Suppose you find the perfect funny t-shirt while out shopping, but it hangs practically to your knees when you try it on! If this has ever happened to you, you have encountered the frustrating one-size-fits-all length of most t-shirts. The good news is that you do not need to give up on your favorite tees; you just need to learn how to hem a t-shirt!
The best way to hem a t-shirt is to use a sewing machine or serger to create a new, permanent hem at a shorter length. Other hemming methods include using hem tape or stitching by hand. Decorative methods such as adding lace or trim will also easily shorten a shirt.
In this article, you will learn nine simple methods for hemming t-shirts. You will also find tips for beginning sewers. Finally, you will discover how to make a t-shirt hem look professional!
How Do You Shorten T-Shirts?
You can make a t-shirt shorter in many ways, including sewing, cutting, knotting, or even using shortcuts like iron-on tape! You can select a method based on the time and materials you have available to you. For example, if you have a sewing machine, you can quite easily give your t-shirt a shorter hem that still looks professional.
If you do not have a sewing machine and don’t have much time, you may want to use a shortcut method such as applying iron-on hem tape. This will not look quite as store-bought, but it will give you a shorter tee!
Alternatively, you may want to choose a shirt shortening method based on how it will look when finished. Some methods create a different style of shirt. For example, if you add lace or trim to your cutoff t-shirt, it will look quite different when you finish!
Before you dive into shortening your shirt, you should also consider a few other factors.
First, what kind of material does your shirt contain? Almost all t-shirts are made out of something called knit fabric. Knit material uses looped threads that link together instead of the over-under weave of a plain weave fabric.
This creates a uniquely stretchy material. The stretch makes t-shirts super comfortable, but it can also make this material a challenge to sew! You can find tips on how to deal with the stretch later on in this article.
Second, consider the design of the shirt. If your big, baggy tee has a giant image printed smack in the middle of its front, will it look weird if you hack off the bottom of the shirt? Shortening a shirt usually works best when there is more blank space beneath the image than above it, so it does not look unbalanced when you finish!
Likewise, is the tee fitted or a regular straight cut? Shortening a regular, boxy tee is super easy. Shortening a fitted tee can get a tiny bit more challenging, especially if it has a curved hem!
All of that aside, you get to decide how much time and effort you want to put into shortening your t-shirt. You can use really simple methods that will deliver fairly decent results, or you can put in a bit more work and end up with a shorter shirt that looks like you bought it that way!
How to Hem a T-Shirt: 9 Methods
Check out these nine basic methods for shortening a t-shirt to help you find the perfect process for your t-shirt!
1. On a Sewing Machine
Using a sewing machine to hem your t-shirt will create professional, store-bought results. Plus, this method takes very little time!
The only downside to using a sewing machine to shorten your tee is that sewing machines sometimes have difficulty with stretchy material like knits. For that reason, you should use either a zigzag stitch or a stretch stitch if your machine has that option. You may also want to refer to the section on “how to hem stretchy fabric” later in this article.
Follow these steps to hem a t-shirt shirt using your sewing machine:
- Turn your tee inside out and try it on. Use chalk or a washable fabric marker to mark the new length on the inside of the shirt.
- Take the shirt off, lay it flat, and measure a line across the bottom of the shirt exactly ½” longer than your previous mark. This gives you a half-inch to fold under to create the new hem!
- With the shirt still inside out and the markings facing up, cut off the bottom of the shirt, following your markings.
- Measure another half an inch from the new bottom of the shirt.
- Fold the bottom edge up to meet the new line. This should create a neat, half-inch-deep single fold around the bottom edge of the tee.
- Use an iron to gently press this fold.
- Use sewing pins or quilting clips to hold the iron fold firmly in place.
- Thread your sewing machine with cotton or polyester thread that matches the main color of the shirt.
- Set your machine to an almost-flat zigzag stitch or, preferably, a stretch stitch.
- Start sewing at the side seam of the shirt. Sew around the bottom edge of the shirt, holding the new folded hem in place!
