When it comes to garment construction, sewing your hem represents the finish line.
You have done all the hard work of preparing and stitching the garment carefully. And this is the last step before you get to flaunt a garment made with love, care, sweat, and maybe even tears.
But it is important to remember this…
Now is not the time to get careless!
So here are the rules to take you to the finish line in style…
NOTE: If you’re ready to begin this journey and would like to buy my recommended tools and supplies, please click HERE!
Rules of Hemming
Rule #1: ALWAYS allow your almost finished garment to hang at least 24 hours BEFORE you hem it. This will give the fabric a chance to stretch and grow; this is especially important when hemming full or bias garments and those made of rayon!
Rule #2: Don’t get sloppy. If your hem is sloppy, it will undermine the quality of your entire garment.
Rule #3: For a truly level hem that is parallel to the floor all the way around, you need to measure up from the floor using a yardstick. AND you need to do this while you’re wearing the garment.
Rule #4: Always start at a side seam. Hems should be pretty! End of story.
Okay, now it’s time to learn the…
Anatomy of a Hem
The anatomy of a hem is too simple. It consists of just three parts:
- the raw edge;
- the hemline (or the fold); and
- the hem allowance (the space in between the raw edge and the hemline).
Okay. Now that you know the parts, let’s talk about…
Hem Depth (Hem Allowance)
Hem depth is another crucial element of a pretty hem! It refers to the area between the raw edge and the fold line or hemline; otherwise, known as the hem allowance.
And how wide or deep the hem allowance needs to be will depend on three things:
- the weight of the fabric;
- the drape of the fabric; and
- the fullness or width of the garment (hem sweep).
Here are some general guidelines you can follow for deciding on the appropriate hem depth:
- Straight and A-line garments: 1 to 1½ inches
- Full or bias garments: 5/8 to ¼ inch
- Sheers: ¼ or ⅛ inch
In plain English, this means that the narrower or straighter the garment, the deeper or larger the hem allowance.
Conversely, the wider or fuller the garment, the narrower the hem must be! Please imprint this on your mind to save yourself from bulky, fiddly hem foolishness when sewing dresses with full or circle skirts!
How to Measure Hem Allowance Accurately
A level hem all the way around is only possible if you measure from the floor up. So this means that you will likely need a friend to help you out.
Once you’ve located that friend, have them use a yardstick to measure the distance from the floor to your desired hem length. As they measure around the garment, ask them to place pins at the desired hemline so that they are parallel to the floor.
Then, all you need to do is to add the appropriate hem allowance and trim off any excess.
Sew easy tip: I’ve read ad infinitum about wearing the shoes that you plan to wear with the finished garment when measuring your hems. I just don’t get this. What if I wear those same shoes to a friend’s party of the year and when I get ready to leave my shoes have gone AWOL? Or, what if I decide I don’t like those shoes anymore and decide to donate them to the Goodwill? What if…?! In other words, if those shoes say “bye, bye” does that mean I can’t ever wear my dress again?! Just saying!
How to Hem Wovens
Okay, if you’ve allowed your garment to hang at least a full 24 hours, then you’re ready to hem.
And you need at least two techniques when hemming wovens: one for straight or A-line garments and another for full, bias or sheer/lightweight garments.
Turned & Stitched Hem
A turned & stitched hem is ideal for straight or A-line garments. And it makes for a very professional finish.
For example, let’s say you’ve decided on a hem allowance of 1 inch…
- Measure up 1½ inches from the raw edge and mark.
- Start about two or three stitches from a side seam (SS). Position your needle 3/8 inch from the cut edge.
- Now, backstitch two or three stitches, stopping just before you reach the SS.
- Stitch all the way around. And when you get back to where you started, go right up to but not past the SS and backstitch two or three stitches. To make sure you don’t zip past the SS, you will probably have to take these last two or three stitches manually by turning your hand wheel! (Because, yes, I want you to have pretty finish with little or no fugly, bulky overlapping!)
- Take your garment to the ironing board and press up along the stitching line you just stitched.
- Next, press up the remaining hem allowance and press lightly.
- From the right side of your garment, topstitch 1 inch from hemline fold, starting at a side seam. At a SS, start and and finish as described in Steps 2 to 4.
Perfection! No fugly, bulky overlapping, thank you!
Sew easy tip: On newer sewing machines, it seems that the stitching on the bobbin side is as pretty as the stitching on the needle side. So if it is easier for you, you can edgestitch from the wrong side (WS).
A narrow hem is ideal for finishing full skirts, bias garments, and sheers.
And while it can seem a little intimidating, don’t let it boss you around. Because a narrow hem is just a double fold hem.
So here’s how you take command of this technique. For example, let’s say we want a narrow hem with a finished width of ¼ inch…
- First, stitch a line of stitching at a ¼ inch from the raw edge all the way around.
- Then, use that line of stitching as a guide to fold up the hem allowance to the WS and press. Make sure that the stitching line is NOT visible from the RS or on the fold. See the image in the upper right corner.
- Next, fold again and press.
- Now, edgestitch close to the fold from the WS.
- Finish with a good press!
Easy and neat and tidy too!
Sew easy tip: You can actually use this technique with a ⅛ inch (narrower) or a ½ inch (deeper) hem allowance.
Alright. Now that we’ve got wovens covered, it’s time to tackle…
How to Hem Knits
Frankly, sewing knit hems on a sewing machine can be fiddly!
And the three most important thing you need to know about hemming knits are…
- If you don’t have a walking foot, then you need to stabilize the hem allowance with knit interfacing before you get to your sewing machine! Or, get ready for a hem that is as wavy as the ocean waves during a tropical hurricane!
- If the garment is not full, your hem MUST have some stretch, so use a narrow zigzag! Or get ready to hear the sounds of “pop, pop, pop” the first time you pull it over your head and shoulders!
- You need to use a ballpoint or stretch needle.
But here’s the good news…
Since knits don’t fray, a simple single-fold hem is all you need and here’s how you do it…
- Trim the hem allowance to 5/8 inch.
- Interface the hem allowance with a 5/8 inch wide strip of fusible knit tricot interfacing. If you have a walking foot, this step is optional.
- Then, turn the hem up and press lightly.
- Now, you’re ready to topstitch ½ inch from the fold.
If you would like a second line of stitching, then stitch the second line ⅛ inch below the first stitching line.
Sew easy tip: If you plan on sewing lots of knits, then buy a sewing machine that comes bundled with a walking foot, or buy one! It will make sewing knits on your sewing machine as easy as a cool, breeze in early spring.
How to Press a Hem
After you’ve sewn your hem, it is time to press it, of course.
And you want to do so only along the fold. That is, press up TO but NOT beyond the edge of the hem allowance. This way you avoid harsh ugly lines making an appearance on the right side!
Hemming is the finish line!
Remember how you finish is as important as how you start (staystitching) when it comes to sewing a quality garment.
Once you’ve sewn a stunning finish, I urge you to get up and do the happy seamstress dance!
Because yes you did it — you’re ready to flaunt a garment made by you!
Life is the ultimate red carpet event. Dress for it!
RELATED: Click HERE to learn the other basic sewing skills you need to sew insanely pretty garments!
RELATED: Click HERE to learn how to topstitch and edgestitch!
RELATED: Click HERE if you’re ready to unleash your dressmaking super powers and learn how to sew a simple dress! Warning: This is a MEGA 5-part series!