How to Replace a Jean or Pant Zipper

You know it’s time to replace a zipper when the teeth are missing or the zipper tab has pulled away from the teeth, like this one:

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It’s almost impossible to put the tab back on the track.

(But if the slide has broken off and the zipper is still intact, you can always just replace the slide. You can find replacements at most large fabric stores or online.)

This method works on jeans, slacks and skirts.

Here’s a post on how to replace a zipper in a jacket or coat.

Before you begin, measure the length of the existing zipper.


As you can see, I’ll need at least a 6 ” zipper for this pair of slacks. If you only have a longer zipper, go ahead and use it. Later, I will show you what to do with a zipper that is longer than the measured area.

If you can, ask your customer to measure the zipper, buy the one they like and bring it with them to the first appointment. I don’t like to have inventory of these on hand because I never know what size or color the customer would like, or if their first choice is even available. It’s much easier and less stressful to have them buy the one they’d like. That saves you time and hassle and you’ll have the one they like.

The zipper color does not have to match the fabric since it won’t be seen, once the garment is worn.

Once you have your zipper in hand, take it out of the package and set it aside.


Start taking out the old zipper using a seam ripper., paying close attention to how it was installed.

You’ll want to make mental notes of each step so that you can insert the new zipper in the same way the old one was put in.

This area at the bottom of the zipper (where my seam ripper is pointing to) is usually sewn in with a tight zig zag stitch or bar tack stitch. Be careful when removing these stitches as they are sewn in very tightly:


You can see that the top of the original zipper was cut off by the manufacturer:


Next, rip out the area of zipper where the pull tab is now in this photo:


Notice there is a double row of stitching here.


This photo below, shows how I’m almost finished ripping out both sides of the zipper:


Once you have the old zipper removed from the pants, insert the new zipper and begin to pin the left side as shown below:


Make sure you tuck the top of the zipper between the waistband and the front of the slacks. If it is too long, you can cut it, leaving an inch or so above the top of the zipper teeth (just like the manufacturer’s zipper had)

Next, I fit the front of the slacks over the pinning I just did, pulling out the pins as you sew. You can line up the zipper with the stitching holes left behind by the old zipper. Stitch right over the same holes where the original zipper was sewn. Use a denim or heavy duty needle, if you have one. Here’s a post about how to choose the right sewing machine needle for your project.


Continue stitching to the bottom of that section, pulling the top fabric until it meets about 1/8″ from the zipper teeth as you sew. You’ll know when to stop.

Now turn the pants upside down like in the photo below. This just makes it easier to pin the next section.


Now, flip just the left side of the zipper tape over to the right side, like this below:


Line up the zipper tape with the old sewing holes on the right side and pin. Stitch it in place, sewing over the old holes, or if you can’t see those, stitch about 1/4″ away from the zipper teeth being careful to remove the pins, but don’t move the zipper tape as you sew.

On the outside (right side) of the pants, stitch along the curve edge. You should be able to see the original stitching line. Stop sewing after about 3″ and backstitch to lock in your stitches. See photo below.

If you were to stitch all the way up to the waistband, you would sew the pants shut and you wouldn’t be able to put the slacks on! So, just sew about three inches. When you took the old zipper out, you probably noticed how they were done that way originally.


Once you backstitch and trim off your threads, pull the pants away from your machine and fold under the right side of the zipper, so that the right side doesn’t get caught up in the remainder of your stitching and continue stitching up to the waistband. This keeps that “fly” piece out of the way.

I forgot to take a photo of this step, but you can look at the very last photo and see what the stitching line should look like.

At this point, your waistband is still loose and open on each side.

If you have jeans, you can topstitch the waistband on in a matter of seconds.

Notice that on these slacks, the waistband is not topstitched down. Some of you will want to topstitch it because it is fast to do so, but I don’t like the look of a partially topstitched waistband. You could topstitch all around the whole waistband, but I like to match whatever the original finish was on the garment. In this case, I hand stitch the opening:


Then I stitch in the “ditch” where the two fabrics meet, as in the photo below. I went ahead and stitched it so you can see the stitches out in front of the needle. Those stitches will basically be hidden. You won’t notice them if you stitch as shown below:


Do the same on both sides of the waistband.

Many times the button is loose even before you start working on the zipper. I like to tighten that up or resew it as a courtesy to the customer.


There you have it….a new zipper easily installed!





Hem…Using the Inseam Measurement

Several of my customers leave their pants to be hemmed on my porch without ever coming inside.

It’s because I hem their pants using their inseam measurement.

