Why Do Cuffs and Pocket Flaps Bunch and Not Lie Flat?

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Dear Home Ec 101,
I’ve been subbed to your feed for quite some time and thought you might know how to help me with a laundry problem.  I just can’t seem to pick the right search terms to find this info myself or else it’s not been discussed online?
My problem has to do with the hems on some of my pairs of cotton shorts.  I live in Florida where it is shorts weather all but a few days a year.  I prefer cotton for obvious reasons.  Several pairs of shorts, made by different manufacturers and of different styles, have a hem problem.  The hems on the shorts will wrinkle and fold, effectively shortening the shorts to be too short!  I try ironing, the hem lays flat until washed again.  I’ve tried spray starch, then ironing, same result.  I hate having to iron something so casual, but also hate having to constantly adjust the legs of my clothes.  They always seem to wrinkle the same way and they come out of the dryer this way, pressing them flat while still hot and putting them away that way doesn’t help, only ironing immediately before wearing.  Any ideas on what I can do to get these hems to lay flat and stay that way?

Bunchy Britches

Heather says:

Your problem is actually quite common, just spend an hour or so people watching anywhere people don’t feel the need to dress up. You’ll see bunchy hems, crumpled pockets -especially on on cargo pants, and decorative pockets on blouses do all kinds of crazy things. It also happens to towels with a band of decorative stitching, but hopefully you won’t observe this during your people watching adventure. Frequently, the thread used in the hems of some fabrics shrinks at a different rate than the material it is used to hold.

Did you know that manufacturers actually include all those choices on your washer and dryer for a reason? It’s true, I can’t make this stuff up. Different fabrics have different optimal temperatures for washing; the same is true for your dryer.

The cotton thread is shrinking in the heat of the dryer and if you wash your clothes in hot water, that could be contributing, too.

Now that we know the problem, how do you prevent cotton fibers from shrinking in the laundry?

Try washing cotton clothing in cold water, since you’re in Florida, your water is typically not too cold for most detergents. In Northern parts of the US, you may need to use the warm setting to keep your detergent working effectively. Typically this is more of a problem with powdered detergent than liquid.

Partially dry your clothes on low,  tumble and then hang to finish drying, or simply hang to dry. If you choose to hang your clothing to dry, don’t forget consider where the drips may fall? In other words, don’t hang over a hardwood floor. Additionally, make sure there is air flow around the hanging item. You cannot stuff your clothing in a crowded closet and assume it will dry. It may eventually, but mildew will have had a field day by that time. You can lie some articles of clothing flat to dry, just be sure to flip them over or use a drying rack.

I want you to understand that it is possible the thread in the hem has shrunk so much that it may never lie flat without a little help from your iron. However these tactics to prevent shrinking will save future articles of clothing from this obnoxious problem.

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10 thoughts on “Why Do Cuffs and Pocket Flaps Bunch and Not Lie Flat?”

      • Actually, most, if not all of ours are not decoratively stitched either… however, the hem on the edge of the towels still does that same pulling tight, and our towels seem narrower on the edges, almost like they are pleated. (if that makes any sense).
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      • I never understood towels with decorative stitching – the decorative part is just not going to be very absorbent, and it is prone to the shrinkage problems that you mention (and I can think of all kinds of reasons why one might want to wash their towels in hot water from time to time). I never buy decorative towels either – mine are always plain. They may or may not be in a color that coordinates properly with the other colors in my bathroom. 🙂

  1. I agree, it is not just the thread, although shrunken thread is a common cause for puckering. I suspect in some cases it is a matter of the fabric having been cut on a slight bias instead of straight with the weave. I have cotton items that do this even when washed in cold and hung on the line. I give them away as soon as I can afford to replace them because they will never be right.

    In the case of towels that pucker on the ends or woven bands, the problem is the parts that are woven differently than the terrycloth parts…the terry loops hold the weave open through washing and drying (the formation of the loop effectively increases the thread count in that area, while the parts that don't have the terry loops (and are effectively a lower thread count) shink. There's no fixing that, either. I purchased a set of towels when I bought my house ten years ago that have a very wide woven band on one end and a narrower one on the other. The ends were woven like a tapestry, and had a higher thread count than the towel bodies. They have not shrunk or curled.

