Hemming A Dress By Hand: No Sewing Machine, No Problem!

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You’ve bought the perfect dress…if only it were a bit shorter. Or perhaps a lot shorter. But there you are without a machine. Don’t worry. It’s not hard to hem by hand. In fact, if you don’t sew regularly, hand sewn hems may even be quicker than machine sewing. 

Check it out.

Hemming a Dress by Hand, How Hard is it?

Sewing dress hems (and, by extension, making hems for your own pants) can be fast and easy, even with minimal sewing skills. But first, it’s important to have the right equipment. You should also understand how different types of hem stitches work. 

We have you covered.

What You’ll Need

Your essential equipment includes:

And, of course, your garment!

Step-by-Step Guide to Hand Hemming Your Dresses

In order to hand sew your new dress hem, you should familiarize yourself with some essential vocabulary.

Hand Stitch (Hand Sew)

To hand sew is to make stitches by hand, with a needle and thread, rather than by machine.

Hem Fold 

The folded hem edge, where the raw edge is turned up on the wrong side of the fabric, is also called the hem fold.

hem fold

Blind Hem

A blind hem is one that’s stitched in such a way that the stitches don’t show on the right side of the project. You can make this type of hem by hand or by machine. When hand stitching, you can achieve this effect with several different stitches.

blind hem

Slip Stitch

A slip stitch is sometimes called a blind stitch or a blind hem stitch, though it’s only one of several stitches that you can use to make an invisible hem. A slip stitch works well with any weight of fabric. 

You can learn how to make this stitch from this great tutorial on Youtube.

Catch Stitch

Catch Stitches are a special type of stitch for hand stitching an invisible hem on knit fabric. This technique produces slanted stitches that are visible on the fabric’s wrong side. This technique is for knit fabrics with a folded (not flat) finish.

Watch how to make a catch stitch here. 

Fell Stitch

The fell stitch is a strong, flexible, stitch often used for sewing linings inside garments. You can also use it for hemming. It’s a versatile technique that works well with any fabric weight. It’s not, however, appropriate for thread covered edges, such as serged edges.

This video shows you how to sew fell stitches.

Rolled Hem

A rolled hem is a finishing stitch that uses tiny stitches to roll the raw hem edge under as you sew. It’s a good stitch to use if you’re sewing silk, chiffon, or another fine fabric. Keep in mind that a rolled hem isn’t an invisible stitch, as the stitches are visible on the wrong side of the fabric.

rolled hem

A rolled hem is generally made with a serger or other machine, but you can also make a rolled hem by hand. You can watch how below.

How to Hem a Garment, Step by Step

Now, here’s how to hand stitch that hem.

Step 1: Mark the New Hem Edge

The first and probably most important step is to decide where you want your new hem to fall.

Try on your dress. Use your tailor chalk or a pin to mark where the new hem should fall. This is easier to do if you have someone to help you, but you can do it yourself if you’re careful.

mark hem

And speaking of careful, don’t cut just yet. You’ll need to allow yourself plenty of room to turn up the edges and finish your hem.

Take the dress off, turn it inside out, and mark your new hemline. 

mark inside hem

Use your ruler to make sure the new hemline is the same distance from the bottom edge all the way around.

measure hem distance

Step 2: Draw Another Line Two Inches Below the New Hemline

Now, use your ruler to make a mark two inches (five centimetres) below your new hemline. This will be the cutting edge — the very edge of your garment, which you’ll be turning up.

two inch hem

Once you’ve made your mark, use your ruler to mark a cut line all the way around the circumference of your hem.

mark the cutline of the hem

Step 3: Cut Away the Excess Fabric (if Necessary)

If you’re going to cut off excess fabric, this is the time to do it. Cut all the way around the circumference, along the cutting line that you marked in step 2.

cut the fabric along the mark

Step 4: Fold the New Hem Under and Tuck the Raw Edge

Now, fold the raw edge up about one inch, all the way around the bottom of the garment. Press the single fold into place with the iron. 

press raw edge of hem

Fold the fabric again the same way, again with a one inch seam allowance. Press again.

press hem again

Step 5: Pin the New Hemline in Place

Using your sewing pins, pin your new hemline in place.

pin your hem

Step 6: Thread Your Needle

Grasp the end of your thread and pull the thread out to arm length (any more, and you will have an unwieldy amount of excess thread). Thread it through the eye of your needle, pull it halfway through, and loop the ends into a thread knot.

make a knot

For my example, I’m using a contrasting thread because it’s easier to see. However, if I were sewing a real hem, I’d use a thread that’s similar in color to my fabric so that any stray stitches will be harder to see on the right side of the garment.

