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How to Keep the Original Hem When You Shorten Curtains or Garments

Loretta learned to sew on her grandma's treadle sewing machine. She began sewing her own clothes in 7th grade and still enjoys fabric work.

Former, dark curtains.  Newly shortened, light curtains. I made the black and gold ones some years ago.

Former, dark curtains. Newly shortened, light curtains. I made the black and gold ones some years ago.

How Not to Lose the Original Hem

Years ago I made these gold and black curtains to coordinate with a gold and black comforter that I also made. I felt it was time to lighten up and went on a search for new curtains. The only ones I could find were a length of either 84 or 96 inches. Because of the arrangement of my TV and sound systems, those were much too long. I needed a length to just touch the tabletop.

I decided on an 84-inch sheer curtain with a little bling. The 2 1/4-inch hems were nicely folded over and finished. There were eight panels total, each 38 inches wide, and this was a fabric that would ravel quickly. I did not want to fight 304 inches of fabric that would ravel with each pass of cutting, folding, pressing, and hemming, so I decided to shorten the curtains and keep the original hem. Here's a step-by-step guide to show you how I did it.

As always, please view each thumbnail photo for extra information.

The purchased curtains.  I bought two sets.

The purchased curtains. I bought two sets.

Step 1: Decide Your Finished Length

Measure for your finished length, whether for curtains from rod to bottom, for a garment hem, or for sleeve length.

Measure again. Have you heard the adage "measure twice, cut once"? This is a great practice to follow.

I needed a finished length of 56 inches. Any longer would interfere with the electronic cords and any shorter would look odd.

Step 2: Fold Your Curtain or Garment for the Finished Length

The original hem is 2 1/4 inches from its bottom to its sewn edge. From the length of 56 inches the difference is 53 3/4 inches. This means I want the sewn edge of the hem to be folded to the 53 3/4 mark. Fold right sides together.

This looks to be more like 53 1/2, but my fabric and tape measure jiggled around. You can imagine that if I folded the bottom of the original 2 1/4 hem along its sewn portion it would hit the 56-inch mark. This means that all the fabric below the sewn portion is extra fabric and will be discarded.

Please see all thumbnails for additional information.

Step 3: Prepare the Entire Edge

We have determined where the existing hem should be to attain our custom length. As folded, we will discard 8 inches, or 16 inches total.

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Prepare the entire edge to this measurement. I like the little clips, but I also use pins that can remain in place as I sew past them.

Clip and pin along the edge according to your measurement.

Clip and pin along the edge according to your measurement.

Step 4: Sew Along the Existing Hem Line as Close as Possible, Then Press

I turn the curtain so the least amount of fabric—the folded 8 inches—is under the throat of my machine. Sew as close as possible to the original hem seam. The first thumbnail below corresponds to the red lines in the first thumbnail in Step 2 above.

After that, repeat a second row about 1/4 from the first.

  • I am doing this because this fabric ravels very easily. If you are doing a cuff on a woven shirt or some other type of fabric you may not need a second row.

You now have a somewhat odd piece of work. A hem protruding from the midst of a length of fabric. Press this new seam in the direction you want the hem to lay.

Step 5: Cut Away the Excess Fabric

Now is the time to cut away the excess fabric. Carefully cut underneath the existing hem, near your newest sewn line.

Cut away the extra fabric next to your newest sewn line.

Cut away the extra fabric next to your newest sewn line.

Step 6: Topstitch Your New Hem If Needed

I topstitched this hem because of the behavior of this fabric. Depending on your goal, you may not want or need to topstitch.

Step 7: Verify and Press Your Project

Verify that you hit your goal. My finished length is indeed 56 inches.

If you are not confident, practice first on scrap fabric or an old garment. This is a great method to keep an original hem in place for decoration or for function.

Press or steam your finished piece.

Step 8: The Finished Product. Hang and Enjoy!

Here are my newly shortened curtains keeping the original hem. I used the excess fabric to create sashes to tie them in the center.

I hope you will find this useful in order to get extra use from garments or other items around your home. Enjoy.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 The Sampsons


The Sampsons (author) from The Ozarks, Missouri on October 14, 2020:

Amy - Thank you so much. I hope this will be useful to you!

Amy on October 14, 2020:

Thanks for sharing these wonderful ideas. Loved your detailed instructions.