Hand Sewing: The Blind Hem Stitch

retrochick.JPGMichele says:

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.

invisiblestitch1

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.

invisiblestitch2

If you did it right, you should have a little tube of fabric, like so:

invisiblestitch10

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.

invisiblestitch3

Make a tiny stitch, reinserting the needle as close to the thread as possible.

invisiblestitch4

Your first finished “invisible” stitch will look like this:

invisiblestitch5

When your needle is back on the wrong side of the fabric, make a medium length stitch.

invisiblestitch6

This stitch is just a modified straight stitch with long stitches on wrong side of the fabric…

invisiblestitch9

…and short stitches on the right side of the fabric.

invisiblestitch8

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):

invisiblestitch11

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.)

invisiblestitch12

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.

Michele Newell is a housewife turned blogger turned Home Ec 101 contributor.  You can read her near daily ramblings at Dreams Unreal.

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Comments

  1. Judith says

    Michelle, that is a GREAT explanation of a blind hem stitch. It might (might!) even make me abandon my blind hem stitch on my machine, since you made it look so simple! Thanks!

    • says

      I’m glad it was easy to understand! Though I prefer machine sewing for most projects, I often find myself fixing a fallen hem by hand using this stitch; it’s easier than getting the tension just right on my finicky machine. ;-)

  2. Judith says

    Michelle, that is a GREAT explanation of a blind hem stitch. It might (might!) even make me abandon my blind hem stitch on my machine, since you made it look so simple! Thanks!

  3. osh says

    Michelle – great article. One question, how do you hem a cuff into a pair of pants?

    • says

      Making a cuff without removing the original hem (as one might do with cuffed jeans, for example) is pretty simple. Make sure the trousers are right side out, fold the excess length up into a cuff, and then sew the cuff in place using the blind hem stitch at the edge of the cuff.

      If you want your cuff to be extra-wide (as with cuffed dress trousers), however, it’s a bit more difficult.

      Follow steps 3 and 4 above, making sure to add your desired cuff width to your inseam length + 1/2″ (one-half, not one like listed in step 3 above). For example: Say you have 35.5″ long trousers after the original hem is removed and you want a 30″ + 1/2″ inseam with a 3″ wide cuff. Add 30″+1/2″+3 to come up with 33.5″.

      Next, subtract that measurement from the trousers’ existing inseam: 35.5″ – 33.5″ to come up with 2″ of fabric you need to remove before you can continue. (Note that you may not need to remove any of the trouser leg if they’re less than 4″ longer than you need.)

      Keep the trousers right side out, then mark the trouser legs 1/2″ and 3 1/2″ from the removed hem. Iron the first crease at the 1/2″ mark, then iron the second crease so that the edge of the first crease touches the 3 1/2″ mark (double check your work by measuring to make sure the cuff is 3″). Continue as described in step 2 above.

      I tried to be as clear as I could, but do let me know if that doesn’t make sense or if you have any more questions!

      • osh says

        Ok, I think I got it. But wouldn’t I proceed with step 2 after I fold the 1/2″. Then once that is hemmed, fold and crease the next (in your example, 3″)? I am referring to suit trousers that have that stylish cuff that’s open at the top. Then my assumption is that I will be putting a single blind stitch in the front and back where the pants are creased to hold the cuff in place…

        • says

          Ooooooh, I’m sorry! I thought you meant the kind of faux cuff that’s stitched closed on top so that it’s more like a wide hem (so one wouldn’t need to worry about fraying). I don’t know why, because that’s definitely not what you asked for. My bad! >.<

          You're totally right. Also, you can make the "long side" of the blind hem stitch extra long (up to 3/4 of an inch) if you want the cuff to look like it's magically holding itself up. ;-)

          If I'm still being unclear, I can grab my camera and email you some pictures to make up for my derpness.

  4. carriem says

    It’s funny, I hate to hand sew when it is mending, but love it when I am hand quilting something!

    • says

      Hand quilting is how I learned to sew! It always brings back good memories of time spent with my Nana to write these posts, even if I do usually prefer my machine these days. ;-)

    • says

      And thank you for reading. :-) As always, feel free to let me know if you have any post requests, sewing related or otherwise (and the same goes for everyone else out there in Internetland!)

  5. says

    It’s so funny about hand versus machine. I have a machine, but I’ve finished three purses, a tote, and a bag for my “rollator” walker. I’m currently working on a convertible fanny pack/crossbody purse for my trip to Florida soon. I have done it all by hand. It’s much easier to sew by hand while I’m watching TV. Plus, I’m making them up as I go along and it’s easier to take it apart if necessary.

  6. Fick says

    That’s not a blind hem. A blind hem you do NOT see stitching on the outside of the garment. This is how the internet messes things up: people mean well, but are not experts.