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Embellishments: Elegant Edges

Four techniques for elegant edges
Threads #150, Aug./Sept. 2010
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Creating a decorative or fancy edge doesn’t have to be complicated or require elaborate stitches. By experimenting with stitch length, needle type, and different thread options, you’ll discover new and exciting methods you can use to finish your garments’ edges.

Here, I’ll show you four techniques I discovered while testing stitches on my machine. First, a long straight stitch becomes an all-new decoration with ribbon in the bobbin. Then, a 1/8-inch-wide ribbon and a double needle create a tiny, elegant hem. Next, I share a technique using a zigzag stitch for a subtle effect that’s both delicate and edgy. In the final technique, I demonstrate how to use a blanket stitch to couch a ribbon to fabric.

Getting creative with finishing raw edges is a great way to add interest to any design, whether you choose a bold, contrasting detail or one that is more understated and delicate. Get inspired by the techniques I share here, and experiment with your favorite fabrics to find more unique effects to suit your style.

Use ribbon in the bobbin

With regular thread in the needle and 1⁄8-inch-wide polyester or silk ribbon in the bobbin, a straight line of stitching becomes a textural detail. Here, I use this method to disguise a hemstitching line. This type of sewing, called “bobbin work,” is sewn with the fabric face down in the machine. Topstitching threads, metallic threads, and yarns also work very well in the bobbin for this technique.

1 Hand-wind the bobbin. Wind 1⁄8-inch-wide ribbon onto the bobbin by hand. Loosen the bobbin tension. If the tension is still too tight, you can bypass or release the bobbin tension altogether. Typically, you can wind about 2 yards at a time; you’ll have to reload the bobbin frequently, so plan your edge length accordingly.

turning up hem allowance for edges with ribbon in the bobbin
Use ribbon in the bobbin.

2 Set your stitch. Tighten the top thread tension, and set the stitch length to 5 stitches per inch. Experiment on garment fabric scraps to find the tension and stitch length you prefer.

finished edge shown with ribbon detail
Finished edge with ribbon detail.

3 Sew the hem. Turn up the hem allowance, and turn under the raw edge 1⁄4 inch. Press it in place. Sew the hem in place along its top edge with the right side face down in the machine. If the ribbon does not begin and end at a seam, pull the loose ends to the wrong side. A simple way to do this is to use a wire needle threader, but a loop of thread or wire will also do the job. Insert the loop from the wrong side, thread the ribbon end through it, and pull it to the wrong side. If the fabric weave is too tight for the needle threader or ribbon to easily pass through, use an awl to open a hole to guide the ribbon through.

Create a tiny hem with ribbon facing

For this technique, I use a double needle to create a tiny hem and encase the raw edge. A 1⁄8-inch-wide ribbon facing is placed on the fabric’s right side.

1 Prepare the hem. Reduce the hem allowance to 3⁄8 inch, and mark the finished hemline on the garment’s wrong side.

2 Attach the ribbon. With wrong sides together, align the ribbon’s edge on the marked hemline. Machine-baste through the ribbon along the edge aligned with the hemline.

attaching the ribbon to the top edge
Attach the ribbon.

3 Roll the hem. Spray the edge with starch to help control it. Hand-roll the hem allowance to the garment RS away from the ribbon until it fits neatly under the ribbon and let the starch dry. Roll the fabric edge between your thumb and index finger. For ease in rolling, keep your fingers moist. Then, turn the ribbon to the garment’s right side, hiding the rolled edge underneath it.

hem allowance hand rolled
Hand rolled hem allowance.

4 Sew the hem. With a 4mm-wide double needle in your machine, sew the hem in place. Stitch from the right side along the ribbon, keeping the raw edge rolled in place under the ribbon as you go. When finished, remove the basting stitches. Wash away the starch.

sew the hem of the edges
Sew the hem.

Blanket-stitch a couched ribbon edge

To add a burst of contrasting color or to create a coordinating eye-catching detail, encase a ribbon along the fabric edge with a machine-sewn blanket stitch.

1 Prepare the garment edge. Press the hem allowance to the right side. Trim the allowance to slightly less than 1⁄8 inch.

preparing the garmet edge
Prepare the garment edge.

2 Position the ribbon. Place the garment right side up. Place a 1⁄8-inch-wide ribbon right side up over the hem allowance. Align the ribbon with the garment’s hemline.

blanket stitch to sew ribbon
Sew the ribbon in place.

3 Sew the ribbon. Adjust the blanket-stitch width on your sewing machine so it’s just barely wider than the ribbon and so the ribbon isn’t caught by the needle. Sew the ribbon to the garment with the straight-stitch portion of the blanket stitch sewn just above the ribbon’s edge.


Sew a deconstructed zigzag edge

Raw, unfinished edges are abundant in ready-to-wear, but in some cases, this finish may ravel and look unprofessional. Sew torn edges with a tiny zigzag stitch for a look that retains the wispy, frayed effect of a raw edge but with a more finished result.

fray the edge of the fabric
Prepare the fabric.

1 Prepare your fabric. Pull a few strands of fabric loose along the raw edge. If your fabric can handle it, spray the edge with a bit of starch to help you control it. If starch is not an option, place a strip of tissue paper or tear-away stabilizer under the edge for stability while you sew.

2 Set your stitch. Set your machine for a 1mm-wide, 3mm-long zigzag stitch that is centered at the far right or far left. If possible, position the needle in the right-most position to move the stitch to the right. This gives you better control of the edge because the needle swings to one side only, and there is more fabric for the presser foot to grab hold of.

3 Sew the edge. Guide your fabric through the machine with the raw edge centered under the zigzag stitch. Wash away the starch or tear away the stabilizer afterward.

sew and finish edges with zigzag stitch
Sew and finish the edge.

Anna Mazur is a couture sewer who constantly pushes the limits of her sewing machine in Avon, Connecticut.

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