Musings on Knit Hems

When I first started sewing, I worked primarily with knits. Stretchy fabric makes fitting a breeze, but that extra stretch can make your seams a mess. This is usually the reason new sewists are often terrified of knits, but not me. I'm no braver than the rest, it's just that I didn't know any better.

As I recall, I made one of my very first dresses on my mom's serger. I don't think I'd ever really used a serger before, and my mom, probably frustrated with it herself, certainly didn't guide me through it. It was a total mess, but luckily it had a bubble hem and thus was totally lined. You can probably still see the blue thread popping through the yellow fabric. On my next attempts, I used a regular machine with a straight stitch (no zig-zag, no twin needle). I don't think I quite realized why my seams kept popping. In typical Meg fashion, I plunged right in to whatever project without really bothering to pick up the skills necessary for doing it.

Come 2010, I resolved to refine my sewing skills with a sewing class series I took with my mom. I learned how to finish my seams, press darts, and the proper way to sew knits. I followed it up this year with a serger class, and suddenly I have started sewing knits again.

Which brings me to my last challenge: knit hems. My serger is missing the plate for a rolled hem, and thus I can't use any of the tricky hem techniques I learned in class. Even with a twin needle or zig-zag, the hems on my straight stitch machine turn out stretched, and this makes me unhappy. So I have resolved to buy a walking foot, and employ whatever other technique to get that nice, finished look I want. In addition to my notes on knits, here's what I have gathered from the internets.

Use wooly nylon: Fishsticks suggested using woolly nylon, a thread with a bit of stretch, to straight-stitch stretchy hems. This is brilliant.

Use starch: Fishsticks also suggested startching the hem as you sew to prevent the fabric from stretching. I am probably much too lazy to do this for regular knit projects, but I have resolved to do this for all my projects involving thin, shifty, or otherwise subversive sheer fabric.

Use interfacing: If the final hem doesn't need to stretch, you could always apply interfacing, of even an interfacing for knits. I'm also way too lazy to do this.

Get a walking foot: This has been on my to-do list for a few months now, and I think I'm finally ready to take the plunge. You'll usually see people talking about walking foots in reference to quilting because it helps you keep the top fabric lined up with the bottom one, making it easier to match seams. Others use it for matching plaids, etc. But as far as I can tell, the REAL value in a walking foot from my perspective is that it has feed dogs ON TOP in addition as your machine's feed dogs on the bottom, so fabric is guided through evenly and not stretched by the presser foot as you sew. What that means for us: your hem won't appear stretched out, which can happen with a regular foot even if your thread and stitch are perfect.

And god help me, I also bought a blind hem foot and a stitch in the ditch foot. Also on my list: a rolled hem plate for my White serger.


  1. Good timing for the reminders. I'm making a slip out of a stretchy knit and was just thinking last night on how I was going to tackle the hem.

  2. I tried the interfacing, didn't like it because it felt so strange to have an area that didn't stretch on fabric that should stretch. The wooly nylon works okay if you want to spend the time hand winding it on the bobbin. I use the zig-zag stitch, don't have a problem with popping stitches, but I had to learn to reduce the tension on the machines so the stitches would stretch without popping. I use the simple one step zig-zag though not the 3-step that I would use on elastic. I never tried the starch, guess it would keep fabric from puckering when stitching but don't think it would help the popping. Haven't used the walking foot either, might try it someday; although the zig-zag with a shot of steam from an iron has always worked for me.

  3. For knit hems, use bias iron on interfacing. It is available in 1/4" and 1/2" rolls or cut it yourself. I like soft fuse the best because it is double sided fusing. Iron it to the edge of the hem and press up. Your hem is now stuck in place. You can even leave it without stitching at all. But since you probably want to stitch, the bias interfacing provides support but still stretches with the fabric. Then use the differential feed on your serger. Or use a cover-stitch. Or the best thing of all is to go with the current trend and leave the knit edge unhemmed!

  4. Thanks for all the advice ladies--keep it coming! I have to say, I've tried it and I'm not a big fan of the unhemmed knit edges, exposed flatlock stitches, etc. It just looks lazy! So I welcome all your advice :)


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