Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Help Me Conquer My Fear of Hemming? (+ Me Made May Week 4)

Readers, I have finally decided to face down my Chronic Hemming Avoidance. A commenter on PatternReview had the following to say about the 1970s dress I entered in the Vintage Contest:

Nice dress. Please do hem it though. Raw hem on a knit is a dead give-away for a cheaply made modern dress. No one in the 1970's (or even the '80's or 90's) would have done that. It's one of my pet peeves about mass market rtw, especially stuff targeted to kids and teens.

And really, she is right. I don't mind a raw hem now and then, but I am starting to be embarrassed that it is my default hem "treatment" for knit fabrics.

My Unfinished Object pile may finally be gone, but my Unhemmed Dress and Skirt Pile of Doom is really starting to get out of control. As of yesterday, I had five fullish-skirted dresses or skirts that I've just been wearing out and about in the raw — not because I want to, but just because I'm SCARED. I've been telling myself I will hem them SOMEDAY but considering that one of them is three years old I don't think "someday" is just going to happen on its own.

In fact, I have a long history of Chronic Hemming Avoidance—just look at the first two knit fabric projects I posted on PatternReview back in 2005 (before I owned a tripod):

So why I am so terrified of hemming full knit skirts that I would rather just walk around in public unhemmed?

  1. I don't know how to properly level a skirt. The whole idea of a letting a skirt settle and then somehow magically LEVELING an uneven hem freaks me out to no end. Also—my husband does NOT feel comfortable getting down on the floor with a box of pins to try and help.
  2. My cheap old "My Double" dress form is crooked, and using it for hem leveling might make my dresses crooked.
  3. I am really impatient. Wovens HAVE to be hemmed, but since knits won't TOTALLY unravel and fall apart before I can throw them on and enjoy them, it feels almost optional.
  4. Hemming full skirts properly takes me EONS. SO MANY PINS and SO MUCH PRESSING.
  5. I am afraid I will hem a skirt WRONG and too SHORT and then it will be TOO LATE and everything will be ruined. RUINED!
  6. I am afraid I will use up my last few yards of Steam-a-Seam Lite 2 1/2" fusible web tape and it is currently out of production.

So my goal before the close of Me Made May is to finish what I started and get hemming. I got a head start at last month's sewing club when Cindy brought her hemming level and pinned two of my dresses, but I need a more sustainable solution so I'm not walking around unhemmed for several weeks at a time.

Last night I tinkered around with my recalcitrant "My Double" dress form and I seem to have fixed her hemming level and weird tilt, but when I tried to use her I didn't feel like I trusted that the 1970s dress was sitting properly level so I got scared and just made an even 1/2" hem all around with fusible webbing tape. Ah well. I did feel a bit more put together.

Me Made May 28: Finally Hemmed My Dress!

Do you have any favorite tricks or tutorials for getting a proper level hem in full skirts—especially knit ones? Or are you in the "hemming knits is TOTALLY OPTIONAL" camp?

And... oh yeah, Me Made May! Here's week 4... almost there!

Me Made May 18: Nettie Goes to Legoland

#mmmay14 day 18 Nettie bodysuit by @heatherlou as a top with a thrifted skirt. #nettiebodysuit #sewing #isew

Me Made May 18: Nettie goes to Legoland

Surprised husband and daughter with a trip to Legoland for husband's birthday—we all had a blast, even if the two hours each way on various forms of public transport was a bit challenging (subway ride to train ride to LONG suburban bus ride). Wore my hot off the sewing machine Closet Case Patterns Nettie Bodysuit as top.

Me Made May 19: Back of the Me-Made Drawer

Me Made May 19: Bottom of the drawer (running out of me-mades!)

Here are two of the last me-mades that sorta fit that I haven't worn yet for Me Made May--both from pre-blog days. The skirt is Simplicity 5914, and it's nearly 10 years old. It was too big then but is now slightly tight in the waist and a bit uncomfortable to wear. The top is from the Feb. 2010 issue of Burdastyle magazine and has a badly botched neck binding.

Me Made May 20: Running on Repeat

Me Made May 20: Starting to repeat myself...

McCall's 6070 ombre dress (still unhemmed) and Georgina cardigan by Alexis Winslow again.

Me Made May 21: These Me-Mades Are Hidden and My Photos Are Lazy

Me Made May 21: Only hidden me-mades here

Wearing a not-yet-blogged me-made T-shirt and me-made underthings.

Me Made May 22: Still Unhemmed

Me Made May 22: A little Red Velvet in blue and purple

Work bathroom selfie because I had an early morning meeting - Cake Patterns Red Velvet dress again. Not yet hemmed.

