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Welcome back to our Learn to Machine Sew course for beginners! In our last lesson we talked about how to turn and topstitch, which is a technique in which we sew two pieces of fabric together with a clean finish on the edges. Today we’re going to talk about something somewhat similar: hemming.
When you hem, you fold over and sew the raw edge of a single piece of fabric so that it looks nicer and doesn’t fray. If you need to go over other sewing basics, take a look at the course syllabus to see what other techniques we’ve already covered. Let’s get started!
Cut a rectangular piece of fabric. I used this scrap piece left over from the potholder tutorial that went along with the turning and topstitching lesson. Use a piece with a relatively long side to practice on. Iron the fabric.
When we hem, we basically just fold the fabric edge over twice and sew it in place. When you’re following a sewing tutorial or pattern, you will usually be instructed how much to fold the fabric over. When you’re just doing your own hemming you can decide how much to fold.
The choice may depend on any number of considerations. For example, when hemming very thin fabrics, you generally fold a very small amount, while for thicker fabrics you generally fold wider amounts. In clothing, a more narrow hem is more elegant looking, while a wider hem is more casual.
If this is your first time hemming, I suggest you repeat this exercise more than once, folding different amounts to get a feel for it. This is how to hem:
1. Fold the fabric edge over by an amount. In this example my first fold is 1/2 cm. If you’ve never hemmed before, you might want to start by folding over 1 cm. Iron the fold bit by bit, as you move down the fabric edge and fold it over. (I hate ironing and often skip it when I shouldn’t, but NEVER skip ironing when hemming or else it will be harder to hem and the end result will be much worse. Trust me.)
2. Fold the fabric over again by an amount that is MORE than the first fold. In doing this, you enclose the cut fabric edge inside the fold. In my example, my second fold was 1 cm. If your first fold was 1 cm, you could fold 2 cm the second time. Iron the fold again. If the folded edge is particularly long and/or gets unfolded easily, pin in place.
3. Sew down the fold. The stitching must be near the edge of the inner fold of fabric (the first fold that then got folded in again) so that the cut fabric edge is enclosed between the stitching and the outer fabric fold. To do this, you must sew with a seam allowance that is slightly less that the amount of your second fold. So if your second fold was 1 cm, use a seam allowance that is about 0.75 cm. If your second fold was 2 cm, use a seam allowance between 1.5 and 1.75 cm. I wouldn’t sew further than 1/2 cm away from the fold. (If you need help with this part, check out the lesson on seam allowance.)
Ok, I’ll be totally honest with you. I normally don’t like hemming very much. I don’t like ironing and I don’t like having to be super precise and measure a gazillion times to make sure that I’m folding over at the right amount at every point of the fabric edge. And a messy hem looks… well, messy.
So I’ll let you in on a couple of tricks on sewing a perfect hem! The picture above shows two little tools that can help you. The gadget on the right is called a sewing gauge*. I’ll show you that first.
A sewing gauge is essentially a ruler with a little thingy that can move up and down to show different lengths. So if you are folding over 1/2 cm, you move the thingy to the 1/2 cm mark and check as you go along the fabric edge that you are folding by the right amount, and iron as you go.
Another option is to move the thingy to TWICE the amount of your fold amount (so if you have to fold 1/2 cm, move the thingy to the 1 cm mark), measure that amount from the UNFOLDED fabric edge and draw a line with a fabric marker (more on fabric markers here). Then when you are folding, you just need to align the cut fabric edge with the drawn line and iron it down.
But my preferred hemming method requires no fancy shmancy gadgets or gizmos, just a rectangle of thin cardboard or thick cardstock. I use one side of a cereal box with the edges trimmed nice and evenly. Draw some straight lines at different intervals from the cardboard edge. You can choose whatever amounts you want. As I tend to use centimeters, I drew lines at 1/2 and 1 1/2 cm from one long side, and two more lines at 1 and 2 cm from the other long side, then labeled them to keep them straight.
Place the cardboard over the fabric to be hemmed and fold the fabric so that the edge lines up with the line of whatever amount you want your first fold to be. Make sure that the cardboard edge goes right up to the inside of the fold and iron the fabric, right over the cardboard.
Repeat with the second fold, lining up the first fold with the line of whatever amount you want to use. Then sew down the folded fabric edge as instructed earlier.
Look at that gorgeous hem! You can tell a perfect hem by a fold that is perfectly straight (not wavy), the amount of folded fabric that is the same all the way across, and a straight line of stitching close to the edge of the first fold, but never running over the folded edge.
There are of course other ways of hemming, such as hemming a pre-sewn loop of fabric (for example, hemming your jeans) [edit: I show how to do this in this tutorial for DIY gift bags] and hemming non-straight edges, but let’s just take one thing at a time! With just this one simple hemming technique, you’re ready to hem lots of great projects!
Do you remember the quilted fabric square we did for straight stitch practice? We’ll be using it in the upcoming tutorial that goes along with this hemming lesson, so get it ready for later on this week!
Did you enjoy this lesson on how to sew a perfect hem? Take a look at the other lessons in this beginner’s sewing course!
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