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narrow hem on stretchy fabric

JudeM | Posted in General Discussion on

Hello everyone!

I need help!

I am about to hem a homecoming dress for a friend’s daughter, and, OF COURSE, the fabric is stretchy. The hem is a narrow hem. The dress has an inner liner (stretchy) and outside layer of sheer sparkly stretchy fabric.

I have done narrow hems before (this is about 1/8 inch), and they turned out ok, but not spectacular. I had problems with waves and not being able to capture the fabric consistently in the hem. I do have a narrow hem foot.

I would appreciate any tips regarding avoiding the wavy look, and catching all of the fabric.

I just read an article that said to hem the front and back separately and then sew the side seams. I liked that tip since the side seams are awful to get through.

Thank you for your help!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


  1. sewslow67 | | #1

    I have found that stabilizing the hem with a very light Steam-A-Seam (they make several weights) works great to prevent stretching, and then topstitch using a Teflon foot or IDT (Pfaff) or a walking foot.  I also use a double needle.  Sandra Betzena suggests hand wrapping wooly nylon onto the bobbin, but I haven't tried that yet.  She says to bypass the guide in the bobbin case and loosen the upper tension slightly.

    Some people also like to use their serger with differential feed.  You can use either a single needle or double needle, and both should out fine.  I've done this, but not on a hem edge ...only on a turned-up hem on Slinky Knit, but I think it would work well, as long as you stabilized the narrow hem first.

    You could also use a cover stitch with differential feed and may not have to stabilize the hem with Seam-A-Seam.  Oh ...and another thing that has worked well for me is to use a very narrow clear elastic and stretch it ever so slightly when inserting it into the folded up hem.  I hope some of these ideas will help.

    1. JudeM | | #2

      Thank you sewslow67!I like your tips. I have been tending toward the stabilizer but wonder if it would leave the fabric stiff and/or stained. After I wrote last night, i took a closer look at the existing hem. It looks like it was serged very narrowly. Is this the differential foot you mentioned?One more thing . . . one of my books illustrated a hand sewn rolled hem. I am considering this as well. I think my nervousness is allowing me to "consider" everything, but commit to nothing yet.JudeM

      1. MaryinColorado | | #4

        "Differential" is a feed system on sergers, not a foot for a sewing machine.  Hope this helps.

      2. sewslow67 | | #5

        Good Morning Jude:  I can certainly understand your being a bit nervous.  After all, it's not like making something from scratch when you have bits of scrap fabric that you can use to experiment with. 

        When I mentioned differential feed, I meant that you set your serger so that is either tightens up the upper tension or loosens it.  This helps to make your hem so it will neither stretch or bunch up.  If you have a serger (as I assume you do), check your owners manual to see how differential feed works.  As for the foot used:  You just use the regular foot that you usually do when serging.

        If you have concerns about a purchased stabilizer, you might want to consider making your own by cutting very narrow strips of cotton (or polyester) batiste (the very thin, soft fabric that many Christening gowns are made of).  This would take more time, but you could also know that it would not stain.

        If you have scraps of anything that is similar to the dress fabric, you might think about trying several of these methods out.  You could also get a very small amount from your local fabric store for only a few dollars.  Doing a hand rolled hem would probably work, but is very time consuming ...especially if the skirt is full.

        I'll be around today, and will check back now and then in case you have other questions or concerns.  Good luck, and let me know how you are doing, OK?

        1. JudeM | | #11

          Hi sewslow67,

          Thank you for acknowledging my apprehension!  Thank you also for the explanation on the differential feed.  Yes, I do have a serger and the only thing I have been able to master is the tension button on the side.  I consider myself pretty mechanical, but this babylock certainly challenges me!!!! 

          Should I still consider the fabric stablizer with the differential feed?

          Also, I have tried to make my stitches narrower on my serger, but with no luck.  I think the machine intimidates me.  It is a Pfaff.  Would you happen to know?  Should I use 2 or 3 threads, rather than 4? 

          I have books on serging, magazines, brochures, newsletters, etc, displaying beautiful items that were serged.  I think I just need someone to come over and show me how to use this machine! 