Me Made May 23: Polka Dot Parade for Theme Friday

Me Made May 23: Polka Dot Parade for Friday Themes

Ms. Z did NOT want me taking any photos this morning—she ordered me to lie on the couch and snuggle instead. So this was the best I could get. Wearing one of my Cake Patterns Hummingbird peplum tops and a self-drafted comfy knit half-circle skirt.

Me Made May 24: Unblogged and Unhemmed

Me Made May 24: Quick Faux-Denim Skirt

Not yet blogged (or hemmed): Jalie 2681 gored knit skirt (trumpet skirt view E) in size V, with shorter length R. And striped elastic waistband. Fabric is a jegging faux denim knit from Mood. Top is Nettie by Closet Case files in Riley Blake polka dot knit, blogged here.

So... are you a knit-hemming stickler? Or do you just not care? Tips on getting nice level hems without a helper greatly welcome!

47 comments:

  1. I hem everything, but I don't really go to the trouble to level anything (unless it's a bias-cut skirt or something that drops like crazy). I like this fusible knit stay tape: http://shop.emmaseabrooke.com/product.sc?productId=34

    It might be a nice substitute for Steam-A-Seam Lite!

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    1. Oooh, thanks for the tip! I don't level straight skirts or most other skirts but a lot of my full knit skirts seem to "hang out" to become unlevel.

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    2. So, you're too worried about ending up with unlevel hems to hem, but you are wearing unhemmed skirts that are unlevel? Interesting. LOL

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    3. You could just always select asymmetrical hemlines for your skirts. All you'll need is a shirttail hem. Try the tripod hem markers so beloved of high school home economics classes (used to be mandatory for all girls to attend). V. useful if your body is not perfectly balanced -- you can at least have a hemline that is parallel to the floor, all round.

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    4. Clio, yes. You nailed it! :) Because at least my unlevel hems are nice and clean and cut with the rotary cutter... not all chewed up and mangled from a botched leveling attempt.

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    5. I totally get that:). Attempts at trimming always turn disastrous to me. And cretain knits actually look nicer unhemmed - like fine knits as ruffles, say - and a nice evenly cut hem can look fine. It's your wardrobe and you should do what you want.
      Anyway, was that commenter your aunt or something?..... insert rolleyes smiley here

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  2. You don't live far from me, I can come over and help you hem. No problem! I always hem. I tried one of those chalk things with the pump but I can never see the chalk line.

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    1. Oh you are awesome! I will definitely take you up on that! I finally hemmed the ones you helped me pin last time and I don't think I could have achieved that with my dress form at all.

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  3. You might try using a chalk-line. You put on your skirt, then twirl sedately against the chalk-line to mark your hem. You don't have to rely on your dress mannequin or ask your husband to lie on the floor with pins. It's a bit of a pain to set up, but might be worth it since you have a batch of skirts to hem.
    Lovely garments!

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  4. I use a very narrow, short zigzag (it reads as straight). First though, I iron on knit stay tape. I love that stuff -- it makes sewing with knits so much nicer. I get mine here: http://www.londas-sewing.com/shop/product/b-knit-fusible-stay-tape/ I buy at least two at a time. Anyway, I iron the stay tape on, then turn the hem up once and sew. The stay tape keeps it from waving. Maybe this is the same stuff gingermakes recommends.

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    1. It does look similar! I've been using the Steam a Seam but it's not knit or stretchy (though I do love that it is sticky and you can stick it in place to get a clean smooth 1/2" hem).

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  5. I tend to hem everything, too! I only have one dress unhemmed and it actually bugs me.

    Personally, I put on an old TV show and listen as I press and pin. Then I switch my pins to the other side so I can use my double needle on knits, which is very tedious on the full skirts I prefer! However, I like the cleaner edge. On the double needles, I've learned the hard way to reduce the bobbin tension so it doesn't bubble up.

    I hang the *pieces* of skirt as soon as I have them and then sew from the waist (or arm) down. Normally, there's enough of life going on between cutting and finally sewing skirt sections, that they've hung for a day or two and have stretched! Yeah! Then I can level after stitching, if it's *really* wonky. I've noticed on fuller skirts it's harder to tell. So unless it's an inch or so off, I don't bother leveling.

    I tend not to use steam a seam or stitchwitchery, even though I have some of each! Unless it won't stay neatly pressed long enough for me to pin, it's just another step.

    Lastly, I've resigned myself to sometimes only "sewing" for 5-10min intervals due to life. The nice thing about a hem is it doesn't care if I've ignored it on a table 3/4 of the way through! It's still pinned :)

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    1. I've had mixed results with my twin needle depending on the knit fabric. I usually use a stabilized and play with the presser foot pressure and thread tension but I often get tunneling anyway.

