How to Hem a Dress / Skirt: by Hand or with a Sewing Machine

Hemming a dress or a skirt is a project for the beginner in sewing, and will generally take a beginner approx 30 minutes to 1.5 hours to be completed. Though this will not be applied to the complex dresses like the prom and wedding dresses, that is covered somewhere else. It is necessary to note that a hem should be done well for a dress to look good.

The cost is fundamentally nothing, apart from for some thread and a marker. This will save a lot if you do it yourself as compared to paying a tailor. A classic tailor will be charging about $20 – $60 to hem a dress.

How to Hem a Dress / Skirt: by Hand or with a Sewing Machine

Hemming can be completed either by hand or with a sewing machine, and this article will help you know how to do both. You will also be learning how to hem without sewing (using hemming tape), and how to use a cover stitch machine.

You can complete this hem using a “blind stitch.”

NOTE:  Fabrics which cannot be used for this Tutorial

You cannot hem stretchy fabric, like the knit because it will require a “catch stitch”, or else, the stitch will not be able to stretch. Now, you can cover this stitch inside the stitching section of this site, so you can still do this, as long as you can use this stitch, though, a catch stitch is very sluggish if you do it by hand, that is why I generally use a sewing machine, serger or cover stitch machine for hemming the knits.

Also, you are not able to hem lightweight materials like the silk, chiffon, and lace by this tutorial as they require another type of stitches called the “rolled hem.” Rolled hems can be created by hand or with a sewing machine.

Essentially, any non–woven material will work, like cotton, polyester, and the other non-stretchy, standard fabric.

For ease, only a plain hemline can be demonstrated here.  This will not involve a more complex hem which includes a lining or a kick pleat.

Materials Needed:

  • Chalk pencil, that is a dressmaker’s chalk or a water-soluble pen (for marking)
  • A Thread will be required (color should match dress color so that it blends)
  • A needle
  • A measuring tape or a ruler
  • Pins will be required
  • A pair of Scissors
  • Lastly a thread

Preparing a Dress to Hem:

It is recommended that if you are hemming a dress that you have made so hang it for 24 hours so that the fabric is relaxed, especially if the dress is having a full skirt.

1. Firstly you need to decide the final length of the dress that is based on your personal preference. If the clothing is long, and you have planned to wear it with heels, you need to consider that as well.

2. Put on that dress without shoes first, so that you get an even height all the way around.  For the next step, you will require a helper (unless you have a dress form). Set the end of a ruler on the floor and calculate straight up on to the dress and scratch the hem.

If you occur to own another dress or skirt and you love its length, so you can copy it. On this other dress, you need to measure the space from the waist to the bottom of the garment, and then duplicate that length on the dress that you are hemming.  

3. Take away the dress for the next steps.

4. In the next step, make a line under the first line.  The distance sandwiched between the two will differ between 1 ½ inches to 2 ½ inches. One more time, you are making use of a woven fabric, so other materials like the silk may not involve this same distance. Also, if the skirt is narrower, the hem will be deeper. For instance, a pencil skirt would have a 2 ½ inch hem while a full skirt will have a 1 ½ inch hem.

5. After you draw this line, you need to draw another line under the one you just made. This line needs to be about ¼ inch. This is known as the turn-under. The motive is to prevent the fabric from fraying.

6. Now you will have three lines, so cut the dress next to the lowest line, that is the turn-under line.

7. Starting at the seam of the dress, you need to fold up the hemline, that is the top line, to the inside of the dress and also pin close to the fold.  Now continue to fold and pin along the hemline through all the way until you have finished.

8. Iron the hem to make it even and so that it lays flat.

8. Next, you need to fold the turn-under inwards (wrong side to the wrong side), and also pin all the way across.

9. Now the dress is ready to stitch, so you can skip the section below that depends on if you are going to hand stitch or machine stitch. Remember, the thread colour you take should be of the colour that will closely match the dress because you will not want a black thread on your white dress, except when you like that particular look.

Hand or Sewing Machine

A sewing machine will save around 30 minutes on a typical dress, but a hand hem will be more nice-looking. It will be much easier though to hem with a sewing machine.

How to end the Hem by Hand without using Sewing Machine

The basic stitch is known as a blind stitch.

1. You need to cut a piece of thread about the length that is from your fingertips to your elbow.  You do not need it to be longer than this because it will tangle as you will stitch. Do not bother about it being too short as you are going to use a number of pieces of thread to complete the hem.

2. Thread your needle using a single strand of thread, and pull the thread for about 2/3rds the way through.  You may require to dampen your fingers and also dampen the end of the thread for threading the needle.

3. You need to tie a knot at the end of the long piece of thread. Now hold the needle in your left hand and press it against the eye so that the thread won’t slip out.  Now take the other end of the thread and also make a loop on the right index finger. Use your right thumb and roll the loop off your index finger and now pull into a knot.

Another way to do a knot would be to stitch it twice in the same place, but you need to make sure that you do not pull the thread.  As each stitch passes the needle through the loop and before you pull the stitch tight, it will tighten the knot down to the fabric.

4.  Now you need to locate where the needle will be going to start sewing the hem.  Locate either a side or a back seam of the dress, to begin with.

5.  Moreover, if you are right-handed, then it would be easier to sew from right-to-left, and if you are a left-handed person it would be easy to sew from left to right.

6. Once you have found this spot on the seam, grasp a couple of threads of the seam fabric that will be on the inside of the dress, and also pull the needle through it and be careful that you do not push the needle out from the front of the dress.  Then grasp a couple of threads to turn-under, and also pull the needle through it.

7. Pull the thread through till the knot catches the seam.

8. Next stitch is from ¼” – ½ inch and is in the turn-under, you need to put your needle into the dress and take only a couple threads and now take a couple of threads of the turn-under right away above this stitch and pull the thread through.

9. Repeat it again:  

10. If you don’t have a thread:  Just before the thread finishes, you need to fasten it off.  To do this you will have to make a couple of stitches, one on the other on the turn-under part of the dress.  

  • Firstly, make a stitch, but do not pull it, so that you will be having a loop; now put the needle all the way through the loop and then pull tight.  
  • Repeat.  This will help you secure the thread.  
  • Cut the remaining thread.

11. now take a new piece of thread into the needle; again tie the knot as you did the first time, and begin a new stitch from where you ended the previous one. Then continue stitching again.

12. Now we will be finishing the hem:  When you reach the point where you have begun the hem, close your thread  

 NOTE:  If by possibility, the hem thread breaks someday, it will unravel completely, so to prevent this, you need to knot the hem every 6” or so.

How to come to an end of the Hem with a Sewing Machine

The first way would be called a single turn hem.

1. Turn up the hem to the other side of the dress.

2.  You need to sew close to the edge using a straight stitch.

3. The next type of machine hem would be a blind stitch.

4. As the edges of the dress that you cut are raw, so you first need to create a zigzag stitch using the sewing machine. This will prevent the dress from fraying.

5. Turn the hem up through all the way around to the inside of the dress, so that you can pin or baste as you go.

6. now you need to hold the hem to the right side of the dress and leave a little hem edge exposed at the bottom.

 7. On the sewing machine put a blind hem foot and also set the matching for blind hemstitch.

8. Now sew the hem; the sewn line must be just below the finished edge.  Now unfold the hem, and then also press the hem on the right side.


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