Shortening jeans

I've been altering jeans for years. I have to shorten nearly every pair I buy and wonder web wasn't cutting it any more so I got a sewing machine and that's how this sewing malarkey began.  It means now I can practically do them with my eyes closed (although it's best for me to keep one eye open, with those pesky pins)

There is a story with these jeans. It was a lady who brought them to me on be half of her partner, he wanted them shortened to a 29" leg, so they sit just on top of his shoe. The lady however had other ideas and decided that it was old fashioned to wear them like that now, and so asked me to make them half an inch longer, without him knowing.
Well you know how most men don't notice things, new hair cut, different coloured lipstick and that you've given them sprouts instead of cabbage for dinner. He noticed this, and refused point blank to wear them citing they were a little bit longer than he liked, so I had to re-shortening them. Moral of the story, don't alter things that belong to him because you can damn well be sure he'll notice that! Men huh! 

What I used:

Unpicker - this pair of jeans required me to unpick the stitching as i needed to use the original seam allowance as part of the new one, for some jeans this isn't necessary.
Top stitching thread,  I've got an assortment of colours in rusts and gold colours .... One of these usually matches! 
Normal thread for the bobbing 
Jeans needle, I've broken so many general needles on denim and thick fabrics that I always sew with a jeans needle which now normally size 16, it's eye is also bigger for top stitching threads to pass through. 
Measuring tape
Measuring gauge

Jeans are normally given to me to shorten with a specified length, although sometimes I'm asked to do a fitting where I pin the desired length whilst the person has them on. If I'm doing a fit like this I ask them to wear the shoes they are most likely to pair with them so I can fit more accurately. Sometimes I'm given a pair of separate jeans that the person likes the length of to use as a guide too.

A few things I always do with alterations:

I try to match the original finish as close as possible. I always note down seam allowance depth, (e.g  1.5cm or 2cm) type of stitching and whether it's a longer stitch length than normal. How far the stitching is in from the hem and how it looks from the wrong side (overlooked or turned under)

These jeans were to be shortened from 31" to a 29" leg. As the shortening length is quite marginal, it meant unpicking the original hem to give myself the correct seam allowance for the new hem.

Jeans with the hem unpicked

 hem unfolded and pressed ready to be cut

When measuring for the new length I measure, measure and measure again, such is the saying, measure twice cut once, it's best to be on the safe side. I always take the inside leg measurement and go from the crotch seam, I do this for both sides.

measuring from the inside leg

I make a small chalk mark where the new length needs to be. I then measure and mark out the seam allowance below this. Only then do I make this a solid line. ( I was lucky with these jeans that one of the original seam lines served as my guide).  

measuring for the seam allowance.

Two chalk lines marked on the fabric
After I've cut the excess length off, I turn the jeans inside out and I begin to turn the hem under pining in place as I go along. After I've turned them under once, I then give them a quick press before turning the seam over on it's self again.

                 1. turn the hem under and pinned in place                              2. first turn complete, pinned and pressed

                            3.second turn in process                                     4. hem completely turned under

The fully turned under hem is given another quick press and I turn the jeans right side out and transfer the pins to that side of the jeans.

pined from the right side

The hem is now ready to be top stitched in place. I begin by selecting the closest matching thread I can. I might add here that I find it much easier to sew with top stitching thread if I use regular thread in the bobbin. That way it's less likely to tangle and resemble a birds nest when sewing.

Matching threads

Another tip: when sewing thick fabrics if your sewing foot can be adjusted, (A screw on top of your machine, usually found above the thread take up leaver but see your sewing manual for dets) For thicker fabrics the pressure needs to be decreased. This works wonders, fabrics go through it a lot easier.

foot pressure screw

Before I start top stitching I test stitch on a scrap of folded over fabric, usually the bit I cut off earlier, just to check for stitching wonkyness, correct length and tension. 
The most difficult part in sewing jeans is going over lumpy side seams. For this part I always use the hand wheel, that way it gives me more control. I can feel if the machine is getting stuck and gently try to wiggle the needle through by rocking the hand wheel back and fore. If it's particularly difficult and feels like the needle might break I'll try to reposition the fabric slightly and try again, but I almost never try to force the needle through, I did it once (or twice) on my old machine and it resulted in a broken needle. 

Stitching over the seam 
Once I've top stitched the jeans hem in place I give them a final press and they are done.
Jeans usually take me around 40 mins to alter from start to finish sometimes a little longer. They are one of the easiest alterations to muster and I find the difficulty is in stitching over the side seams.

Top-stitching complete

 I did struggle to match the top stitching with this pair or jeans and after I finished them I wasn't happy with the colour difference so ended up re-doing them with another colour which was a better match. 

An interesting thing to note with jeans is the original seam is always puckered, this isn't really possible to achieve when shortening jeans as you might be able to see in the following image where I've unfolded the original hem...........

original seam rolled out

Can you see it? If you look closely you'll see that side seams ever so slightly flare approx 0.5cm on each side, but only from the point where the hem is going to finish. It's this slight flare that cause the original seam to have a puckered effect and is why it makes it so hard to achieve once you shorten the jeans as it's normally cut away as part of the excess length. The only way to re-achieve this is is by narrowing the side seams of each leg and flaring them back out right towards the end of the jeans,this requires a lot more work which can be much to do about nothing and more work than it's worth and chances are no one will ever really notice.

As with alterations and sewing in general, if your not sure of how something is put together the best thing to do is to take it apart carefully making notes as you go along. This will give a good idea about how it was sewn in the beginning.

Do you do any alterations, What's you thoughts on them, pain in the butt or not bothered?