I think one thing that really distinguishes a quality make from a poor-quality one is the hem. To me, a hem should be as discrete as possible and not detract from the rest of the garment – unless the hem itself is a design feature, of course!
In my opinion, hems should be totally invisible wherever possible. Sometimes time/cost constraints prevent this happening and in ready-to-wear and you will often see a machined hem. That is fine on many garments – casual wear, knits, and lightweight fabrics that can’t be blind hemmed for instance. The Ruby Slip, upon which blind hemming would be nightmare, features a narrow double folded hem which is very discrete:
A hand-rolled hem could also be used, but it takes a lot longer to do!
For more tailored garments, I don’t like to see any stitching on the outside as it generally looks cheap. As usual there are always exceptions – sometimes stitching is part of the design, sometimes there is no hem at all!
In manufacturing we use a blind hemmer which can sew a skirt hem in about a minute. This machine sews a chain stitch on the inside, catching a thread or two from the outer fabric to secure the hem up. You know the ones – a small area comes undone and then the whole lot unravels really easily! Blind hemming should be totally invisible, but in reality you quite often see poor quality work where the take-up stitch is visible from the outside of the garment.
There are several ways of sewing a hem by hand – slip stitching, catch stitching – but each of these can leave an unsightly ridge on the outside, especially after a few presses. By using a catch stitch between the layers a visible ridge is avoided. It is a bit fiddly until your fingers learn the right position to hold the fabric, but once you’ve done a few you’ll never look back!
I snapped a few shots while hemming my Turquoise Tartan skirt:
I am hemming the skirt from left to right, but the needle lies right to left – a bit counterintuitive until you get used to it! Take a 3-4mm stitch inside the hem allowance:
Draw the thread through, then pick up a couple of threads from the body of the skirt about 3-4mm apart. The secret is to pick up two threads rather than one, as it distributes the weight of the hem more evenly and minimises any indentation on the outside:
The stitching is done about 5mm inside the hem allowance – I’ve pinned the edge back here so you can see it:
I space the stitches from 6mm to 10mm apart, and this usually depends on my patience – some fabrics are much easier than others. The closer the stitches, the less likely you are to put a heel through them while getting dressed – ask me, I know! In fact, you can take a backstitch in the hem allowance every few cm to make it extra secure.
Two more things – the stitching should remain at a slightly loose tension, so the hem ‘floats’ – like the above photo. If you pull the thread tight it will cause indentations on the outside. And second – if you have a heavy fabric, an initial row of stitching done at mid hem level will relieve stress on the upper layer of stitches, and prevent them causing indentations on the outside because of the weight of the hem.
Here’s the right side of my hem – if you look at the white line, my pick-up stitches lie in there somewhere – totally invisible!
This fabric was great to work with, others can really test your patience!
From the wrong side I pressed the hem fold flat, but a light press over the hem stitching is all that is necessary. After all that work we don’t want a pressing impression to ruin it all!
How do you sew your hems – do you use a blind herringbone stitch too? Are you a hem snob like me, or do you take shortcuts at the finish line? And has anyone tried a blind hem stitch on their sewing machine – does it work very well? My Elna Supermatic has a blind stitch cam and I haven’t tried it out yet!