Hem Knits Maintaining Original Cover Stitch

About: I have a business doing sewing and upholstery, alterations, repairs and whatever comes along! I have begun to make videos that cover some of the more challenging sewing work I encountered in the last twent...

Maintain the original cover stitch on knit garments when shortening sleeves or hemline, using a serger and a sewing machine.

Step 1: Pin Up the Excess Length of Hem or Sleeve.

This shirt has been measured on the person with the excess hem length having been pinned up to the desired length.

Step 2: Measure the Amount to Be Shortened.

Here you can see that the hem is to be shortened four inches.

Step 3: Make the Fold.

Make a fold that measures half of the amount to be removed - in this case, two inches - (half of four inches).


Pin as shown along the upper side of the serged edge of the hem all around. Make sure that the fabric lies smooth with no wrinkles.

Match the side seams. Press the fold.

Step 4: Serge Close to the Original Serge Stitching.

Serge so that the left side of the new serging is just to the right of the original serged edge. The left hand mark on the presser foot marks where the left side of the new serge line should be. If you do not have a serger, you can do this step using the straight stitch on a regular sewing machine, stitching close to the original serged stitch.

Step 5: View Behind the Presser Foot.

This is the view as the serged seam comes out of the presser foot.

Step 6: View of the Good Side After Serging/sewing.

Here you can see how it should appear on the good side of the hem, after serging or sewing.

Step 7: Press the Seam Allowance.

Press the seam allowance away from the hemline.

NOTE: If you are sewing on a regular machine and you used a straight stitch:

1. Trim away the excess fabric to within 1/4 inch from the straight stitching.

2. Use a zigzag or other stitch to finish the edge.

3. Press the seam allowance in the same manner.

Step 8: View of Pressed Hem.

Here is a view of the good and the wrong side of the pressed hem.

Step 9: Topstitch Along the Fold.

Topstitch along the fold matching the stitch length to that of the cover stitch length.

Maintain the same spacing from the left hand line of the cover stitch, as is between the two rows of the cover stitch.

Step 10: Finished Hem View.

The finished hem showing the wrong side and the good side, with the original cover stitch and the new row of stitching.

Step 11: Finished Garment.

Here is the completed hem.

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9 Discussions


3 years ago

This looks like a similar method used to shorten jeans while keeping the good hem. I love it!


3 years ago on Introduction

Hi Louise What a terrific way to sustain the finished hem look! I would like to suggest two tiny additions to your notes regarding your techniques when using a sewing machine in place of a serger. First is to loosen the top tension on the sewing machine a bit to allow the work to lay flat and not pucker and the second is to use a ball point needle for knits!

7 replies

Thanks for the comments! When you say to loosen the tension for the top thread, is this to stop the work from gathering? That is, is the puckering you mention due to a gathering effect, or due to the knit stretching as one sews? Generally, when I sew knits on a sewing machine, I find that the knit gets bubbly from being stretched as it sews...., but at the same time, the straight stitch doesn't allow as much stretching when the wearer puts on the garment - the straight stitch may even break as it doesn't have enough give (as compared to the serged seam).

And yes, a ball point needle is good - tho' I confess, I don't always switch to using one....! It is a necessity for some knits to avoid cutting the fabric.

Hi Louise, By loosening the top tension when sewing it loosens the row of stitches so the fabric folds over more softly as if it was serged also giving the seam a bit of flexibility (also if a zig zag stitch is available on the machine being used I would use it, setting the stitch with the slightest left to right zig zag where it is almost a straight stitch. This too allows for a bit of flexibility to the seam in a knit fabric) After trimming and pressing the seam per your instructions the loosened top thread tension will allow the top stitching to go down more smoothly without great indention to the seam therefore looking like a three thread cover stitch. If a top stitch needle is available use it! The eye is bigger and the thread will pass easily through it! Happy sewing! 

That is interesting! I would have thought that one would loosen the bobbin tension also...? Esp. to allow more give when the wearer puts it on - to prevent thread breaking. I had not been aware of a topstitch needle. I generally use a size 16 in most of my work - which allows the thread to flow better - having a bigger eye as you mention. Thanks for the ideas!

Your Welcome! Yes it is true.. loosening the bobbin tension also is the way to go and being as you are sewing on a ?? "Vintage Pfaff?.. Perhaps a 130?" (totally a guess by looking at the presser foot in one of your photos) You know exactly how to do that. Unfortunately, many sewers do not know how to adjust the tension on their bobbin case, be it drop-in, oscillating or full rotary and then re-setting it back. Hummm... perhaps a new subject for Instructables? BTW, Don't you just LOVE YOUR PFAFF!!!

PS The great thing about a top stitch needle is it comes with that large, long, smooth eye and will accommodate many thread types, heavy cotton twists, metallics, 2 or more fibers, even woolly nylon and are available in various sizes IE. 12, 14, 16, 18! I would also like to say it is really nice to correspond with you Louise sharing ideas and experience and perhaps this will also be of interest to others who have been bitten by the "Sewing Love Bug!"

Yes the Pfaff is great - this one is a 360. It is my workhorse. I was able to get original parts from YaYa Online - I think they recoup parts from machines. I got a new drive belt and the reverse stitch handle which had broken off. I can use it with upholstery weight thread. The machine almost never misses stitches. And they have a technical manual making it much easier to do your own repairs/replacements/adjustments!

And yes, I had wondered how one could use specialty threads on a regular machine. Wooly nylon might be good for this job? ...more strength and stretch?? I suppose one would use the needle threader to thread the needle - I don't use it, so I would have to try that. I am wondering if comments will show up somewhere - attached to the project I submitted or elsewhere, so that they can readily be seen??

Exchanging ideas is very useful!

I can see and read all the communication between us!.If you go to your original project page and scroll down to the bottom below "the submit a comment box" it is all there!

PS To thread woolly nylon in a standard sewing machine needle you have a couple of options.. Tie a section of regular thread to the woolly using a square knot (right over left, left over right) pull firmly and leave the tails long.. thread the needle with the standard thread and feed the thread and woolly through the eye. Once your knot has passed pull a section of the woolly then cut off the knot! Other option is to use Fray Check. Put a drop or two on the woolly nylon a couple of inches away from the end and give it about 15 seconds rubbing it along an inch or so between your fingers squeezing the fibers together. When it dries, total of 30 sec. or so, cut into that area and you'll have a firm point of the woolly to thread anywhere you want! Happy sewing!