Hemming is an essential technique in garment construction for finishing the edges of fabric. A hem creates a neat, clean edge and prevents fraying or unraveling. The type of hem selected depends on factors like garment style, fabric type, and desired finish. Below are the most common types of hems used in sewing:
Key Takeaways on Hem Types:
- There are many different types of hems that serve various purposes in garment construction.
- Double fold, rolled, bias tape, and blind hems are among the most versatile and commonly used.
- Hem type depends on fabric, garment style, hem visibility, and desired finish.
- Both hand-sewn and machine-sewn methods can create high-quality hems.
- Width, fullness, and curve must be considered when selecting the right hem.
Introduction: Why Are Different Hem Types Important in Sewing?
A hem is a key technique in creating professional-looking, well-finished garments. Selecting the most appropriate type of hem for a project ensures the edges lay properly, enhance the garment style, and create a neat appearance.
But with so many hem options available, how do you choose? Whether sewn by hand or machine, different hem types serve distinct purposes. The hem encloses the fabric edge in a way that suits the garment design, fabric type, and desired finish.
This comprehensive guide will analyze the various kinds of hems, their suitability for different fabrics and garments, and techniques for sewing them beautifully. Discover what makes each hem type unique and how to select the right finish for your next sewing project.
What Factors Determine the Best Hem Type?
When selecting a hem, the main considerations are:
- Garment type – Casualwear, formalwear, activewear each suit certain hem styles.
- Fabric/fiber content – The weight, drape, and tendency to fray or ravel of the fabric affect the hem.
- Hem visibility – Invisible hems like blind hems hide the stitching. Decorative hems are meant to be seen.
- Hem fullness – The amount of fabric enclosed and whether gathers/pleats are needed.
- Hem curves – Gentle curves, tight curves, or straight edges require different techniques.
- Hem location – Hems at the edge of a garment often use a different technique than inner garment hems.
- Desired finish – Clean and crisp or a visible decorative detail?
With these factors in mind, let’s look at the main categories and types of hems in detail:
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Hem Categories Based on Visibility and Purpose
Invisible hems conceal the stitches creating a clean finish on the inside and outside of the garment. They include:
This versatile hem encloses just a sliver of fabric, using a zigzag stitch to catch one thread of fabric on the right side. It creates an “invisible” hem ideal for delicates, silky fabrics, linens, and straight hems on pants, skirts, curtains, and home decor items. Blind hems allow the garment to drape smoothly and move fluidly.
For invisible hems on heavier wovens like suiting, a hand-sewn blind catch-stitch is recommended. Small straight stitches on the right side catch minimal fabric, while a zigzag stitch on the wrong side provides stability. It takes practice, but results in an imperceptible durable hem.
Fusing tape to the hem allowance before folding under creates an inconspicuous hem when machine topstitched. The fused web adds body, making this suitable for linings and lightweight silky fabrics prone to rippling. Fused hems have a crisp finish and work on straight edges and stable fabrics.
These versatile hems focus on function and durability on casualwear, activewear, linens, children’s clothing, crafts, and home décor:
Double Fold Hem
Also called a double rolled hem, two folds of the allowance encase the raw edge entirely. The double thickness provides structure and prevents raveling while allowing movement. It works on wovens and knits, straight or curved edges.
An overlock sewing machine or zigzag stitch finishes the raw edge, then it’s folded under once. The stitching prevents fraying and adds stretch for an easy casual hem, especially on knits. Serging the edge first adds a decorative touch.
Single Fold Hem
One fold to the wrong side finishes the edge cleanly and simply. Pinking the raw edge first helps prevent raveling. Single fold hems work for non-fraying fabrics and on seam allowances as well as garment hems.
Hand sewing tiny stitches perpendicular to the edge through the hem allowance secures it in place invisibly. No fold is required, making this quick and easy for light fabrics like chiffon, organza, or knits where stiffness would ruin the drape.
Decorative hems adorn and accentuate the edges of a garment, adding embellishment and visual interest:
Rolling the edge twice before tightly stitching creates a delicate, narrow hem ideal for sheer and lightweight fabrics. Hand-rolled hems require expertise but look stunning on silk and satin wedding gowns, for example.
Dense zigzag or scalloped stitching causes the edge to ruffle, resembling the edge of a lettuce leaf. It adds a playful, feminine finish on knits, children’s clothing, and casual lined skirts. Lettuce hems soften and showcase the fabrics drape.
A merrow sewing machine overlock stitch finishes the edge while allowing controlled rippling or ruffling. The decorative textures beautifully accentuate drapey fabrics like silks and jersey. It requires specialty equipment but takes merrow hemming to the next level.
Versatile Hem Techniques for Different Needs
Beyond the main hem categories above, several techniques create versatile hems adaptable to many fabric types and garments:
Bias Tape Hems
- Why useful: Bias tape neatly encloses the raw edge and adds structure. The diagonal stretch allows it to manipulate curves and angles.
- Best for: Lightweight fabrics, unstable edges, curved hems, seam hemming, linings
- Technique: Apply bias tape to the edge, fold over, and topstitch. For invisible look, hand-stitch on the underside.
- Why useful: Binding stitches a folded strip of fabric over the hem edge for lightweight support and coverage.
- Best for: Delicates, lace, sheer fabrics, unstable edges, decorative accent
- Technique: Sew the binding to the edge, fold over, then topstitch or whipstitch the binding folded edge.