          I have another question regarding serging:  I like to serge outside edges of seams on skirts with back vent pleats.  My issue is swtiching direction at the beginning of the vent (stitching down from the top of the skirt)  I am always nervous I will catch something I don't want in the stitching.   I use the scissors for a  clean line.   The finish always looks icky to me.  Either rounded, or not catching some of the fabric, or bunched, etc.  Please help?

          1. MaryinColorado | | #12

            Do you have a manual to check?  How many needle positions do you have?  The right side needle position makes narrower stitches.  Two thread is less strong than 3-5, but I haven't had a problem with them.

            Stitch Finger Lever: raise the needle to its highest position.  Does yours adjust from Normal towards the Rolled edge or do you have to change it?  Mine can be set at different positions, towards the rolled edge but not all the way makes a narrower stitch.

            Cutting Width might be adjustable too.

            You might have a special foot that holds your fabric to the left of the cutting blade.  I rarely disengage the cutter except for Coverstitch because I end up jamming it sometimes.

            Hope this helps!  Mary

    2. MaryinColorado | | #3

      These are all excellent recommendations, way to go girl~~~

      1. sewslow67 | | #6

        Good Morning Mary; and thanks!  What are you up to today?  Do you have your "babies" in toe?  My little one actually slept in this morning until almost 7:00 am.  Yeah!

        It is very crisp here this morning (about 35-degrees F), and it smells like Fall.  That means I really do need to get Christmas gifts made, as they all need to be in the mail in about 7-weeks. 

        I'm working on place mats and napkins sets, as well as wine bottle gift sacs at the moment.  Have you seen the book titled:  "Simply Napkins" written by Gail Brown and Mary Mulari?  I'm using some of their ideas (these gals are so neat) with mitered borders on each piece.  One of the sets will be made of Christmas fabric, but others will be such that they can be used year 'round.  I've rarely taken pictures of my work, but must get started at that.  As I recall, you suggested that to Rodazzy. 

        A few years ago, I took pictures of a whole bunch of what I called "Kennel Quilts" that I made for my little Peche' boys Vet.  I thought it might help those folks who had very sick little ones to feel better about leaving them at the vet hospital if they had cheerful little quilts made with loving hands.  I made all sizes as I got the measurements from the clinic.  That was great fun to do.  One of these times, I'll make more of them too.  Must get to task.  Have a great day!

        Edited 9/28/2008 11:42 am by sewslow67

        1. MaryinColorado | | #7

          What a great gift to make those little quilts for at the Vet's.  You are so kind and thoughtful. 

          Wow, already working on Christmas gifts!  That is so great!  I "should" do the same, but am starting to get over my head with multiple projects.  My muse has been so insirational lately.  Between her and Rodezzy getting me started again with dolls, oh boy!

          I found some fabric for the studio curtains, but it may not be enough yardage so may have to get out to another Hobby Lobby and hope to find the same dye lot.  Hope to get those done this week.  I've been going through my doll books and even bought a new book on Fairies to learn how to draw them better (hopefully).  The arthritis has interfered with my drawing ability and working with little doll parts so we'll see if I am able to do what I hope to.  It's fun to experiment and play either way.   I bought several fabrics for dolls in blues and greens.  Will be practicing making fairy wings. 

          Still have to pin down the grandkids on what they want for Halloween if they want my help. 

          Thanks for reminding me that Christmas shipping needs to be adressed and if I want to make gifts I better get going.  Those placemats and napkins sound lovely!  Mary

        2. MaryinColorado | | #8

          Oh, those puppies~  Zoe has been a stinker the last few days.  She doesn't want to mind or come in from outside.  Chase me chase me game is wearing us out!  She has been outside 3 times today, ate some grass or something that upset her tummy.  It's not slowing her down though.  She pottied in my sewing room 3 times this week, don't know why as she is housetrained.  What a challenge she is being, maybe because the kids are here during the week and wear her out more?  They have had alot of activities and not had as much time to play with her.  Now the 9 year old lab figures if she doesn't have to mind, neither does he!  ha ha  sheer bedlam!!!  He even stands in front of her when we try to catch her, making it impossible.  Time to lay down the law! This too shall pass, ha ha

  2. Teaf5 | | #9

    I just purchased two RTW stretchy gowns for my daughter; both had stitched but not rolled hems.  Each layer was sheared off and then overcast with a narrow stitch--no waviness anywhere.  This hem finish was so light that the skirts flowed nicely when she moved.  And I saw several expensive gowns made of knit fabric were simply cut off, with no hem finish at all.