2. By Hand
If you don’t own a sewing machine, you can hand-sew a hem to make your shirt shorter. This method does take a bit of time. That said, it can look nice when it’s done!
To sew a hem by hand, you do need to learn how to make a hemstitch. You can follow the directions in this section or watch a Youtube clip to get a general idea!
- Before you can start sewing, you need to measure and cut the shirt! Turn in inside and put it on, then mark where you would like the shirt to end.
- Take the shirt off and measure a line half an inch below that mark around the shirt.
- Cut off the unwanted bottom of the shirt, following the markings.
- Fold over the extra half-inch of fabric and iron it flat.
- Next, cut about 18 inches of thread in a color that matches your shirt.
- Use this to thread a needle. If you have a ballpoint needle, that will work best!
- Tie off the end of the thread inside the folded-over edge of the fabric. To do this, pull the needle through as if you plan to make a stitch, but leave a small loop of thread instead of pilling it tight. Then pass the needle through the loop and through once more before cinching the knot closed.
- From the inside of the shirt, move your needle half an inch to the left of the knot. Catch a tiny bit of fabric where the top of the folded edge meets the regular fabric of the tee, pushing the needle in from right to left. Pull this tiny stitch tight.
- Move the needle half an inch to the right of this stitch. But this time, you will make a tiny stitch on the very top of the folded edge. Once again, catch a tiny bit of fabric, moving right to the left.
- Both stitches together should look like a flat “V”.
- Repeat the “V” stitching around the folded edge.
- Use the knotting process again to tie off the thread, and then clip the loose end.
3. Without a Sewing Machine
If you don’t own a sewing machine and don’t want to spend an hour or so stitching your shirt by hand, you can easily use a modern invention called fusible hem tape instead! Hem tape looks like a narrow strip of thin mesh. It feels sticky or plasticky on both sides.
You can find hem tape at most fabric stores as well as places like Walmart. You can also easily find it on Amazon or through other online suppliers.
This gives you a semi-permanently shortened shirt. Once you heat-set the tape, it will hold through multiple washes. Eventually, though, it may begin to fray.
- Try on your shirt, turn it inside out, and note your desired length.
- Measure a line across the shirt, marking half an inch lower than your chosen length.
- Cut along this line, just as you would when sewing a new hem.
- Measure half an inch up from the raw edge of the shirt and fold over this half-inch, folding to the inside of the shirt. Iron the half-inch fold into place around the bottom of the shirt.
- Measure the width of the bottom of the t-shirt and cut a piece of hem tape exactly twice that length.
- Unfold the folded-over half-inch.
- Smooth the hem tape along the inside of the folded edge.
- Press the edge down again, sealing the hem tape between the folded-over half-inch and the inside of the shirt.
- Iron slowly along the folded edge, circling all the way around the bottom of the shirt.
- Allow the ironed edge to cool slightly, and then gently tug on the folded-over half-inch to make sure the hem tape fused.
- Iron again if necessary.
You could also use fabric glue for this method, but it often leaks through the top of the fabric and leaves crunchy stains. For that reason, using hem tape will give you much neater results!
4. On a Serger
Sergers can create nice, store-bought-style hems on a t-shirt. That said, unless you already know how to use the blindstitch feature on your serger, you may find this method a bit overwhelming. Sergers typically have a very steep learning curve as they function in a completely different way from sewing machines.
So, what is a serger? A serger or overlock machine uses multiple thread sources to wrap the threads around a cut edge of the fabric, enclosing a seam as it stitches it. Sergers can use anywhere from two to five spools of thread and do not use bobbins or lower threads at all.
Besides creating enclosed seams, sergers can also use a blindstitch foot and settings to make a special kind of hem on a garment.
- To prep, your shirt for hemming, turn it inside out and mark where you would like the shirt to end. Then take it off and draw another line one inch below that mark. Cut along this line.
- Press a half-inch of fabric up to the inside of the shirt.
- Next, turn the folded edge over, but this time fold it to the outside of the shirt. This seems crazy, but go with it! Leave a tiny edge bit of the cut edge sticking out past the folded edge when you have the right side of the shirt facing up.
