding the leg in place in the next step.
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    Fold the pant leg up. Turn the bottom of the pant leg inside out, and fold the bottom of the leg up to the row of pins that are still in place. Smooth out the fabric of the pants to remove any wrinkles and folds, making sure that the fold is even on both sides of the leg. Use the pins you just removed to pin the fold in place ½ an inch below the original hem.
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    Sew the new hem. Use a straight stitch on your sewing machine to sew across the folded portion of the pant leg. Sew just below the original hem on the leg (it should be folded upwards and located near the top of the fold). Keep your stitching straight and even all the way around the leg, then tie off the sewing and cut the threads.
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    Fold the hemmed portion back. There now should be a loop of fabric located on the bottom of the pants that you have just hemmed. Turn the leg of the pants right-side-out by folding this small looped section back to the inside of the pant leg. You have successfully hemmed your pant leg!
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    Iron the hem. Although you can cut off the loop of excess fabric from the hem, it is easier (and more practical) to simply iron the portion of the pant leg. Adjust your iron settings for the type of fabric you’re working with, and run it across the hem to flatten out the loop of fabric. Use plenty of steam in this process to make pressing the hem flat easier.[1]

Method 2
Lengthening Pants

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    Remove the original hem and take your measurements. Use a seam ripper to go along the bottom of each pant leg and remove the hem. Pull out all of the thread from the hem and unfold it, exposing the excess fabric. Then, use a measuring tape to measure the width of the pant leg.
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    Cut fabric to line the new hem. The process involved in lengthening pants is essentially adding lining to the un-hemmed edge, and then creating a very thin hem to allow for more length. Therefore, choose a neutral fabric (it won’t be seen on the outside) which matches your pants and measure it to be the width of the pant leg. Cut 4 strips that are the width of the pant leg +1-inch for the seam allowance, making them 1.5–2 inches (3.8–5.1 cm) high.
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    Sew the lining. Lay two pieces of the cut fabric face-to-face, and sew the ends together ½-inch from the edge of the fabric. Do this for all 4 pieces of fabric, so that you are left with 2 loops which should fit snugly into the bottom of the pant leg. Turn each loop right-side out so that the finished side of the fabric is facing outwards.
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    Sew the lining into the pant leg. Turn your pants inside out, and place one of the lining loops into the bottom edge of the pant leg (still with the fabric right-side out). Line up the edges of the two pieces of fabric, and then use a straight stitch to sew along the bottom of the leg, about ¼-inch from the bottom edge. It’s OK if the fabric of the pant leg is uneven or crooked along the edge, as this will be remedied in later steps.
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    Iron the lining. Remove your pants from the sewing machine, and unfold the lining that you’ve just sewn to the pants, so that the excess fabric sticks out from the end of each pant leg. Use an iron to press and smooth the fabric. Then fold the exposed fabric, bringing the ends to the center of the lining and press the fold with the iron. This should leave a stretch of fabric about 1 inch (2.5 cm) wide with a fold/crease extending from the bottom of the pant leg.
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    Adjust the fabric for the hem. Fold the exposed bit of lining up and over the edge of the bottom of the pant leg. Fold the pant leg just high enough so that all of the lining is exposed, as well as a very small portion of the bottom of the pant leg (about 1/16 of an inch). Then, turn the pants right-side out again. You should not be able to see the lining that you’ve added because of the fold, but if necessary fold the edge of the pants up a bit more to hide it.
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    Sew the hem. Sew your new hem along the folded pant leg. The hem should be about ½ an inch from the bottom of the pant leg, but can be adjusted depending on the appearance you’re going for. Sew all the way around, being sure that the lining is flat and smooth on the inside of the hem. Once you’ve done this for both legs, you’re done!
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    Iron the hem. Make a solution of 3 parts vinegar and 1 part water and use it to press the fabric. The solution will remove the wrinkles/fold from the original hem, and make the new hem appear to be the only one the pants have ever had. If you’re out of vinegar, just use your iron with plenty of steam to flatten out the hem.[2]

Method 3
Taking in the Size

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    Take your own measurements. To determine how much fabric will need to be removed, you’ll need to take accurate measurements of your own figure. Keep in mind that it is easiest to make alterations using even numbers (2 inches difference means you can reduce 1 inch of fabric on each side, for example). Use a soft measuring tape and take and record the following measurements:
    • The center of your waist to the center of your crotch.
    • The center of your lower back (wear the waistband sits) to the center of your crotch.
    • The side seam from your waist to your ankle.
    • The inseam from the center of your crotch to the ankle.
    • The distance around your waist.
    • The distance around your hips.
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    Create your pattern. Lay a large piece of dressmakers paper out on a flat surface, and then place your pants on top of this. Smooth them out, and then use a pencil to outline them all the way around to form the pattern; if you’re not sure of your tracing skills, measure the pants and your outline to make sure they match up. Then, create your new pattern by overlaying your measurements onto this outline. Draw a new outline of the pants inside the old outline using your measurements. Cut out this pattern when completed.
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    Mark your alteration lines. Place your pattern on top of the pants, and pin it in place. Use a piece of dressmakers chalk to trace the outline of the altered pattern onto the pants. If necessary, use your measuring tape to match your tracing to the measurements you took of your own body.
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    Alter the hips/waist of the pants. Use a seam ripper to deconstruct the waist of the pants; cut out the waistband on the back of the pants above the bum. Then, cut out the necessary difference in the elastic waistband, and sew it back together. Take in the excess fabric that you’re left with by adding two darts in the center of each buttocks. Measure a ‘V’ shaped dart that goes down 2 inches (5.1 cm) from the waistband and is 1 inch (2.5 cm) wide at the widest point.
    • If you’re still left with lots of excess fabric, you can add matching darts to the front of the pants.
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    Alter the width of the pants. Starting at the waist of the pants, you’ll sew downwards along the outside leg seam to make a smaller waist/thigh. The new seam you create won’t go all the way to the hem of the pant leg, but will rather taper into the current pant leg somewhere near the knee. Turn the pants inside out and use a straight stitch to sew from the waistband down to the outer leg seam. You can use an iron to press this seam flat when you’re finished, or you can cut out the excess fabric if you would like.
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    Alter the inseam/crotch. If the crotch of your pants hangs too low or is too loose, you can fix it by sewing in a line parallel to the original crotch/inseam. Turn the pants inside out, and starting at the inner thigh sew deeper into the fabric parallel to the seam all the way around. Press the excess fabric to flatten it, or cut it out for a permanent alteration.
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    Make any final adjustments. With the aforementioned alterations made, try on your pants and see how they fit! Make note of any further changes/adjustments that need to be made, and fix these now. Otherwise, your pants should be successfully taken in a few sizes.


  • For more elaborate alterations, it is best to seek the professional help of a tailor. You might ruin your pants if you try major alterations on your own.

Things You'll Need

  • Pants
  • Scissors
  • Dressmakers chalk
  • Dressmakers paper
  • Needle
  • Thread
  • Pins
  • Sewing machine
  • Seam ripper

Article Info

Categories: Pants and Shorts