How To Hand Stitch Hems

How to Hand Stitch Hems

When I first started dressmaking I realised it isn't always immediately obvious from the sewing pattern instructions how to hem the garment. I often found myself wondering how deep the hem should be, which stitch to choose and whether it should be machine or hand stitched to achieve the best finish.

Here, in our series of articles on finishing techniques, Angela (co founder of Sew Essential, general sewing mastermind and guru) helps us to understand which type of hems are appropriate for different garments followed by step by step instructions and videos for five hand sewn hem techniques. We will cover machine stitched hems later in the series.

Choosing how to hem your garment:

  • One of the first things you need to decide is how deep the hem should be. What is more appropriate a narrow hem (1/2" or less) or a deeper hem (between 1/2" and 2")? A general rule of thumb for guidance is that the more flared the hemline (such as circular skirts or skirts cut on the bias) the narrower the hem should be.
  • It can be useful to look at the different types of garment hanging in your wardrobe as a reference point. Once you start looking you will realise you already subconsciously know what looks right for which garments. For example, you will probably notice that blouses, flared dresses and skirts will normally have a narrow hem, T-shirts, trousers, tailored skirts, coats and jackets will have a more substantial hem.
  • If a narrow hem seems like the most appropriate option machine stitching is quicker and will also make it easier to achieve a flat hem, although you also need to consider the fabric type and your personal preference in relation to the next point:
  • Will a visible stitch spoil the overall look of the garment? If you are working with delicate or sheer fabrics such as chiffon or satin, for example, a visible stitch could dramatically alter the look of the finished garment and if so it could be well worth taking the time to hand stitch the hem.
  • How professional and high end do you want your finished garment to look? If you examine couture and high end ready to wear garments they will always have a hand stitched hem because it looks more professional and creates a more luxurious finish. Traditionally all garments were finished with a hand stitched hem, but the capabilities of modern sewing machines coupled with our desire for speed mean machine stitched hems are now a popular choice too.
  • Consider the weight and drape of the fabric - thicker fabrics are bulkier therefore generally require a deeper hem to accommodate the fabric as you turn it over to create the hem and the weight created by a deeper hem will sometimes be necessary for the garment to hang and drape appropriately.
  • How much time do you have?! If you're in a rush hand stitching probably isn't the best option for you, however, the points above should be your primary consideration because it really isn't worth spoiling the overall look of a garment out of impatience. Once that initial wear is out of the way and the garment is hanging in your wardrobe it will always bug you if you know you should have hand stitched it. In fact it will probably haunt, taunt and tease you until you crack and re-do it.

We've created a handy little reference table below with our suggested hem allowances for different types of garment.

Suggested Hem Allowances by Garment Type
Garment Depth
Straight Leg Trousers 1"
Flared Trousers 3/4"
Blouses & Shirts 1/4"
Straight Coats & Jackets 1 1/2"
Flared Coats & Jackets 1 1/4" - 1 1/2"
Very Flared & A Line Coats & Jackets 1"
Straight Skirts & Dresses 1"
Flared Skirts & Dresses 1/4" - 1/2"
Very Flared Skirts & Dresses 1/4"
Skirts & Dresses, A line 3/4" - 1"
Knit garments 5/8"

There are also some great tools around for helping you to measure and mark your hems accurately such as the Dritz Ezy-Hem measuring gauge and the adjustable hem marker from Adjustoform.

Hand Stitched Hem Options

If you've decided to take the time to hand stitch your hem, here are some of the most popular hand stitched hem options for you to choose from. For each method we describe step by step how to create the stitch followed by a short video demonstrating the technique.

Although it might seem time consuming, it is well worth giving these hand stitching techniques a try. Each one consists of a few simple steps and many of the stitch sequences are very similar to each other meaning they are easy to master. Once you've got your head round them I'd argue there's something very therapeutic about sitting in front of your favourite TV programme hand stitching away.

Always use a good quality thread that will stand the test of time. Any of our high quality threads including Gutermann, Madeira and Mettler are worthy of your hand stitching! We also have an extensive range of hand sewing needles for you to choose from.

The Herringbone Stitch

Herringbone stitch is traditionally used for men's trousers and suiting and is most suitable for fabrics such as tweed and wool since some stitches will be visible from the right side.