  2. Skirt hems, which are on a slight bias-cut, are horrible for this. You can fix it yourself though, if you care that much, by ripping the hem, cutting little “V” divots, and rehemming.

    I wear cotton shorts all the time in Mizzourah’s hell-summers. When this begins to happen to shorts hems (and to a lesser degree, jeans hems) I just rip the hem and re-hem it myself, using anything BUT cotton thread.

    IMNSHO, after years of sewing and sewing crafts — Cotton thread has one use. Decorative Quilting. You got it, items that will never ever nebber be exposed to washing and drying.

  3. Hello Hemmed-Up Folks! I would like to add another bit of knowledge…just in case you want to know!

    Most clothing manufacturers do NOT wash the fabric prior to cutting and sewing garments. If you know anything about making clothes or quilts at home the very first step is to WASH the fabric (the way you intend to wash the article of clothing) and then IRON it. This ensures the fibers will have shrunk. Then (if you are a purist) the next step is to tear off the finished edges of the fabric. This allows the threads to be at the close-as-possible to a 90 degree angle so the finished garment will not try to twist and turn to the bias of the fabric (that is a diagonal for those non-sewing folks.) Then the fabric usually needs ironed again, at least at the edges. Once upon a yesteryear, Levi’s “fixed” this problem by literally changing their patterns to adjust to the twist. I bet they have some funky looking patterns!

    So….along with the thread shrinking the fabric is also shrinking and they don’t usually shrink at the same rate! That can really equal a messy hem, pocket flap, etc. especially if your garment is made of a variety of fabrics!

    Here is what has worked best for me. Wash the item as usual. When the item is out-of-the-washing-machine-damp “block” the garment hems. This means to GENTLY pull the fabric into the position it should be. [ You have to be careful because it is possible to tear a garment.] When you are gently tugging pull at each bias by placing your hands at either end of the fabric like this: / (put one grip on the top of the diagonal and one across at the bottom.) Do this on each side. Then continue to gently tug your hem, shoulder seam, pocket flap, whatever; until it is laying as much as it should. You may notice as it dries it can move back. Definitely iron it. It really doesn’t take long to “block” an item….it is just difficult to describe.

    I have also had success ironing a garment when wet and using a dry iron. READ the label! If you have a fabric that can melt you need to use a cooler iron. Sometimes a pressing cloth (or towel) may be necessary between the iron and the garment. I have effectively (along with the blocking method) dried the hems into the proper position. It did take a few minutes but to me its worth it. I hate tugging on my twisting clothing all day!

    • Okay…I KNOW I said a lot all ready…

      ….but I just remembered something else!

      Cuffs, collars and pocket flaps often have interfacing inside. If the garment has been washed super often or in too-hot of water the adhesive interfacing adhesive can wear off the inside. This makes really bunchy stuff because there is extra fabric inside that isn’t attached.

      You can fix a lot of these things if it is really worth it to you. It just means you have to use a seam ripper and re-sew the desired areas.

  4. I know I’m about a year late to the party, but I thought I’d throw in my take.

    I stopped having this problem when I stopped using the dryer except in case of (OMG I missed that pair of pants I have to wear tomorrow) emergency. I have an indoor clothesline in a spare room. I shake out my wet pants or shorts -hard-. Make ’em snap several times. Pants get hung by the waists so the weight of the wet fabric pulls wrinkles and hems flat. Shirts get hung upside down to avoid shoulder nipples. Before I had my clothesline, back when I was living with my parents, I hung everything on two extra big drying racks I’d set up in my bedroom (or back deck, weather permitting) with the same success. Shake everything out a couple more times when you take it off the line to get rid of the stiff crunchy feel. I don’t even own an iron and I’ve got friends and family that would be quick to point out if something was wrinkled, so whatever it is I’m doing seems to work.


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