How to Take Up a Hem

Clothes rarely fit perfectly when we buy them, especially if we have acquired them from a charity shop, vintage fair or clothes swap. Taking up a hem on a pair of trousers is a fairly simple task and you don’t need a sewing machine. The secret is to measure, try-on, measure, try-on. Repeat several times before cutting the hem.

A basic sewing repair kit is needed, including a tape measure, iron and ironing board

Watch our ‘how to’ video on taking up hems


We have filmed a separate video on how to hand sew the hem in place, click on the button below to be redirected to this blog post.

This same alteration technique can be used to shorten the hem of a skirt, dress, shorts or even sleeves. When measuring a skirt, use the waistband as the point of reference to measure down to the hem. Measure approximately 6 places around the skirt.

With a dress, find the waist point, usually there is a seam at the waist. Use this as a reference point in the same way as a skirt. For sleeves the measuring reference point is the armhole seam.

Taking up jeans uses the same method for the measuring part. We do recommend using a sewing machine as denim fabric is thick to sew by hand. Read our blog on how to take up the hem on jeans.

Top Tip: Save any pieces of fabric left over from cutting the hem. They are useful for patching clothes.

Looking for some specific advice? Book an appointment at our online repair cafe. Each appointment is 30 minutes to help you get started on your alteration or clothes repair.

Update a Denim Skirt for Summer

It was time to admit that my favourite denim skirt was a bit too short for me. An A-line mini, I’ve worn it in summer with saddles, pulling on tights and boots for winter. The wear and tear of washing it over so many years has taken its toll and I got fed up of constantly pulling it down. So the skirt was listed on eBay and given a new lease of life by a happy customer.

This left a whole in my wardrobe and I needed something to replace such a staple item. As the weather turned warmer I pulled out my summer clothes from under my bed and remembered a long A-line denim skirt that I bought a few years ago. 1970’s style, I hadn’t worn it much as found the heavy weight denim too hot during last year’s heat wave. I got out my fabric scissors and took half an hour to create a new skirt.

How to shorten a denim skirt

  1. Put on the skirt and work out where you want the hem to finish
  2. Place a safety pin to mark the place and check you are happy with it
  3. Take off the skirt and lay on a flat surface
  4. Using a tape measure, measure the length from the top of the waist to the new hem
  5. Take a piece of tailors chalk. Measure from the waist to the hem marking the spot with the chalk creating apx 2cm line
  6. Working horizontally, measure the length of the skirt making a mark every 5cm.
  7. Once this has been done, draw up the dots to mark a line where the new hem is going to be
  8. Try the skirt on again to make sure it is the length you want
  9. Using sharp fabric scissors, cut along the line of tailors chalk. Cut one layer at a time rather than through the front and back.
  10. Try the skirt on again. The skirt can’t be lengthened but it can be shorter if it isn’t quite right
  11. Using a sewing machine, stitch around the hem 1cm in from the raw edge. Use either a matching thread or contrast.
  12. This line of stitching prevents the hem fraying too much. Sew a second line a few mm away from the first to give a twin stitching effect. Only if you are confident with your sewing, it isn’t essential
  13. The raw edge will naturally start to fray helped along with washing. Trim any threads that get too long and annoying

I’m really happy with my upcycled skirt – not too long, not too short. I’ve already worn it loads and it is easy to match with different tops. Have you got an item of clothing you have hardly worn because it isn’t quite right? Or maybe it is your favourite and needs a bit of TLC. Come along to our Fast Fashion Therapy workshop in East London to learn how to mend and alter your clothes. We have equipment and some materials for everyone to use. Book your space via our Facebook Page, beginners and more experienced sewers welcome. See you there!