Five Ways to Machine Stitch Hems

Having covered hand sewn hem techniques and hem finishes on an overlocker in previous articles, it's time to talk machine stitched hems. Whilst it could be argued a hand stitched hem is always preferable there is definitely a time and a place for machine stitching. Not only is it quicker (in most cases) it is also easier to achieve professional results for some fabric and hem types. For example it is much easier to achieve a flat hem when creating a narrow hem on a sewing machine than by hand. Hand stitching stretch fabrics can be tricky and if you don't have an overlocker or cover stitch machine a machine stitched hem with a twin needle is a great option for a professional finish. Plus there are now some fab sewing machine feet available (see our full range here) that make accurate, neat machine stitched hems easier than ever to achieve.

The Blind Hem

Ideally any hem that is deeper than a narrow hem should be hand stitched for best results, however, you can use a blind hemming foot on your machine, which produces a less visible stitching line than a conventional foot and stitch. This option works particularly well with coarse woven fabrics such as linen, wool and tweed since the minimally visible stitching will be hidden amongst the fibres of the fabric. It can also be used on other woven fabrics and the stitches will barely be visible, especially if the fabric is patterned.

To create a blind hem on your machine finish the raw edge of the fabric and press the desired hem allowance up. Fold the hem allowance back onto the right side of the garment leaving the raw edge and a section of the hem allowance exposed. Attach the blind hem foot to your machine and place the fabric under the foot with the folded edge resting against the inside edge of the right side of the foot. Select the blind hem stitch on the machine and start stitching keeping the fold in line with the inside edge of the foot. The blind hem stitch is a variation on a normal zig zag stitch and will marginally catch the edge of the folded fabric of the garment then switch to complete several stitches in the hem allowance so that the stitching line is barely visible from the right side. For many machines there is also the option to use an adjustable blind hem foot* which allows you to adjust the width of the stitches to catch more or less of the main garment fabric.

*When purchasing feet for your sewing machine always check our compatibility charts to make sure they are compatible with your machine or contact us for advice if you are unsure.


The Turned Hem

This option is suitable for most hem allowances and fabrics, although should be avoided for bulky or sheer fabrics because the raw edge of the fabric is turned up inside the hem allowance.

To create a turned hem simply press the raw edge of the fabric up by about 1/8" (or slightly more if necessary due to the fabric) then press it up again to the required hem allowance - the image below is a narrow hem and is pressed up by another 1/8".

Turned Hem 1

Stitch close to the raw edge of the hem allowance from the wrong side starting at one of the side seams and back tacking to secure the stitching. An edge foot or seam guide foot such as the one in the image below can be used to help you to stitch accurately.

Turned Hem 2

Turned Hem 3

A Curved Turned Hem

To create a neat hem on a flared hemline stitch a line of basting 1/4" from the raw edge of the hem. This acts a measuring guide for pressing the hem up, but also makes the pressing easier.

Curved Turned Hem 1

Press the raw edge of the fabric up along the stitching line.

Curved Turned Hem 2

Now press up again making sure the raw edge of the fabric is meeting the pressed fold. A good tip if the fabric needs easing in to eliminate any creasing is to gently pull one of the threads to gather it slightly before pressing.

After pressing, edge stitch from the wrong side close to the inside folded edge starting at one of the side seams and back tacking to secure it. An edge foot or seam guide foot can be useful to help with accurate stitching. Give it a final press and voila!

Curved Turned Hem 3

Curved Turned Hem 4

An Overlocked And Turned Hem

This option is particularly good for flared hems or bulky fabrics because the fabric is only turned up once and therefore there is less bulk. It should be avoided for sheer fabrics since the overlocked edge of the fabric would be visible from the right side.

Simply overlock the raw edge of the hem using an overlocker or the overcasting stitch on your sewing machine.

Overlocked Turned Hem 1

Press the required hem allowance up (the hem in the image below is a narrow hem) and stitch in place from the wrong side close to the edge of the hem allowance and within the overlocking stitches. A seam guide foot or edge foot can be useful for accurate stitching. Start at a side seam and backtack to secure.

