Different Techniques For Finishing & Hemming Edges
Sewing hems onto curved fabric edges, especially if they are tight curve shapes, requires a bit more time and know-how than a regular straight hemming job, as it is more difficult to get a crisp and clean curve than a straight fold. However, never fear! Once you know how it's done, it becomes a whole lot simpler, as you will see in my diagram DIY tutorial below.
Learning how to hem a curved line is a very important sewing skill to master, especially in dressmaking. Another feature you find in most clothes is the curved seam, which I will also talk about below.
To start off I have written an introduction to sewing hems, and listed the best online lessons for simple straight hemming techniques, in case you are a complete beginner to hem sewing or you would like to refresh your memory and knowledge. Then I have put together my own how-to, and listed some alternative tutorials you can read for different ideas on how to tackle curved material edges. And there are also some very helpful video instructions for more visual learners like myself!
I hope you find this page useful :)
Note: All diagrams on this page have been created by me.
Options For Hems
Best Hem Sewing Tools
The sewing gauge is really a must-have when hemming, as it is designed for the job of measuring a set distance over and over, and is therefore ideal for measuring the distance between the fabric edge and your hem allowance.
Introduction To Sewing Hems
Tips & Info About Different Types Of Hems
Hems are produced when the edge of a piece of fabric is folded under and sewn in place in order to hide and enclose the raw edge. This makes a neat finish and prevents the material from fraying. Learning how to sew hems is a vital sewing skill, especially if you plan on making your own clothes.
The most common hems are 1/4", 3/8" or 5/8" wide so they are quite narrow usually. Sometimes smaller hems are used, for instance if a fabric is particularly fine and/or floaty, and sometimes larger hems are used where more weight is required, for instance at the bottom of curtains. If you are following a pattern or project instructions, you will be told the hem allowance to use.
Rolled hems are an example of a narrow hem, and these work well with curves if working with thin materials, particularly slippery or delicate lightweight fabrics. Rolled hems don't work well with thick fabrics. You can buy a specialized rolled hem foot attachment for your sewing machine too, which makes this type of hem even more straightforward to make.
Hems can be sewn straight or curved, and this page will provide links to the most helpful tutorials online for both of these hem types, but I'll also explain my own methods for sewing a curved hem using extremely artistic diagrams (!). I will link to information for creating curved seams too, which is where a curved fabric edge is sewn to either another curved edge or a straight edge. Curved seams you find a lot in dressmaking, for instance on the top half of fitted dresses.
Curved hems range from slightly curved, like at the bottom of a full circle skirt, to tight curves like in scalloped edges. Adding hems to a curved edge is difficult due to the edge being folded having a greater length than where it is to be sewn to. Difficult to explain, but this situation causes the excess fabric to gather together to produce a bumpy finish which doesn't look great and is hard to sew. That's why it's very handy to know some tricks and tips before trying to do this for yourself if you're unsure.
If the curve is very gradual, you may be absolutely fine if you hem like you would on a straight edge but go slowly whilst carefully moving the fabric round with your hands as it goes through the sewing machine. It may also be a good idea to use a shorter length of stitch than normal. With tighter curves, certainly read the instructions on this page first before proceeding. Most people say that pinning is essential to stop the curve moving when sewing.
Pressing any folds with an iron is extremely important when hemming, to give a crisp finish and help your sewing. Remember pressing is where you press the iron onto the wrong side of the fabric repeatedly rather than moving it along the surface like regular ironing. Always check you haven't got the iron setting too high otherwise you will ruin your fabric - and also remember to have the steam setting on.
Sewing Straight Hems & Lessons On Hemming Basics
These following tutorials are for beginners to hemming or those who would like a refresh on common techniques before attempting to sew curved hems.
- Making A Simple Hem
Decide whether you want a small, medium or large hem.
- Blind Hem Stitch
Sewing machine stitch ideal for the base of curtains.
- Seam Binding Wool
Binding option so you don't need a bulky 2-fold hem on thicker materials.
- Hems 101
Great photos and explanations for each hem type.
- How To Hem Sheer Fabrics
The hems of sheer fabrics must be neat because they are visible.
- Step-by-Step Rolled Hem
Brilliant information on using a rolled hem foot, plus how to sew corners.
- Mitered Hem Corners
How to sew a neat diagonal corner when creating a hem.
- Advice About Hem Sizes
Brilliant tips for what hem size to have and what technique to use.
- Hand Stitching
Examples of hand and machine stitching - check out the rest of the blog series too.
- How To Shorten Jeans
Whilst keeping the original hems, to make your job easier.
- Hem Facing
Extra hem fabric used to make a dress slightly longer or to add weight.
A Variety Of Useful Sewing Machine Feet
It can be easy to become overwhelmed by the huge range of sewing machine feet available (and they do look a bit scarily complicated!), but I look at the different feet as fun products to experiment with. They can help you with simple and basic techniques, as well as enabling you to carry out specialized techniques like making narrow rolled hems or making buttonholes.