Finish the raw edge of your hem then anchor your thread about 1/4" below the finished edge on the wrong side of the hem allowance.

  1. Push your needle through from the wrong side to the right side of the hem allowance.
  2. Take the needle slightly beyond the finished edge of the hem allowance to create a diagonal stitch from left to right.
  3. Stitch right to left parallel with the finished edge of the hem allowance creating a small stitch in the garment fabric.
  4. Take the needle back down to 1/4" below the finished edge creating a diagonal stitch from left to right.
  5. Stitch right to left parallel with the hemline and return to step two then continue to repeat this process until you have finished your hem.

Always strive to achieve the same distance between stitches for a neat finish.

Slip Stitch

Slip stitch is neat, invisible and suitable for most fabrics.

Finish the raw edge of your hem or press it under. Anchor your thread at the finished edge (or fold if or pressed under) of the hem allowance.

  1. Pull the needle through to the right side of the hem allowance at the finished edge or fold if pressed under.
  2. Directly above the place your needle came out catch a single thread of the garment fabric stitching from right to left.
  3. Directly beneath the place your needle came out insert your needle into the finished edge (or fold if pressed under) and create a stitch about 1cm long from right to left parallel with the finished edge or within the fold of the pressed edge of the hem allowance.
  4. Return to step two and continue to repeat the process until you have finished.

Catch stitch

To create a catch stitch you follow the same steps as the Herringbone stitch, however, rather than the diagonal stitches stretching 1/4" across the hem allowance the diagonal stitches run along the finished edge of the hem allowance only. Also, with a catch stitch only a few threads of garment fabric should be caught by your needle to create an invisible stitch.

Finish or press the edge of the hem allowance and anchor your stitching at the finished or pressed edge of the hem allowance.

  1. Pull the needle through to the right side of the hem allowance at the finished or pressed edge of the hem allowance.
  2. Take the needle slightly beyond the finished or pressed edge of the hem allowance to create a diagonal stitch from left to right.
  3. Stitch right to left parallel with the finished edge of the hem allowance catching only a single thread of the garment fabric (for an invisible appearance from the right side of the garment)
  4. Take the needle back down to the finished edge of the hem allowance creating a diagonal stitch from left to right.
  5. Stitch right to left parallel in the hem allowance and return to step two then continue to repeat this process until you have finished your hem.

Blind stitch

I love this technique! With a blind stitch the stitches are invisible from both the outside and inside of the garment, it's magic!

  1. Press the edge of the hem allowance under about 1/8" then press the hemline, for example, at 5/8".
  2. Fold the hem allowance back onto the right side of the garment with the pressed edge of the hem allowance protruding the garment fabric by about 1/8"
  3. Anchor your thread in the pressed edge of the hem allowance and draw your needle diagonally down to the garment fabric from right to left.
  4. Catch a single thread of the garment fabric with your needle stitching from right to left.
  5. Draw the needle diagonally from right to left and catch the fabric in the hem allowance stitching from right to left.
  6. Return to step 3 and continue to repeat until you have finished your hem.

Hand Rolled Hem

The hand rolled hem is a lovely option for sheer and delicate fabrics such as chiffon and satin. It is a narrow hem, which as the name suggests is rolled over on itself resulting in a neat and elegant finish.

  1. Anchor your thread a few millimetres from the raw edge of the fabric.
  2. Roll the raw edge of the fabric over onto the main garment fabric to create a narrow rolled edge.
  3. Stitch right to left catching a single thread of the garment fabric a few millimetres to the left of where you anchored your thread and underneath the rolled hem.
  4. Stitch right to left catching a few threads of the hem allowance underneath the roll and a few millimetres to the left of your previous stitch.
  5. Continue to repeat the process until you have finished your hem.

Finally, one last golden rule - always remember to give your hem a good press once you've finished with the exception of the hand rolled hem, which should never be pressed since pressing would flatten the lovely rolled edge! If you want to smooth out a rolled hem you could apply a little steam.

Have fun sewing!

Lucy and Angela

For more tips and tricks on how to make sewing easy you can follow our blog via Bloglovin and receive updates via email each time a new post is added.

Follow us on Facebook Twitter and Instagram for news, tutorials, special offers, sales and more.

© 2019 Sew Essential. All Rights Reserved.