Once I know what their inseam measurement is, they never have to try pants on for me again.

I just sew each pair of pants at that same length.

This works well for men’s pants especially.

Men’s pants fit pretty uniformally across the board.

I’ll use the inseam measurement for some women too.

Women’s pants, however, can fit differently in the crotch area depending on the style and brand.

Some hang low in the crotch area and some don’t.

That can make for a variation in the inseam measurement.

Today I received a few pairs of men’s slacks for hemming.

This customer wants his pants hemmed with a 27 1/2″ inseam.

(Just so you know, that is a very short inseam. Most inseams are between 28″-36″)

There are two ways to find out what your inseam measurement is.

First, you can measure a pair of pants where the customer loves the length.

Second, you can measure their body (or your body, if you are hemming your own), from the crotch area to the point at which they want their hem to be.

For this example, I will show you how to measure the pants.

In this photo, you can see that I have laid the pants on the floor so that the inseam is showing from the intersection of the two seams to the bottom of the pants:

Here’s a close up view of that intersection of the two seams:


To get the inseam measurement, place a measuring tape at the point where the seams intersect:

Run the tape measure down the inside leg seam to the bottom of the pants. Whatever that measurement is, that’s your inseam.

Because my customer wants his pants to be at 27 1/2″, that is where I put a pin:

Notice the hem. It is put in with top stitching with a sewing machine. I always try to duplicate the original hem when I put the new one in.

First, take out the original hem with a seam ripper:

Take note that the original hem was folded up 1 1/2″:

Once you have taken out all the thread, spread out the entire hem so you can see all the way to the raw edge of the fabric.

If you measure from the fold of the original hem, you’ll see that there is 2 inches of fabric beyond that.

Measure from the folded edge to the pin.

That will tell you how much fabric to press up for the new hem.

Or you can measure from the original fold to the pin:

Press up that amount all the way around the pant leg:

Then, measure out that 2 inches and trim off the excess:

You’ll now fold up 1/2″. I know that because I left 2 inches of extra fabric and my original hem was 1 1/2″ deep. So, 1/2″ is what’s left to turn under.

Fold under the hem twice (once at the 1/2″ mark and again at 1 1/2″) and pin in place, matching the side seam lines:

You don’t have to pin this hem in place. You can just stitch if you like and if you feel comfortable doing that.

If I do pin the slacks, I like to pin on the outside (right side) of the pants.

I place a pin at each side seam and one in the center front of the pant and one in the center back.

Then, top stitch the hem in place, stitching from the right side of the pants. That way, I can make sure the seam line looks good.

This blog has all sorts of posts on different ways to hem garments. Be sure to click on “Alterations” above and then click on “Hemming”.



How To Mark Your Hems..Another Method

As I mentioned in How To Mark Your Pants For Hemming…One Method,  there are many ways to mark a hem.

Besides the method I showed you in that post, I have tried using several measuring devices, including a yardstick.

None of them worked super well. They all had their issues.

But many thanks to Christy, an amazing tailor, who told me about another, quicker, method of marking your pants or skirts.

You may already know about this technique, but it was news to me.

First, buy yourself (or make) a stool.

I had thought of doing this for years, but I was waiting for my husband to make me a stool.

Good thing Christy stepped in and prompted me.


I found this one at Walmart:

It was only about $15.00.

I wanted one that was sturdy enough for someone to stand on. A stool that would make my customers feel confident that the thing wouldn’t collapse on them.

Then, Christy suggested I buy a Chalk Hem Marker at JoAnn Fabrics:

If you are on JoAnn’s mailing list, you can use the 40% off coupon and it will make it more affordable.

It has a ruler along the tall post and you can adjust the height of the marker to meet the height of your hem.

It also has a reservoir of powdered chalk.

Once you determine what height you want the hem at, you lock in the device and it won’t move.

When you get the marker right up to the fabric you are marking, squeeze the little bulb that is attached, and a small spray of chalk comes out of this gizmo in a straight line onto your fabric:

This is what it looks like on the pair of pants I marked recently:

Ok, my line is a little crooked. I must have moved a little.

But it’s close enough.

Chalk it in several places all around the hemline.

For a fuller skirt or gown, you’ll want to mark every inch or two all around the gown.

Then you just fold on those marks and press and you have the new hemline in a flash.

Thanks again, Christy!


How To Mark Your Pants For Hemming…One Method

There are several ways to mark a pair of pants in order to hem them.

I have used the same method for years.

It is so easy that your kids, husband, neighbor, or friend could do it easily.

And so can you!

First, I make sure the customer has on a pair of shoes that they will wear with the pants.

