Monday, March 5, 2012

Tricks of the Trade - Sewing an Invisible Hem

I think one thing that really distinguishes a quality make from a poor-quality one is the hem.  To me, a hem should be as discrete as possible and not detract from the rest of the garment - unless the hem itself is a design feature, of course!


In my opinion, hems should be totally invisible wherever possible.  Sometimes time/cost constraints prevent this happening and in ready-to-wear and you will often see a machined hem.  That is fine on many garments - casual wear, knits, and lightweight fabrics that can't be blind hemmed for instance.  The Ruby Slip, upon which blind hemming would be nightmare, features a narrow double folded hem which is very discrete:


A hand-rolled hem could also be used, but it takes a lot longer to do!


For more tailored garments, I don't like to see any stitching on the outside as it generally looks cheap.  As usual there are always exceptions - sometimes stitching is part of the design, sometimes there is no hem at all!

In manufacturing we use a blind hemmer which can sew a skirt hem in about a minute.  This machine sews a chain stitch on the inside, catching a thread or two from the outer fabric to secure the hem up.  You know the ones - a small area comes undone and then the whole lot unravels really easily!  Blind hemming should be totally invisible, but in reality you quite often see poor quality work where the take-up stitch is visible from the outside of the garment.

There are several ways of sewing a hem by hand - slip stitching, catch stitching - but each of these can leave an unsightly ridge on the outside, especially after a few presses.  By using a catch stitch between the layers a visible ridge is avoided.  It is a bit fiddly until your fingers learn the right position to hold the fabric, but once you've done a few you'll never look back!

I snapped a few shots while hemming my Turquoise Tartan skirt:


I am hemming the skirt from left to right, but the needle lies right to left - a bit counterintuitive until you get used to it!  Take a 3-4mm stitch inside the hem allowance:


Draw the thread through, then pick up a couple of threads from the body of the skirt about 3-4mm apart.  The secret is to pick up two threads rather than one, as it distributes the weight of the hem more evenly and minimises any indentation on the outside:


The stitching is done about 5mm inside the hem allowance - I've pinned the edge back here so you can see it:


I space the stitches from 6mm to 10mm apart, and this usually depends on my patience - some fabrics are much easier than others.  The closer the stitches, the less likely you are to put a heel through them while getting dressed - ask me, I know!  In fact, you can take a backstitch in the hem allowance every few cm to make it extra secure.

Two more things - the stitching should remain at a slightly loose tension, so the hem 'floats' - like the above photo.  If you pull the thread tight it will cause indentations on the outside.  And second - if you have a heavy fabric, an initial row of stitching done at mid hem level will relieve stress on the upper layer of stitches, and prevent them causing indentations on the outside because of the weight of the hem.

Here's the right side of my hem - if you look at the white line, my pick-up stitches lie in there somewhere - totally invisible!


This fabric was great to work with, others can really test your patience!

From the wrong side I pressed the hem fold flat, but a light press over the hem stitching is all that is necessary.  After all that work we don't want a pressing impression to ruin it all!

How do you sew your hems - do you use a blind herringbone stitch too?  Are you a hem snob like me, or do you take shortcuts at the finish line?  And has anyone tried a blind hem stitch on their sewing machine - does it work very well?  My Elna Supermatic has a blind stitch cam and I haven't tried it out yet!

54 comments:

  1. I couldn't agree more and love my hems to be invisible - at all costs! Where the fabric is tricky to 'catch' without it showing, I'm more than happy to apply interfacing to attach too. I actually really love the process of having finished a skirt then sitting on the couch with my beau to do that last bit of hand sewing to complete the hem. Great photos :)

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  2. My mother taught me to hem like you do - as in "this is how a hem is done" - and I didn't question that for a long time! I was quite confused when I saw my first topstitched hem somewhere. Now, I've tried blind hemming by machine (and I'm not quite as dogmatic anymore!) but it's very hard to catch just a few threads; usually it's a bit visible from the right side.

