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Tutorial: Hemstitching

We are so lucky to have our own sink and tiny kitchen area in our new studio. We have a white mini fridge, a microwave and a bookshelf with a few utensils and dishes. Until recently, we were missing an essential: dishtowels! While we have a few rag type towels, we needed something pretty (and functional) to decorate the small space. For this project, Sarai and I decided on some medium weight linen. Instead of just hemming the edges and letting it go at that, we thought it would look pretty and vintage-y to try hemstitching. This is really nice on dishtowels but I can also see it on the hem of a dress or sleeves.

items needed

  • a presser foot with a wide opening such as a non-automatic buttonhole foot
  • single wing needle
  • synthetic embroidery thread or silk thread
  • linen fabric
  • ruler
  • fabric pencil
  • spray stabilizer or starch

Cut out the fabric to your desired size. This towel measures 21″x28″ to allow for 1/2″ seam allowance.

Spray the fabric with stabilizer or starch to stiffen it. This will make the hemstitching much easier.

Choose the place where you want the hem stitching and draw a line across the fabric with a ruler and fabric pencil. This is your stitching guideline.

Make sure you have inserted the single wing needle and are using cotton embroidery thread in both the bobbin and top thread holder. You are going to sew two rows to create this look. Choose the zig-zag stitch on your machine. Begin by slowly sewing along the stitching guideline.

When you reach the end of your row, make sure the needle is to the left of the design. Sink the needle down into the fabric. Lift the presser foot and turn your work around.

Sew the second row slowly, making sure that the needle is piercing the holes already made from the first row. This will make the center row hole slightly larger than those on the outside.

Press your new hemstitching. If you’ve used tear away stabilizer, it’s time to remove it.

To finish, iron over the edges of all sides by 1/4″. Iron again 1/4″ and pin in place.

Edgestitch to complete the hem.

Have you tried hemstitching? Do you have any tips to share with us? Although hemstitching is usually only for kitchen linens and the like, I think it would be so pretty on a garment. I can imagine this technique used along a hem, such as a lightweight summer dress. What do you think? How would you use this technique?

Caitlin Clark

Caitlin is the Colette Patterns design assistant. You can follow Caitlin at her blog, the story girl.



June 5, 2012 #

It’s just lovely but I have never heard of a single wing needle! I guess I’m off to do a Google search.


June 5, 2012 #

I really want to learn hemstitching! But I had a hard time seeing the details of the final result… Could you give us a super closeup? And I didn’t know you could use just a regular zigzag for this. What do other fairly basic stitches look like with the same technique, or other stitch settings? And could you tell us more about the thread you used? (you can tell I’m intrigued, I ask too many questions!)


June 5, 2012 #

I used silk thread for the upper thread and plain polyester for the bobbin. I think it would have a more pronounced look if the upper thread was cotton embroidery instead of silk.


June 5, 2012 #

Absolutely gorgeous! I love this look!


June 5, 2012 #

Just curious if you separate the embroidery thread (doesn’t it come as 6-strand? which might be bulky?) and if you could use thick upholstery thread instead?
I love the look of this, and think I might try it with some different stitch combinations since my machine has some cool stitches. Thanks for a fantastic, always-classy idea!


June 5, 2012 #

You can use embroidery thread already on a spool, such as you would use for an embroidery machine. That should do the trick!


June 5, 2012 #

Oh, I didn’t realize there was such a thing! Thanks for the clarification!


June 5, 2012 #

I have been fortunate to go to a couple Martha Pullen schools where the hemstitching technique is a staple in the French Hand Sewing by Machine world. I use it on linens, baby clothes, blouses, night wear, etc. etc. If your fabric is “pinching” despite the use of the spray starch or stabilizer, a water soluble stabilizer works very well. There are several brands on the market and all work well, test on your fabric before moving on to the project.

Just a reminder, these techniques work best on natural fibers, however, I have been successful on blends as well. Test and stabilize.

Maddie Flanigan

June 5, 2012 #

This is such a cute little detail. Thanks for sharing!

Mimi O

June 6, 2012 #

Very lovely and how apropos; I just purchased a single wing needle off of Amazon on Monday, they sell double wing needles as well. Now I have a project to test this out on with the help of your tutorial! Thanks ;-)


June 6, 2012 #

Hemstitching is beautiful; however I prefer to do it all by hand, not on the machine.


September 4, 2012 #

Do you have or know of directions on how to hemstitch by hand?

Debbie Jennings

June 6, 2012 #

This is awesome! Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I think I am going to make some kitchen linens and use this technique on it. I can see cup towels, napkins, a table cloth and curtains using this. WOW Now to go shopping for some fabric for my kitchen decor!


June 6, 2012 #

I wonder how this would look if you were to zigzag ove some pearl cotton in a contrasring color?


June 6, 2012 #

this is such adorable tutorial, thanks for sharing:)


June 6, 2012 #

This is the first tutorial I have viewed on hemstitching.
Thank you so much for sharing this with us – I have always admired this beautiful technique and had no idea you could create it using a machine.
I cannot wait to try it myself. One more reason why I love Colette!
Thanks, Caitlin!

Bold Sewist

June 6, 2012 #

So pretty! And as usual I love the colour you have chosen – just lovely!


June 7, 2012 #

It’s beautiful!! I think it would make a great finish for a pair of linen pants or even a loose top or tunic.


June 7, 2012 #

Your dishtowell is pretty on the front, but to make it pretty on the back you could use the same decorative thread in the needle and the bobbin and make it reversible.

Also, are you aware that the line of stitching closest to the hem usually secures the hem and that is why this type of decorative stitching is called hemstitching? It is a beautiful and lush detail with a deep, shaped hem.


August 1, 2012 #

It usually does. I believe traditional (hand) hemstitching is done this way, but machine stitching is already a pretty different beast, so why limit yourself? :)

One thing I like about machine hemstitching is that it can be done anywhere. Even on a curved or shaped hem, as you point out. That can’t even be done with traditional hemstitching (as far as I know), since it’s a form of drawn thread work!


June 13, 2012 #

Amazing and wonderful. Must try!!

Jen Johnson

June 14, 2012 #

Hello, Thank you for sharing this technique. I’m new to sewing and am self taught. Your tutorials are excellent. I recently was introduced to the wing needle and the different sizes that are available. I am interested in making linen napkins and would love to learn how to make small squares around the boarder of the napkin. Can I use a wing needle for this project, and if so what size should I use. Again thank you so much for sharing your knowledge.


July 21, 2012 #

fantastico tutorial, lo tengo que intentar. saludos desde puerto rico


February 19, 2014 #

Beautiful, I was only hoping to find this information. I`ve only to find a wing needle.
Thank you very much.