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How to Hand-Roll a Hem

Options for stitching a beautiful edge

Threads #197, June/July 2018
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Floral-print silk chiffon epitomizes the wonderful sensations of a summer’s day. Though this dress is from 1935, it is perfect for this year’s garden party. Light, airy, and translucent, the fabric is held together by the finest silk threads. Part of the lightness comes from the hand-rolled hems that edge the dress’s soft flounces. A hand-worked rolled hem takes longer to stitch than a machine-sewn hem, but it is the best choice when you want a finish that does not weigh down a gossamer textile. See more about rolled hems from Threads #197 below.

Weightless edges are part of the magic that makes the silk chiffon dress shown at left and on the back cover appear to float. A hand-rolled hem is the key. There are many machine-sewn shortcuts to making faux rolled edges, but the hand-worked version is softer and more flexible.

Here are three ways to prepare the fabric edge—including one that helps when hemming a curved edge—and three different stitching techniques. Try combinations of edge preparation and stitching techniques to find the method that works best with the fabric.

100% Filament Silk Sewing ThreadReady your supplies

Collect the necessary tools, and get the fabric’s edge set for stitching.

Tools and materials

I recommend hand-hemming with fine, smooth thread, preferably #100 silk thread. Select a fine needle, such as a milliner’s/straw needle in size 8 or 10. Look for a needle whose eye is the same width as the shaft, so it doesn’t make large holes in the fabric.

To trim the fabric edge, use sharp scissors. A microserrated blade is beneficial because the serration prevents slippage as you cut. Finally, prepare an anchor to which you can pin the hem’s end, enabling you to pull the fabric taut while you’re stitching. A wrapped brick, a fabric bag filled with sand, a sheet of foam-core board, or a binder clip attached to your worksurface will do the trick.

Prepare the edge

Consider one of three ways to get the fabric edge ready for stitching.


Moisten your thumb and forefinger and roll the fabric’s edge to the wrong side, just ahead of the stitching.

Gently roll the raw edge under.
Gently roll the raw edge under.


Fold 1⁄8 inch to 1⁄4 inch to the wrong side for about an inch or two as you sew. As you stitch, pulling the thread rolls the raw edge under.

Press and trim

Press under a 5⁄8-inch-wide hem allowance. Then, as you stitch, trim the allowance to 1⁄8 inch wide, cutting 1 inch to 2 inches ahead of the stitching.

This is the best method for curved hems. Before pressing, machine-staystitch 1⁄8 inch from the hemline, within the hem allowance, to stabilize the edge. Press under a 5⁄8-inch-wide hem allowance. If needed, pull the bobbin thread slightly to shape the hem area into the curve. Then trim and stitch.

Sew the hem

Practice these methods to find the easiest one for you. Hold the fabric with the wrong side up, so the edge is rolled or folded toward you. Right-handed stitchers work right to left; lefties work left to right.Slipstitch variation

Slipstitch variation

This method works best with the finger-rolled edge. It hides the longer portion of the stitches within the rolled edge. Most professionals use this stitch.

Bury the knot inside the roll. Bring the thread out at the top edge, then take a small stitch below the roll. Slide the needle inside the roll about 1⁄2 inch and bring the needle back out the top edge and repeat. Pull the thread as needed to smooth the hem. Repeat.

Ladder stitchLadder stitch

Bury the knot in the folded edge. Bring the thread out at the fold and straight down over the folded edge to the fabric. Take up a thread or two and bring the thread up to the fold, parallel to the first stitch; insert the needle. Pass the needle inside the fold about 1⁄2 inch and exit at the fold. Repeat these stitches for about 1-1⁄2 inches, then pull the thread away from the stitching to tighten the stitches and roll the hem. Repeat.

Zigzag stitch

Zigzag stitch

Try this with the finger-pressed edge prep. Bury the knot inside the folded edge. Bring the thread down and pick up a thread or two from the main fabric, just below the raw edge. Move forward the length of the zigzag stitch, and take up a thread or two from the folded edge. Progress for about an inch, then pull the thread away from the sewing to roll the hem. Repeat.

Judith Neukam is a contributing editor.

From Threads #197

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