Step 7: Start sewing

First, decide which stitch you’re going to use to secure your hem:

  • Blind stitch (slip stitching)
  • Catch stitch
  • Felling stitch
  • Rolled hem

There are a few more options here.

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to use slip stitching.

Insert your needle at the side seam. This will give your stitches a firm foundation in a thicker part of the garment. At the same time, the seam will make your first stitch invisible on the outside of the garment.

make your first stitch

Pull the thread until the knot catches.

start stitching hem

Use your needle to pick up a few threads above the folded fabric edge and gently pull the thread through.

slip stitch for hem

Now, with your needle pointing to the left, pick up a tiny bit of the folded hem edge, and pull the thread through beneath the fold.

hemming by hand

Now go back and pick up a few threads above the folded edge, one quarter to one half inch from where the previous stitch ended.

Continue along in this way until your hem is finished.

Hand Hemming FAQs

It’s natural to have questions. Fortunately, we have answers!

What’s the Best Stitch to use When Hemming by Hand?

If you’re looking for an invisible finish on the right side of the fabric, slip stitching, fell stitching, and catch stitching can be great choices.

However, slip stitching is the most versatile, as it can be used on any fabric weight.

Are There any Fabrics You Can’t Hem by Hand?

Not really, though some fabrics may be more difficult to sew by hand than others.

However, there are a few fabric types that require special treatment.

Knit fabrics need a stitch like the catch stitch, which stretches with the fabric. This will help keep the thread from breaking.

Also, when working with ravel prone fabrics (fabrics where the edges fray easily), never try to work with a raw edge. Instead, fold the edge under and sew your hem on the fold.

Lightweight fabrics like silk and chiffon do well with a rolled hem or slip stitching.

Use a sharp needle with fabrics whose appearance or structural integrity may be compromised by needle holes.

The thickness of vinyl, as well as its vulnerability to needle damage can make it a hand sewing challenge. Use clips, rather than pins, to secure the layers. Pin holes can damage vinyl and make it prone to ripping. Use a sharp needle and a thimble to protect your thumb.

Finally, always choose your thread and needles carefully, as different fabrics work best with certain needle and thread types.

What Kind of Needle Should I Use for Hand Hemming?

This depends on your fabric. Just as you should take care selecting your machine needles, you should also be careful selecting a needle for hand sewing. And the principles are similar, too.

Use a ball point needle for knit fabrics and woven fabrics with a loose weave. A ball point needle has a blunt tip that won’t damage fibres as it passes through.

Thick fabrics like denim need very sharp needles. There are also special needles with a chisel point for hand sewing leather.

You’ll also find that hand needles come in a variety of thicknesses. In general, use thicker needles with heavier fabrics, and thinner needles with lighter weight fabrics.

What Kind of Thread Should I Use for Hand Sewn Hems?

When it comes to a successful hem, your thread choice can be as important as your needle choice.

With thread, it’s all about fiber content. Try to match synthetic fabrics with synthetic or partially synthetic threads (ie; polyester with polyester). Synthetic thread will stretch along with synthetic fibres, while a natural thread may break when stretched.

Likewise, choose natural threads for natural fiber fabrics.

Do I Need to Double Thread When Hand Hemming?

Not necessarily.

A good rule to remember is that you use a single thread when you don’t want the bulk of a double thread to ruin the appearance of your project. If you’re working with a light fabric like silk or chiffon, then you’ll probably want to use a single thread.

The purpose of a double thread is to provide strength and stability. You can already guess that if you’re putting a hem on a jeans skirt or something made from vinyl, a single thread probably isn’t going to hold. So in this case, a double thread is definitely the better choice.

Why does my Thread Keep Twisting?

We’ve all experienced it, and it’s super annoying. No matter how careful you might be, the thread twists and knots while you’re sewing.

Why does this happen?

Believe it or not, when most of us sew by hand, we unconsciously twist the needle a little bit every time we pick it up or put it down. To counteract this, try smoothing the thread out each time you pull it through.

And if the worst happens and you do get a knot, you can often loosen it with your fingers, or with the point of your needle.

No Sewing Machine? No Problem!

It’s pretty easy to hem your garments by hand. Now that you have this new technique in your arsenal, what will you do with it?

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hem a dress by hand
About The Author:
Jess Faraday

Jess Faraday learned to sew as an act of teenage rebellion. Her mother always hated to sew, so Jess took up the hobby to prove a point! It has since turned into a satisfying lifelong hobby. When not sewing, Jess enjoys trail running and martial arts. She’s even written a novel or two!

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