Then, I have them stand on the wood floor facing a full length mirror.

Then I grab a seam gauge like this one:

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It is a handy tool for this assignment.

I ask the customer how high off the ground they’d like their pants to be.

If they don’t know, I start by folding the bottom edge of the pants up 1/2″ off the ground, using the seam gauge as my guide.

Then I have the customer look and see if they like it at that point.

This customer wanted hers higher than that, so I folded them up 3/4″ from the ground and put a pin in there. (In the photo below, I pushed the blue slide up out of the way so you can see the fold of the pants better. Sorry, but I took this picture with the camera on the floor and didn’t look through the viewfinder first. It’s a little distorted and I didn’t look at the photo until she left.)

But, you get the idea, don’t you?

You can see in the photo below that I have turned the hem over to look at the wrong side of it:

The seam gauge shows that I had turned the hem up one inch.

(Let’s recap: The pants are 3/4″ up off the ground and the pants are folded up 1″ from the original hemline. That is why you have the two different measurements, in case you were wondering).

Next, I put three more pins into each pant leg (one at each side seam and one in the center front of the pant on each leg).

So, at each of the three points, I will fold the pants up one inch and put a pin in to secure it.

You should have a total of four pins per pant leg:

I let my customer look at the pants now that the 4 pins are in each leg and they let me know if they like the length.

If so, we’re finished and I go on to hemming them.

If not, I raise or lower the foldline according to what they want and then change the other three pins accordingly.

This may seem like a long process, but it only takes a minute or two.

Here’s a post on How To Mark Your Hem…Another Method.

Once you have marked the hemline, you’ll want to sew the hem. To do so, you’ll want to read my posts on:

How To Hem Pants and Skirts

Hem Your Jeans the Professional Way

How To Hem Without Puckers for Flared or Tapered Pants

How To Hand Sew a Hem

There are several other posts on specific hemming solutions, so click on “Alterations” above and then click on “Hemming”.



Taking in the Waist and Center Back on Denim Pants and Skirts

One of the more common alterations I do is taking in the waist and center back on pants, jeans and skirts.

Most people try and solve this problem by just making a dart or two in the back of the pants.

That doesn’t work too well if your pants or skirt is made of thick fabric and has double stitched seams.

This is when this alteration comes in handy and it works on pants and skirts alike.

For this illustration, I have a skirt:

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Pin how much you need to take in and record the amounts along the waist and the center back seam (as I did in the second photo of How To Take In the Bust.)

Or use your favorite method of transferring measurements.

This skirt has a belt loop at the center back. With a seam ripper or a pair of small pointed scissors, take off the belt loop, making sure you pay attention to how it is attached because you are going to reattach it in the same way after you make the alteration:

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Remove any tags that are sewn in:

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Open up the horizontal waist seam by about four inches or more (2″ on either side of the center back) with your seam ripper or scissors:

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If there is stitching along the top edge of the waistband, take out about 3 inches of that (1 1/2″ on either side of the center back seam).

Now, this skirt does not have a center back seam in the waistband. Most pants and jeans don’t either.

If yours doesn’t have a center back seam, don’t worry, we are going to put one in and it won’t show, because of the belt loop, as I’ll illustrate later. If the garment does not have a belt loop, that’s ok. Most people don’t tuck in their shirts anymore, so the seam won’t matter and won’t really be noticeable.

This skirt needed to be taken in 3/4″ total in the waist. So, that means, I need to take in 3/8″ on both sides of the center back.

I took a ruler and marked the skirt 3/8″ away from the center back (make sure you mark to the left of the center and to the right of the center), one  at the top of the band and one at the bottom of the band:

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See the blue pen mark in the photo above? Well, you probably don’t want to use a blue pen, but I thought you’d be able to see it better than my marking pen.

Make these marks on the outside waistband and the inside waistband because you have to take in both!

Just to clarify, your markings should look like this:

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As you can tell in the photo above, if you don’t have a center back seam, you can draw one with a washable marker, or press it in, or eyeball it.

When you don’t have a center back seam, you are going to create one to take the waistline in. Don’t worry, because, again, it will be covered by the belt loop. .

To take in the waistband, fold the waistband along the new imaginary seamline, right sides together. (If your garment came with a center back seam, of course you’ll just stitch a line parallel to the seamline.) Match the blue dots to each other and pin them in place:

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Stitch in that new 3/8″ seam:

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Most of the time, I cut the fold and spread the new seam out flat to reduce bulk in the waistband area.

