Hemming Stretch Knits

Do you have trouble hemming stretchy knits? They can be tricky. Let’s look at the various ways to hem knits so that they don’t stretch out.

Then, we’ll look at some alternatives and see if they work as well.

This dress is a customer’s. Her dog chewed the hemline and she brought it to me to see if it can be salvaged.

sewing blog 149So, I had her try it on with the shoes she will wear with it. I pinned it at the length she wanted it to be. To get that length all around the dress, I used a yard stick and noted that she wanted it 24″ off the ground. So, I put several pins all around the circumference so that I’d have the new hemline even all around.

Then, I folded under the hem along the pin line and put additional pins to hold the excess hem fabric.

sewing blog 150Take out any pins that are directly on the new foldline. Turn the garment wrong side out and press along that fold with the iron set at the correct temperature for the fabric. I always press the hems on the wrong side so that I don’t get a “shine” on the fabric from the iron.

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Turn it right side out again and lay it flat. I put it on the ironing board and make sure the under layer isn’t getting caught underneath it.

I measured the original hemline amount and it is 5/8″ wide. This will be the measurement we use on the new hem.

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Now, we’ll cut 5/8″ away from our new foldline (towards the original hem edge).

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***If you are hemming a T-shirt, do not finish the raw edge by serging it. The reason is that you want the T-shirt hem to stretch so it can fit over your head. If you serge it, you have lost the stretchiness of the fabric. (Technically, you don’t have to finish the edge on a knit fabric as they don’t fray). If you have a cover stitch option on your serger, use that because that will keep the stretchiness in.

Again, since this is a dress and doesn’t need to stretch, I have used a serger to finish the edge.

sewing blog 154Now, you’ll want to pin the hem all the way around. I use a pin about every half inch to every one inch depending on how stretchy the fabric is. The more stretchy the knit, the closer the pins should be.

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See how I pinned the skirt from the right side? I turned it to the wrong side so you can see it from that angle as well.

If you are putting in a double hemline (two rows of stitching running parallel to each other), use a double needle. Schmetz makes these and you’ll find them at your local sewing store or online. I prefer the Stretch double needle, but my store doesn’t carry them anymore, so I have been using the regular double needle. There are varying widths between the 2 needles. This one is 4.0:

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Replace your regular needle with this one. You’ll need to add another spool of thread to the second spindle on your machine. Thread both threads together as though you are threading with one. When you get to the double needles, of course, you’ll thread one through one needle and the other thread through the other needle.

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You can see it better here:

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If you are using a single needles, use a “Stretch” needle. These are also available at your local sewing store or online.

Stitch around the hem with the double needle (or the single). Be sure not to stitch over your pins. Take them out just before you stitch over that area or you may break the needle and cause it to get jammed underneath, which is a big mess to fix. Notice, I am stitching at the 1/2″ mark. Since our hem was to be 5/8″ wide, we want to make sure we catch all the fabric in the hem we are putting in. This assures that we won’t miss any of the hem when we stitch.

sewing blog 159So that you can see the stitching lines better, I stitched this same seam on a white knit fabric with black thread. I did not serge this raw edge so that you can see what the seam alone looks like. As you can see on the backside, the double needle creates a seam that allows the garment to keep its stretch.

sewing blog 160You may be wondering if there is another way to put a hem in knit fabrics.

Let’s look:

1. Don’t use fusible web like Stitch Witchery to hold your hem. First, it looks baked on and it doesn’t stretch so that it looks like a piece of masking tape was stuck to the underside. By the way, don’t use masking tape or duct tape either! The gooey film never comes off.

2. If you want the double row of stitching, be sure to get the double needle. It doesn’t look near as professional to sew two single lines of stitching. The double needle makes it look uniform and professional.

3. Be sure to pin the hemline all the way around the garment. Or, you can sew a basting stitch in instead. If you don’t pin or sew a basting stitch, the fabric will bunch up and gather and then you’ll be forced to take out the stitches and start again. Sometimes using a walking foot helps, and sometimes not. Experiment with it on a scrap of fabric if your machine came with one.

4. You can sew the hem by hand. You will want to use this technique when you don’t want the stitches to show at all from the right side.

Ok, I think that about covers it. I hope this has helped you understand the steps involved in sewing on stretchy fabrics.

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