If you have a pair of jeans that’s no longer bringing you joy because the legs are too wide – pause before you put them in the Goodwill pile and learn to taper the jeans 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.
- Sewing Machine
- Matching Thread
- Seam Ripper
- Tailor’s Chalk or Wax (opt.)
How to Taper Jeans:
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.
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.
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. This is especially important around the knees. If you identify any problem areas, repin and adjust until you are happy.
5.) OPTIONAL: Using tailors chalk or wax, mark a continuous line where you’ve placed your pins.
6.) Carefully take the jeans off, leaving them inside out. Sew a straight stitch along the line where you’ve pinned.
Remember that everything is still completely reversible to this point.
7.) Try the pants back on, this time right side out. Are you happy with the new fit? If not – no big deal. Unpick the seam, adjust, and try again until you are happy.
If yes – great! Go ahead and move on.
8.) 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).
9.) 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 looks homemade.
10.) 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).
12.) Use the iron to press the seam allowances to one side. Fold the hem back into place. Press and pin.
13.) Topstitch the hem (aka sew with the right side out) over the original seam line.
14.) Give everything a good press and ta-da! You have yourself a pair of new jeans.
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, requires only standard home sewing equipment, and looks just as good to the layman eye. If you’d like to see how to taper your jeans like a true denim professional, Williamsburg Garment Company has a really great article & video describing the process.