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  6. When I'm worried about screwing something up by hemming it, I usually turn up quite a wide hem. Then, if I didn't level right, or don't quite like the length, I have some space to correct it.

    If you're already wearing whatever it is, and the unfinished hem is visually level enough not to bother you, you could probably just hem up a fixed distance from the edge. Or even use some kind of bias tape/hem tape so that you just lose the width of a seam allowance.

    And go ahead and wear it unfinished at least until you are sure you like the length and levelness.

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    1. I'm glad that so many people generally just hem at a fixed distance. I always felt like I was somehow doing it "wrong" by just doing an even 1/2" hem when a skirt wasn't visibly tilted or off.

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    2. As if! Do what feels right for you! Besides, in circulars even the older books agree that the hem should be narrow. You make lovely stuff, just enjoy them.
      BTW, when I have something that's gone awry and has to be trimmed, I stand on a table or a step ladder and my sis does the pin thing. I'm sure your husband wouldn't mind that.

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  7. I don't hem thin knits - they never, ever look right. I'm displeased with steam a seam, and I find it really hard to make an even narrow hem on a knit. Twin needles always tunnel, and I'm not in love with the look of a zigzag on a hem. I'm actually thinking of buying an overlocker for this express purpose - I always feel like my knits are unfinished, but all the hems I have tried looked too home made to me!

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    1. Oh, I thought you had an overlocker for some reason! I do have a serger and I sometimes make a rolled hem on thin knits with it (in fact, wearing a T-shirt with a rolled hem right now).

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  8. I haven't hemmed my full Cake skirts either since they turned out mostly casual. Like Ginger I don't worry too much unless something is cut on the bias. One thing I do is serge all the way around and use that line to flip it up. The serging also helps ease the fullness of the big skirts. I also use a piece of card stock that I've marked several lines on and use it to press a hem all the way around. Unless you know your body is crooked (I don't mean that as terribly as it sounds.) you should be able to get away with it, at least that's what I do...

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    1. I have heard that trick before. Maybe I do need to dig out my serger. I've used card stock before (and I have a metal version of that by Dritz) but the endless pressing and pinning always gets me down!

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  9. i tend to measure a few points down from the waist to the right length (say at the side seams, CF and CB - if it's a very full or circle skirt you'll need to measure at more points) then pin up the hem all around and check it's even in the mirror. if i can't see any problems in the mirror than no one will see it when i am wearing it!

    if the unhemmed skirt looks level to you then just pin it up evenly all round!

    i use stay tape if it's a very fine knit. with ponte or similar i don't bother. i usually use a twin needle and turn the tension down (as per steph's tutorials) to avoid tunnelling.

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    1. This is pretty much my method, too.

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    2. Hi SewLittleTime, I hem the same way, if it looks level it is. For knits when I did a twin needle I had to use Steam-a-Seam to avoid waving since my SM doesn't have differential feed. Hand-winding a bobbin with wooly nylon is also nice to avoid tunneling with a looser tension, and also a good thing if one is sewing high-stretch lycra knits like swim or activewear. The tip to use fusible knit stay tape sounds great, since S-a-S isn't havailabe here in Belgium (this is why I had to get a good serger with a coverstitch).
      Mikhaela, if you saw E Made This' review of the bandage wrap maternity top she says it was 'made at the ironing board' since it's 90% hemming so get geared up for practice!

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  10. If your hem is even when you wear it unhemmed, all you need to do is turn up the same amount of hem all the way around (measuring from the edge of the bottom of the skirt) and stitch. Also, if you have a serger, I have just done a narrow rolled hem on some knit full skirts. Gives the hem some weight and a bit of a finished look.

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    1. I think I'm going to do the rolled hem on that faux denim skirt—it's too thin and full for anything else.

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  11. I'm a hemmer. I pin it and then check it the front/back and then the sides (by matching side seams).

    Try stitching on scraps--I always do that with stay tape and without, to see what looks best.

    Hope this helps!

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  12. For knits-I'd probably sell my soul for a cover stitch machine. They are lovely! I just wrote a post about my favorite hemming cheat- Wonder Tape. It's amazing for straight hems, but not curved hems. Some people like facings for curved hems...but I'm not very ambitious!

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    1. I bought one (Janome 1000CP) because I thought it would change my game. I don't love it. It's finicky and you really need the right feet to make it worth your while (which adds considerably to the price). Of course, as I learn more, I may change my mind (though I loved both my serger and regular machine immediately). Thing is, I usually serge the edge and fold it up / top stitch nonetheless. It looks practically as good as cover stitching and it takes a fraction of the time. It also doesn't unravel over time. And, though I love stabilizing tape, I don't think it helps me to keep the hem straight, as much as it helps to stabilize the fabric as I sew.