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However, if this is your first time with this alteration, wait and make sure everything is going fit together well before you trim it. If you have taken in a small amount, you may just want to leave it alone and not trim it. It’s up to you.

Now, we’re going to move to the skirt (or pants) for a few minutes, so leave the waistband until later.

Turn the skirt or pants to the underside. You need to take out the topstitching next.

Sometimes, the manufacturer will stitch the topstitching with a chain stitch. These are great because you can grab one thread and pull and the whole seam will come out. Just make sure you don’t pull out more than you meant to!

On this skirt I had one row of chain stitch and one row of regular stitching:

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Take out the top stitching with a seam ripper or scissors.

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Take in the skirt or pants the desired amount, tapering the seam towards the original seam like this:

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Again, I don’t just guess on how much to take in, I have pinned it first and then transferred the markings so I know exactly where to stitch the new seam.

Once you have the new seam stitched, turn the garment to the right side and top stitch the seam just like it was originally. You may be stitching on row of stitches 1/8″ away from the fold and the second row 1/4″ away from that 1/8″ row. Don’t worry if the old stitching holes show. They will fade as soon as the garment is washed.

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Next, you want to reattach the belt loop. Stitch that belt loop to the center back seam before you stitch up the waist.

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Next, stitch the labels back on. I usually just stitch the two ends of the label down. No need to go back over the entire label.

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Now, top stitch the top of the waistband. Many times this is 2 rows of stitches. It might be one. Or, there might not be any. Just follow whatever the original garment had.

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Stitch the waistband to the skirt (or pants). I usually top stitch this area closed. Make sure that belt loop is hanging free:

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Top stitch the top of the belt loop and then the bottom to hold it in place. Make sure you back stitch several times to hold it in place. If the area is super thick, use a Jean-a-ma-jig to help you keep from breaking your needle. Hand walk it over the bulky area if you need to.

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Here’s a look at the inside:

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This is what it should look like on the outside. The waistline should look the same as before you started, only smaller!

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Hem With a Vent (or Slit)…Technique #2

The last post was on how to hem a pair of pants with a vent or slit in the side.

This post will give you instructions on how to do a vent another way.

This technique can be used with skirts that have vents on the side or center back seam.

Here’s what this pair looks like:

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This pair had topstitching all along the edge of the vent.

Take a look at the inside of the pants where the hem is.

I took the topstitching out and spread the vents open so you could see:

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After you’ve taken apart the vents, measure the width of the hem.

In this case, it’s 1 1/2″ wide.

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Now, measure the vent opening. In this case it is 2 3/4″.

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For this customer, I needed to raise the hem by 5″.

Raise your hem according to the measurement you need to raise it by.

Press a new hemline all the way around your pants.

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You may need to take out some side seam stitches because your new vent will be open for 2 3/4″  above the hem edge.

So, on these pants, I need to first take out the serged seam allowance (see the scissors below. I like to use small pointed scissors for this task.)

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Remember, my hem width was 1 1/2″? So, I will cut off the pants 1 1/2″ below the pressed hemline.

Serge the cut edge if you have a serger. If not, finish it with a zig zag or other finish.

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Serge the opening of the vents so that the edge doesn’t ravel.

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Now you can see in the photo below that I have the vent area all serged and the new hemline pressed and ready to go.

Do you see, also , that I have the side seam stopping at about the same place as the vent opens up?

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Turn up the hem along the foldline:

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Remember, if your hem doesn’t lay flat because your pants are tapered or flared, you must read How To Hem Pants Without Puckers!

Once you have the hem edge turned up, measure the openings to the vents and make sure they are even. Lay one vent on top of the other and line them up. Make any necessary adjustments to insure that those edges are even.

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Now, you can put the hem in using a blindstitch hem foot like this:

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If you are unsure of how to do the hem that way, here’s a post on How To Hem Using a Blind Stitch Hem Foot.

Or, you could put the hem in by hand.

Once you have the hem in, turn the vertical edge of the vent in (1/4″ ) once like this:

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Now, turn the vent edge in one more time and pin all the edges.

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Topstitch just under 1/4″ all the way around the vent openings, making sure that you catch all the edges as you sew.

I like to topstitch from the right side of the garment like this:

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And there you have it…another way to put a vent in your pair of pants!

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Hemming Pants With a Vent (or Slit) in Them

Once in awhile,  you’ll buy a pair of pants that have a vent in the hem like these:

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The vent is a slit that is located on the side seam of the pants at the hem.

You may want to hem those pants up, but you don’t know how to replicate that vent.

It looks intimidating, but it’s not difficult.

