Introduction: Professional Hemming by Hand- Pants, Skirts, Jackets, Coats, Couture Finish

Picture of Professional Hemming by Hand- Pants, Skirts, Jackets, Coats, Couture Finish

                     There's probably 50 different ways to hem pants. Every shop I've worked in has had their own flavor or version they prefer. Today, I am showing you how to do simple hand hemming with a needle and thread. In general, this is a finish you will be asked to do in higher-end couture shops, custom bridal wear, and theater where the quality of the finish is more important than the time. Hand-hemming lends a softness and incredible hand to a garment, however it can take 30 min to 4 hrs. to complete a piece so set yourself aside some time to do it if you want this right. The finished piece will generally hold up to the regular wash, but should be treated like lingerie or heirloom sewing. Hand-washing or the dry cleaners is always better for lovely custom work.
                      We will be doing a top and skirt today for you to see various versions of this. Please note this is an assymetrical draped hem I did for practice. Anyone can do an even hem easily. If you haven't done even hems before, just put on the shoes you will be wearing on the finished piece and a ruler, with a straight ruler or yardstick, get someone to walk around you and measure at the height you want the finished garment to be. Add at least 1 1/2 inches for a narrow hem and 3 inches for a wide hem. If you don't have a "skirt hemmer" (aka-ruler), you can pick one up for under $1 at Wal-mart in the office/school supply section or pay $5-30.00 for a fancy one at any sewing supply store. When I worked retail, we just did this by eye.

Piece to Be Hemmed/Finished
Scissors
Iron
Needle (I prefer John James which you can buy in any sewing store or Amazon for a few dollars)
Thread (Use good tailors Rices or Salamide thread. This is available in any beading store in small 40 yard cards for $1-2 or online. You will need only need a small amount. One card will normally do several pants or dresses.)
Pins (Dressmaker Pins are available by the 300-500 for $1-3 at any sewing store or online.)
Optional Ruler (Under $1 at any Dollar Tree, Wal-mart, or School/Office Supply Store)

Step 1: Prepare the Piece to Be Hemmed

Picture of Prepare the Piece to Be Hemmed
              Cut off any extra on the piece. You want the width you marked for where you want your hem to be, plus the amount that needs to turned under. PLEASE NOTE this amount varies by the garment you are finishing. The longer the hem/piece, traditionally the wider a hem. This is because a wider hem provides more weight to it which causes the coat or garment to twirl and drape correctly. If you have on a long dress or coat, you want it to float and pivot when you walk. Most of this action is built in the hem naturally with this added amount. See chart below.
              Some shops will actually weight their hems with cording or metal to provide added weight to increase the float wow factor.

Pants: 1 inch
Skirts/ Dresses/ Jackets( Short/Knee Length or Higher): 1-1.5 inches
Skirts/ Dresses/ 3/4 Length Coats (Long/Bridal): 1.5-2.5 inches
Heavy Coats/Heirloom Sewing/Theater : 2.5-3 inches

Step 2: Fold and Iron the Hem Twice to Be Hemmed

Picture of Fold and Iron the Hem Twice to Be Hemmed

                               Take your iron, heat it up, and using the nose fold the fabric twice to get the correct amount. For pants, I sewed a basting stitch here at the 1/4 inch mark for everyone to see to get a feel for where the half inch mark is. In general, the 1/2 inch mark which is common to pants and most summer clothes is the width of a home iron (shown here). You can be a little over or under as long as you roughly hit the mark. Pin the hem as you go to prevent it falling out.

Step 3: Start Hemming With a Modified Back Stitch

Picture of Start Hemming With a Modified Back Stitch

               There's probably a million names for this (every shop I've worked at has called this something different): back-stitch, pick-stitch, catch stitch, hem stitch, fur stitch....seriously, I lost count at 20 and it's pretty funny. The technique is dead simple though. Basically, you alternate sewing a fat stitch between the bottom cuff you are securing and a small tiny pin prick stitch of 1-3 threads on the top fabric so it does not show on the other side when you are done. Most sewing books will show you this nasty stitch which shows the top and bottom stitches as even, don't do this or your stitches will show on the other side. The reason people hand stitch is it leaves beautiful invisible hems when you are done, if you take even stitches they will show through on the other side which is sloppy work. I've taken a couple shots of the skirt with the hem put in it in case you need a better idea of what a completed garment will look like.

