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
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
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
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
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
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)
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.