tutorial: how to taper jeans

If you have a pair of jeans that’s no longer bringing you joy because the legs are cut too wide – take a pause before you put them in the Goodwill pile & consider tapering the legs yourself instead.

Maybe the pants are old enough that the original silhouette is no longer in style, or maybe you are shorter than average – in which case the jeans bag at the knees. Either way, it’s a very simple alteration that you can have finished in just a couple of hours.

Tools Required:

  • Sewing Machine
  • Matching Thread
  • Pins
  • Seam Ripper
  • Scissors
  • Iron
  • Tailor’s Chalk or Wax (opt.)

Steps:

1.) Using a seam ripper, undo the hem on the outside seam of the leg. Only rip the seam slightly farther than you plan to take it in.

Ripped seam vs. unripped seam. Note how the hem of the unripped seam gets in the way.

2.) Put the jeans on, inside out.

3.) Using pins, mark along the outside seam of the leg how much you want to take in (this step is much easier with a second person to help). Make sure to do this for both legs as you are unlikely to be symmetrical, and imperfection is okay. Try to gradually blend the pins towards the original seam to keep the new stitch line as smooth as possible.

Do as a say and not as I do: make sure to place the pins pointy side UP so they don’t stab your poor husband when he has to take the pinned garment off.

4.) Once the pins are in place and you are happy with how they look, walk around and sit down a few times to make sure the pants will still be comfortable once taken in. If you identify any problem areas, repin and adjust until you are happy.

Depending on the original shape of the pants and how much you want to taper the jeans – you may need to taper above or below the knee. The more width you need to remove, the higher you will want to taper – but ultimately it comes down to personal preference.

5.) OPTIONAL: Using tailors chalk or wax, mark a continuous line where you’ve placed your pins.

This will not only help you while you’re sewing, but it’s also a good safety check in case any pins fall out over the next few steps.

6.) Take the jeans off, leaving them inside out. Sew a straight stitch along the line where you’ve pinned.

Make sure to sew over the line of the hem. This will be folded back up at the end.

7.) Relax! Everything is still completely reversible to this point.

Mishka, Chief Alteration Assistant reporting for duty.

8.) Try the pants back on, this time right side out. Are you happy with the new fit? If yes – great! Go ahead and move on. If not – no big deal. Unpick the seam, adjust & try again until you are happy.

9.) Using a sharp pair of scissors, cut off the excess fabric on each leg. Leave about 1/2″ of seam allowance (aka the extra fabric on the outside of a stitch line).

10.) With a hot iron: press the seam allowances open. Don’t skip this step! It is the biggest difference between a professional-looking finish and one that . . . is not.

Make sure to check your iron settings on one of the scrap pieces you just cut off. Most denim can take high heat – but if it has a dark dye or it’s stretch denim (ie. there is spandex content) it may need a cooler setting.

11.) Finish the raw edges of the seam allowance to prevent future fraying. You can use a zig zag stitch, overcast stitch, pinking shears or a serger (pictured below).

On this pair of jeans, the seam allowances were finished separately on the original garment – however yours may be finished together. Go with whatever method was used originally.

12.) Use the iron to press the seam allowances to one side. Fold the hem back into place. Press and pin.

The hem is pressed back into place.

13.) Topstitch the hem (aka sew with the right side out) over the original seam line.

Luckily it’s typically obvious where the old stitch line was. If the jeans have a gold or orange topstitch thread – it may be worth buying something similar to match (especially if you have a few denim alterations in your future).

14.) Give everything a good press and ta-da! You have yourself a pair of new jeans.

Tapered pair of jeans #2. Please note that the final version of these were also hemmed, which I will cover how to do in a future blog post.

Note: As Pati Palmer likes to say, “Fitting is an art, not a science.” – and I am not a purist when it comes to alterations. I’ve picked the method I described above because I think it’s the easiest, the most accessible, and looks just as good to the layman eye. If you’d like to see how this alteration would be done professionally, Williamsburg Garment Company has a really great article & video describing the process.