Basic Hems (Part Five) Hemming by Hand

Hemming by Hand

The Classic Hemstitch

I said in the introduction to hemming that my mom could hem by hand like a little French nun. Her stitches were tiny and barely visible on the outside of a garment. Inside all of her knots were hidden and her work was neat and tidy.  In contrast her machine sewing sometimes looked sloppy. She and my grandmother, who could make her old treadle sing but wouldn’t touch my mom’s electric Singer, traded tasks with each other. Nana did the machine stitching, and Mom did the hand stitching. Fortunately for me, I had both of them to teach me.

I tried to set things up to do my own video of the perfect blind hem, but video taping without a camera man is difficult to do well. So instead I’ve done an extensive web search for a video that demonstrates how to hem to my mom’s standards. One of the things she did as she hemmed was to make a half-knot with every stitch. The beauty of hemming that way is you will never have to deal with FDH if you accidentally catch your hem on something while you’re out and about. The other stitches will hold until you have a chance to mend your hem. Laura McCracken at Sew New York ( has an excellent video that demonstrates this method of doing a blind hem. She teaches in Brooklyn, NY. My thanks to her for making this video.


Narrow Rolled Hem

Rolled hems on a serger are great for ruffles on a little girl’s bum, but they don’t cut it on a silk scarf or at the hem of a blouse. For that, you need to get out the silk thread and the tiny needles. I find doing a narrow rolled hem by hand relaxing. There’s something magical about pulling the thread and watching the hem roll.  Ami Simms teaches quilting. Her website is I think you’ll find her teaching style is fun. Ami is left-handed. My daughter is left-handed, and she complains that tutorials are always for right-handed people so this one is for her and all of the rest of the lefties out there. Ami will be hemming from left to right. If you’re right-handed, you need to hem from right to left. Thank you, Ami!


Nana died the summer I was fifteen. Mom moved her electric sewing machine into my room. She sold Nana’s treadle sewing machine to a friend. Mom became an avid knitter and turned the sewing, both hand and machine, over to me. I just don’t think she had the heart to sew with her mom gone although she certainly encouraged me to continue. Several years later the friend who bought the old treadle machine died, and her daughter sold it back to my husband who gave it to me on our 5th anniversary.

This is the last hemming lesson for a little while. We’ll come back when we talk more about sergers and when we do some heirloom sewing. If you have any questions about basic hemming leave them here in the comments.

Next up will be basic seams. How to press them and how to finish them. While some of it will be basic, we will be doing some specialty finishes like Hong Kong seams, flat felled seams, and my favorite, the French seam.

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2 Responses to Basic Hems (Part Five) Hemming by Hand

  1. Lynn Mohney says:

    I definitely got the hand sewing genes from Nana! I’ve been told by more than one seamstress my sewing machine could blind hem, until they saw my hand hemming.

    I think I’m going to have to follow the blog though. Can I request a post on boning?


  2. elliesmom says:

    You were taught to hand sew by the master, and that wasn’t me. I’ll definitely get to boning before you need to make our princess a strapless prom gown. By then it will be your turn to dress her.


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