Sew Sewing - tips, patterns, notions and sewing help
Home logo Sewing Basics About Us Contact

Mending Hems and Seams

Two of the most common problems that arise are hems and seams that are starting to come loose. This is where the old saying “A stitch in time saves nine” has the most application. A tiny hole in a seam or a short loosening of a hem can be ignored. However, every time the garment is washed, these problems get just a little bigger. Fix them as soon as you notice them.

Invisibly Stitched Hem

The hem you need to fix may have been stitched with a hemstitch, that is, every inch or so on the outside of the garment, you can see a tiny loop of thread. The best way to mend this kind of hem is by hand

The hand hemstitch consists of taking a tiny stitch—consisting of only a couple of threads—in the underneath fabric right above the hem edge This is followed by a larger stitch through the hem edge, from the back of the hem allowance through to the top. This leaves visible vertical stitches over the hem edge that help to hold it in place.

Knot the end of the thread that is working loose, if possible, to prevent the hem from coming further undone. Trim off any hanging threads. Pin the hem into the position where it needs to be.

Use a single strand of matching thread with one end threaded through the eye of a sharp needle and the other tied in a small knot. Anchor your thread in the hem allowance a couple of inches before the open portion of the hem.

Bring the needle out at one of the remaining catch stitches. Make a tiny stitch through to the front of the garment along with theirs. Catch your thread in the allowance again. Be careful you don’t pull your stitches too tight. When you run out of stitches to match, make your own. Try for the same size and spacing as the originals. When you’ve come to the end of the opening, copy a couple more of their catch stitches. Take several tiny stitches on top of each other in the hem allowance to keep your stitches from coming loose, and cut your thread.

Popped Seams

A seam that’s opened up with no damage to the cloth itself can simply be stitched up the way it was. The only time this is tricky is when another seam or facing or pocket keeps you from being able to get to the opened seam. In these cases, you have two choices—either remove some more stitches, fix the seam and put things back together, or blind-stitch the seam from the outside

Changing Hemlines

One of the most common tasks in altering is changing the length of a hemline. The first step is to take out the old hem and press the allowances flat. Next, determine exactly where you want the hem to be. Then press the hem allowance under along this new hemline.

Before you can decide how best to hem the garment, you need to determine how much flaring or tapering is going on at the bottom couple of inches of the garment. Check for this by laying your garment flat and folding the edge up a couple of inches. If the width at the bottom edge is equal to the width of the garment where it’s lying, your hem allowance will lie flat. If the bottom edge is wider, your garment flares. If it’s narrower, your garment tapers.

Straight Hem Allowances

Exactly how you proceed will depend on the weight of the fabric. Heavyweight fabrics, such as jeans or denim skirts, should be hemmed to minimize bulk. Hems on jeans are usually turned twice. Press the raw edge up to the desired length. Trim the allowance to 1” of your fold line. Fold the raw edge almost to the fold line. Machine-stitch the hem in place with a straight stitch, using a heavy-duty needle.

An alternative is to trim the hem allowance to ½” and finish the raw edge with a zigzag or other finishing stitch. Fold the hem up and machine-stitch. You will still need a heavy-duty needle but will be sewing through two layers instead of three. A neater version of finishing the raw edge of heavy to medium weight fabrics is to overlap the very edge with seam tape. Machine-stitch the tape to the edge and stitch the actual hem along the other edge of the tape. This will hide the raw edge on the inside while allowing you to stitch through fewer layers of the dense fabric.

Lightweight fabrics are nearly always turned twice. Trim the hem allowance to anywhere from 1” to 2”. Turn the raw edge under 1” or ½”. Pin the hem in place and hem with a machine hemstitch or by hand.

Machine Hemstitch

Fold the fabric carefully so your stitches are even.

If you have a hemstitch on your machine, this would be a perfect time to try it out. Adjust the pins so they run parallel to the edge instead of perpendicular. With the wrong side toward you, fold the hem back under the main fabric, exposing about 1/8” of the hem edge. Stitch along the edge. The hemstitch consists of three or four straight stitches that go through the hem edge, followed by one zigzag stitch that extends over onto the main fabric. On the outside, it will look much like a hand-stitched hem. Care must be taken to keep the fabric folded so that the zigzag stitches extend into the main fabric at approximately the same distance.

Sewing Lessons

Home | About | Terms & Disclaimer | Contact