- Set up your serger for blind stitching. You will want to refer to your manual for this, as various serger models may require different tension settings. That said, you will need three threads and one needle for this process.
- To sew the hem, insert the shirt beneath the needle with the wrong side facing up. You will want the needle aligned just to the right of the fold so that it lands on the tiny bit of sticking-out cut edge.
- After you sew all the way around, remove the shirt from the serger and press the hem open.
5. On a Hemming Machine
On the other hand, not many home sewers can afford a special machine just for hemming. For that reason, many sewers use a regular machine or a serger on the blind stitch setting instead.
If you are lucky enough to own a cover stitch machine, you can follow these steps to hem your shirt!
- First, go through the basic steps of putting on the tee, marking where you would like to end, and taking it back off. Measure a line one inch longer than the hem you actually want, and cut on this line!
- Press the edge over and iron it to create a nice sharp fold.
- Use pins or clips to hold the fold steady as you sew.
- Set up your cover stitch machine with two needles. Most cover stitch machines don’t have a lot of complicated settings, making the basic hemstitch fairly easy!
- Sew the whole circle of the hem, and then release the threads to finish your cover stitch circle.
6. Keeping the Factory Hem
If you don’t want to slice and dice your tee, you can use this special technique to fold over and keep the original factory hem while also shortening the shirt.
This method does require some careful measuring, so pay attention as you go!
- Do the whole thing where you try the shirt on, mark how short you want it to be, and then take it off. On the outside of the shirt, measure this line all the way around the shirt.
- Next, fold the original hem up to meet the chalk line. Again, this time you will work on the outside of the shirt.
- Use pins or sewing clips to hold the fold in place.
- Sew on top of the stitching loops from the old hem. Make a circle all the way around the shirt.
- This bit sounds a little tricky, but it’s not really! You should have a bit of the old hem sticking up above your new line of stitching. Press that flat, and tuck the sewed-shut flap of the extra shirt up underneath the shirt. At this point, you should have the old hem at the bottom of the shirt once again!
- Now all you need to do is topstitch as close to your seam as possible!
7. Adding Trim
One of the most fun ways to shorten your tee is to cut off the unwanted length and add a decorative trim to finish the raw edge. You can use lace, ribbon, or even a fun pom-pom trim!
You do need a sewing machine for this method, but it’s quite simple.
- Put on the shirt inside out and mark where you would like it to end. Then mark a point half an inch below that.
- Take the shirt off but keep it inside out! Draw a line all the way around at the half-inch point you just noted.
- Cut off the fabric below this line.
- Measure the open circle at the bottom of your shirt and cut a piece of trim to that length.
- Pin the trim to the raw edge of the shirt, right sides together.
- Sew around the whole circle.
- Turn the shirt right side out and press the shirt and trim flat gently.
8. Leaving Unfinished Edge
Knit fabric does not fray easily, making it possible to leave a rolled, unfinished edge if you don’t mind a scruffy look. This technique does not involve any actual hemming, but it is the easiest option by far!
All you have to do is measure the new length you want, cut off the excess, and roll the raw edge between your fingers!
The cut edge will naturally curl up on itself because f the nature of knit material. This will not give you a neat, professional finish, but it works great on cut-off tees!
9. Using a Pre-Made Hem
If you dislike hemming but want a nice finish to your tee, you can perform a Frankenstein maneuver and combine two different shirts to get the result you want! You may also see this method called “upcycling” the hem.
To do this, you need two t-shirts in contrasting colors with the same width at the hem.
- First, select which shirt is your “primary” shirt and which one you just want for its hem.
- Measure three inches up from the bottom o the hem shirt. Then cut along this line, Keep the three-inch circle, and set aside the rest of the hem shirt.
- Try on the “real” shirt and mark how short you would like it to be. Subtract two and a half inches from that point, and draw a circle around the shirt at that point.
- Cut off the excess fabric below the line.
- Pin the three-inch hem to the raw edge of the shirt, right sides together.
