How to get a level hem
Have you ever put together a garment – whether it’s a dress, a skirt, pants, or a blouse – only to notice afterwards that the hem seems to be drooping in certain areas?
It’s not necessarily the fault of the pattern. There are a few reasons you might experience this, but it’s an easy one to fix if you just follow a few simple steps every time you hem.
Why hems droop
There are two main reasons you’ll get an uneven hem:
1. The grainline.
Unless you’re making a skirt out of a rectangle, chances are that your hem falls on different grainlines. The center front might be cut on the lengthwise grain, but the side seam is on the bias (that is, a diagonal grain).
As you might know, fabric tends to stretch along the bias. As the skirt hangs, this seam stretches a bit and starts getting longer and longer.
Full skirts tend to exhibit this issue more than straight skirts, because the angle of the bias seam is more severe.
2. The body
Another reason you might see an uneven hem simply has to do with the curves of the body.
The fabric must form around the curves before reaching the hem. If, for example, the person wearing the garment has a bit of a booty, more fabric is required to cover that curve. Otherwise, you wind up with a hem that rides up in back.
How to level a hem
You should level your hem every time you make a garment, before actually doing any hemming. Here’s how.
1) Hang the garment
Hang the garment up for at least 24 hours.
This gives your fabric a chance to relax and stretch. The bias grain will stretch out overnight and you’ll have a better sense of what the fabric will look like when it’s worn.
This step is much more important if you are sewing a full hem. As I explained earlier, full hems will have more area cut on the bias while straight, narrow hems will be cut closer to the straight grain and are less prone to stretching.
2) Put the garment on
If you have a dress form that you use, put the garment on that. If not, put the garment on yourself and try to get a friend to help out.
Be sure to wear the type of shoes you plan to wear with it, so you have a better sense of the appearance of the hemline. If you are using a dress form, adjust it to the height you are with these shoes.
If you’d like, you can put the dress form on something high, like a table, to avoid crawling around on the floor.
3) Mark the length
Mark your desired length with a pin. I like to do this along a side seam, but you can also do it at the center front or anywhere else that makes sense.
If you have a skirt length that you know is flattering on you, use it! Measure that length from the natural waist and mark it on the skirt. You could get this measurement from a similar garment you have that you already like the look of. Or, put on the garment and adjust the hem to your preference.
Add hem allowance. This is the amount your hem will be turned under.
4) Meausure from the floor
Measure the distance from the floor to your pin.
I like to use a yardstick (or metre stick for those of you in civilized cultures) to measure this distance. You can also use a tape measure, but a yardstick makes it easier to measure at 90 degrees to the floor.
Measure this same distance all the way around the hem and mark, either with pins or chalk.
Now you are ready to trim off any excess fabric. Use the pins as a guideline to cut around the hem.
You are now ready to finish that raw edge and move on to the next step of hemming. Congratulations on that straight hem!
Tell me: How and when did you learn the importance of leveling out your hems?