There are a surprising number of hem styles to choose from. Your sewing pattern will often instruct you to use a particular type of hem, but knowing your options provides you with even more creativity for varying the look of a garment or craft project.
Hems can be either hand or machine sewn. Doubtless, machine-sewn hems offer a greater variety, while hand-sewn hems offer a greater degree of control for some lightweight or knit material.
- Hem: The finished edge of a garment, curtain, linens, etc. The hem prevents raveling and presents a neat, professional border–usually, but not always, a fold.
- Hem Allowance: The total fabric turned under to create a hem or finished cuff. A hem allowance can vary from ¼-4½ inches in width for garments. It may be wider for bed linens or curtains. Generally, narrower garments, such as a pencil skirt, use a wider hem, while a fuller garment will use a narrower hem.
- Hem Stabilizers: A stabilizer is an extra layer of material attached or ironed inside the hem. A stabilizer adds sharpness or volume for a professional look or control during active movements.
- Hem Tape: For this article, hem tape is defined as an extra piece of fabric sewn on the end of a garment, etc., to cover an unfinished edge. Hem tape takes the place of a hem allowance and may be used when extending a hem as far as possible. Hem tape can also be specially cut for rounded edges to remove the need to fold or gather extra fabric while hemming.
- Double Fold: A double fold is created by folding up the total hem allowance, then folding the top of the allowance into the hem so that no raw edge shows. Most hems are double folded if the edge is not serged or zigzag stitched.
- Single Fold: A single fold hem is created by folding the raw or serged edge under and stitching it in place. A single fold hem can be used on fabric that does not unravel, is extra stretchy, or has an otherwise finished edge. T-shirt hems are often single fold. Hems hidden in lined garments may also be single fold with a pinked edge.
Most handstitched hems are either invisible or decorative. While hand stitching may take longer than a machine hem, it may be the only quality stitching option for some lightweight or polyester weaves.
Blind stitch or Slip stitch
A blind stitch is as close to invisible as it gets since it can barely be seen either on the front of the garment or at the hem’s edge. With the garment inside out and a double fold in the hem allowance, hide ¼ inch long stitches inside the top fold, bringing the needle out to catch just a thread or two of the front fabric.
A hand-sewn slip stitch is much the same except that the stitches are farther apart, about ½ inch on average. This can allow a bit more leeway for a curved hem. A slip stitch may also be done outside the inside hem fold, making it visible on the wrong side of the garment.
Herringbone or Catch stitch
A herringbone stitch is a kind of handstitched zigzag. It’s an embroidery stitch used to create a hem and allows extra flexibility for any fabric. The easiest way to learn how to make a herringbone hem is to watch a tutorial, of which there are many.
Hand rolling combines machine/hand basting and a slip stitch for a stable hem in lightweight or stretchy fabric. Begin by basting two rows about ¼ inch apart at the bottom edge. Turn up the hem allowance, then double roll between the two rows of stitching and slip stitch along that edge.
Your sewing machine offers many more options than your sewing needle. If you want the same appearance as many store-bought garments, you’ll need to use a machine hem. But there are also many creative options that flow with individual style.
This machine stitch is created with a similar concept as a handstitched blind stitch. You’ll need to either serge or double fold the end of your hem allowance. After pressing, fold the fabric toward the right side until a small bit of the top of the hem sticks out beyond a fold in the material.
Most machines have a designated blind stitch, so consult your manual for the correct setting and presser foot to use for this hem. Sew along the fabric edge so that the periodic zigzag stitch catches a few threads from the front fabric.
Narrow or Rolled hems
There are several types of narrow hems. In my own sewing career, jeans have probably been the most common recipients of this hem. Narrow hems range from ¾ to under ¼ inch wide. To create a jean hem, leave a 1-inch hem allowance and double fold it in half. Narrow hems sometimes include a double line of straight stitching close to the outer edge. This type of topstitching is most often found on outerwear made from fabrics such as heavy cotton or denim.
Jeans: Finished jeans seams are bulky. I like to trim away some of the inner seam bulk to make it easier on the sewing machine. Matching, heavier hem thread is available at your local fabric shop. Use a heavier-sized (16-18) needle. If you’re not concerned about matching the old thread, use a regular-sized matching thread and go around twice for durability. You may need to adjust thread tension for heavier fabric.
Baby hem: A narrow hem is often used for baby clothing. Use a double fold as you would for a jean hem. A baby hem stitch line is typically ¼ from the bottom edge. Use a ½ inch hem allowance folded in half as a jean hem.
Press under your double-fold hem and sew evenly along the edge. You may add decorative ribbon or brick-a-brack along the hemstitch on bottoms and sleeves for extra embellishment.
Formal wear: The narrowest hems are usually used for formal wear, such as prom dresses or wedding attire. If your machine has an optional presser foot for a rolled stitch, I highly recommend investing in it.
Rolled hems require patience and dexterity. Without a specialized presser foot, it is challenging to create a rolled hem under ¼ inch on the inside, with stitching a little over ⅛ inch from the bottom edge. This will be sufficient for most projects. A narrowly surged edge can be single-turned rather than double folded if the fabric is not too sheer.
One tip here–be careful not to leave more hem allowance above your stitching than below it, or the hem may curl up toward the outside of the fabric, and no amount of ironing will keep it down.
Pin hem: Another way to create a narrow hem is a pin hem. This hem is used on chiffon or other very lightweight fabrics that may tend to unravel. The stitch has several steps, and learning it takes time and practice. The Creative Curator website has an excellent tutorial as good as any I could attempt here.
