What is an Original Hem?

M.J. Brower

An original hem, sometimes called a tricky hem or a European hem, is an alteration of an article of clothing, usually jeans, that keeps the manufacturer's hem intact while shortening the garment. Denim and some other heavy fabrics are usually finished with a narrow hem, often using a color of thread that contrasts with the fabric. When such items are hemmed using typical home-sewing methods, the alterations can be very obvious.

Sewing machines may need a special needle to hem denim.
Sewing machines may need a special needle to hem denim.

Fortunately, shortening jeans while keeping the original hem isn't difficult, or even particularly time-consuming. The alteration works best on jeans with a relatively straight leg, especially if a lot of length is to be taken off, but it should work with boot-cut jeans or others with a moderate flare. It can also be used for denim skirts.

Original hems keep the manufacturer's hem intact.
Original hems keep the manufacturer's hem intact.

It's important to use a sewing machine that can handle denim, and a heavy-duty needle or a needle made specifically for denim. Before beginning, the garment should be washed once or twice, using normal washer and dryer settings, so that any shrinking or fading occurs before making the new hem. Some heavy-duty thread in the same color as the jeans fabric will be required.

To make an original hem, how much extra length needs to be removed should first be determined. The sewer should put on the jeans and the shoes they'll be worn with, and mark the desired length with tailor's chalk or turn them up. It's best to have a friend help, but it can be done by one person with a full-length mirror and some patience.

Once the jeans are marked, the length from the mark or fold to the top edge of the manufacturer's cuff should be measured — the width of the original hem should not be included in the measurement. Using that measurement, the cuff is turned up to the outside of the jeans legs and a seam gauge or ruler is used to make sure the cuff is uniform. The sewer should match the side seams on the cuffs exactly with the side seams on the legs of the jeans. The cuff should then be pinned in place, setting the pins about 1 inch (2.54 cm) apart. The bottom of the cuff should then be pressed and measured again to make sure it is still the same width all the way around, and that the side seams still match up.

The sewer should then attach a zipper foot to the machine and insert a new heavy-duty needle. The machine should be threaded and the stitch length set to a slightly longer stitch than the one used for medium-weight fabric. Some sewing machines might need other adjustments as well; the owner's manual should list any special instructions for sewing with heavy-weight fabric.

The sewer should then sew all the way around the cuff, as close as possible to the edge of the original hem, being careful not to catch the hem in the stitching. The cuff is then turned to the inside and pressed up, or cut off and finished with a zig-zag or overlock stitch. The original hem will be on the outside, and the new stitching will be nearly invisible.

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