For many (including moi), thrift shopping is primarily about the thrill of the hunt: slowly circling the aisles, gradually narrowing your search until you finally zero in on the one pristine cashmere sweater in the entire store. Yesss! You do the dance of joy. You carry your prize home in triumph, carefully remove it from its recycled plastic shroud, lay it on your bed to admire it, and then can’t resist slipping into it. Which is when you realize the sleeves are longer than you thought.
This has happened to me, and I have to admit (shamefully) that it mostly happens when I don’t try things on in the store. But wait— all is not lost!
Even non-thrift shop purchases often come with a catch: alterations that are necessary for a really perfect fit. In the case of a sweater, alterations can be challenging; you’re dealing with a knitted fabric, so cutting into it means having to secure a lot of ends so that runs don’t happen. I’ll probably show you how to do this at some point, but for today, I’m going to use something simpler as an example a common thrift-shop garment alteration: shortening yoga pants.
As you can see, these poly/rayon/spandex pants (gracefully modeled by their owner, Valerie) are so long as to be unwearable. She’d really prefer them cropped into a capri length. Ah, but this leads us into deep waters: what is the right length for capris? Too short, and they could make your legs look shorter; too long, and they just might look like full-length pants that are a little too short. Tricky.
Tip: The best advice I’ve gotten on this thorny issue is to avoid the length that puts the hem at the widest part of your calf; go either above or below this point. (I’ve also heard that splitting the difference between the knee and ankle will give you the right length, which may work, as long as that point is not where your calf is largest.) In the photos below, I’ve rolled up the pant legs to 3 different lengths, so you can see the difference:
Tip: With close-fitting pants like these, it’s easy to just roll them up to test different lengths. If your pant legs are wider, you may need to pin them while you experiment.
Now that we’ve found the best length, let’s crop those pants!
What you’ll need: a cutting surface (table or cutting mat), scissors, tape measure, pins, sewing machine with zig-zag stitch, ball-point machine needle (for knit fabrics). Optional: serger, fabric pencil in a color that will show up on your pants.
1. While the pants are still on the wearer, mark each leg with a pin at the fold (on wrong side of pants):
2. Turn the pants inside-out (after the wearer removes them, of course), being careful to keep the pins where they are; lay pants flat on table or cutting mat. Measure the inseam down one side from the crotch to where you marked the hemline, then measure the other side to confirm that each leg is marked to the same length. Then pin through both layers of each leg (to facilitate even cutting) to mark the new hemline all the way across:
3. Adding 1/2″ below the pin for hem allowance, marking this line with the fabric pencil (if desired), cut off the excess leg portion of each leg; remove pins, leaving 1 pin in each leg (through 1 layer only) to mark the foldline for the new hem.
After cutting, fold the 1/2″ hem allowance to inside of each leg and press to mark foldline (don’t iron over pins); remove remaining pins.
Tip: Most tape measures are 1/2″ wide, so I like to use mine to mark seam and hem allowances, as shown here:
4. If desired, serge the cut edge to finish it (shown), or use a zig-zag stitch close to the cut edge.
Tip: I usually start stitching (serging and sewing) at the inseam; this way, any backstitching or overlapping stitches won’t be as visible.
5. Sew new hem in place, stitching just inside your serged edge, using ziz-zag stitch (see Tip, below), and stretching fabric slightly while sewing.
Tip: These are the zig-zag settings on my machine that I typically use when sewing knits: Stitch length = 3.0, stitch width = 1.5; this should result in a wide, shallow zig-zag. Please note that sewing machines vary, so these settings may need to be adjusted on your machine.
Here’s what my finished hem looks like:
6. Lightly steam-press your stitched hems, turn your newly-cropped pants right-side-out, wear, and enjoy, as Valerie is doing here!
What about you? Not sure where to start with your post-thrift-shopping alterations? Maybe I can help. I’d love to collaborate with you for future how-to posts! E-mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org)!