- Why useful: A lining fabric folded over the edge provides crisp shaping while concealing stitches.
- Best for: Tailored clothing, curved edges, decorative touch, bulky seams
- Technique: Sew the facing to the garment edge, trim, understitch, then fold up and tack in place.
- Why useful: Inserting cording adds sleek definition and structure for crisp edges.
- Best for: Structure on knits, soft tailoring, activewear, bindings, home decor
- Technique: Encase cording in bias tape or a fabric strip, sew in place, then fold the facing over the cord to finish.
Hem Techniques Based on Location
Certain hems work especially well on specific garment areas or fabric edges:
The upper edge of skirts and pants requires a flat, flexible finish that moves with the body. Common techniques include:
- Casing – Enclosing elastic or a drawstring within a fabric tube/casing
- Backstitched – Reinforcing the cut edge with two rows of straight stitching
- Overlocked – Finishing the raw edge with a serger stitch before folding under
Collars or facings maintain the shape of necklines and keep them from stretching out. Options include:
- Shaped facings – Interfacing stabilizes, preventing sagging or rippling
- Bias facings – The crosswise stretch allows easy manipulation of curves
- Knit bindings – Fold-over neck bindings neatly finish without adding bulk
Letting some fabric edges fray naturally can be an intentional design detail, especially on casualwear or household items where it enhances the rustic character. But reinforcing with stitching is recommended to prevent excessive unraveling.
Convex and concave curves in garment hems require thoughtful manipulation to lie flat and avoid rippling:
- Snip inward-facing curves for flexibility
- Gather excess fullness on outward-facing curves before hemming
- Interface concave hems to add support and stability
- On circle skirts, hem in sections rather than all at once
Hem Width, Fullness, and Stitch Impact
Subtle differences in width, fullness, and stitch type also influence the appearance and functionality of various hems:
A wider hem has a more substantial, visible presence:
- Narrow hems (1/4″ or less) feel lightweight and blend in
- Medium hems (1/2″ – 2″) nicely finish most garments
- Wide hems (2″ or more) make a bold statement
While many hems simply enclose the cut edge, some intentionally manipulate fullness:
- Ruffled hems gather or pleat the fabric before finishing for added volume and flair.
- Graded hems reduce fullness in one layer to discreetly ease in excess fabric.
- Flared hems open up the hem allowance below the garment for a dramatic sweep.
The stitch type also impacts the hem’s appearance:
- Invisible stitches inside the hem maintain a smooth exterior.
- Dense visible topstitching or contrasting thread adds decorative detail.
- Stretch stitches, zigzags, and textured stitches allow more give on knits.
Hand-Sewn vs. Machine Sewn
Both methods produce quality results with some key differences:
- Hand-sewing offers greater precision for detail work like nearly invisible blind hems.
- Machines efficiently construct consistent, durable hems well-suited to long edges.
- Heirloom sewing and high-end fashion often use hand finishing for special pieces.
- Machine hemming is quicker and more accessible for much everyday clothing.
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Common Hemming Questions
Below are answers to some frequently asked questions about working with different hem types:
How do I know which hem will look best with my fabric?
Consider the fabric weight, transparency, and tendency to fray. Delicate, lightweight fabrics suit narrow rolled hems, hand blind stitching, or facings. Medium to heavy fabrics can handle wider double fold or interfaced hems. Prone to ravelling? Choose overlocked, zigzag, or fused hems.
How much hem allowance should I leave on a garment?
Most patterns include a hem allowance of 1.5″-3″. Very fitted garments may use a 1.5″ allowance while fuller skirts could need 3″ or more. Check the pattern guide for specifics and add extra if the garment will be let down for length.
Should knits and woven fabrics be hemmed differently?
Yes, it’s recommended to tailor the hem to the fabric type. Knits benefit from stretch stitches and serged edges, while wovens need hems that minimize bulk yet prevent unraveling. Interfacing adds body to wovens but could make knits too rigid.
Can I hem a circle skirt effectively?
Hemming in sections makes circle skirts manageable. Cut slits up to the hem allowance to create panels. Hem each panel individually, working from the lower edge. This prevents rippling and maintains the flair.
How do I hem pants and maintain the right length?
Having someone try on the pants before hemming lets you match and mark the ideal length precisely. Or hem them longer at first, then adjust after trying on. Finish with blind stitching or topstitching for invisible hems with no extra bulk.
Should I hem garments before or after washing?
Pre-wash fabrics that will shrink. Hem after washing and pressing to ensure the length remains accurate after cleaning. Interfacing and hem allowances can shrink unpredictably otherwise.
Achieving the Perfect Hem
Hems with professional polish take thoughtfulness and practice. Consider all the factors that make each hem unique, and select the option best suited to the fabric, garment style, and desired finish. Experiment with both hand and machine-sewn techniques to expand your range of skills. Anticipate potential challenges ofcurves and corners. And embrace hems as an opportunity to not just neatly finish, but also creatively enhance your sewing projects.
Summary: Evaluating the Best Hems for Each Sewing Project
The range of hem options allows sewers to choose just the right finish for every garment. Consider the fabric, the style, who will wear it, and how. A delicate dress hem differs greatly from an everyday tote bag. Matching the hem intricacies to the overall vision creates polished, professional results. With so many techniques to master, hemming drapes, knits, sheers, and sturdy wovens alike becomes an exciting opportunity to invest handcrafted care into every special piece