I’m going to be super-mega-honest for a second here: I really, really dislike sewing by hand. My great-grandmother taught me to sew when I was 5, so I spent a large portion of my childhood sewing stuffed animals and costumes for fun and mending clothes for the family for function. Whenever a sewing machine was mentioned, I would scoff. Hand sewing, though time consuming, was both frugal and enjoyable. For years, I was content with my slow but effective stitches. Then everything changed during my teenage years when I became obsessed with ankle length gored skirts.
I didn’t bother looking at stores for a skirt that met my persnickety qualifications (ankle-length, not-too-thick-not-too-thin, not too frumpy, under $20) and set out to the fabric store to get the materials I needed to make one. By hand. It could probably go without saying that after one panel my dedication to hand stitchery went out the window. I must have complained enough because a couple of months later, I got a sewing machine for my 16th birthday (Yes, I was totally one of the cool kids). Once I taught myself how to use the darned thing, I avoided hand sewing at all costs. To this day, you have to bribe me to reattach a button, and I would rather haul the machine out of my closet to mend a small tear than bother with sewing by hand—which is why I winced when a reader asked how to hem trousers by hand. Oy.
I was tempted to ignore the request (sorry!), but then I remembered that I haven’t shared one of my favorite hand stitches: the blind (or invisible) hem stitch. You’ve probably seen this stitch on suits—or maybe you haven’t. With practice, this stitch really lives up to its name and can make your hems look professionally tailored. There’s just one hitch: though it works wonderfully for dress trousers and skirts, evening/wedding gowns, sport coats, and curtains, it looks downright goofy when you try to use it on jeans or other casual trousers.
Don’t worry, though, I’ll cover the other hem in another post. For now, though, let’s hem those more formal clothes by hand!
The Blind Hem Stitch
What You’ll Need:
- an iron
- a fine needle
- something that needs hemming
- matching thread
Notes: My husband and I are long of leg, so I couldn’t find anything that needed hemming. Instead, I’m going to demonstrate the blind hem stitch on a piece of fabric in steps 1 and 2. Then, in steps 3, 4, and 5, I’ll explain how to use the stitch to hem whatever needs hemming. Feel free to let me know if you have any questions or need further explanation!
Step 1: Iron a crease one-half inch away from the edge of your fabric.
Fold the ironed crease over itself so that the selvage/selvedge (raw edge) is completely encased in the fabric. Iron the second crease into place.
If you did it right, you should have a little tube of fabric, like so:
Step 2: Thread your needle and knot your thread as you learned in steps 4, 5, and 6 of the first sewing post, How to Repair an Unraveled Seam.
Poke your needle through the wrong side of the fabric, about 1/8” away from the ironed crease.
Make a tiny stitch, reinserting the needle as close to the thread as possible.
Your first finished “invisible” stitch will look like this:
When your needle is back on the wrong side of the fabric, make a medium length stitch.
This stitch is just a modified straight stitch with long stitches on wrong side of the fabric…
…and short stitches on the right side of the fabric.
So, continue with your project making tiny stitches on the right side of the fabric, medium stitches on the wrong side. In the end, it’ll look something like this (except less visible since I’m sure you’ll be using matching thread):
Step 3: If you don’t know your inseam length, use a yard stick or tape measure to measure a pair of well-fitting trousers from crotch to ankle. I don’t recommend measuring your own inseam any other way. (Even though I’m showing a pair of jeans, remember that this hem is not recommended for jeans.)
Add an inch seam allowance to your measurement, then write the number down to avoid forgetting. For example: If your inseam is 32”, your inseam for hemming trousers is 32 inches + 1 inch or 33 inches.
Step 4: Cut the factory hem off of your trousers, then measure the inseam of the trousers from the ankle to the crotch. Subtract your inseam + 1 from that measurement. For example: If my too long trousers have a 36 inch inseam that decreases to 35.5 inches after removing the hem, I would subtract 33 inches from 35.5 inches and come up with 2.5 inches of length that need to be removed.
Use a ruler and a piece of chalk to mark the extra length on each trouser leg. As always, measure a second time before you cut off the excess fabric.
Step 5: Turn your trousers inside out (the ones you’re hemming, mind you). Follow steps 1 and 2 (above) to roll the hem and blind stitch all the way around both trouser legs. Do not reinforce this stitch by doubling back at the end or you’ll end up with a not-so-invisible hem! Once you finish, you’ll have a fray-proof and professional-quality hem that will last a lifetime.