Ho Ho Hem

Our shop sees a lot of hems.

Curtains, trousers, dresses and more. We refer to the finishing of an exposed raw edge of fabric as hemming. Most commonly, we think of the bottom of our pant legs, skirt or curtains. There are a lot of ways to finish a hem. The various methods allow choice to find what is just right for each different application. I won’t go into hand stitching techniques for hems here.

Jeans and work or casual pants

Most often when we hem the bottoms of casual pant legs we use a very straightforward hem type. The pant legs get trimmed an inch longer than the desired length. (Sometimes you have to open up the old hem to have enough fabric to get it to the length you want.) The extra fabric is turned so that the extra inch is sitting neatly inside the leg all the way around. I like to turn the raw edge of that under a quarter inch and then stitch very close to the edge with the sewing machine set to a long stitch all the way around. This gives a nice tidy hem with no raw edges showing. (Tip: If you serge that raw edge, it gives you a perfect quarter inch as a guide to turn under.)



Yoga Pants and other Lycra garments

You know that stitching on the hems of stretchy pants that looks a little bit like a ladder? That’s done on a cover stitch or cover hem machine. It’s designed specifically for stretch fabrics. The stitch itself has a lot of give, so when the fabric stretches, the stitches don’t break. These hems are pretty easy to do unless you have to take out the old hem stitching to have enough fabric to get the desired length. Taking out cover stitching is exceedingly frustrating. If you happen to get the threads just right, it comes out as easy as opening a zipper. Getting the threads started is not an easy task; especially if you are working with black thread on black fabric!


Dress Pants and Skirts

On Dress pants, we like to have a nice smooth line that is uninterrupted by stitches. So we use a blind hem. A blind hem machine has a curved needle that pokes the thread through just one thread of the front of the garment, from the inside. On the inside of the hem you see a series of loopy stitches along the edge. On the outside you may see wee little pinpricks where the thread is holding it together. This is also sometimes used on sheer curtains.


Most curtains get a hem that uses the same method as jeans, but we allow 3 inches extra fabric to turn and stitch. Once that quarter inch is turned under along the edge, the hem (on the back of the curtain) measures 2-3/4 inches. The actual stitching of the curtain is certainly straightforward. Getting it ready to stitch isn’t always. It’s pretty uncommon for curtains to be even when they come from the factory. Their hems are usually crooked. When I prepare curtains for hemming, I fold them in half, lengthwise, to make them more manageable. Once folded, I carefully pin the edges along the top and sides so that they won’t shift and move around. That way, when I measure, I get an accurate measurement. I measure at the edges and at the centre from the top to the bottom, draw a line at the cutting line (length of finished curtain plus 3 inches) and then cut the excess fabric away. This is a bit tedious but I learned the hard way that if you just measure up from the hem and trim, most often the curtains will end up uneven.

Fine fabric edges

When hemming fine fabrics like chiffon, there are a couple options. Chiffon specifically, (known as “the Devil’s Fabric” by most of us who sew) is very challenging to work with. You can use a rolled edge. This is done on a serger with 3 threads, a very narrow stitch width and very short stitch length. It’s the edge you often see on lingerie, which is why it is often called a lingerie hem or lingerie edge. The other option is a rolled hem or double turned hem. There are presser feet for sewing machines that are designed to do this. They require that you hold your tongue just right or they are more hassle than help. The fabric feeds into them and they roll the edge to whatever width the foot is designed to do. We commonly see this sort of hem on light flowy blouses or dresses. Another way to do this is to serge the raw edge, then turn that serged edge either once or twice and stitch. If the edge you are finishing has a lot of curve to it (like a neckline) you may have trouble turning it twice; it will pucker. If you are confident at estimating an eighth or quarter of an inch, and have good coordination, you can free-hand this technique.

Whether jeans, curtains, a gown or a skirt these techniques give us a way to create neatly finished edges. YAY!


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