Overlocked Turned Hem 2

You will be left with a neat line of stitching from the right side.

If working with a curved hem remember to keep the hem allowance narrow. If the hem is very flared and you are using an overlocker try adjusting your differential feed up to gather the fabric slightly, which will help to ease it slightly.

A Narrow Hem/Rolled Hem Foot

All of the above methods are suitable for creating narrow hems and another option is to use a hemmer foot or rolled hem foot. I'm not going to lie, this is a tricky technique to master, but if you can manage it you can create narrow hems quickly and easily which is especially useful when working with sheer and delicate fabrics. If the fabric you are working with is very slippery such as silk, satin or chiffon, a good tip is to place a piece of water soluble stabiliser between the fabric and the needle plate at the starting point to help you to begin stitching.

First press a 1" length of the fabric up by the width of the gap in your hemming foot (they come in various sizes ranging from 2mm to about 6mm - I am using a 2mm hemmer foot to create a narrow hem). Press it up again by the same amount.

Narrow Hem Rolled Hem Foot 1

Place the pressed fabric under the narrow hem foot and bring your needle down to create a couple of stitches.

Narrow Hem Rolled Hem Foot 2

Stop with the needle down and lift the fabric up and over the scrolled edge of the foot.

Narrow Hem Rolled Hem Foot 3

Hold the fabric vertically and continue stitching making sure the fabric continues to feed through the scroll and is being fed through the foot consistently.

Narrow Hem Rolled Hem Foot 4

You will be left with a neat narrow hem...

Narrow Hem Rolled Hem Foot 5

Narrow Hem Rolled Hem Foot 6

...particularly suited to delicate fabrics such as this chiffon. To achieve a rolled hem this foot should be used with fabrics such as chiffon and silk and not pressed once finished, although it is hard to beat a hand rolled hem in our humble opinion.

Narrow Hem Rolled Hem Foot 7

A Twin Needle

As the name suggests this technique uses two needles to create two parallel lines of stitching as commonly seen on shop bought garments. A twin needle finish is suitable for any fabric type, but is especially well suited to garments made from stretch fabrics such as jersey, knit and scuba if you don't have access to a coverstitch machine.  The stitch on the wrong side of the garment is a type of zig zag stitch, which is why it is so well suited to stretch fabrics - it has give and won't break as your garment stretches and moves with you.

Twin needles come in a range of sizes from 1.6mm to 6mm. The measurement refers to the distance between the needles, therefore a 4mm twin needle will create two rows of stitches 4mm apart. Twin needles are also available for specific fabric types including stretch fabrics and denim so always choose the right needle for your fabric for the best results.

Insert the twin needle in your machine in the usual way then place a spool of thread on the additional thread stand on the top of your machine (usually used for winding the bobbin). Take the thread through the usual path and thread the right hand needle. Next use the main thread stand on your machine to thread the left hand needle in the usual way.

It is a good idea to identify which markings on your needle plate you will be following. Press the hem up on your fabric then lie it wrong side up on the needle plate with the folded edge on the right hand side. Position the raw edge of the fabric so the stitching lines/needles are where you would like them to fall and note which marking on the stitch plate the folded edge is in line with. When you turn the fabric over to the right side line the folded edge up with the relevant marking and stitch.

If you experience 'tunneling' and the fabric between the lines of stitching is raised and protrudes the fabric either side, reduce the tension on your sewing machine and experiment until you are happy with the results. If you are having to reduce the tension so far that the stitches become loose try some tear away or wash away stabiliser between the fabric and the needle plate as you stitch.

Another option to try when getting less than desirable results with twin needles is to try standing the thread spool for the left needle away from the machine when stitching. Try it with a make shift thread stand first to check the results and if it works you can buy one such as this Hemline double cone holder.

Have fun sewing!

Lucy and Angela

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