How to sew a curved hem
There are many different ways to hem a curved edge; in fact there are few garments where knowing how to sew rounded edges does’nt come in handy. It depends
- on the fabric you use for the project (for example, for chiffon it will not be the same as for denim)
- on the type of the curved edge ( if it is a full curve when hemming a circle skirt or curved skirt, or just a slight curve)
- on the types of sewing machines and their accessories you have ( do you have a serger? a coverstitch machine? a blind stitch foot? etc.)
- on the design you have in mind ( do you want a narrow hem? a standard hem? a decorated hem?)
- and on your sewing experience also (if you are a beginner sewist you probably shouldn’t use all those specific presser feet available now)
Did you ever happen to wash a beautiful glass vase, only to drop it after and watch helplessly how it shatters ( clean, nevertheless ! ) in a million pieces? Frustrating, right ? The same is true when hemming a dress for which you have probably worked many hours. Since the hem is one of the last items to be sewn, rushing the job to get it done may result in costly mistakes that are difficult to fix.
So choose one of the sewing techniques below that best suits you. I will try to show many types of curved hem finishing (in no particular order), but before that I want to remind you that you have to use the proper needle, proper sewing threads for your projects and adjust the thread tension. Test your machine stitching on scrap fabric. Double check that your bobbin is full before you start. It’s awful when you think you are done hemming, just to discover the bobbin was empty and you have to start over again.
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Gathering fabric along a curved hem line
1. This type can be used if you want your hem to be quite wide – 3-4 cm. It is suitable for woven medium and heavyweight fabrics like flannel, gabardine, denim, coat fabric, twill, linen, all kinds of cotton, some types of silk, for example silk dupioni, etc. and also for faux and natural leather. It can be used on circle skirts and half-circle skirts made from medium weight fabrics.
The problem with this type of curved hem is that the hem size at the edge is larger (or we can say also longer, wider) than the size of the hem on fold (an actual hemline). And because of this we will have to deal somehow with this fabric surplus – we will have to make it smaller for the hem to look nice.
So first step for many fabrics is to neaten (or finish) the raw edge with a serger (if you don’t have one I strongly recommend JUKI MO 2000 QVP self threading serger) or a special overlocking stitches of a regular sewing machine (like zigzag stitches). You can also make 0.7 – 1cm fold, baste it and press (for mediumweight fabrics). We need to deal with the raw edge so it doesn’t fray. For heavyweight coat fabrics you can skip this step.
Third (and the main!) step is to make a gathering stitch at about 0.7 – 1 cm from the curved hem edge. Put stitch length to 4-5 mm and tension to 0. Stitch on the wrong side of the fabric. Don’t stitch around all hem at once. Divide it into smaller sections (at the side seams for example) and gather each of them separately.
Forth – fold the curved hem to the wrong side keeping proper distance and fix folding with pins. At the same time pull up the bobbin thread to the required length and distribute gathers evenly so it doesn’t make any little tucks and stay flat. Don’t overtighten! Baste and press.
Fifth step – finish sewing this type of curved hem by
- Hand sewing ( invisible stitches). If you don’t know how to do it check my hand sewing tutorial https://www.ageberry.com/sewing-basics-learn-sew-hand/. Try to secure your stitches now and then so if your hem is caught on something you won’t need to redo the entire hem. Try to grasp one thread of the fabric so that no stitches are visible on the garment’s right side.
- Straight stitch of your sewing machine with stitch length of 2-3 mm for lightweight fabric and 3-4 m for heavier fabric.
- Special “invisible” stitch of your sewing machine (using a special presser foot – a blind stitch foot)
Remember, that often we don’t want any stitches showing through to the right side of the garment. And also make sure no folds or ridges from gathering the fabric are visible from the right side of the garment.
Make sure that you are using the proper needle size for your fabric, the right thread size and the proper thread tension. Check your sewing machine manual if in doubt. Also, test your machine’s stitching on a scrap fabric first to be sure of best results.
