the easy way to sew a narrow hem

by Valerie on November 14, 2013

in tutorials

Be honest now…how many sewing projects do you have that are nearly finished…except for the hem?

Yeah, hemming is a pain. Especially when you need a really tiny one. Well guess what friends, I’m going to show you an easy way to do a tiny, narrow hem (without needing a fancy presser foot)! I’ll use a simple pocket square as an example, but you can use this technique on anything.

3 pocket squares

I know there’s probably tons of tutorials online on how to do this, but here’s why mine is going to be better: I’m going to show you how to deal with the corners.

This whole process uses up about 5/8″ of fabric, so make sure you have 5/8″ hem allowance on whatever it is you’re hemming. For example, if you want a 12″ handkerchief, cut a piece of fabric that is 12 and 5/8″ square.

step1_baste

step one: baste
Choose the longest straight stitch on your machine, and baste along the raw edge using a 3/8″ seam allowance. Go ahead and let the stitches cross at the corners.

You probably want to use matching thread for every step, just in case your basting stitch ends up showing a tiny bit in the end. You don’t want to have to pick it out after the fact!

step2_foldandpress

step two: fold & press
Fold the fabric towards the wrong side along the basting stitch, and press with a hot iron. The basting stitch serves as a crease in the fabric, making folding precisely and evenly much, much easier.

If you do not baste first, you will be spending triple the amount of time at your ironing board, trying to get an exact 3/8″ hem, trying to keep the fold straight, and trying not to burn your fingers.

It seems like you’re adding an extra step, but trust me, basting first actually saves you time!

step3_stitch

step three: stitch
Now go back to a regular length stitch. Sew down the folds you made in step 2 by stitching very close to your basting stitch…no more than 1/8″ away.

At the corners, your stitches should go all the way to the edges. When you turn the corner, lift up the 3/8″ hem you pressed down in step 2, and start your next stitch underneath it. This prevents the corners from getting too bulky, and makes step 4 easier.

step4_trim

step four: trim
Trim off the seam allowance, cutting really close to your stitch from step 3. Just like the basting stitch serves as your guide for folding and pressing, your second stitch serves as your guide for this super-close trim.

I like to fold the seam allowance away from the body while I trim; you want to be very careful to avoid snipping into the body of whatever you’re hemming.

step5_foldagain

step five: fold & press again
Next, you will fold towards the wrong side along the trimmed edge, and press with a hot iron. But this time, since you’ve trimmed away the excess, your fold will be a tiny 1/4″!

Without those first two stitches, making this final fold an even 1/4″ would be unpleasant and time consuming. There would be burnt fingers for sure, possibly also unrepeatable swear words.

This is your final fold. Can you believe we’re almost done? There’s only one more stitch to do. Now, how to achieve flawless, flat corners?

The secret is two-fold. First, you’ll have to trim again.

step6_trimagain

step six: trim again
After folding and pressing in step 5, open up the fold at the corners, and cut off the very tip of the inside corner at a 45 degree angle.

The line marked in the image in step 5 shows where to trim; the image above shows the corner after it’s been trimmed. That tiny snip makes a big difference – you’re actually eliminating two layers of fabric, but only in the spot your needle will be piercing the fabric…so the rest of the corner lies flat, and no raw edges peek out.

step7_pin

step seven: stitch again…but pin first
My sewing students will tell you, I do not encourage over-pinning. I’ll take pins away from you, if I have to! But here, I really think it’s necessary.

I like to put a single pin at the very end of each side, as shown in the image above.

You can trim diligently. You can press perfectly. But that fold is still really tiny; it wants to flatten out and cause you trouble. A pin will keep that from happening! Leave it in until the last possible moment, when your machine is just a few stitches away from the exact corner.

(Yes, you are going to have to slow down to do this right. Slide the pin out a little at a time if you have to.)

Now! For the second secret to making flat, flawless, tiny hems…you need this little gizmo:

hemming gizmo

I have no idea what this thing is called. It came with my machine, but I’m sure you could find a similar thing in a fabric store.

What it does is trick your presser foot into thinking it is laying flat, when really you’ve got a big lump of fabric (aka a bulky seam/corner) underneath it.

When the presser foot lies flat, then you can stitch cleanly and evenly…no skipped stitches, no thread nests, no bent needles. Hooray!

gizmo in use

Sew down the final pressed hem until you reach the exact corner (taking out the pin at the very last moment). With the needle down in the fabric, lift the presser foot and turn the fabric, as if you are going to sew down the next side.

Before you start sewing again, slip the gizmo underneath the presser foot as shown above.

The gizmo helps the presser foot lie flat, so that you can sew your first few stitches (over the lumpy corner) without any trouble!

As soon as the presser foot clears the little gizmo, remove it (with the needle down) and then continue sewing along!

By using that thingy to help you sew in one, continuous square, you get flawless, flat corners. Check it out:

perfect hem

Now, what to do with your new skills? You could make pocket squares or handkerchiefs for the gentlemen you know, of course. But how about a set of fancy napkins for Thanksgiving dinner?

This technique is especially helpful to make very narrow hems, and is super handy for curved hems, too. But you can use it for anything! It works on pretty much any weight fabric, too. As always, I want to see pictures of what you make!

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so, what do you think? leave a comment & let me know.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ann Eales November 14, 2013 at 10:26 am

A great tutorial, very many thanks for sharing.
Ann

2 Ann Eales November 14, 2013 at 10:30 am

BTW I call the thingy a ”humper jumper”

3 Deanna Thompson November 14, 2013 at 12:12 pm

Appreciate the tutorial. I will remember this. Thanks!

4 penny vazquez November 14, 2013 at 1:35 pm

thank you for this tutorial, it’s very helpful

5 Valerie November 14, 2013 at 2:59 pm

A hump jumper! That makes sense, because that’s exactly what it does! :) Thanks Ann!

I hope all of you find this useful!

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