How to sew jeans tighter at the ankle!

Written by Roxanne Lopez Category: Free Sewing Projects

My sister recently gifted me a pair of jeans that didn’t work out for her. We do this all the time since we have different body shapes but are pretty close to the same size. Lucky for me, I really liked the color, stretch, style and the way these jeans fit everywhere except from my calves down. They fit like skinny jeans from my calves up, but from my calves down, they were slacking – literally. It’s like they weren’t wide enough to be bootcut but they really fell short of being skinnies too. One thing that really makes skinnies appeal to me is the way they hug the ankle. I personally love the way the contrast in shape from a skinny ankle really shows off a fun pair of shoes! I also find that skinny jeans that are snug everywhere except under the calf just aren’t as flattering as when I take them in to have a sleeker profile. Luckily, sewing jeans tighter at the ankle is such a gratifying quick fix. Here are the 10 steps to sewing your jeans skinnier at the ankle!


Step 1- Pin your jeans

Put the skinny jeans on inside out, and pin the excess on one leg until you have them as snug as you would like them to be. Be sure to pin the side of the leg that has single needle stitching.

Step 2- Mark them up

Mark your pin locations with chalk or pencil. You only need to mark one side of the fabric. Once you’ve marked all the pins, unpin them, and take the jeans off.

Pin markings shown in pink chalk. My cat Paprika was supervising the process.

Step 3- Measure your heel

Measure your foot around your heel. This is the minimum circumference your pants leg will need to be in order to get them on and off easily. If you value snugness at the ankle above ease of removal, you can make your jeans hem a little bit smaller than your foot/heel measurement but only if your jeans have stretch to them. Even if it is stretch denim, the hem won’t stretch as much as the rest of the jeans, so be conservative. For example, on my last pair of edited stretch jeans, I was able to take ~1.5″ off my foot/heel measurement for the hem circumference. These jeans are delightfully snug at my ankle but require me to pull them off inside out, instead of simply stepping out of them. It’s totally your choice, but use trial and error – once you cut, there’s no going back!

Fun socks optional but highly recommended 😉

Step 4- Connect the dots

Connect your pin markings in a smooth line and adjust for heel measurement. Use a french curve where necessary, such as when tapering your line into your existing calf seam. This is your stitching line.

Step 5- Undo the hem

Seam rip the hem of the jeans open for 1.5″ on either side of the line you just drew. Also seam rip from the new stitching line to the old stitching line. Then, unfold the hem, continue your traced stitching line down through the hem allowance and pin it flat.

The smoothed out stitching line, ready to sew.

Step 6- Stitch your seam

Sew along your smoothed stitching line. Be sure to sew smoothly into the existing stitches, and extend your stitching on top of the existing stitches for about 1/2-1″ before backstitching to secure your seam.

Step 7- Make a template

Leaving a 3/8″ seam allowance, neatly trim the excess fabric. This piece can be oriented correctly, then laid on top of the other leg. Once in place, trace your cutting line onto your other jean leg.

Step 8- Repeat on other leg

Draw a smooth line 3/8″ in from the cutting line you just drew – this is your stitching line. Repeat steps 5 & 6 for the other leg, then finish all raw edges.

Step 9- Press seams

A seam roll helps with this process.

Press your new seam to the side to match the rest of the jeans leg, and re-fold your hem. Optionally, you can use a tip from Mallory and Zede at their blog,, to reduce bulk. To do this, unfold the hem you just pressed. Next, you will make a cut starting at the raw edge on either side of your new seam allowance, leaving it pressed to the side. Now refold the hem as usual, and but leave the tab sticking straight up out of the hem fold. This step will allow you to reduce the thickness at the side seam when sewing your hem – see the illustration below for details!

Cut this tab to reduce bulk!
It will look like this on the inside when you are done sewing the hem!

Step 10- Re-sew the hems

Re-sew the hems. If you don’t have the exact color of topstitching thread, just use a color that disappears into the denim color. Press your seams, and you have completed your newly ankle-hugging jeans! Please share pictures – I’d love to see your results!

Before and After Pics

13 thoughts on “How to sew jeans tighter at the ankle!

  1. Such a good tutorial! I have several pairs of jeans that could really benefit from this. Can’t wait to start!

  2. Hi there! I tried a similar method (not as well put together as this, so I’m gonna give this a shot). However on the outside of the jeans where I sewed, I noticed a little bulge of fabric. I’m assuming because I tightened the fabric directly below, leading to a slight bulge a couple inches above. That was a cheap pair of jeans that I wanted to practice on before trying it on my more expensive jeans. Might you know what could cause that and how to prevent it? Hope I explained well enough! Thank you!

    1. Hi! I’m glad you are giving it a try! Yes, the bulge is caused by taking it in, but to prevent it, you can use a french curve ruler to smooth out the transition. You want the transition to your new seam to be a very gradual curve, and the french curve helps us achieve that smooth line. Just line it up to your new stitching line and experiment, flipping the ruler up or down, until you find the curve that best smooths it back into your existing calf side seam. I hope that helps!

    1. Hi! Sewing denim by hand can be tiring since it is a thicker fabric, so these are some steps I would recommend for the best results: pick a needle that is thin enough to go through the fabric easily but long enough to hold comfortably, draw your sewing lines with chalk so your stitch line is straight, and be sure to press the seam open when done. Also, for the hem, you might consider using a fusible hem tape since it will probably be too thick for hand-sewing. Hope it comes out great for you!

      1. Hello Roxanne, any tips or tutorials you can direct me towards adding buttons on the ankles to make it snug and not worry about fitting your foot through then? Thank you.

        1. Hi,

          I have never considered adding buttons – it would honestly be a lot more work, but if an opening is what you are looking for, I would recommend adding a zipper. It is much simpler than buttons. A quick YouTube search resulted in several videos showing how to add a zipper at the ankle in order to make it snugger while still allowing a bigger opening.

          Happy sewing,

  3. Hello! This tutorial looks very helpful, but could you please explain the step where you sewed the seam allowance the way you did after step 9? I am new to sewing so I’m not sure what you did there. Thank You!

    1. Hi! Once you have finished sewing your side seam, press it to the side to match the rest of the leg’s side seam. Next, starting at the raw edge, cut up ~1/2″ on either side of the seam allowance you just sewed and pressed. Now fold the hem up as usual, leaving the resulting tab of seam allowance unfolded. This step’s purpose is to reduce the bulk of fabric at the side seams. When you have a big step up in thickness, your sewing machine can get jammed or freeze up if it lacks the power to pierce all the stacked layers. Cutting the seam allowance this way just eliminates bulk at that spot. This step can be skipped if you prefer and you can either hand-sew the hem, or use an iron-on fusible hem tape to avoid using a sewing machine.
      Thanks for pointing out that that step was unclear – I have edited it to hopefully make it easier to follow.
      I hope this helps!

  4. I want my ankle part of my jeans skin tight. Would a zipper work better even with stretch fabric ??
    Do you have any tips to tighten the knee or thigh area as well ? Amanda

    1. Hi! A zipper would allow for the tightest fit, even with stretch fabric, but I have found that if the jeans are very stretchy they should be able to slip over your ankle bone and foot even without a zipper. To tighten up the knee or thigh area, just continue pinning the excess fabric higher up the leg, but remember that the knee should have enough room to bend! Hope that helps!

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