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  3. Felicity from Down UnderMarch 5, 2012 at 10:28 PM

    I have an elderly Singer (1974-ish) that does blind hems. I have used it (in 1974!) and it did a good job on a very large theatrical costume I was making. I can't recall using it since then, though I may have done. I like hems to be invisible but lack the discipline (and often the time) to ensure that all of mine are; so I do occasionally just whizz along with the sewing machine, thus wrecking hours of work. :)

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  4. I can still hear my mother's voice chastising me over my 'horses-teeth' hemming technique, along with my 'cacky-handed' way of sewing hems. From that, I learnt very quickly to take extra time on hemming my garments to achieve your level of hemming. Thanks for the detail you showed, it really is worth it....

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  5. I like to do my hems by hand where possible, especially on suit-type fabrics. Blouses and lightweight fabrics tend to get a double-fold machine hem though, but a narrow one so as to be as unobtrusive as possible. I've been far more willing recently to take the extra time to hand-sew things recently: I just finished a silk slip that I hand-finished with a lace hem and lace trim to the top. Took forever but the quality of finish is so much nicer than a machine finish would be!

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  6. The hem stitches are so pleasing to look at. Beautiful. I'm so glad you posted this. I can see where I have gone wrong in the past very clearly (without realising I was going wrong).

    Thank you!

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  7. I have been using blind herringbone stitch for as long as I can remember. My mom taught me early on since it didn't require a sewing machine and I could easily use it to take up my trousers. Recently I started using machine blind hem but I don't like the little stitch still shows through...or I am doing something wrong!

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  8. This is the way I hand sew hems as well, but I didn't know that tip about taking up two stitches in the body of the garment. That makes great sense and I can improve my hemming technique, thanks for sharing it.

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  9. Oh, how I hate hand hemming--- but of course I do it when I need to. I think hemming in general is my least favorite part of sewing. I do a lot of baby hems on shirts, but for any sort of skirt or dress I blind hem. There is a blind hem function on my machine. I tried it once with terrible results. It's pretty difficult to wrap your brain around how to feed the fabric through.

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  10. I hem like you do. On children's dresses I try to work a machine hem into a tuck so it is invisible but holds up to wear. I occasionally use my blind hem function on the machine. Carol Ahle's books have wonderful directions for that.

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  11. Oh I know you're right, but I have to admit to many of my seams looking cheap! Sorry! I used to try to sew blind hems but they always looked very rough and ready - due to hopeless technique on my part. I will have to refer back here for more top tips next time.

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    1. Oops I meant my hems. Although my seams don't look too lovely either.

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  12. I agree with Julie, but I wonder what happens when your skirt is pressed and you have a fold of thick fabric on the wrong side. Using rayon hem tape makes all this less bulky and nicer for pressing. The same hand technique is used but the tape is caught on the edge.

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    1. I don't recommend folding the hem allowance either, however the original skirt was hemmed this way and after years of use looked fine - the fabric isn't thick at all. I followed suit (mainly because I couldn't be bothered changing the overlocker!) and the hem looks fine, but I would normally overlock the edge.

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  13. Oh Sherry, I am all over the map with hems. I go through hemming everything narrow hem then everything blind hem then back again. So now that you shared this great tutorial, it's got me thinking about hems again. I just put a decorative hem in a jeans skirt. Honestly, I have some trouble with having too much fabric left in a hem or too little. What's the best turn up length for a hem? My machine blind hem foot shows a large thread on the outside of the garment so that's out for me.

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    1. Hi Gina! For a flared hem, you need a narrower turn up so it will manoeuvre around the curve better. You can even use a gathering stitch if that helps!

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  14. For a material-type like yours I am used to a herringbonestitch. I think that preparing the material for a good invisible machine-made hem is a lot of work and time, especially when the skirt has sort of a rounded seam. So there is not so much gain in time.
    Marieke

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  15. For the "good" stuff I do the blind herringbone as well but usually face the raw edge with a tape. I am totally comfortable with using the machine on many things. I like double fold hems on silks etc and rolled hems too. I have done the machine blind stitch many times on several different machines. It always looks looks ratty to me. The bite into the fabric is visible in all but the most textured fabrics. Your hem is lovely. Just as it should be with this fabric.

