In this article, you will learn how the anatomy of a hem; the appropriate hem depth for the style of garment you are sewing; how to measure hem allowance accurately; how to sew a turned + stitched and narrow hem with woven fabrics; and how to sew a wonky-free knit hem! So are you ready to sew a pretty finish to your garment?!
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…
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 garments: 2 to 2½ inches (this deep hem allowance helps the garment hang better)
- A-line garments: 1½ to 2 inches
- Full or bias garments: 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.
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…
Step 1: Measure up 1½ inches from the raw edge and mark with your fave marking tool.
In the image below, I not only marked the fold line, but I also went ahead and debulked the seam allowances (SAs) at the side seam (SS). This debulking is only necessary if you are sewing thick fabric.
Step 2: Place your fabric under your needle and position the needle at a SS. Then, sew a line of stitching 3/8 inch from the raw edge.
When you reach the starting point overlap a couple of stitches and backstitch.
Step 3: Now, take your garment to the ironing board and lightly press up along the stitching line you just stitched just like this…
Step 4: Press up the remaining hem allowance up and press lightly. Look how pretty this hem looks already…
Step 5: Starting at a SS, edgestitch from the wrong side (WS).
When you return to your starting point, overlapping just a few stitches and backstitch the same on both sides of the SS. If you want to avoid fugliness, you don’t want to overlap or backstitch more than a few stitches!
Step 6: Finally, finish with a quick press of the hem fold only.
Sew easy tip: On many modern sewing machines, the stitching on the bobbin side is as pretty as the stitching on the needle side. So save yourself some grief and just edgestitch or topstitch from the WS, so can steer close to that folded edge for a more precise finish!
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…
Step 1: Stitch a line of stitching at a ¼ inch from the raw edge all the way around.
Step 2: Using that line of stitching as a guide, 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.
Step 3: Now, fold again and press so that the raw edge meets the fold.
Step 4: Then, edgestitch close to the fold from the WS.
Step 5: Finally, finish with a quick press of the fold!
That’s it! Easy and neat!
Sew easy tip: You can actually use this technique with a ⅛ inch (narrower) or a ½ or 5/8 inch (deeper) hem allowance. I suggest that you don’t use a hem allowance deeper than 5/8 inch if easily sew a narrow hem!
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 things 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!
Here’s how you hem knits…
In this example, we’ll be using a 5/8 inch hem allowance.
Step 1: Trim the hem allowance to 5/8 inch.
Step 2: Measure up 5/8 inch from the raw edge and mark with your favorite marking tool. This will be the hem fold.
Step 3: Then, apply a 5/8 inch wide strip of fusible knit tricot interfacing, aligning one long edge along the line (hem fold) you marked in Step 2. If you have a walking foot, this step may be optional.
Step 5: Now, you’re ready to edgestitch from the WS.
And if you want a double line of stitching, after you’ve edgestitched from the WS, turn the hem to the RS. And use the previous edgestitching as a guide to sew your second line of stitching ⅛ inch below the first stitching line.
And here’s your very pretty knit hem with nary a sign of wonkiness…
Sew easy tip: If you plan on sewing lots of knits, then invest in a walking foot or buy a sewing machine that comes bundled with 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 RS of your garment!
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 how to topstitch and edgestitch!
RELATED: Click HERE if you’re ready to unleash your dressmaking superpowers and learn how to sew a simple dress! Warning: This is a MEGA 5-part series!