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    2. I'll check out the wonder tape. Thanks Kristin for the tip about the coverstitch machine... I don't have one and now I feel less bad about it.

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  13. I have one of the hem markers that spray chalk (a vintage one, I think the new ones look a bit flimsy) -- I dumped the chalk and put in cornstarch and it worked much better. But a helper would be 1000x better!

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    1. Those things are the best! I find them all the time at thrift stores, and snatch them up whenever I can, to distribute to other stitchers who need them. You can put in talcum powder, too. Some of the older ones have a clip through which you can insert pins around the circumference of the thing-to-be-hemmed -- requires a helper to insert the pins, but does not force the helper to be the one to determine where to put the pins.

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    2. Oh how cool! I will keep my eyes open. I agree a helper would be even better though. Maybe I can train my daughter to help me...a three-year-old with pins, what could go wrong?

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  14. You need "Design Plus" a super lightweight fusible web. I love it for hemming knits. I know you have a product you use, but this is another option and I think it's cheaper. I love this stuff! I never hem without it. Setting in sleeves is my archnemesis. Maybe you could set my sleeves in and I could hem for you? :)

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    1. I will totally investigate. And yeah, I never find setting in sleeves to be a problem, I'd be happy to trade. ;)

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  15. I am a "finish everything" stickler so, yes, I hem everything. I do have a serger, though. And one of those chalk squirty things for marking hems. Before I bought the chalk squirty thing, I made a maxi-length three-quarter circle skirt, which sagged wildly on the bias; that hung for six weeks before I could travel from Istanbul (current domicile) to London (previous home) to buy one from. Barnes and Wallis.

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  16. I hate hemming...anything where I have to measure and press really. I have a tendency to just add bias tape and call it a day. No measuring required.

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    1. So basically using bias tape as a hem facing? That's brilliant!

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  17. Haven't read all the comments, so someone's probably already said this but, I only level bias skirts. Once they've hung, I put them back on the cutting mat and use a ruler and rotary cutter to re-level. If you use a rotary cutter, things cut on the straight of grain should stay straight. Then, use stabilizing tape (the bias stuff by Rebecca Keyes is perfect) around the edge - use the width that works for your hem. Note: I always do a 1/2 inch hem. Why waste fabric and wider hems are harder to work with. Once you fold it up, using the tape as a guide (with corroboration from your seam gauge), it's all easy.

    Of course, it helps if you can finish the hem with serging as it gives a good, edge "feel-guide" as you top stitch from the right side. Mind you, you should still have no problem as long as you keep your stitching straight and you give yourself a good 1/8 inch from the edge of the turned up fabric (on the wrong side).

    I used to fear hemming because I thought there was a lot of mystery. Now I know that if you cut right the first time, and stitch straight, you will end up with a straight hem. BTW, even if it's vaguely wonky, no one's going to notice.

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    1. I do indeed use a rotary cutter. This is a good tip!

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  18. Oh, and another thing - that Pattern Reviewer was rude. I think unhemmed knits can be very au courant - kind of edgy. No doubt, learning to hem comfortably is an important skill. But let's live and let live.

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    1. I think a lot of folks on there have certain traditional ideas. But she was right that it wasn't a vintage technique.

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  19. Hemming is my least favorite part of sewing. However I did come up with a good way to level a skirt before hemming. I use a laser level, purchased at the hardware store. I put the skirt on my dress form (make sure it is standing up straight) and then attach the level (it is magnetic) to my nearby cutting table and shine the laser onto the skirt. Then I mark it with pins.

    Here is a link to what I did: http://getmystitchon.blogspot.com/2013/08/love-is-all-around-tania-culottes.html

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  20. Oh, heavens. I don't hem a lot of my fuller knit skirts. And I refuse to feel bad about it ... A lot of lighter weight tissue-knits honestly look better without hemming. One of my favorite tops from Anthropologie is unhemmed (and assymetrically unhemmed at that). So if it's not as "professional" a finish ... well, I'm pretty sure I don't care. That said, some knits and some items look better hemmed. I think it's a purely aesthetic call - go with the look that you prefer.

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  21. Beg, borrow, or steal a nice coverstitch machine (NOT Janome, they make a lot of lemon Coverpros) and hem away, carefree, no tape or whatnot needed. Laser level is a nice touch. I have used the level on my iPhone to check hems previously. I've tried the chalk line (bah, inconsistent), the chalk puffer on a tripod (rubs off too easily).

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