Quick guide to Hemming

This McCalls 7531 dress pack is a Learn to Sew design finished with a top stitched hem
This McCalls 7531 dress pack is a Learn to Sew design finished with a top stitched hem

Often the last technique used to complete a garment it is still worth considering the method you will use to hem, which  may depend on the type of garment and fabric used. For instance a stretch fabric made into a fully A-line skirt can look fabulous with a lettuce edging. Equally stretch fabrics are often finished with a twin needle, top stitched hem whereas a woven fabric may have a blind hem. Whatever method chosen, there are also some general hemming tips to ensure that the finished garment hangs beautifully.

Lettuce edging is a lovely finish for full skirts on stretchy or lightweight fabrics
Lettuce edging is a lovely finish for full skirts on stretchy or lightweight fabrics

Hemming tips

  • Allow the garment to hang for 24 hours before hemming, particularly if working with stretch knit fabric or a garment cut on the bias. This allows the fabric to drop and settle so that the edge can be cut level before hemming.
  • Measure up from floor to desired length, wearing the heel height that will be worn with the outfit to ensure both front and back are even.
  • Place pins horizontally around the hem length required, then hold up the hem allowance with pins placed vertically. If necessary, cut the hem allowance evenly all the way round.
  • Hem weights are used on tailored skirts, dresses and jackets to provide a nicely weighted hem that will hang straight. These can be a fine chain laid along the hem fold, or small button shaped discs sewn into the front edges and back seams.
  • How much to leave for a hem allowance depends on the garment style and fabric being used. As a general rule, allow a narrower hem allowances of 3-5cm on lightweight trousers, circular and A-line skirts and dresses. Straight dresses, skirts, jackets and coats benefit from a deeper hem allowance of 5-7cm.


Top stitched hem – this is the easiest and quickest hem finish. Fold the hem allowance up at the hem depth and then fold it in again so the raw edge meets the first fold and is encased. Pin and stitch close to inner fold. Use matching thread so the stitching is almost invisible, or contrast thread and decorative stitch to make a feature of the stitching. If working with heavyweight fabrics, or very full skirts, neaten the raw edge of the hem allowance then turn up just once.

Linings are usually stitched with a top stitched hem and should finish just above the main garment hem.                                                                                     

Use a twin needle to stitch a hem which then replicates a 'cover stitched' hem
Use a twin needle to stitch a hem which then replicates a ‘cover stitched’ hem

Bright Idea: Use a twin needle to create a top stitched hem that looks like the cover-stitch found on ready-to-wear garments. Alter the top tension to 7 and use two spools of thread for the needles. The bobbin thread will then zigzag between the two to create a zigzag stitch underneath, with two perfectly parallel rows on the top.

Handling curved hems – A curved hemline needs an extra step to ease in the fullness before turning up to prevent excess bulk, bumps and ridges in the hem area. This effects full skirted dresses or bias cut dresses and skirts. To achieve this, use a long stitch length to ease stitch about 6 mm from raw hem edge and then gently gather the hem allowance by pulling up the bobbin thread. Spread gathers evenly and turn up hem. The gathers will be in the hem allowance only.

Blind hem – this is a good choice of hem for medium to heavyweight fabrics, smart clothes, jackets, dresses, trousers etc. Use a blind hem foot, which has a guide against which the folded fabric sits and select a blind hem stitch (a row of straight stitches and occasionally zigzag stitch to the left). First neaten raw edge and then turn up hem allowance. Holding it in place, fold it back on its self so that about 6-13mm of hem allowance protrudes to the right. Place under the foot so the folded fabric butts against the left edge of the protruding guide on the foot. As you stitch, he straight stitches are formed in the single layer of hem allowance and then the zigzag swings to the left to catch the folded hem allowance and garment. Once finished, flatten out the hem and press with a press cloth to embed the stitches. All that will be visible from the right side is a tiny ladder stitch.

McCalls 7513 is a lovely tailored jacket
McCalls 7513 is a lovely tailored jacket

Tailored hems – adding a strip of interfacing to the wrong side of the garment within the hem allowance will help the drape of tailored garments, producing a lovely crisp finish. Simply cut a length of fusible interfacing the width of the hem allowance and press in place. Neaten raw edge of hem (with overcast stitch or bias binding) and turn up then blind hem or hand stitch hem allowance to the interfacing only. This ensures that there no stitches visible on the right side. Adding dress weights will also aid the drape.

Bound hem – this is another technique that works well with tailored garments or heavyweight fabrics where a single turn of hem allowance is preferred. Open out and stitch bias binding to the right side of the raw hem edge. Press then fold up hem allowance and either blind stitch or hand stitch binding to the inside of the garment.

Use a rolled hem foot to create rolled hems quickly and easily
Use a rolled hem foot to create rolled hems quickly and easily

Rolled hem – this type of hem is particularly suited to lightweight and transparent fabrics where the hem allowance would be visible.  Using a rolled hem foot is ideal as the front of the presser foot has a curl through which the fabric edge is fed and rolled as it is stitched close to the edge. The hem allowance is minimal, a scant 6mm. A rolled hem can be stitched without a specialist foot. Press up 3 mm hem allowance and stitch close to fold then trim any excess hem allowance away. Fold up again so stitching is just inside hem allowance, press and pin. Stitch again close to the inner fold.

Author: Wendy

I love sewing and being Brand Ambassador for The McCall Pattern Company is a dream job for me. I've sewn all my life, edited sewing magazines, written 17 sewing books and written and starred in 10 DVDs - all on sewing! My aim is to promote sewing using the fabulous pattern ranges from Vogue, Butterick, Kwik Sew and of course McCalls - to show that is a fun and relaxing hobby which can result in stunning results.

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