Hemming a dress is the final touch needed to complete the skirt and gives a distinct finished edge. The word hem, dating back in history means to give something a border, to hold in, fold or tidy up. Nowadays, with modern sewing technology, a hem is responsible for finishing off part of a garment with a neat border or turned up edge. If you are making a dress, the last part of the project is sewing the skirt with a hem.
Hemming a Dress
Functional, decorative, short, long, or even scalloped, the hem is open to many different variations. As a general rule, always complete the garment before finishing the hem. The exception to the rule is finishing hems with pleats or ruffles.
Hemming a Dress – Basic Hem Technique
Step 1 – Measuring and Cutting
The hem is usually the finishing stage of the dress. Let the dress hang overnight to allow any stretch or fullness to drop before trimming and sewing the hem.
- MEASURE – Start by trying on the dress and deciding on the correct length of the skirt. Every dress and every body type is different and therefore there is no hard and fast rule here for how where the skirt should end. Consider what is flattering for your body and what makes you feel comfortable.
- ADD SEAM ALLOWANCE – Add at least 1 to 2 inches (2 to 5 cms) of fabric below the desired hem length for the hem seam allowance. For hemming a dress that is straight across, I usually add a 1-inch (2.5cm) seam allowance. This allows for a double-fold hem of ¼ inch + ¾ inch (6mm and 2cm).
- CUTTING – Cut all the hem allowance line with a sharp pair of scissors making sure you are cutting straight.
Step 2 – Press the Hem
When you are happy with the hem length, remove the dress and turn it inside out ready to start pressing and sewing the hem.
- PRESS OVER TWICE – You will want to turn the raw edge of the hem over twice to create a neatly enclosed hem. This is called a double fold hem.
- WIDTH – The double fold of the hem does not need to be equal. The first turn over can be narrow and the second turnover can be wider. Doing a double fold adds some weight to the hem and encases the raw edge so it does not fray.
If you added a 1-inch (2.5cm) hem seam allowance, press over the hem by ¼ inch (6mm) then ¾ inch (2cm) again.
FOR CURVED HEMS – A smaller turnover is easier to manage than a wider one because of the extra fullness. A skirt with a very full hem will need extra care and a different technique to help to ease the fullness evenly.
Step 3 – Pin and Double Check
Then measure all around to check the turned-up part of the hem is accurate and neatly pin it in place. Use pins in a vertical fashion and ease the hem on the curves if necessary. You can additionally baste the hem or rely on the pins depending on your level of experience. Have one last fitting to be sure the hem is the right length.
Step 4 – Stitch the Hem
Straight stitch the edge of the hem. Your stitch length will depend on your fabric thickness and type, but a standard length is 2.5.
Step 5 – Finishing
Allow the hem to ‘drop’ or even out as some fabrics need time to settle. Press the hem and enjoy the drape and flare of the skirt.
Hemming a Dress in Different Ways
The two basic ways to hem a dress are either by hand or by machine. There are types of tape like hemming web which require no sewing but the best method is a stitched one.
Let’s look at a machine-stitched hems first.
Hemming a Dress by Machine
The machine-stitched hem is suitable for cotton and linens, and for straightforward hems of medium-weight fabrics. It is perfect for a straight skirt, an A-line, or a gathered skirt with moderate fullness. Here are some of the variations of a machine-stitched hem from simple to more decorative options.
Hemming a Dress with a Single Fold Hem
A single fold hem is the most simple machine-stitched hem. The raw edge is neatened with a zigzag stitch or a serger, folded once and then stitched with a straight stitch to secure the hem. When the hem is complete, the stitches will show on the right side. There is basically one folded edge after the raw edge has been neatened. The choice of stitches for the top-stitched hem depends on the selection on the machine – a zigzag may look decorative stitch whereas a straight stitch is simple.
BEST FOR – Thicker fabrics such as wool, felt, and boucle.
Hemming a Dress with a Double Fold Hem
A double fold hem is the type of hem outlined in the basic section above. The raw edge is neatened with a ¼” (6mm) turning and then turned a second time to the desired width of the hem. The top edge of the hem is completed with a straight stitch all around.
BEST FOR – All weights of fabrics, narrower hems.
Hemming a Dress with a Twin Needle
Using a twin needle to complete the hem gives a professional-looking double row of stitches. Practice sewing with a twin needle and remember to change the needle plate to a zigzag plate to accommodate two needles stitching simultaneously. Twin needle hems are commonly found on stretch dresses.
BEST FOR – Stretch fabrics
Hemming a Dress with a False Hem or Faced Hem
Curved hems, full hems, and skirts that do not have sufficient fabric to allow a turned hem, may need a false or faced hem. The faced hem can be used to neaten a convex hem.
A similarly shaped piece of fabric may be cut to make the false hem or a piece of bias cut fabric or bias binding will do the trick.