T-shirt/Stretch hem: If you look at most of your t-shirts’ hems, you’ll notice that there is a double line of stitching on the front side. A specialized factory serger makes this hem. A 5-spool home serger can duplicate it. But if you don’t have one of these rather expensive machines, you’ll have to be creative to reproduce the results.
If you have a more economical 4-spool serger, you can use it to remove excess fabric and finish the bottom edge simultaneously. If not, then determine the length with a ¾ inch hem allowance. Zigzag along the border to prevent runs.
Pin the hem allowance up. Most t-shirt material cannot be reliably ironed. Use a stretch stitch and stretch needle. Sew the first seam close to the top of the seam allowance with the wrong side facing up. Then, sew the second line of stitches below the first, with the right side facing up for a more accurate view of the stitching.
Bias tape hem
Bias tape is an excellent tool for finishing curved edges. And a contrasting, single-fold bias tape can add an extra splash of color, especially to clothes for babies and toddlers, who tend to show the wrong side more often than we’d like.
If you unfold the bias tape, you’ll see a fold on each side. You don’t have to worry about a hem allowance. A bias tape hem will take about ⅝ inch off the total length of the garment, so trim accordingly. Line the edge of the open bias tape (do NOT iron the bias tape open) up with the fabric edge, right sides together, and pin the tape in place. Sew directly along the bias tape fold line closest to the edge. If the fabric is curved, take your time and align the edges smoothly.
Next, turn the bias tape over and fold toward the wrong side of the garment. Turn up just enough fabric so that the bias tape doesn’t show from the front. Sew a straight seam along the top of the bias tape. The result is a narrow hem seam on the front. The bias tape will stretch along the curved edges.
You can use either matching or contrasting thread to create a classic or a playful look. There is also the option to blind stitch the bias tape by hand. You could also topstitch the first seam for added aesthetics.
A faced hem uses a separate piece of fabric to create a professional-looking hem for difficult curved or odd-shaped edges. The extra band of material is added as bias tape is but is custom made to fit without compromising the look of the garment or other project.
Create a custom hem facing by laying the finished garment on your facing fabric and tracing the shape. Then cut out the band, leaving enough allowance for the desired hem width. Sew the band with right sides together, then turn it under and hem as desired with either a blind or straight stitch.
As with bias tape, a contrasting material can add a fashion pop. Add a small pocket or other accents of the same fabric for children’s clothing, and use the contrasting fabric for sleeve or neckline facings to complete the look.
A piped hem adds interest and a bit of class to simple patterns. The piping is often non-corded and appears as a narrow line of contrasting fabric about 1½-2 inches from the edge. Use bias tape or contrasting fabric for the piping.
To add a piped accent, you’ll need to cut off enough fabric to create a faux cuff. The top edge of the hem will hide the edge of the piping on the wrong side. The piping appears to be the top of a cuff as it is ironed upward. Online tutorials will give you step-by-step instructions for the somewhat complicated process.
Corded or uncorded piping can also be added to the edge itself. This is a popular way to accent pillowcases, but it can be added to tops or kids’ clothes as well. You will need extra fabric for use as a faced hem behind the piping.
Bound hems are ideal for the edges of sundresses or as an accent for informal or play clothing. Binding a hem or seam is super simple. For material that may ravel over time, start with a zigzag stitch or use a serger to add stability. If you decide to bind a seam, sew it with wrong sides together rather than right so the binding will show on the outside.
Cover the raw edge with either store-bought or custom-made bias tape. Fold the tape under before you get to the end to present a finished look. That’s all there is to it. Besides clothing, a bound edge makes custom table linens a snap. Bound hems are popular for a wide variety of crafts.
Some sportswear and kids’ clothing can be finished with a visible serged edge or zigzag stitch. These stitches offer the greatest mobility without binding or rolling. Sew garment seams with wrong sides together. Use a serger instead of binding to achieve this look, or trip the seam allowance to ¼ inch and zigzag with a regular sewing machine.
The weave of some fabrics makes them attractive to the eye from both the right and wrong sides. To bring out the contrast, try turning the hem allowance to the outside of the garment rather than under. Sew with a straight stitch or cover the edge with trim. The result will look like a wide, bound hem without the fuss.
Some fuller skirts can greatly benefit from adding a stiffening agent. The more stable edge is less likely to bunch up under static or tangle up with more strenuous movement. They’re also less likely to curl up in the wash.
The most popular stiffening options are horsehair net or braid and narrow seam binding. Narrow fusible or non-fusible interfacing is another option. Incorporate the chosen stiffener inside the hem for invisible support.
Lettuce edged hem
A lettuce edge is a naturally created “frill” along the bottom of stretchy fabric. A narrow, high-count serger stitch can accomplish this if you stretch the fabric as you serge. If you don’t have a serger, then zigzag along the edge. Then pull the zigzagged edge until it rolls. Stitch along the top of the roll as you hold the fabric stretched. The result will be a hem that waves back and forth like the edge of a lettuce leaf.
Use a narrow, extremely tight zigzag stitch as another option for your sewing machine. Lightly stretch the fabric as you sew along the edge, then trim as close to the stitching as you can. The results mimic a narrow serged edge.
A fringed hem is a creative edge for a suede or fleece jacket. Simply measure and mark a line and cut a fringe the width you desire.
To make a fringed edge in woven fabric, zigzag where you want the fringe to stop. Snip the fabric every half-inch or so up to the stitching. Then gently pull out the crosswise threads, leaving only the long threads as a fringe. This type of fringe is more appealing if no more than an inch in length.