Sewing a curved hem on knits
1. The easiest is to use a cover stitch machine – a special sewing machine for working with knits.
You don’t need to make gathering stitches as we did for woven fabric. Knit fabric is stretchy and you can always make it flat without any tucks. You don’t need to neaten raw edges of the curved hem. The cover stitch machine will take care of it!
Just make sure you know exact distance where you insert your machine needles, so left needle goes a little bit to the left of the hem edge. This type of the curved hem is sewn with two needles and forms two parallel rows of straight stitches on the right side of the garment.
After finishing the raw edges turn hem to wrong side, baste and press. Stitch with twin needle from the right side of the fabric. You will have to use two upper threads and one bobbin thread. You will see two lines of straight stitches on the right side and zigzag stitches on the wrong side of the garment.
4. You can topstitch hems on knits with a narrow or triple zigzag.
5. I like to make a picot edging with a curved hem and it is very easy to do with a regular sewing machine. I use settings you see in the image below. I use Eloflex thread because the hem is stretchy. I discovered it quite recently and I am still amused how beautiful and at the same time simple it is. It gives very nice hem finish for lightweight silk fabric and cotton knits.
It is done with a kind of zigzag stitch that sews two or three straight and one long zigzag stitch. On my Janome sewing machine, it is called Shell Tuck but I see that it can be called Picot Edge.
To sew this, fold the raw edge of your hem to the wrong side about 1 cm or more, set your sewing machine for this decorative stitch and sew very close to the fold so the zigzag goes off the edge. You may need to increase the thread tension of your machine so the needle will create a scalloped edge. Carefully trim the fabric on the wrong side.
Making a narrow curved hem
For lightweight fabric we usually make a narrow curved hem . There are many different methods of sewing the curved hem with lightweight fabrics like silk charmeuse, chiffon, georgette, cotton voila, etc.
- Using zigzag stitch of your sewing machine.
It can be used with chiffon, organza, silk charmeuse, georgette, thin cotton, etc. (if you have problems sewing with chiffon check out my article “How to cut chiffon without problems“). It is not always easy hemming chiffon or thin fabrics !
Make a regular straight stitch (2mm length and tension at 0 or close to 0 ) about 1 cm from the edge. If you are making hem for a circle skirt you will see that in some places the fabric will be a little gathered and in other places the fabric will be a little stretched after you made that stitch. Try to evenly distribute the fabric so that it will be no gathering and stretching, make it as flat as possible, and press.
Make adjustments on your sewing machine for zigzag stitch – it should be 1.5-2.00 mm by 0.3-0.4. Use proper needle for your fabric, and suitable thread. I like to use 100% silk threads for this kind of hems. Stitch along the folded edge so on the left the needle is going into the fabric and on the right of zigzag it goes out and doesn’t touch the fabric. Practice on scrap fabric before sewing your garment.
After you are done with zigzag cut the fabric on the inside close to the stitching and be careful not to cut the thread.
If you have a serger with a rolled hem function (like Juki MO 2000 QVP) you can use it to sew a curved hem. This method is the fastest and easiest, and your hem will be ready in a flash. The only problem with it is hiding the tail of the threads coming from the serger in the end of rolled hemming.
I usually cut the tail to 1-1.5 cm, glue it to the stitching with a fabric glue, and sew it by hand so it doesn’t unravel after I wash the garment.
You can use a special rolled hem foot of your sewing machine. But for this to work nicely you have to practice a lot on scrap fabric. I don’t really like to use this method with curved hems, it works much better for straight hems. Your sewing machine manual should contain a detailed instructions how to use this foot.
- Turn allowances on a curved hem to wrong side 1- 1.5 cm, easing in fullness. Press. Open up hem and tuck under raw edges so they stay along the crease. Pin or baste, press and stitch the hem along the top fold in place about 5 mm from the edge.
- Or fold the hem edge (around 5 mm) to the wrong side of the garment, baste and press. Fold the edge again, baste, press and topstitch with a straight stitch right along the fold.
