Recently I've found myself in the care of a Singer “Zig-zag” Sewing Machine Model 247 from the mid-70s built into a table. I'm not a fan of the aesthetics of the enclosure as it has all the appearances of a cabinet without the drawers part. If I was designing this I'd rather just not have an ornate handle on the front at all (because it's not a drawer) but I'm not one to turn down a free sewing machine. The copyright date on the manual is 1975.

I learned everything I could about sewing by reading. It was intimidating at first but opening the machine up, cleaning it out and lubricating the moving parts taught me some about how it works internally. After running a few test patches through I decided to take on a few concrete projects, the first of these being simply hemming existing clothes.

A well-done alteration can completely change how something looks on your body. You can go from baggy and shapeless to neat and polished in few stitches. Hemming also allows you to repurpose clothes and tailor them to suit your needs.

In celebration of this helpful diagram for men's summer style I settled on first repurposing old jeans into new denim shorts.

I'm a fan of shorts of the 80s; I know a lot of people are not. I think people deserve to show off their muscle tone where they've got it because I understand a lot of work goes into maintaining body aesthetics, especially beyond the early 20s. And I think what they turned basketball shorts into is a tragedy. I'm also gay so this is far from objective.

I don't even mind the shorts that are core to any femboy's aesthetic (see the above diagram). I own a few pairs of shorts like this and I can tell you the fabric is thin and the construction is poor and their half-life is measured in months. Nobody makes men's shorts like they used to.

No matter my disapproving opinions on the evolution of men's hemlines, I'm here to craft my own clothes. For this project I used the following materials. As it happens this is just a good collection of sewing material to own anyway for other basic projects too.

  • Sewing machine
    • Needle
    • Bobbin
    • Enough thread matching the fabric being hemmed
  • Fabric shears
  • Pins
  • Iron + board for pressing hems
  • Jeans which fit me at the waist (legs not important)

I had to buy my jeans from a Goodwill because I honestly haven't worn full-length, regular denim jeans since probably high-school.

Before (left) and after (right) of the Denim Demolition Derby

The bottom pair in the above “after” image sports a “raw edge” which I did not hem while the top pair is hemmed using a straight stitch. The fraying on the bottom pair happened naturally after a few cycles in the washer and dryer but looked kinda dorky before it really begin to fray.

With my new pairs of jeans I measured down to the length I wanted. Using fabric chalk I marked down to about where my knuckles rest against my leg when standing straight up meaning these shorts would have about a 2.5-inch inseam. I then marked 1 inch below that, folded the jeans over and cut the legs off at that spot, making an initial 3.5-inch inseam.

This is necessary to cuff the raw edge for the hem.

Black denim jeans at a 3.5-inch inseam after being cut but before being hemmed, note the frays already showing at the edge

Now, you can either leave them as they are (“raw edge”) or hem them if you prefer. For one pair I decided to leave them unhemmed just to see how they fray. I settled on hemming the other two pairs.

To create the hem I turned the new cutoffs inside out then folded the legs up a half-inch, then folded them over again another half-inch to the first line I marked at 2.5-inch inseam. The reason for folding twice is so that the raw edge does not fray and is safely tucked under a layer of fabric. I plugged in my iron and pressed the folds flat, then pinned them to make sure they would not move while stitching the hem.

The bobbin in my Singer was already loaded with white thread I used while practicing on a test patch of denim so I kept it in there and threaded the needle with black fabric. Bobbin color doesn't matter because it only appears on the reverse of the fabric.

Turning the dial on the sewing machine once towards you will begin the stitch. I backstitch some before moving around the leg just to increase the strength of the beginning of the stitch.

Stitching in-progress

My machine is controlled by a foot-pedal allowing me to drive the belt with variable speed. I made sure that the fabric stayed taut by holding onto both ends as I worked my way down each side, pivoting the workpiece around the bottom corner, then up the other side, all the while keeping an eye out for any puckers or pleats in the fabric caused by irregularities in its weave or uneven stretching.

Once both legs are hemmed cut away any excess thread and press the hems with an iron to strengthen the stitch.

Final products, puppy not included

I really like how the pockets show past the cuff on the hemmed blue denim pair. They are comically deep pockets, women's pants typically don't sport these by the way.

This project was simple enough to complete in one sitting and gave me a chance to practice using my “new” machine while also giving me a useful new addition to my summer closet. Now I have one more pair of shorts to wear. I feel confident that I can take on more complex projects in the future. I'll keep practicing and experimenting with fabrics and patterns to develop my skills even further. Soon I'll try my hand at designing and making my own clothes. I'm glad to know the basics of sewing and to be able to fix clothing and alter garments to better fit me.