August 28, 2013

DIY: Adding a Cuff

There may come a time when, for whatever reason, you find yourself wishing that a pair of trousers or shorts came with a cuff. For me, the most recent instance came with this pair of seersucker shorts. They were just a little too long and, since seersucker makes for a dressier short, I thought they would look good with a cuff. You can see in this post, that I temporarily folded the cuff until I had time to put in a proper one. This DIY post will show you how to do just that and, with a few minor additions, can be easily applied to cuff a pair of dress slacks.

Here’s what you need:
Straight pins
Seam ripper (or snips)
Hem gauge
Tailor’s chalk (optional)
Pinking shears (or serger)
Needle & thread
Iron & ironing board

The first thing you will need to do is decide how wide of a cuff you want. 1.5” is pretty standard for trousers, but for these shorts I’m going with a 1” cuff. If you are cuffing pants, the beginning of this process goes a lot quicker if you have a second person to pin the hem to the proper length and adjust the cuff until you find a ratio that you like. 

I marked the shorts with a pin to keep a reference for where I want the finished bottom edge of my cuff to be. This isn't required, but especially if you're doing it for the first time, it's a great way to check that you've done your measurements correctly at the last step.

If your pants are unfinished, you can skip to the next step. These shorts, like most pieces you will buy retail, are hemmed, so the next step is to remove the hem. To do this you can use either a seam ripper or snips, whichever you prefer. This will also give you a little extra fabric to work with, just in case you need it. For clarity, any measurements given in the rest of this post are for adding a 1” cuff (unless otherwise stated).

Open up your hem being careful not to put a hole in the fabric.

After the hem is out, it’s time to measure. You can see from the picture that I have 4” of excess below the pin. For a 1” cuff, I will need 2 ¾” of excess. 2” for the cuff and ¾” to hem. For trousers, a 1 ½” cuff is standard so you would need about 4” of material to work with (3” for the cuff and 1” to hem). The most important thing is for the hem amount to be less than the width of your cuff, so that the cuff itself hides your stitch line. This is also where you can cheat a little if you are a tad short on fabric, as this length will stay on the inside and eventually get stitched down.

The slider on my hem gauge is set to 2 3/4" indicating where my cut line
will be from my marked pin.

Like Bob Vila always said, ‘measure twice, cut once.’ Once you know you have enough material to work with, you should mark your cut line with tailor’s chalk. You could use pins, but tailor’s chalk makes things a lot easier since you won’t have to be pulling pins while trying to cut a straight line. The easiest way to do this is to use a hem gauge. Move the slider to the length you need to cut off, 1 ¼” in my case, and work your way along the circumference of the leg, marking every couple inches.

When actually marking a hem, work from the bottom up. This lets you
use the bottom (hopefully even) edge of the pant as your guideline.

Extra Tip : If you’re doing this with a pair of pants/shorts that have been altered before or are of uncertain origin (meaning you didn’t buy them brand new), be sure to make sure the edge is even all the way around and that both legs have even inseams or you will end up with an uneven hem.

Using your pinking shears, cut along your chalked edge (any chalk that remains should come off either with an iron or in the wash, depending on the kind you are using), lining up each new clip of the blades to maintain an even edge. Now I have only my needed 2 ¾” of excess remaining.

Extra Tip : If you do a lot of work with materials and have a serger threaded, that will work just as well and give you that factory finished look. Since I don't have a serger always set up, I went with pinking shears because it would take almost as long to thread the serger as it would to do the entire project.

Extra Tip II : If you are really hard on your clothes and want a little extra protection against unraveling, use some seam tape over your pinked edge.

You can see that the pinked edge measures 2 3/4" from my marked pin.

Now, you can put away those shears and start folding. Turn the shorts inside out and, using your hem gauge again as a guide, fold up your allotted hem amount, in this case ¾”, to the inside of your leg and pin in place. Since I’m using plastic ball head pins to make seeing them in the photos easier, it is important to keep the ball of the pin well away from the fold I need to press or else the iron will melt it. If you don’t need to take pictures of your process, flat head silk pins are a good alternative.

Use the hem gauge as a guide to keep your fold even.

Give this fold a good press and then remove your pins. I’ll usually give it another good press once the pins are all out, just to make sure I have a nice sharp line, which will come in handy later.

Extra Tip : Check your iron temperature before pressing. The excess fabric you cut off earlier is a great low-stakes test strip. 

Pressing your folds help keep them in place and make moving from one
step to the next much smoother.

Next you will fold up again, but this time by your 1” cuff width. Your shorts are still inside out, so this fold will temporarily enclose the ¾” hem you’ve already pressed. Use your hem gauge again the same way to make sure you’ve got an even 1”.

When making the second fold, be careful not to short the fold. This is going
to be what determines the final width of your cuff so use your hem gauge
as a guide.

Pin and press as before. 

You should now only have 1” distance between your marking pin and the edge of the short. It may look a little counterintuitive to have the hem folded inside, but we’ll take care of that after the next and final fold.

Turn your shorts back the right way out, keeping the folded areas on the inside. Take the bottom inch of the short (making sure to catch the two folds that are on the inside) and fold it up as you would if you were folding a cuff into a pair of chinos or denim. Your allotted hem should now be sandwiched between the leg of the shorts and the 1” fold you just made.

For this final fold, you can use your hem gauge but shouldn't need to.
Let the first two folds be your guide, you'll see when it is even.

Pin and press again.

Now, remove your pins and delicately pull the ¾” hem from between the two layers and fold it to the inside of the short like you would with a traditional hem. If you’ve done your pressing correctly, this is where it should want to go anyway.

I recommend trading pin for pin. Take one pin out of the cuff, flip the hem
to the back (inside), and repin in place.

As you do so, make sure you are folding it tightly against the bottom edge of the short, pinning as you go, or your hem will end up uneven.

If your shorts have a drastic taper, make sure you don't catch any puckers
in your pinned hem and that your fabric is evenly distributed and your
side seams match up.

Now, take your needle and thread and do a blind hem just like you would when hemming anything. Be careful not to catch the newly made cuff in your hem stitch. Give it one more pressing and it’s time for the last step.

Be sure to use a thread as close to the color of your garment as possible.
With a pattern or print, it's usually best to go with the dominant color.

Take your needle and thread (doubled this time) and tack your cuff in place at both side seams to keep it from folding down. Go through the inside of the short leg and catch the inside (pant side) edge of the cuff just under the fold. The key is to catch the cuff without making your stitch visible.

The tack should be just below the cuff line so that it does it's job without
being visible.

Congratulations! You now have a finished cuff! Repeat with the other leg, using the finished one as a gauge to make sure they end up even. Give them a final press and you now have a pair of cuffed shorts.

Have you ever added a cuff to your shorts or trousers? What are some of your favorite DIY projects?

Stay stylish,
- JJ


  1. I love these seersucker shorts! Great cuff DIY. I'm now about to make my own pair or seersucker pants in white/grey stripe.

    1. Thanks for reading! I love seersucker, especially unique color combinations. Good luck with your pants!