Pants Alteration Instructions

Kate Miller-Wilson
pants alterations

If you have a pair of pants that is sitting in your closet unworn, you may be able to expand your wardrobe with a few simple alterations. Depending on what is wrong with the pants, you may be able to alter them in a single afternoon.

Instructions for Altering Pants

You don't have to be an expert seamstress to fix an ill-fitting pair of pants; however, it's best if you have some sewing experience. These step-by-step instructions will help you make those slacks wearable.

For all types of alterations, you'll need a few basic supplies:

  • Item to be altered
  • Seam ripper
  • Thread to match fabric
  • Sewing machine
  • Scissors
  • Tape measure
  • Hem marker or fabric pencil
  • Pins
  • Hand needle
  • Iron

Altering the Length

One of the easiest alterations you can do is changing the length of a pair of pants. Follow these steps:

  1. Remove the existing hem using the seam ripper. If your pants are currently too short, you'll want to make sure there is enough fabric in the hem to allow you to add the length you need.
  2. Try on the pants, and stand in front of a full-length mirror. Wear the shoes you'll be wearing with these slacks. Pin the hem at the desired length.
  3. Take off the pants, and measure the excess fabric for the hem. Use a fabric pencil to mark the pants at this point all the way around both legs.
  4. Iron the hem to crease it at the desired point. Try the pants on again to make sure you're happy with the length.
  5. Fold over the raw edge to create a rolled hem, and sew the hem in place by hand. This makes the new hem less noticeable.
  6. Press the pants again, and check your work.

Altering the Waistband

If your pants are too snug or too loose, you may be able to alter the waistband to give them a perfect fit. Here's how you do it:

  1. Try on the pants in front of the mirror. If they are too snug, use a fabric pencil to mark the spot where they no longer pull. If they are too loose, use pins along the side seams to adjust the fit. Mark the changes with a fabric pencil as well.
  2. Take the pants off, and examine the markings. Use the seam ripper to take out the side seams of the pants until you reach the point that fits. Remove the waistband from the pants as well.
  3. Set the waistband aside, and turn the pants inside out. Pin the side seams to give them the desired fit, trying the pants on again as needed. Sew the side seams using a basting stitch.
  4. Try the pants on again to examine the fit. If you're happy with the way they look, re-sew the seams with a normal stitch setting.
  5. If the waistband is too long, you can take some length out of the back without changing the fit too much. To do this, find the exact center of the waistband. Open up the waistband so that it lies flat, and fold the right sides together. Sew a seam in the back to remove the desired amount of fabric, and then trim off any excess. If the waistband is too short, open the seam on the end of it to get as much extra fabric as possible. Re-sew the seam to finish it.
  6. Re-attach the waistband to the pants, and try them on again. Check the position of the buttons or other closures, and adjust these as needed.

Changing the Taper of the Leg

As fashions change, pant legs become wider or narrower. If you have a pair of pants that fit well in the hips and thighs, you can change the taper in the legs to give them an updated look. This is easier to do if you want to create a skinny fit, but if you have sufficient excess fabric in the seams, you may be able to turn tapered legs into straight legs. Follow these steps:

  1. Try on the pants to determine where you want the taper to change. Are they too snug above the knee? If so, mark them in that spot with a fabric pencil. Similarly, you can mark the inseam and outside seam to bring the pants in at the ankle.
  2. Take off the pants, and use the seam ripper to take out the inside and outside seams up to the point you marked. Also remove the hem in the areas around the side seams. Pin the seams at the desired spot.
  3. Sew the seams using a basting stitch, and then try the pants on to check the fit. If you're happy with how they fit, re-sew the seam to hold it in place permanently.
  4. Trim off any excess fabric, and re-sew the hem.

When to Consult a Professional

Unless you're an expert at alterations, there are some changes that are just too difficult to try. If your pants have any of the following fit problems, take them to a professional tailor:

  • The rise is too high or too low.
  • There isn't enough fabric to let the pants out properly.
  • The pants have a lining that prevents you from accessing the seams.
  • The pants are made of a very delicate material.

Practice Makes Perfect

If you're handy with a sewing machine, you may be able to save yourself some money on alterations. To get some practice with these skills, consider trying to alter a pair of old work pants, jeans, or other cast-offs. The more you practice altering pants, the better your final results will be.

Pants Alteration Instructions