Let me show you how.

The key to making a vent in the pants you bought, is to pay close attention to how it was done in the first place.

The hem I will show you today is the most common way they are done. I have seen a few other ways, but you’ll be able to figure it out once you follow this post.

Ok, I am going to inspect the hem before I begin.

I look to see how it was sewn together. Once I begin taking it apart, I’ll make a mental note of each step because I am going to recreate them in reverse order when putting it back together at the new hemline.

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As you can see, these pants were machine top stitched. (Most hems with vents are not top stitched here. Most of them are stitched with a blind stitch hem foot.) When they are stitched with a blind stitch hem foot, it is difficult to see the stitches form the right side of the pants. We’ll cover that part later. Right now, just remember how the hem was sewn.

First, take out those stitches.

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Next, take out those vertical stitches that run along the edge of the vent. To do so, turn the vent inside out. In the photo below, they are the stitches above my thumb on the left side:

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Now, rip out the stitches on the other vent and spread the fabric out:

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This customer wanted her hem to be 3/4″ higher than it was when she brought it to me.

So, I measured up 3/4″ from the original fold line and pressed a new fold line all the way around the hem:

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Your hem may need to be taken up more than 3/4″. Just press up the hem by the amount you need.

Now, lay out all the material flat. Look from the left edge of the fabric over to the 2 1/2″ inch mark on the seam gauge. That is the total amount of the original hem. (We have added 3/4″ to that measurement, so the total now is 3 1/4″. )

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But, we want our new hem to be 2 1/2″ again, the original depth of the hem, so that means we will cut off the extra 3/4″ from the cut edge.

***Usually, the amount you need to raise the hem is the amount you cut off of the cut edge of the hem.

Are you following me?

So, if you look at the photo, you’ll see that we are going to measure 2 1/2″ from the new hemline along the folded edge and cut off that extra 3/4″ from the cut edge:

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Here is the same thing, but from  a different view. I’ve unfolded the hem and you are looking at the wrong side of the fabric (below).

Cut off that extra hem amount as shown. Again, in this case it is 3/4″:

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Now, using the new hemline that you pressed awhile ago, fold it back on itself so that the fabric is right sides together (see photo below). I stuck a pin in it to hold it together for now.

Do you see that I have turned over a small amount near the head of the pin? Turn that small amount to the outside so you see the raw edge of the fabric.

You need to fold over a little for this vent because you don’t want a raw edge showing when you turn the hem right side out.

Do you see the original seamline that runs parallel to the pin, just to the left of the pin?

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That is the seamline you are going to stitch on now.

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Do this for both sides of the vent.

Now, when you turn the vents right side out, this is what they look like on the wrong side:

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See how the edge is folded under instead of having a raw edge?

Now look at the right side of the vents.

Meet the two folded edges of the vent together and see if they are the same length. The two points should be the same length as in the photo below:

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If they are not, take out the stitches and refold them until they match and then resew them. Match them up again to make sure they match each other.

Once they match each other, press them so they lie flat.

Now to tackle the hem itself.

When I pinned this hem up, you can see that it doesn’t lie flat against the leg of the pants.

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There’s more leg fabric than there is hem.

That means I have some adjusting to do.

Remember the post, How to hem pants and skirts that are flared or tapered so that they don’t pucker?

Well, that’s what we have to do here. So, I’ll show you again.

On these pants, we need more material in the hem area so that it lies flat on the pants, right?

How do we get the extra fabric?

Well, let’s try increasing the  hem circumference  first.

To do that, turn the hem right side out again.

Sew from the hem fold out to the edge. Do you see the tip of the screw driver pointing to the diagonal seam I just made?


Once you’ve added that little diagonal seam, rip out the original stitches that run vertically. (The ones that lie under the tip of the screwdriver.)

If you turn the pants over, you’ll see how letting out that old seam gives you a little extra fabric:

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From the wrong side of the fabric, press that area flat.

Now, for this pair of pants, I just needed to turn the edge under and topstitch it.

When I took out the original hem, it left holes where the original stitches were. So, I am going to stitch over that original hem again so that you won’t be able to tell that I put a new hem in. (see photo below).

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If your hem was not topstitched, you’ll want to hem it the way it was done originally. You may want to use a blindstitch hem or sew your hem by hand.

This is how mine looked when I finished:

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Here’s a side view:

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Remember to always press from the wrong side of the fabric or use a press cloth on the right side so as to protect the fabric from getting a “shine” from the iron.

Vents in slacks are too cute to just cut off.

Putting in new vents are worth the extra steps.

Give it a try!