the easy way to sew a narrow hem

by Valerie

in tutorials

Be honest now…how many sewing projects do you have that are nearly finished…except for the hem?

Yeah, hemming is a pain. Especially when you need a really tiny one. Well guess what friends, I’m going to show you an easy way to do a tiny, narrow hem (without needing a fancy presser foot)! I’ll use a simple pocket square as an example, but you can use this technique on anything.

3 pocket squares with a narrow hem

I know there’s probably tons of tutorials online on how to do this, but here’s why mine is going to be better: I’m going to show you how to deal with the corners.

This whole process uses up about 5/8″ of fabric, so make sure you have 5/8″ hem allowance on whatever it is you’re hemming. For example, if you want a 12″ square handkerchief, cut a piece of fabric that is 13 and 1/4″ square (12 inches + 5/8″ on each side).

baste 3/8" away from raw edge

step one: baste
Choose the longest straight stitch on your machine, and baste along the raw edge using a 3/8″ seam allowance. Go ahead and let the stitches cross at the corners.

You probably want to use matching thread for every step, just in case your basting stitch ends up showing a tiny bit in the end. You don’t want to have to pick it out after the fact!

fold along basting stitch and press

step two: fold & press
Fold the fabric towards the wrong side along the basting stitch, and press with a hot iron. The basting stitch serves as a crease in the fabric, making folding precisely and evenly much, much easier.

If you do not baste first, you will be spending triple the amount of time at your ironing board, trying to get an exact 3/8″ hem, trying to keep the fold straight, and trying not to burn your fingers.

It seems like you’re adding an extra step, but trust me, basting first actually saves you time!

stitch 1/8" away from fold

step three: stitch
Now go back to a regular length stitch. Sew down the folds you made in step 2 by stitching very close to your basting stitch…no more than 1/8″ away.

At the corners, your stitches should go all the way to the edges. When you turn the corner, lift up the 3/8″ hem you pressed down in step 2, and start your next stitch underneath it. This prevents the corners from getting too bulky, and makes step 4 easier.

trim close to stitch

step four: trim
Trim off the seam allowance, cutting really close to your stitch from step 3. Just like the basting stitch serves as your guide for folding and pressing, your second stitch serves as your guide for this super-close trim.

I like to fold the seam allowance away from the body while I trim; you want to be very careful to avoid snipping into the body of whatever you’re hemming.

fold and press again

step five: fold & press again
Next, you will fold towards the wrong side along the trimmed edge, and press with a hot iron. But this time, since you’ve trimmed away the excess, your fold will be a tiny 1/4″!

Without those first two stitches, making this final fold an even 1/4″ would be unpleasant and time consuming. There would be burnt fingers for sure, possibly also unrepeatable swear words.

This is your final fold. Can you believe we’re almost done? There’s only one more stitch to do. Now, how to achieve flawless, flat corners?

The secret is two-fold. First, you’ll have to trim again.

snip away corners

step six: trim again
After folding and pressing in step 5, open up the fold at the corners, and cut off the very tip of the inside corner at a 45 degree angle.

The line marked in the image in step 5 shows where to trim; the image above shows the corner after it’s been trimmed. That tiny snip makes a big difference – you’re actually eliminating two layers of fabric, but only in the spot your needle will be piercing the fabric…so the rest of the corner lies flat, and no raw edges peek out.

pin corners before stitching

step seven: stitch again…but pin first
My sewing students will tell you, I do not encourage over-pinning. I’ll take pins away from you, if I have to! But here, I really think it’s necessary.

I like to put a single pin at the very end of each side, as shown in the image above.

You can trim diligently. You can press perfectly. But that fold is still really tiny; it wants to flatten out and cause you trouble. A pin will keep that from happening! Leave it in until the last possible moment, when your machine is just a few stitches away from the exact corner.

(Yes, you are going to have to slow down to do this right. Slide the pin out a little at a time if you have to.)

Now! For the second secret to making flat, flawless, tiny hems…you need this little gizmo:

hump jumper

I have no idea what this thing is called. It came with my machine, but I’m sure you could find a similar thing in a fabric store.

What it does is trick your presser foot into thinking it is laying flat, when really you’ve got a big lump of fabric (aka a bulky seam/corner) underneath it.

When the presser foot lies flat, then you can stitch cleanly and evenly…no skipped stitches, no thread nests, no bent needles. Hooray!

hump jumper under presser foot

Sew down the final pressed hem until you reach the exact corner (taking out the pin at the very last moment). With the needle down in the fabric, lift the presser foot and turn the fabric, as if you are going to sew down the next side.

Before you start sewing again, slip the gizmo underneath the presser foot as shown above.

The gizmo helps the presser foot lie flat, so that you can sew your first few stitches (over the lumpy corner) without any trouble!

As soon as the presser foot clears the little gizmo, remove it (with the needle down) and then continue sewing along!

By using that thingy to help you sew in one, continuous square, you get flawless, flat corners. Check it out:

perfect narrow hem with perfect corners

Now, what to do with your new skills? You could make pocket squares or handkerchiefs for the gentlemen you know, of course. But how about a set of fancy napkins for Thanksgiving dinner?

This technique is especially helpful to make very narrow hems, and is super handy for curved hems, too. But you can use it for anything! It works on pretty much any weight fabric, too. As always, I want to see pictures of what you make!

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Ann Eales November 14, 2013 at 10:26 am

A great tutorial, very many thanks for sharing.
Ann

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Ann Eales November 14, 2013 at 10:30 am

BTW I call the thingy a ”humper jumper”

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Deanna Thompson November 14, 2013 at 12:12 pm

Appreciate the tutorial. I will remember this. Thanks!

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penny vazquez November 14, 2013 at 1:35 pm

thank you for this tutorial, it’s very helpful

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Valerie November 14, 2013 at 2:59 pm

A hump jumper! That makes sense, because that’s exactly what it does! 🙂 Thanks Ann!

I hope all of you find this useful!

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HerbalJo January 24, 2015 at 3:19 pm

I am so anxious as this looks like what I need for pocket squares.
Son-In-Law request so I really do not want to mess this up.
Love your site

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Miriam Cheeseman March 20, 2015 at 7:00 am

Hi Valerie, have just watched your video for perfect corners. Can I ask what machine you have,and where I can possibly find that useful foot attachment.I have scouted the net and cannot find anything.I would be grateful for some more information. thank you.

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Joann November 17, 2015 at 1:58 pm

Thanks for the lesson!! I’m making 13 pocket squares for my nephews wedding & I want them looking GOOD!!! This helps me a lot!!

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Brooke January 4, 2016 at 6:19 am

I *think* that is a button clearance plate? Or a ‘reed’ plate…I had to do some searching because I want one now! Great tool!

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Debra February 6, 2016 at 9:42 am

Thank you for the wonderful tutorial, though I do have a question. If you press up 3/8 the first time and 1/4″ for the second fold, each edge is reduced by 5/8, so shouldn’t the initial cut for the square be desired finished size plus 1 1/4″, rather than 5/8″?

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Valerie February 6, 2016 at 6:13 pm

Hi Debra,
YES I should have made it more clear (I’ll edit to clarify) that I meant 5/8″ on *each* side to be hemmed…thanks for catching that!

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Lou February 17, 2016 at 6:06 pm

Thanks so much!! I’m new to pocket squares and bow ties. The tie went very well. But after several tries with the pocket square I was about to give up until I came across your site. The results? Beautiful flat corners, even seams, a beautiful square. Thanks!!!

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