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Cotton: Narrow Machine Hem


It’s the last week full week in April, which makes this my last post on Cotton.  For now. There’s so much to learn about this versatile fabric that it’s hard to imagine ever truly having a last post about it.

This week I wanted to focus on one of the final steps in the making of my Archer:  stitching the hem.  Again, I followed advice from Susan Khalje’s book Linen and Cotton.  Susan’s book has five pages on hems, the bulk of which are spent describing the narrow machine hem.  Her focus is on hemming a circular skirt, but I thought the technique would help me get a nice curved hem on my shirt.  The trick is to start with a row of stay stitching right below the intended hem.  Susan says,

This first row of stitching is the most important–it establishes the hemline and acts as staystitching.  It also allows you to assess the placement of the hem.  It’s easy to spot and correct any adjustments that are needed at this point.

She recommends “allowing at least a 3/8-in. seam allowance” since “anything less is difficult to manipulate.”  That said, I stitched my row of staystitching right at the pattern’s recommended 1/4″ seam allowance since I wanted to keep as much length as possible.

Next, fold and press along the row of stitching.  Then, sew a second row of stitching parallel to the first, and cut off the seam allowance as close to the new row of stitching as possible.  Since I’d skimped on the first step, I didn’t have much to trim off here.  What little I did trim off was done using my applique scissors since any slip would mean cutting through my nearly finished shirt!  Finally, fold along the trimmed seam, press, and stitch a third row of stitching parallel to the second row.  This final row of stitching is the only one that should now be visible from the front.

And, ta da!, a nicely rounded hem.  The book carries on about hemming, so I do recommend you check it out if you ever have a chance, but that’s the narrow machine hem in a nutshell.

Okay, now I’m off to the first day of the Pattern Review Weekend.  Can’t wait!

6 thoughts on “Cotton: Narrow Machine Hem

  1. Thanks so much for this tip. I keep insisting on doing narrow hems the hard way (although sometimes I find it soothing to narrow hem–I’m weird, I know), but this will be an excellent exercise for me.
    Have fun at PR weekend!

  2. Have fun this weekend! I need to work on my narrow-hemming technique as I really do like it as a finish on many things. Thanks for the tip!

  3. How does it compare to using a hemming foot? I have a narrow hemmer that does a fantastic 1/8 inch wide hem, and an adjustable one for larger hems, and haven’t felt the need to try anything else. This sounds rather time-consuming. I’m not sure I would want to stitch the same thing so many times.

    1. The final hem on this shirt is probably just under 1/4″ wide, so it’s a bit larger than the hems I make using my narrow hem foot. I was aiming for that width since I wanted it to match the French seams, and I haven’t had much luck with my larger rolled hem feet. So, I figured this method was worth a shot. It wasn’t too time consuming for just the hem on the shirt, but I could imagine it would get old sewing around the hem of a circle skirt so many times! I have used my 1/8″ narrow hem foot successfully for a circle skirt hem in the past, and I have to say I was quite happy to be done once I got all the way around the first time!

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