Step 4: Check the Other Side As You Go

Picture of Check the Other Side As You Go

         This probably sounds dumb, but check the other side as you go every few stitches (I normally do about once a foot) to make sure your stitches aren't visible on the other side. Ideally you don't want the seam to show on the other side when you are done. This is easier the heavier the fabric as there is more threads/fabric to hide your stitches and thread in. Below is a thin crepe silk fabric, you still can't even really see anything up close under the camera's demanding eye. After washing or ironing, even these bare pinpricks from the needle's passing will be gone. Yeah! You're doing it right.

Step 5: Iron and Look Over Your Finished Piece(s)

Picture of Iron and Look Over Your Finished Piece(s)

Alright, you are done with your hemming. Iron the piece again to take out any stray wrinkles that you may have picked up in the process and hang it up to wait for your big event. This is a lovely hand-finished hem.

Comments

Susitna (author)2014-09-10

Thank you for this Instructable. When I was in college I chose a sewing class.We used hem similar to this. The one we learned looked like a long armed cross stitch. I believe hems, like underwear should do their jobs invisibly. Mary Alice

katelyn3565 (author)2014-09-10

Thanks for this guide! I have a skirt I've been needing to hem for a while and I had no idea where to start since I don't know how to use a sewing machine

babybayrs (author)2013-06-08

Does it take hours to hand hem a skirt? Some skirts's hem must be miles big. I dread hemming skirt.

Haus Page (author)babybayrs2013-06-08

Babybayrs, like all handwork, hemming by hand takes time. A small short skirt like this generally takes me 1-2 hrs., but a large bridal dress with a long-train can take hours or days to properly do. There's a reason couture costs more money. It takes roughly 80-140 hours to make a bespoke high-end suit or wedding dress. A lovely luxury worth saving up for.

babybayrs (author)Haus Page2013-06-08

Right. I often find I couldn't afford my own handwork and break back hemming others'. Did I miss if you discussed machine hemming? Is machine hemming of not as good quality or why not machine hemming?

Haus Page (author)babybayrs2013-06-10

Babybayrs, this is one method to hem skirts. It is not the only one. Quality is an objective measure in terms of sewing as budgets and expectations vary widely. More often it boils down to time vs. money so if you need to use a machine for your own needs do so and don't sweat it. This is the type of finish you would probably see in a special occasion outfit not everyday wear.

Tezcumpapa (author)2013-06-07

Lovely! I am going to try this on a skirt that has been waiting for a couple of months. I am hoping you can show us how to sew transparent silk. Every needle and thread that I have tried seem too gross for the fabric.

Haus Page (author)Tezcumpapa2013-06-07

Tezcumpapa, sometimes just dropping the needle and thread size can have a huge effect on the overall visibility of your seams if you are struggling to get it done. You may want to try a small 7 or 9 gauge hand-sewing needle for the fabric, also while I didn't mention it due to additional cost, you can also use filament silk thread instead of nylon as it is much thinner/finer and is a traditional finish for tricky fabrics. I normally order my silk thread from Japan off the internet as they tend to have better prices/color selection ($3-5 vs. $25-35).

jessyratfink (author)2013-06-06

Great tutorial! I've only ever done this on armholes/sleeves, but I love the way it looks. :D

Haus Page (author)jessyratfink2013-06-06

Awww, I'm so glad you like it. Your tutorials are great. This is one of those classic, but important finishes. I've been doing a lot of it for theater, runways, and bridal as it makes clothing move and float with you. Most important for model/actor types. You tend to see this type of finish on higher-end items and vintage clothing prior to the 1950s. Thought it might be useful for other people too.

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Bio: Hi, we're Dara and Nash. Industrial designers, tinkers, and mayhem builders. Follow our travels.
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