Introduction: Sewing a Nearly-Indestructible Hem

Have you ever had a machine-stitched hem unravel? Or accidentally caught a hem and ripped it when wearing a spike-heeled shoe?

If so, here is a method of sewing a hem that will fix these mishaps. No sewing machine is required. This stitch has a bit of "give" to it, so if your hem does get caught on something, it will be more likely to stretch instead of tear. This method can be used on any hem you want to either repair, shorten, or lengthen, whether pants legs, shirt sleeves, or the bottom of any garment.

In this Instructable, I use thread that contrasts with the garment, to make the stitches easier to see. Obviously when you work on your own hem, you will want to select a thread color that closely matches your garment.

So let's get started!


You will need:

  • The garment you want to repair.
  • Thread in a color that closely matches the garment.
  • Hand-sewing needle.
  • Needle threader (optional but highly recommended) - this is a piece of aluminum attached to a wire loop for pulling thread through the eye of a needle.
  • Thimble (optional but handy if working with heavy fabric such as denim) - this is a cup-shaped piece of aluminum or plastic that covers the end of your finger, to help you push a needle through cloth.
  • Pins.
  • Scissors.
  • Hem gauge (or ruler) - a hem gauge is a ruler with a slider in the middle, used to help you remember the width of a measurement.

Step 1: Determine Hem Width

Try on your garment and measure where you want the hem to be.

If you need the garment to be longer, you will first need to remove the stitches in the existing hem and unfold the hem to the desired length.

If you need the garment to be shorter, you can either remove the stitches in the existing hem and fold the hem to the desired length, or fold over the existing hem.

When you have decided the width of your hem:

  • Turn your garment inside-out.
  • Fold the cloth edge to the side facing you. If the cloth edge is "raw" (meaning unfinished and likely to unravel), fold the edge under, so it is between the layers of cloth.
  • Measure from the bottom fold to the edge of the hem to make sure your hem is the correct width.

The hem pictured is 3/4 of an inch wide, as measured by a hem gauge. A ruler can work just as well to measure a hem, but it doesn't have a way to mark the measurement, so you have to rely on your memory.

Some people prefer to iron their hem at this point. Others want to iron after either pinning or sewing the hem. Ironing is optional.

Step 2: Pin Hem

Measure and pin the hem in place, through all the layers in the fold.

When pinning the hem:

  • Try to align the hem with any seams in the garment first.
  • Next, pin the hem that is directly opposite the seam.
  • Go around pinning the remainder of the hem. You may need to adjust any gathers in the cloth so they are evenly spaced.

Step 3: Cut a Length of Thread

Cut a length of thread about as long as your arm.

Step 4: Thread the Needle

Push the end of the thread through the eye of the needle. If you want to use a needle threader:

  • Push the needle threader wire loop through the eye of the needle.
  • Push the thread through the wire loop.
  • Pull the wire loop and thread through the eye of the needle.

Step 5: Knot the Thread

    To knot the thread:

    • Grasp both ends of the thread together. Let the needle hang at the bottom.
    • Loop the thread ends over themselves.
    • Pull the thread to close the loop and tie the knot.

    This doubles the thread so your stitches will be stronger, and will also prevent you from losing the needle if you accidentally drop it while sewing.

    You may want to tie a few more knots on top of the first one until you have a knot that is larger than the diameter of the needle. This will make your thread less likely to slip through the hole made in the garment by the needle when you start sewing.

    Cut off any excess thread at the end behind the knot.

    Step 6: Sew a Top Stitch

    Slide the tip of your needle under the top layer only of the hem, about 1/8 of an inch away from the inner edge.

    • Do not catch any cloth from the bottom layer yet.
    • Pull the thread through the garment until the knot is against the hem.

    You can use a thimble to push the needle through the cloth if it is thick or heavy. Just place the thimble over one of your fingers and use it to push the needle.

    Step 7: Sew a Bottom Stitch

    In the bottom layer only of the garment hem, sew a second stitch just below the first one.

    • The stitch should be small - perhaps only picking up two or three threads of the garment.
    • Do not let your needle catch the cloth from the top folded layer.
    • Pull the thread through the garment.

    Step 8: Sew Another Top Stitch

    About 1/4 inch above your previous two stitches, slide the tip of your needle under the top layer of the hem, and make another stitch like the first, catching the top layer of cloth only.

    When you pull the thread through the garment, the thread will cross over your previous stitches and create a zigzag pattern. This pattern is what allows the hem to "give" when pulled.

    Your stitches don't have to be perfectly spaced. These measurements are an approximation.

    Step 9: Sew Another Bottom Stitch

    Just below your previous stitch, sew another small stitch in the bottom layer only.

    Step 10: Continue Stitching

    Repeat Steps 8 and 9 until you have sewn all the way around the hem, sewing stitches in the same repeating pattern:

    • The top layer above the previous stitch.
    • The bottom layer below the previous stitch.
    • The top layer above.
    • The bottom layer below.

    If you start to run out of thread, tie a knot in your thread and cut it off. Then repeat Steps 3-9 to cut off another piece of thread and continue sewing until you have completed the hem. Tie a knot in your thread and cut it off.

    Step 11: Enjoy Wearing Your Handiwork!

    Your finished hem should look similar to the last four pictures in this Instructable. (Of course yours will look better, since your thread will match your garment!)

    The first picture shows the underside of the hem when pulled slightly, showing the zigzag pattern of the stitches. The second picture shows the underside of the hem when not pulled.

    The third and fourth pictures show the top side of the hem. The stitches are small, so they are barely visible.