Hems at the end!

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There a number of ways of hemming a garment, and the one you choose will depend on several things, such as the type of garment, the fabric it is made from, and the style you want. A thin, sheer delicate fabric will require a very different hem from that needed on a tweed coat, or a fleece jumper. The general trend is that the finer and lighter the fabric, the narrower the hem.

Sometimes one clean finishes the edge of the fabric before hemming, and sometimes the two are done in one operation. Many types of hem are sewn by machine these days, as it is far quicker and easier, once one has the knack, than sewing by hand. There are some instances when nothing beats a delicately hand sewn decorative hem, and some where hemming by hand gives the least visible finish.

On this page we will look at some of the most common and easier hems. Later we will look at more esoteric hemming methods!

Narrow Hems:
There are a number of different ways of doing these, both by hand and by machine. Many machines come with special feet for rolling over a very narrow edge, holding it in place, and sewing it down. These are very good for lightweight fabrics. The best explanation of how to use these feet that I have found is in Fine Machine Sewing, by Carol Laflin Ahles.  There is full information about this book on the Kate's Booklist page.  The same effect can be had with a little patience if one does not own one of these feet.

Narrow rolled hem I

Machined: Fold and press 1/8” or 2 mm of fabric to the wrong side of the garment. Fold over and press a second time. Tack the hem in place with a single thread and sew down using a 2.5mm stitch. Remove the tacking stitches. Hems up to 1 cm can be done like this on garments. If you do wider hems like this, it can look messy. They are ideal for the bottoms of shirts and blouses, the ends of both long and short sleeves where there is no cuff, and the hems of casual trousers.

Narrow rolled hem II:

Hand Stitched: A) Prepare and tack the seam to in the same way as for a machined hem. Sew down with a slipstitch, slipping the needle along inside the hem to conceal the thread. Only pick up one or two threads of the body of the garment: the aim is to make the stitches completely invisible on both sides. The length of slipstitch will be dictated by the width of the hem; the narrower the hem, the smaller the slipstitch! This fine hem is ideal for baby things like Christening robes, where hand finished details are really appreciated, and other fine work.

Hand Stitched: B) This one is even finer, and is rolled over a bit at a time as you sew. The idea is to keep it as fine as possible. It is used in the edges of things like silk scarves. Roll the edge over an inch or so at a time, and take a tiny stitch though the fabric and the hem.. the thread will be hidden inside the roll. You can start this with a row of machine stitches close to the edge, but it adds bulk and stiffness you would probably wish to avoid. 

Narrow hem III: 

Double or Twin Needle Hems: For this you need a special needle that has a single shaft, but two points side by side. Any machine that will zigzag will take one of these needles. They come in a number of different widths, generally 2 mm to 7 mm between the two needles. Look at your machine manual before fitting one of these needles, and only fit up to the widest recommended in the manual or you will break an expensive needle and may damage your machine. Follow your machine’s recommendations for threading and tension. 


To form the hem, turn the required amount to the inside, press, and tack in place. Trim the hem close to the tacking. Sew with the double needle from the outside of the garment, following the line of the tacking. The zigzag on the inside will prevent the fabric fraying.

This hem is very useful for stretch fabrics, as it is naturally stretchy. The stitches are formed by the two top threads and the single bobbin thread which zigzags on the inside. This is an excellent finish on curved hems, jersey fabrics, and for sewing elasticated edges on things like leotards and knickers.

Wider Plain Hems:

These are used to finish the hems of dresses, skirts and other garments, and can be hand or machine stitched. Hand stitching is fine, but machine stitching is sometimes more durable. On finer fabrics, the hem is turned over twice. On thicker fabrics a different stitch is used in some cases. A plain hem is one that is not lined, faced, or stiffened, but is formed by folding the garment fabric to the wrong side, like a narrow hem.

The best way to learn how to do all the different hem finishes is to practice, as with the seams. The aim with all these hemming methods is to have a line of stitching that holds the hem in place without being visible from the outside. You should aim to pick up three threads at most, fewer on thicker fabrics. Never pull hemming stitches tight, as this will cause an unsightly ridge to show on the outside. This is particularly important with knits and thick fabrics.

Hem Stitch: 

This is used on plain hems where the fabric is fairly lightweight and can be turned over twice. Turn up about ½” or 1.5cm, and press in place. Turn up the hem again to the marked hemline, press, then pin or tack. Sew in place, following the diagram. 

Herringbone Stitch: 

This is used on tweeds and other thicker fabrics where turning over twice could add unwanted bulk to the hem. It has the advantage of helping to prevent fraying while remaining invisible on the outside. Turn up the hem to the marked place, and press. Pin or tack in place, then sew, following the diagram.

Blind Hemming on the sewing machine: 

There is a full explanation of machined blind hemming it's own page: Blind Hemming on the sewing machine: 

There are more complex ways of finishing a hem, using things like horsehair braid to stiffen them, interfacing the hem on a jacket to stabilize it, and hems done with a facing. You can also finish narrow hems with decorative stitches and braid, beads and lace. However, the above are the ones to start with: the others will come in time, and are nothing like so daunting as they first seem.

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