Does it make sense to get a sewing machine for jeans alterations?
March 9, 2011 12:44 PM   Subscribe

How realistic is it to learn to do my own alterations, specifically to jeans and other pants? My pants usually need alterations to fit right -- hemming and taking in the waist -- and I am tired of paying to alter every pair I buy, especially since my weight fluctuates so the alteration doesn't usually stay perfect for long.

Right now I take every pair of pants I buy to the dry cleaner across the street and she charges about $35 to hem and take in the waist of jeans and pants. Unfortunately, since my weight fluctuates a lot, I wind up buying new stuff fairly frequently and it adds up. (But she does a great job, the hems always look original.)

Is it realistic for me to buy a sewing machine and learn how to use it and then be the pants-hemmer for my family, and would it be cost efficient? I can hand-stitch, and I have a general sense of how fabric goes together, but I'm not very machine-handy and I've never used a sewing machine. I am also busy with children and work responsibilities, so I couldn't devote a ton of time to learning.

I don't think making clothes from scratch is something I'd be interested in. Just hemming and other minor "wearability" alterations. But I'd want them to look as perfect as they do now.
posted by fingersandtoes to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Is it realistic for me to buy a sewing machine and learn how to use it and then be the pants-hemmer for my family...

Yes. I hem my own pants and dresses when I have access to a sewing machine. It doesn't require much skill – I can't imagine any adult not being able to get it right. Taking in the waist might be a bit more complicated though.

... and would it be cost efficient?

To sew through the waists of jeans, you'll need a fairly decent machine. Expect to spend quite a bit on notions upfront.

$35 for alterations seems like a lot. Have you tried finding someone who can do it for less? Alternatively, can you buy pants at stores that offer free alterations, e.g. Nordstrom?
posted by halogen at 12:55 PM on March 9, 2011

Trousers would be pretty easy, jeans are tougher. Like halogen said, you need a pretty tough machine to go through that many layers of denim.

Honestly simple pants are pretty easy to make from scratch. We made pajama bottoms in my 7th grade home economics class. Zippers and pockets are a little harder, but if you start out simply you could be making your own pants for less than the cost of buying and alterations. (This doesn't include jeans, those suckers are much harder to make and have turn out looking decent.)
posted by TooFewShoes at 1:02 PM on March 9, 2011

I think that taking in the waist of your trousers and jeans is not very easy at all.

Why do you need to have the waist altered on every pair of pants you own? Can't you buy a variety of sizes to accommodate your fluctuating waistline?
posted by cabingirl at 1:08 PM on March 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

To me $35 seems fair for both hemming and taking in the waist. You can definitely master hemming jeans, it's pretty straightforward provided you're dealing with a straight leg. Check this for instructions.
posted by Dragonness at 1:09 PM on March 9, 2011

Hemming is pretty easy, even for non-sewists. But taking in the waist of a pair of pants, unless you're half-assing it, involves some fairly serious construction work. I would probably happily pay 35 bucks to foist off both responsibilities on someone else, and I sew!

Could you split the difference and only have your seamstress do the waists, and do the hemming yourself?
posted by thehmsbeagle at 1:15 PM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Why do you need to have the waist altered on every pair of pants you own? Can't you buy a variety of sizes to accommodate your fluctuating waistline?
If the OP is anything like me, she could just be more wide-hipped than the prototypical woman denim companies are making jeans for.

Have you considered buying custom jeans: here's one website that looks good.
posted by peacheater at 1:19 PM on March 9, 2011

These are easy sewing chores.

Sewing machines can be persnickety; if the thread tension is not adjusted properly, the stitching can get all weird and you can get very frustrated. It would be best to buy the machine from a store that also offers sewing lessons, so you can learn to avoid these little troubles.

