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Sewing Q&A
Terry Siemsen
September 2002 Sewing Q&A

Please tell me how to get a stretchy, non-rippled hem on a knit top or skirt.
Wendy R.,

stretch hem examples There are several hemming techniques to try, depending on the amount of stretch and type of knit fabric used to make the garment. If the fabric is very bulky or stretchy, reduce the presser-foot pressure slightly. This way the machine won't push the fabric in front of the presser foot causing the fabric to stretch as it's stitched. Note: See your machine manual for how to adjust the pressure.

One method is to hem with one or two rows of topstitching (1).
  • Turn the hem up the desired width and press or steam lightly to set the crease. Note: It isn't necessary to finish the raw edge because knit fabric doesn't ravel. If a finished edge is desired, serging works well and doesn't add bulk - don't stretch the fabric when serging.
  • Set the machine for nine stitches per inch and topstitch ¼" from the garment cut edge, stretching the fabric slightly as you sew. For a ready-to-wear look topstitch a second stitching line 1/8" to 1/4" from the first stitching. Any excess fabric above the stitching can be trimmed away.
  • If the fabric has a horizontal stripe, topstitch along the edge of a stripe with matching thread for an almost invisible stitching line (2).

Another method is to hem using a zigzag stitch. The fabric doesn't need to be stretched while sewing since this stitch has built-in stretch (3). Decrease the presser-foot pressure to eliminate more stretching when stitching to avoid a rippled look.

A third method is to use a double needle which produces two rows of stitching on the right side and a zigzag stitch on the wrong side (4). This stitch also has some built-in stretch. Consult the machine manual for instructions.

Many machines also have built-in stretch stitches. Test-stitch on a fabric scrap since these stitches are quite difficult to remove. Don't stretch the fabric as you sew. Test several methods to see which one gives the best results for the chosen fabric.
Terry Siemsen is former home economics teacher who's always looking for the easiest way to achieve a beautiful-looking garment inside and out. She is the owner of Thimbles, Etc., specializing in custom-sized sterling and gold thimbles.

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Copyright © 2002 PRIMEDIA Inc. All rights reserved.

Edited 11/08/15 Debbie Colgrove

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