- Sew all the way around the circle half an inch from the raw edges.
- Turn the shirt right side out and press the seam where the two shirts join together.
How Do You Hem a Shirt for Beginners?
The simplest methods for hemming a shirt are to use hem tape or a regular sewing machine. Unless you have already mastered the complexities of a serger or cover stitch machine, these models often have a steep learning curve.
That said, you can create a very nice finish on your shortened tee on your regular sewing machine. If you’re pressed for time, go for the hem tape! Yes, it doesn’t have that nice line of stitching, but it takes about five minutes and gives you a neat edge on the bottom of your shirt.
How Do You Sew the Hem of a T-Shirt to Look Professional?
The best way to create a truly professional hem that looks like it was made in a factory is to use the cover stitch machine. These machines have one purpose in life; to make professional hems!
If you can’t afford to buy a fancy machine just for hemming, you can also get nice, professional results on a serger or regular sewing machine.
As a pro tip, the best workaround to avoid making an authentic, professional hem is to add trim! You can even add a row of topstitching to make the trim lie nice and flat if you would like.
Shirt Too Long Hack
If you’re truly in a hurry and you just need your shirt temporarily shorter, you can try several “shirt too long” hacks!
- You can always go with the handy hip knot. Just gather up a handful of extra shirts and tie it in a knot at your side!
- Do a French tuck that makes you stylish while also getting rid of the too-long front of the shirt.
- Hold a penny outside the mid-front of your shirt, just below your chest. On the inside of the shirt, scrunch up the fabric around the penny. Use a rubber band to hold the scrunch in place. This draws up some extra fabric and also gives your shirt a ruched look!
- For another fancy style, try a side or front knot at the bottom of the shirt, and then tuck the knot inside! This leaves a cool, gathered look on the front of the shirt.
How Much Does it Cost to Hem a Shirt?
Depending on the tailor, it could cost anywhere from $6.50 to over $40 to have a shirt shortened! That said, most tailors will not charge a lot just to put in a simple circular hem.
On the other hand, unless you have a special vintage t-shirt you want a tailor to alter, you may want to save the tailoring for expensive dress shirts and modify the t-shirts yourself. Most t-shirts don’t cost enough to make tailoring worthwhile.
How Do You Hem Stretchy Fabric?
The best way to hem stretchy fabric is to use either a stretch or zigzag stitch. Adding a fabric stabilizer can also simplify the process enormously. If you have a serger or cover stitch machine, these will remove the whole problem, as they handle stretch fabric much better than a regular sewing machine!
Hemming stretchy fabric can cause the material to stretch out and get wavy. To avoid this, try these tips to make your life easier as you hem stretchy t-shirt material:
- Always wash the t-shirt before sewing.
- Use a ballpoint needle in your sewing machine to avoid any pulled threads.
- Try out the tension settings on your machine. You can use the discarded original hem from the t-shirt to make sure you have the settings right for this material.
- Set your machine to stretch stitch if it has that option. This stitch has a lot of strength and flexibility because it moves forward, back, and forward. Many stretch stitches look a lot like a zigzag!
- This leads to the other option, the familiar zigzag stitch. This stitch allows the fabric to stretch out because of the v-shaped up and down stitches.
- Applying a fabric stabilizer will help prevent any stretching out as you sew, as well. You can get a cheap stabilizer that washes out after you finish sewing. It does add a step to the hemming process, but it will make your life easier in the end!
Average t-shirt lengths may not suit every person’s unique body and torso; fortunately, learning how to hem a t-shirt is quite easy! Simply measure the new length you want to see, cut off the excess, and then put a new hem in place on the raw edge. You can add a professional hem by using a sewing machine, a serger, or a cover stitch machine (otherwise known as a hemming machine).
To create a fun but rougher finish, try rolling the cut edge till it curls up neatly or sewing the hem in place by hand using a needle and thread. Another fun technique is to cut away the extra fabric and add either trim or the hem from another shirt in a contrasting color.
Have you ever altered a t-shirt? What method did you use? Leave a comment below to let us know!