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  16. I have used a home-machine "blind stitch" in the far distant past -- the cam jumped the needle over in a zig-zag every three or four stitches. I found that hand-hemming was, for me, far faster than leading the fabric through the machine slowly enough for me to achieve an invisible seam. I use a widely-spaced buttonhole stitch for my hems, so that when the thread eventually fails (or I put my foot through it) the rest of the hem is locked into place. I also knot the thread as if to tie off, every four stitches, as a further precaution. (Thread is knotted around thread, not fabric, to maintain the clean line.) Thank you for reminding me that catching two threads in the fabric is better than catching one -- easy to forget. Do you have any tips for keeping a denim hem from flipping up? I usually machine-stitch jeans and jeans skirt hems, but even multiple rows of stitching are not enough to keep the hem down.

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    1. Thanks for your great tips LinB, I haven't tried a buttonhole stitch on a hem before.
      Re denim hems - I can't imagine why they flip up, unless they are stretch denim?, in which case could it be fused/stabilised? A wider hem allowance maybe?

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    2. Hahaha! Like an advertising campaign for some car or other, last year: "Wider is better." Will try it. Don't usually use stretch denim, so don't think that is the problem. Must be the twill weave, that diagonal will always twist unless you are quite firm with it.

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  17. blind herringbone stitch is my favourite stitch for hem. My "blind stitch" is far less succesful as far as I am concerned. I've seen many people using lace to finish their hem but I must say that I don't like that option.

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  18. Thank you VERY much for this post. I am slightly obsessed with good hems, yet didn't have anything like this to refer to. I shall amend my hemming from now on. Thank you!

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  19. This is a great post, and well worth referring back to. Thank you. I use this stitch when hemming my nicer garments, but I will also use a straight machine stitch on outdoor wear. I ride horses, and those clothes get slobber and worse...I figure a machine stitch is okay there :-)

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    1. I agree Mary - for anything hard-wearing, it's machine all the way!

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  20. Yes, hems should be discreet, uless they are a design feature. Sometimes they might be made of a different fabric entirely, inwhich case they would be discrete, but not discreet, of course.

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  21. I'm very casually dressed these days. No need for tailored or couture clothing at all. I therefore use the blind stich of my sewing machine. I match thread as closely as possible and stem the dimples out from the right side. It's certainly better than all the RTW I see at the grocery store.

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  22. I agree with you entirely, but I think my herringbone/catchstitch technique has been lacking. Maybe the catch 2 threads tip is what I need to up my game!

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  23. Completely agree with you, but didn't know about the 2 threads to catch in the body of the garment, I have only been catching 1 thread. I also find waxing my threads for all my hems makes the thread stronger, less likely to tangle and lasts until the skirt is ready for retirement.

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  24. Hmm. I've never been that successful with this stitch, since it always seemed to pull from the front. But I think my tension is a little too tight, and I never knew about taking two stitches instead of one. I'll try this on my next skirt project. Thanks!

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  25. I used to be a herringboned hem snob, and then I had too many rip out (ususally catching on my heel on steps/stairs). Now I'm all for machine sewn hems. Nobody recoils in horror, and I don't care if they did.

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  26. I loathe hemming but many attempts with my Elna's blind hem function have failed to produce perfection so I generally catch-stitch too. It's getting easier with practice but I'm never going to enjoy the process!

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  27. I love the look of handsewn hems and like working them. The last one I did, on a heavy wool skirt, sagged. I used a herringbone stitch, worked not too tight, and the inside hem allowance hung down below the fold. I tightened up the stitches and pressed it back into shape. In future I'll take the inside slack into account, but does anyone have tips?

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    1. You could try an initial row halfway up the hem allowance to help take the weight. Also, try pressing the hem fold after stitching rather than before for more leniency!

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  28. My 1960's Pfaff does a great blind hem. I've used it on a lot of garments with invisible success. I still prefer to hand sew...but sometimes have no extra time for it.

