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Sewing Lesson - Introduction to Hems

Hems are used to finish the edges of garments and other sewn items. While the basic functional purpose of a hem is to treat the raw edges of fabric to prevent them from fraying, hems also substantially affect the finished look of a garment. Hems are often the last step in the assembly process and it is important to be able do hems well, because they are one of the most visible elements and a poorly done hem can ruin the look of your garment or sewing project.

There are a number of different hemming methods that can be used depending on the style of the garment and type of fabric that you are using. In this series of articles, I will explain and illustrate some of the most commonly used hems and include some tips and tricks that will help you sew beautifully finished hems.

When deciding how to hem your sewn item, you will need to decide whether you want the hem to be visible or invisible and then how wide you want the hem to be. Hem width is extremely important because it can affect how the fabric ultimately hangs or drapes.

A general rule of thumb is that the thinner or lightweight the fabric is, the narrower the hem should be. For example, chiffon is usually hemmed with a narrow hem, a baby hem or a rolled hem. The photo to the right shows the bottom and sleeve hems of one of my chiffon blouses. The bottom hem (on the left side) is 1/4 inch wide while the sleeve hem (on the right side) is 1/8 inch wide. Narrow hems generally vary from 1/8 - 3/8 inches wide.
chiffon hem

The garment type can also influence hem width. Pants hang better when they have a wide hem like the one shown in the photo, which is 1 1/2 inches wide.

I surveyed the pants and skirts in my closet and the hems varied from 1/2 an inch to 1 1/2 inch wide. The wider hems were used on my more dressy pants while the more casual denim items used a smaller hem.

Use your closet as a resource and see what types of hems are used on your own garments.
pant hem

If you are using a pattern, it will usually specify the type and width of the hem to be used. One thing I like to do when working with a new pattern, is to look ahead and see what finishing method it recommends so that I can decide whether I want to change the hem before cutting my fabric. For example, I love the look of super wide hems (2 inches or so) on little girl's dresses, but to save fabric, many of them use a standard 5/8 inch hem, so I will lengthen the skirt to allow for the wider hem.

Click to learn how to sew basic folded hems

Here some sewing tools that can help you make professional looking hems

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