Got Highwaters? Here’s a Hem How-To

Letting down a hem on a thrifted item isn’t always a success, because many fabrics show the old crease line, no matter what. On a pre-worn item, there may be slight fabric fading that only shows up when you undo the fabric that was formerly hidden in the hem. Letting it out means the new edges of your sleeve or skirt will forever look different from the rest of the garment. It’s like a neon sign announcing, “I let down the hem!”

Hem let down crop
Will the crease show when the new hem is in place?

Happily, there are fabrics that can be let out with no discernable evidence. Many silks, bouclé wools, knits and some cottons can be altered with no tell-tale hem lines. A busy print can also help disguise a new hem.

Recently, Allison found a silk black and white pantsuit that fit well with one exception: the pants were too short. Highwaters! They had a generous 2-inch hem, and she needed to let down all two inches to bring them to the proper length.

The process is simple, and is the same for pants, skirts or dresses. Snip the threads holding up the old hem, let the hem down and press well to see if there will be a tell-tale line. (Press on the wrong side, using steam or a damp cloth.) As you can see above, the crease completely disappeared after pressing.

Hem tapes
Different widths of hem facing tape

Then, try on the garment, figure out the correct length and pin up the new hem. Either use the existing fabric edge (it might have a serged edge, a turned-under edge or hem tape) or you can finish the edge with purchased hem tape that you stitch on by machine. It comes in narrow and wide widths, in lace or satin finish and various colors. If you need every bit of the let-down hem, as Allison did, use wide hem facing tape. The wider tape (1 ¾ inches) helps the pants (or skirt) hang properly and not flare out at the bottom.

wide tape
The wide tape was needed to make the hem hang properly.
tape sewn on
After sewing the tape on by machine.
Pinning the tape inside, rolling a bit of the striped fabric with it so no tape shows on the outside.
After sewing the hem tape down by hand on the inside. Note the tiny bit of striped fabric that is turned under so that no hem tape shows.





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