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  29. Hands down invisible herringbone for anything wool-like dressy and double turn and top-stitched for cotton casual. As others have stated, I don't mind the handwork at the end of a project unless I'm pressed for time. To me, there is something soothing about sitting down with needle and thread to put the finishing touches on a garment, even if it's only a hook and eye.

    LinB on denim curl, maybe it has something to do with the twill weave of the denim getting stretched in the double turn up of the machined hem and then wanting to revert back to flat once released. I have a denim skirt that does this and the only way to prevent it curling after it is washed is to iron the hem until it's dry.

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  30. My fine motor skills are not so good, so I almost always hem by machine. I am fond of my machine blind hem foot & stitch...sometimes it is invisible, sometimes less so, usually dependent on fabric choice. It helps to sew at a consistent pace rather than stop and start or speed-up and slow down as the pace does seem to affect the swing of the machine needle.

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  31. Thanks for the helpful photos! I don't do a lot of (attempted) invisible hems, because I usually make casual clothes, but I think the wrong "sort" of hem on a garment can scream homemade. I see this especially in handsewn jeans, where the type of hem chosen is different from what you'd see in RTW.

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  32. I use waxed thread and catch threads depending on the fabric I'm working with. Jeans and casual clothes are the exception for me.

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  33. For straight hems i use the BlindHem foot and stitch them up in the machine

    For circle skirts i either do peco or rolled hem ; or for some fabrics i use the over locker with contrast or co-ordinating threads to highlight the hem!

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  34. I blind catchstitch like this, though if there is a lining that covers the hem, I might simply catchstitch because the thread will be protected by the lining. Occasionally I'll switch to a slip stitch for a lined skirt. In any scenario, I try to make the stitched invisible on the outside! I hate the blind hem option on my machine!

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  35. I've used the blind hem stitch on my machine quite a few times now, and it's great for black pants that hide the stitching easily. I have a hard time regulating the size of the stitch that shows on the outside though, so it's not very invisible. I like to think I'm getting better at it, but I don't know ;) I rarely have the patience to sew a hem by hand, unless it's a short distance like a sleeve or something. The hand sewn hem is definitely the best looking hem, imo.

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  36. Thanks for this! I generally do hand hems but have struggled to make them truly invisible from the outside--there's always a light row of tiny dots visible. I've had zero success with the blind hem on my machine, and it's quite a good machine otherwise.

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  37. I blind hem on my machine all of the time. The worst one to do is my daughters school kilt...she is always stepping on her hem so I would be forever hand sewing it. I usually use this method when it is difficult to see it but on something where it would be obvious I would tend to hand stitch.

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  38. I have to get better at this stitch; it looks really nice. I finally tried my blind stitch on my machine this year on a half circle skirt and it really came out nicely. Like katherine mentioned, I had to go kind of slow and steady but it looked nearly invisible from the reverse. I'm curious if blindhemmers are used to close the lining in jacket sleeves and such? I've taken apart a few lined garments that looked closed by some kind of chain stitch.

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    1. I must give my blind stitch a go!
      Yes, a blind hemmer would have been used for the hem - you'll often see it catching the front facing too.

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  39. Oh my!! Think I'm going to sit and practice this stitch at work. It's looking really difficult!!! Gah!! Any links to a video tute??

    Thanks!

    Bundana
    X

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  40. Very cute skirt and great color combos!

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  41. Would you be able to make a video tutorial? :)

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  42. Thanks very much for these clear pictures. I'd never seen this hidden hemming method before, it's brilliant.
    I used the method this morning, and pinned the skirt as in the fourth picture all the way round, keeping the thread to the top as I went so as not to keep catching the pins.
    This helped a lot as my fingers and eyes are not a nimble as they were!

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  43. Thank you so much for this tutorial! I absolutely loved (and needed) this. I bought some amazing vintage shirts a while ago and wanted to shorten them a bit, but they were so beautifully hemmed I didn't dare try anything at first.

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  44. Thank you so much for the tutorial! I just used this method on a floor-length wool-ish skirt I was making today and it turned out fabulous. Thank you so much for taking the time to teach us. It's very kind.

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Thanks so much for taking the time to comment! I really enjoy hearing your thoughts and feedback every time I post!