Using bias strips or fold-over elastic strips to sew a curved hem
I like to use bias strips (or just elastic strips) with any lightweight and mediumweight fabric, especially with silk organza fabric. You can make bias strips yourself, or use already made ones bought from a store. Bias tapes are cut on the bias so they are a little stretchy which is good for sewing curved hems.
- First – stitch the bias strip (which is not folded yet) to the curved hem (about 5 mm seam allowance) trying to sew very precise. Turn the bias strip over the edge of the hem, fold it and sew by hand or by your sewing machine.
- Second – if the bias strip is already pre-folded, or if you are using fold-over elastic strips (OMG, the choice is really huge now), you can put it over the curved hem edge (basting, or using pins, or using a sewing glue) and stitch.
By the way, if you like to use a wrist pincushion (as I use in this video below) you can make one for yourself — check my tutorial here
Vilene Bias Tape is a flexible iron-on, grain-reinforced bias binding for finishing all rounded and diagonal edges. The tape is 12 mm wide and is staystitched 4 mm from the edge with a chain stitch. Flat, flexible support for many types of fabrics. Slowly but firmly press with a dry iron, about 8 seconds per area. Iron Setting: Wool. I only found it in white and black colors.
Cut the end of the bias tape to a 45 degree angle. Insert the bias tape from the outside of the bracket, into the slot that matches its width, and pull it down under the foot. Place the edge to be bound into the groove on the left side of the bracket. Loosen the screw on the top, in the back of the foot and adjust the bracket as needed. Select a narrow zigzag, a straight stitch or even a decorative stitch. Sew slowly, keeping the fabric to be bound, snugly in the groove as you sew. And make sure that the folded edges stay inside the guides.You can read a full tutorial from So sew easy.com about the foot here: “How to use the binding foot“.
Using facing to sew a curved hem
Very often we can use facing to sew a curved hem. It is the best option when we have the curved hem with unusual shape or when we have really unruly or dense fabric or fabric with sequins, etc. This method is used also when there is insufficient hem allowance.
This means sewing two pieces of fabric together (one piece is the garment, and another one is a facing) and then turning them right side out so that the seam allowances are enclosed. Facing is a piece of fabric cut out in the shape of the edge it is to enclose (the same shape as the curved hem edge). Put the facing on the curved hem right sides together and stitch. Trim seam allowances with pinking shears close to the stitching. Sew facing to the garment by hand or by machine. Press the seam allowances toward the facing, then press the facing to the inside and secure its top edge with hand stitches.
Using different trims and embellishment for sewing a curved hem
What if, instead of seeing this hemming job as a routine , we use it to add creative elements to the design of the garment which may enhance its appearance ? Now I will show you a number of ways that may do just that.
You can sew hem frills. It is especially nice to decorate kids clothes.
Cut it about 7 cm wide, stitch the ends together and fold frill in half lengthways. Baste and press. Gather with your sewing machine (the stitch length is 5 mm and the thread tension is 0). Stitch on to lower edge of the dress or skirt. Press seam allowances up and topstitch 5-7 mm wide along the joining seam. This is an image from Burda magazine.
Sometimes we can leave the curved hem unfinished! It is suitable for some netting (mesh) fabric, velour, faux or natural leather. Below are some images with unfinished hem. For example, I made a beach cover from mesh fabric and I left the hem unfinished because the fabric doesn’t unravel. Or I made a tunic (check my tutorial “How to upcycle an old dress“) and put an unfinished bias strip to the curved hem. Faux and natural leather can be often left unfinished because the fabric doesn’t unravel.
How to mark a hemline for an uneven dress
The marks made with these tools on a real person are not always even, no matter how careful you are because a person is not a mannequin – we breathe and because of this the garment moves a little. So the marks are not really very precise. But if you put many of them it will give you a rough idea of where the hem should be.
- Do you like my new skirt?
- Skirt? To be honest I thought it is a belt.
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