The Most Popular Types of Hems
The most popular hems are:
- The single fold (simple) hem where the fabric edge is simply folded under and sewn with one line of topstitches. The raw edge is usually finished beforehand with an overlocker or with zig-zag stitches.
- The double fold hem (also called the double turn-back and topstitch) is a step up from this hem and has two folds so that the raw edge is enclosed. A
- The faced hem uses single-fold bias tape/binding or hem facing, which are strips of fabric with folds. They are sewn to the fabric edge and sewn to the back of the fabric, out of sight. This method can be used on thicker fabrics to reduce bulk at the edge, can be used if you haven't left enough allowance for a regular hem, or can be used if you just like the look of it. You can use ready-made facing or make your own.
- Seam binding is where a ribbon-like strip - which can be called seam binding or hem tape - is used to attach the fabric edge to the reverse of the fabric. You can get different decorative tapes such as lace hem tape which is good for using on knit or lightweight fabrics especially. This method is particularly good for thicker fabrics like denim, plaid or tweed, as it smooths the transition between the hem and the rest of the fabric (which is much more obvious when a thick fabric is used) so it makes the finish smoother and more comfortable if the hem is on a garment such as a skirt. Also good for use on easy-to-unravel fabrics.
- A bound hem (also called a bias binding hem) is where double-fold bias binding is used to sew around a raw edge to enclose it completely. This method is mostly used for decorative edging on bags, quilts and clothes.
- Other hem types include the blind hem, the rolled hem and the narrow hem.
The faced hem, the bound hem and seam binding are ideal for curved edges. This is because the additional tapes, bindings and fabrics used in these methods are cut on the bias and so have a bit of stretch and can be shaped around curves. Rolled hems are also well suited if you are using a thin enough fabric. The narrower the hem you sew, the easier it is when dealing with curved hems.
Why Curved Hems Are More Difficult
X is a longer length than Y, which is where curved edges become trickier than those easy straight hems! One option to try to make the problem minimized is to have the difference between X and Y as small as possible i.e. have a narrow hem. A rolled hem technique is good for this.
However, this is not always possible (rolled hems are used on thin fabrics mainly) and if you're following a pattern which shows a larger hem - often single or double fold - then there is another technique you can use, as shown in diagrams below. The diagrams show the creation of a single-fold hem, but if you need to sew a double-fold hem instead, please check out my notes at the end.
The First Row Of Basting - My Technique For Sewing A Curved Hem
(- I haven't shown it in the diagram, but an optional first step is to serge or zig-zag stitch the raw edge).
- First measure your hem allowance i.e. how much fabric you are going to fold over to form the hem, with a sewing gauge or ruler. Mark this line along the curve with a special fabric marker which will wash off or fade over time, so is temporary.
- Sew a basting stitch close to the edge of the fabric. In this example I'll assume the hem allowance is 5/8" so I would baste at approx 1/4" from the edge. You can hand baste with a running stitch or you can use a long straight stitch on a sewing machine, which woul be much quicker. Use the longest stitch setting (around 5mm usually), or if you have a pre-set basting stitch on your machine use that. Do not backtack or fasten the threads at either end and leave the loose threads long enough to hold.
The Second Row Of Basting
- Sew a second basting row just inside the hem allowance line you marked out earlier (i.e. just under 5/8" from the edge). Once again leave the end threads loose.
Gather The Curve Edge
- Carefully pull the loose end of the basting thread closest to the edge (the pink thread in the diagram) and spread out the fabric 'gathers' (folds) that form when you do this. The fabric edge will want to fold over onto the wrong side of the fabric as pulling on this thread will shorten the fabric edge which is what we want.
- Don't pull the thread more than you have to - just enough so you can lie the curve flat and even when folded over. There will be little gathers of fabric which you should try and spread across the entire edge so the gathers are of equal size and aren't bunched together.
Pressing & Pinning
- The hem should now be folded over nice and flat, with the second (blue) line of basting just inside the folded edge so it's not visible from the 'right side' of the fabric. These stitches act as a good guide for the fold.
- Press the fold in place with an iron (with the steam setting on). Don't move the iron across the fold like you would in regular ironing - just press it down repeatedly onto the fabric. This gives a crisp fold.
- Pin the curve in place by using straight pins inserted perpendicular to the edge as shown in the diagram, about 1" apart from each other. Position pins closer together if the curve is tight.
- Turn the fabric over and topstitch along the edge in line with the curved edge. Sew within the hem allowance - so in this case within 5/8", so I would topstitch at 3/8" from the edge.
Remember to remove each pin just before you get to it, as sewing over a pin can damage your machine.
- You can then carefully remove the line of basting stitches close to the fold (blue thread) using a seam ripper if you like. You can remove the other line of basting stitches (pink thread) now too, unless you have topstitched over it. This is an optional step.
Bias Tape, Hem Facing, Tape Makers & Sewing Kit
You can either buy bias tape or make your own. Bias tape is available in a limited number of colors, so making your own can be a very good choice, especially if you want to make it in the same fabric as the rest of your sewing project. Buying a bias tape maker makes the job of making the tape much quicker and easier.
