How to Control Frayed Edges on Your Clothes

Summer clothes and jean shorts
@jamiesue / Twenty20

Creating cut-offs from your old jeans is a common way to transform them into summer wear—but have you ever had the fraying at the edge get out of control? In most cases, this happens because the fabric grain is not straight around the leg, so your "fashion fringe" ends up showing off much more than you intended. Also, it's not very economical to repurpose ragged jeans into a new pair of shorts only to have them become even more unappealing.

If you want your cut-offs to last for many summers, you'll want to sew a quick hem. This simple step—just one line of stitching—is one that even beginners can manage and will keep the fraying where you want it and not beyond. It's the easiest way to stop the frays and keep your modesty (and jeans) intact.

How to Hem Cut-Off Jeans

Spending an hour (or less) with scissors and your sewing machine will result in great-looking pair of cut-off jeans. Simply follow these steps to properly hem your cut-off jeans to prevent fraying:

  1. Mark the jeans to the length you want your shorts to be.
  2. Cut the jeans off slightly below that line, leaving a couple of extra inches to allow for fraying.
  3. Thread your sewing machine with thread that matches the color of your jeans as closely as possible.
  4. Sew a straight line of stitching around the edge of your jeans at the desired length you originally marked. This stitching can be a shortened straight stitch or a narrow zigzag stitch. If you are sewing stretchy fabric, maintain that stretch by using a stretch stitch.
  5. Starting at the cut edge, begin pulling out the jean threads below the stitching to create a frayed effect.
  6. Comb out the threads and trim off any that stay attached. Do not force the threads that want to resist being removed from the fabric, since your stitching is probably what's preventing those fibers from coming loose.
  7. To complete the frayed fringe effect, wash and dry the shorts.
  8. Trim any wandering threads as you see fit. To prevent the fray from going further, take care not to pull or cut your line of stitching while doing so.

Tips and Tricks

This project is easy enough, but a few extra tips will help your cut-offs look amazing.

  • You'll notice a lot of cut-offs that taper up on the thighs and the seam tends to stick out. That's because they were cut at what appeared to be straight across when laid flat. To avoid that, measure from the floor as you mark all the way around each leg to create a truly straight hem.
  • It's always best to cut your jeans a little longer at first. You can always cut more off but you can't sew fabric back on and get the original look you were going for.
  • Denim thread may be perfect for this sewing task, depending on the color of your jeans. There are a few different shades from various manufacturers, but it doesn't have to be an exact match to blend in well.
  • There are a variety of gold-colored threads meant to match the most common colors of stitching found on jeans. If you're confident in your sewing, this can be a quick way to add a little embellishment and make your hem part of the style.