    1. JudeM | | #10

      Thank you Teaf5!

      The girl's Mother mentioned just cutting it off.  Seriously that would be the easiest if I get the line right!  Thank you!!!

  3. jjgg | | #13

    First of all, you mention that it's a stretchy fabric, but is it a knit? or does it just have lycra in it?Next, to do this hem. you do not need to serge the edge. Mark where you want the hem to be, now, just using a straight stitch on your machine sew a line of stitching (use the walking foot if you need to ) about 1/4 inch below the marked line (1/4 inch longer than you have the hem marked). now, carefully press the hem to the wrong side right on the line you stitched. The stitched line will help you turn it up and get it straight. Do this just an inch or so at a time so you do it carefully. When you have the entire hem pressed up, go back to the machine, now, from the wrong side of the dress with the hem turned up, stitch close to the fold (maybe 1/8 inch from the edge, be consistent. Now, once you have it sewn this second time VERY VERY CAREFULLY (yes I'm shouting at you here) with a small embroidery scissors (4 or 5 inch is good) trim the hem allowance very close to your stitching. Keep this consistent and even.Now, I do this part with out pressing it first, but you may want to go back to the iron again, turn up the hem allowance again (just fold it over so the raw edge is turned in. you will have a line of stitching showing on the wrong side of the dress. Stitch again very close to the fold.You are done. You have a fine baby hem, it's in all the books. It will be weighted well enough with the 3 rows of stitching, and the double fold of fabric. There won't be any rippling of the fabric, it will look very professional. Give it a little press.NOW, if this is a knit fabric, I"m not sure I would do this. For a knit, Mark the hem line, I would use probably a 1/2 inch hem, but you can do this 1/4 inch too. My instructions will be for a 1/2 inch hem.After marking the hem line, trim off the bottom 1/2 inch below the marked line. I would iron on a knit trico mesh (fusi knit) stabilizer one inch wide (twice the depth of the hem allowance). This goes right to the edge of the hem allowance, it will be folded in half later. Serge the edge after the stabilizer is fused. Fold up the 1/2 inch allowance (fold the serged edge to the top of the stabilizer so the stabilizer is folded in half) and straight stitch in place about 1/8 inch from the serged edge of the hem allowance. If you want it to look like a cover hem on the serger, (and you don't have a cover hem machine) you can try using a double needle, but be careful they often leave a ridge between he two threads. TEST, TEST, TEST first on scraps. When I'm too lazy to change over my serger to the cover hem, I just do two rows of stitching, I think it looks nicer, but it's more difficult to to get it perfect.If you do use a double needle, you may want to loosen the bobbin tension and use wooly nylon in the bobbin. Hand wind the wooly nylon so it is not stretched tight on the bobbin.I never use the rolled hem feet for the sewing machine. you will be able to go over side seams with my way beautifully.And, last, there is also a cheaters way of doing this on woven fabric, just serge the edge and turn up on the serged edge and top stitch, this often looks good too, or you can turn under the serged edge without pressing it. This saves some time, but is not as professional.

    Edited 10/2/2008 11:56 pm ET by jjgg

    1. JudeM | | #14

      Thank you jjgg,Your instructions ROCK! The fabric is not knit. I'm going to give it a whirl shortly. Thank you!

      1. jjgg | | #15

        You are most welcome, I just re-read through my instructions, and I want to clarify a point, the last row of stitching, should be to the LEFT of the previous row, close to the top folded edge of the hemJudy

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