- Stitch the facing or piece of bias on the right side of the hem edge.
- Snip into the curves and press to the wrong side.
- Once the false hem is on the wrong side of the fabric it may be stitched in place using a straight stitch.
BEST FOR Curved or uneven hems.
Hemming a Dress with a Blind Hem
The blind hem stitch of a machine works using one of the variations of the zigzag stitch selector. The hem needs to be folded carefully to allow the machine to stitch the blind hem while catching the hem at intervals.
- Turn the hem edge under onto the right side leaving a space between the hem edge and the wrong side of the fabric.
- This edge is the path to follow with the machine stitches and at even intervals, the machine will catch some of the skirt fabric.
- Once the blind hem stitch is completed the hem is pressed flat. The only stitching that is visible is a small stitch at intervals along the right side of the fabric.
BEST FOR – Wider hems where an invisible finish is desired.
Hemming a Dress with a Narrow Rolled Hem
Ideal for chiffon and very lightweight fabrics, this narrow rolled hem uses a hemming foot. The specialized foot rolls the fabric into a double fold roll measuring ⅛” (3mm). Machine stitch as you follow the rolled fabric made by the foot.
BEST FOR – Fine fabrics where a narrow hem is needed.
Hemming a Dress with a False Piped Hem
This hem is useful for narrow hems on lightweight fabric. It takes the place of a rolled edge hem. The piping is an effect, not real piping.
- The piping effect is created by stitching the edge at a ¼” (6mm) on the right side of the fabric and then turning the fabric edge over for a second time to stitch on the right side.
- This is the basic piped part without the piping.
- Turn the hem to the wrong side.
- Press and stitch again to complete the piped hem.
Hemming a Dress with a Real Piped Hem
Sewing piping in a contrasting fabric adds a pop of color to the hem. Use some ready-made piping or make your own piping. Attach the piping to the hem edge with the zipper foot and use a facing or bias tape to turn and finish the edge neatly.
Hemming a Dress with a Lettuce Edge Hem
Lettuce hems are an attractive wavy hem created on knit fabrics. An overcast or zig-zag stitch is used as the edge is stretched and the wavy edge is created.
BEST FOR – Strech Dresses
Hemming a Dress with Machine Embroidery
Shell edges need a machine with embroidery stitches to create the edge. Interfacing at the back of the hem supports the decorative stitches. Once the decorative edge has been created the extra fabric is cut away and the decorated edge is left.
Hemming a Dress with Fringing
A fringed hem can be created by adding on a piece of fringing to the hem or the actual fabric may be fringed by fraying.
- Fringing the fabric means a line of straight stitching needs to be stitched at the point where the fringing will end.
- Once the stop point is established, the fringe is made by pulling out the weft threads. These are the threads that run horizontally on the fabric while the warp threads, the ones that hang vertically are left.
- Not all fabrics are suited to making their own fringe. It is a good idea to try out on a scrap of fabric first.
Hemming a Dress with a Ruffle or Pleat
Adding a frill or gathered piece to the hem is a way of adding length and variety to the hem. The piece may be pleated, gathered, or flared like a ruffle to add to the hem of the dress or skirt. Learn how to gather ruffles.
Hemming a Dress with a Serger
Simply serge the edge of the hem in a matching color or contrast and leave the edge as part of the finish. The serged hem will look like a wavy hem on stretch knits. Experiment first to get the right effect with three or four threads.
Hemming a Dress with a Picot Edge
Use a zigzag and the narrow rolled hem foot to create a picot edge. This effect is only suited to very lightweight fabrics like chiffon and Georgette.
Hemming a Dress with Fabric
Let your creativity be free to choose anything from ricrac to lace and Anglaise to make different hemmed effects for your dress.
Hemming a Dress by Hand
In addition to machine-stitched hems, the hand-stitched hem can offer variations and decorative effects. Many sewers prefer a hand-stitched hem because it is less visible on the right side of the fabric.
There may be occasions when a hand-stitched hem is a better option. Thicker fabrics, fuller skirt hems, and very fine fabrics will all benefit from a hand-stitched hem. The stitching could be a simple running stitch or a slip stitch. Herringbone stitch is often used for hemming.
Catch stitch is the most popular hemming stitch for hand-sewn hems. Catch stitch gives some elasticity and movement to the hem and allows the skirt to hang softly.
A simple running stitch is a quick and easy finish for a skirt hem and can be viewed as a decorative border as well as a secure hemming method.
Hemming a Dress – In Conclusion
Hemming a dress and in particular, the skirt is a very important part of the whole process of dressmaking. It is worth spending some time on this final part of the dress. The hem or border not only completes the garment but makes sure the dress hangs correctly and the pattern is shown off to its best advantage. Don’t feel hemmed in by this process but feel free to try different hemming techniques and come up with the best for your outfit, fabric, and style.