There are various approaches to altering waistlines. You can take it apart and reconstruct it, which is fussy work but usually very doable if you're patient. Or, you can usually slip some elastic into the waistband, which looks fine if the pants are worn with a belt. This is super-easy and quick, and you can even do it in a way that would involve an adjustable tab + button inside the waistband, so that changes in size can be accommodated without more sewing.
posted by Corvid at 1:25 PM on March 9, 2011

Buy pants that fit in the waist. In the case of jeans, if you are a curvy woman and get that annoying waist gap, look into brands that address this issue. Most of the US mid-range brands have multiple fit styles at the hip which can be mixed and matched with overall styling and inseam length.

I pay $10 at a relatively upscale tailor to have my jeans hemmed, while I wait. I find that this is perfectly fair and worth rolling into the cost of jeans. If you are going to a dry cleaner to have this done, they shouldn't be charging $35 for just the hem. That's outrageous.

Regular trousers are easy to hem yourself by hand, by the way - you might want a buddy to mark the length off with chalk, but otherwise it's very easy to do yourself in a few minutes.

If you're concerned that typical day to day weight fluctuation is throwing off the fit of your pants enough to affect the inseam length, either the pants are being hemmed wrong or you're being too anal retentive about it.

I'd only buy a sewing machine for hemming purposes if I had a bunch of kids who were all going through growth spurts.
posted by Sara C. at 1:28 PM on March 9, 2011

Just for the record, I put darts in the back of my jeans all the time to make them fit in the waist without gapping in the back. It's just a little pinch of fabric then sew in the shape of a triangle as you taper toward the back. Takes less than a minute on the machine. I use a needle that is rated for denim (it's pretty sturdy).
posted by CathyG at 1:32 PM on March 9, 2011

I do the same thing as CathyG. I don't tuck in my shirts so no one sees my half-assed alteration.
posted by vespabelle at 1:53 PM on March 9, 2011

If you are taking in the waist of your jeans because it gapes in the back, there is a simple hand sewing solution that I've found. I do this to all of my daughter's jeans. (Little waist, a bit of junk in the trunk...) Anyway, kids jeans have buttons and elastic in them to adjust the waist, but juniors and adult ones do not. All I do is make two 1/2" - 1" vertical slits in the just the inside waistband of the jeans. (One on each side, a little behind the side seam. If I'm feeling fancy, I paint the cut edges with clear nail polish to keep it from raveling. Then, I hand tack a 1/2" or 3/4" width piece of elastic (long enough to reach across your back) to the fabric to the outside (towards the front) of one of the holes and then thread the elastic through with a safety pin to come out of the other hole. Then, put on the jeans, pull the elastic tight and then have someone help you pin the elastic in place. Then you hand sew that end of the elastic to the waistband. If you're careful to only sew on the inside of the waistband and not go all the way through both layers of fabric, it won't show at all on the outside. I don't find that it really shows at all when the pants are on, especially if the pants weren't way too big to begin with. Memail me if this makes no sense.
posted by artychoke at 1:57 PM on March 9, 2011 [7 favorites]

How pesnickety are you about the look of your alterations? I can take in a waistband on a pair of jeans (and have, on many an occasion) and while it's not rocket surgery, it's kind of a pain in the ass, especially if you want the end result to look natural and unaltered.

If you're okay with having things be less than perfect in the end, there are lots of shortcuts you can take, but if you really want it to look nice and finished, you'll find it's a fair bit of work. Still totally doable, but perhaps not in an amount of time you consider worth it to save $35.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:00 PM on March 9, 2011

I reread my answer and need to add that you should fold a little hem on each end of the elastic and sew through the fold. That way the elastic won't ravel. And the elastic goes through the waistband across your back.
posted by artychoke at 10:03 AM on March 10, 2011

I am a really really bad craft person and I managed to reasonably teach myself how to hem pants with a sewing machine. Did I do a great, super neat job of it? No. But the hems are still as they were sewn, a couple of years later, so evidently, even a nOOb like me can learn to do an ok job.

Not so sure about waistbands - I think they'd be more fiddly.
posted by shazzam! at 3:40 AM on March 11, 2011

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