Hemming Jeans 101: The Controlled Fray

The Controlled FrayThe other day at Goodwill I found some sweet, butt-clinging, ample-hip-hugging (but not too much!), faded, boot-legged, artfully frayed jeans. Waist size? A perfect 36″. Length? A perfect…38″? Friends, I am 5’2″ balanced up on my tip-toes. Should I give up my second-hand search altogether and go get my bootylicious self over to Lane Bryant?

Friends, I should not. And you know why?

Because I have been kissed with the crafty bug.

There are several pretty easy and cool-looking ways to hem jeans, in particular, that I can tell you about, but the method I’m going to use today, primarily because I’ve got a lot of stuff to do today and I also want to wear these jeans to an Old Crow Medicine Show concert tonight so that Ketch can look down from his sweet fiddle and appreciate them, is something that I like to call the controlled fray.

You will need: jeans to be hemmed; something with which to mark them (chalk, pencil, etc. I used one of my kiddo’s washable markers, and it worked fine); needle and thread or sewing machine with jeans needle inserted; scissors.

1. Mark your jeans where you want to hem them. Put on the shoes you’ll usually want to wear with your jeans for this, and if possible, enlist a buddy. The best look is said to be a hem that reaches just almost to the floor at the back of your foot, but I actually tend to hem my jeans a little shorter than this to keep them out of the snow and mud that I stomp around in all the time. But hey, I am clearly no fashion plate, so mark yours where you will.

2. Lay your jeans out flat and draw a line all the way around both legs at the point you marked.

3. Using your sewing machine or your needle and thread, sew a VERY sturdy stitch about 1/8 of an inch above this line. Choose your thread color(s) based on the effect you want. For instance, I sewed a sturdy zig-zag stitch in several lengths and several colors, because I thought it would look cool. Just make sure you go around each leg at least twice, so that your stitching is super sturdy.

4. Cut off your jeans just at or below the line you drew. Over several washings, your jeans will gradually fray up and get nice and fuzzy at this line. You won’t see those kinds of long threads that you see when my redneck family wears cut-off shorts, because you’ve only given your jeans a very small area in which to fray, and the jeans won’t fray past your line of stitching.

See? The controlled fray.

And if you have over 2″ of jeans leg that you cut off to hem your jeans (I had 7″!), use those leftovers for a denim quilt, or save them for the bias tape hem I’m going to tell you about later.

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Written by Julie Finn

I'm a writer, crafter, Zombie Preparedness Planner, and homeschooling momma of two kids who will hopefully someday transition into using their genius for good, not the evil machinations and mess-making in which they currently indulge. I'm interested in recycling and nature crafts, food security, STEM education, and the DIY lifestyle, however it's manifested--making myself some underwear out of T-shirts? Done it. Teaching myself guitar? Doing it right now.

Visit my blog Craft Knife for a peek at our very weird handmade homeschool life, and my etsy shop Pumpkin+Bear for a truly odd number of rainbow-themed beeswax pretties.


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  1. I just popped on a new pair of jeans I purchased last night and commented to my hubby that my jeans are a bit too long. Then the first thing on my google reader was this post! How excellent is that? I’m also 5’2 and have trouble finding jeans that are the right length. Thanks for posting this!

  2. This is a smart idea. I wouldn’t be able to sew enough to make a good hem, but I could definitely do this, and I think it would look good, too.

  3. Great idea, and I’ll be sure to use it for my kids… But would you mind telling me where you found a 38″ inseam pair of used jeans? 😉

    I have the opposite problem — at 5’11” and needing a 34″ inseam, most pants are too short for me… Maybe all you short ladies could send me your cutoff cuffs lol…

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