The above technique results in a single-fold hem, however if you want to produce a double fold hem, the methods used are similar:
- Sew the first basting line along the curve of the edge, however this time the distance from the edge is slightly more important. The distance from basting line to the fabric edge should be half of your hem/seam allowance. So if your finished hem is supposed to be 1/2" wide, then half would be 1/4". Measure and mark this line first as a guide for your stitching.
- Next sew another line of basting stitches parallel to the first, to mark your hem allowance edge - so in my example this would be 1/2" from the fabric edge.
- Fold the fabric edge over onto the wrong side of the fabric along the first line of basting stitches so that this basting line then becomes the edge of the fabric. The stitching provides a guide for the fold and makes folding easier. Press this into place with a steam iron. It shouldn't be too tricky because of the small width of fabric that is being folded. If there are small gathers, try to spread them out over the curve so they don't bunch up.
- Do the same with the second basting line to create a total of two folds, concealing the raw edge of the fabric inside. The second line of basting stitches is now on the edge of the hem.
- Turn the fabric over and topstitch along the hem. In this case, the hem width is 1/4", so I would recommend topstitching at a distance of 1/8" from the edge. The result would be a narrow hem, perfect for curves.
- You can then remove the basting along the edge if you like. It should be easy enough to remove due to the long stitches used.
Curved Hems & Seams - Including a Tutorial on How to Make Bias Tape and Sew it Onto a Seam
More Tutorials & Tricks For Sewing Curved Hems
- How to Hem a Curve
A photographic version of my tutorial above.
- Finishing Curved Edges
Includes tutorials for single fold and double fold hems.
- 2 Techniques
Explanation of two techniques, with one being better for severe curves.
- Roll Hemming Lame
How to make a narrow hem with a delicate fabric.
- Easy Rolled Hem
Simple how-to for making a thin roll hem - you can also use a roll hem foot.
- Sew Tight Curves
Clever series of notches removes bulk for easy folding.
- Seam Binding DIY
Seam binding, hem tape and bias binding can all do the same thing here.
- Bias Tape Facing
Same as the seam binding method above but using bias binding.
- Make Your Own Bias Binding
Cut fabric on the bias and create continuous strips of binding.
- Adding Bias Binding To Curves
Enclose the fabric raw edges with easy-to-curve binding.
- Binding Curvy Edges
Another bias bound hem, but also showing the use of helpful clips.
Lace Hem Tape
Instructions For Sewing Curved Seams
Rather than sewing hems, the following tutorials are for showing you how to join convex (outward) or concave (inward) curved edges together in a seam without causing jagged edges, too much bulk and general messiness. A seam is simply how two pieces of fabric are joined together to make a bigger piece. Joining curved edges together to form a larger piece of fabric is very common in dressmaking, as there are no perfectly straight edges on a human!
It's important you don't stretch your fabric when you sew curved seams. As your fabric is cut on the curve it will stretch out of shape more easily, so treat it gently when you are pinning and sewing to avoid warping in your finished block.
- Sewing A Curved Seam
Including instructions for joining opposing curves.
- Seam-Along Series
Notches, clipping, trimming and corner sewing techniques.
- Concave & Convex Curves
Learn to clip the canyons and notch the hills.
- Sculpting Perfect Scallops
Master the art of trimming to create perfect tight curves.
- Quilted Curves
How to join curves either using pins or doing it freehand.
- Joining Concave With Convex
Vital for princess seams and other clothing projects.
- Photo Step-by-Step
Sewing lesson for sewing successful seams.
Using a rolled hem foot on a sewing machine makes these hems really easy as they do the rolling for you as you sew! The foot means you can make rolled hems evenly and quickly, and the feet are available in a few different sizes depending on how wide you want the resulting hem to be.
Wonder Clips - An Alternative To Pins
Bias Binding Hem
Top-Rated Sewing Machines
Although you can of course hem by hand, sewing with a machine is so much quicker, especially for large projects. Here is a selection of highly-rated machines priced from $85 upwards.
Please Leave a Comment!
Bimmy on April 16, 2018:
Good job, really impressed, thanks a bunch
Fiona from South Africa on October 30, 2014:
Thanks - this was really helpful - had to make a bunch of skirts and battled with attaching the waistband - this would have helped.
Elyn MacInnis from Shanghai, China on July 12, 2014:
This is a great idea. I have always had trouble with curved hems, and thought there wasn't much I could do about it. Now I know. Thanks!
Elyn MacInnis from Shanghai, China on May 03, 2013:
I sewed for my kids when they were little and loved it. I never did a good job on the curved parts - they always had us cut triangular pieces of fabric out. It made it easier, but I like your method better.
Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on April 30, 2013:
This is a good tip. I like sewing but my skills are not really advanced.
lesliesinclair on April 29, 2013:
Funny, I feel like I've been tethered to the sewing machine for a week or more, but it's not because I'm making anything - rather, I'm altering clothes after a weight loss.
Angela F from Seattle, WA on April 29, 2013:
Great resource for beginning to intermediate sewers.
'Vikk Simmons from Houston on April 29, 2013:
I used to sew and I really wish I'd had this as a guide back then. Great information.