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The Perfect Turned Hem

Yes, I said perfect. I’ve made a lot of turned hems over the years. The official Right Way To Do It(tm) involves ironing. While that’s a great habit in sewing, it takes time and it’s a little risky when you have two cats in the room. I forget where I stumbled upon this technique, but it works like a charm even for those of us who suffer from advanced iron-itis.


The turned hem, seen from the front.
The turned hem, seen from the front.

Critical Stats:

Width: 1/2″
Seam Allowance Required: 1″

(Technically, you can use any seam allowance you like, but we’re going to sew down the middle of it, so I find 1″ convenient. If you’re a particularly advanced seamstress, you can use this method to make a rolled hem without a rolled hem foot.)


Sew right down the middle of your seam allowance.
Sew right down the middle of your seam allowance.
Fold the seam allowance to the back of the fabric along this line of stitch.
Fold the seam allowance to the back of the fabric along this line of stitch. Mysteriously, the stitches act like perforations on notepad paper, and you'll find it easy to get a good fold without the iron.
Fold the seam allowance up again, using the previous fold as a guide.
Fold the seam allowance up again, using the previous fold as a guide. (The line of stitch is now at the top of the fold, and the raw edge of the seam allowance is safely tucked into the new fold.)
Sew the folded seam allowance down, close to the top folded edge.
Sew the folded seam allowance down, close to the top folded edge.

So far, this doesn’t look any much easier than your average turned up hem. (“Any much easier”? I so speak english like a second language…..) Actually, it may look worse, since there’s that extra line of stitch. Here’s where it wins: you can combine all the foldy parts with the stitching-it-down part (ie, the last three steps) into one go. That’s the beauty of having that original line of stitches in there – it acts as a guide, so you can elevate the standard “I just don’t have time to do it right!” Turned Hem of Desperation(tm) into something that ends up looking like you actually did have time to do it right. It takes slightly longer than sewing hell-for-leather to the finish line, but not nearly so long as doing it the right way, wit the iron and all. This on is perfect when you’re in a hurry to finish something for a client. ;) I mean, not that I ever wait until the last minute on anything, ever, especially when it’s not for myself…..

The finished seam, from the back.
The finished seam, from the back. In the thin fabric I'm using, you can see the original stitch line (black) and the final stitch line (red) right next to each other. Since the seam is full folded over itself, you can sew a little farther in to the seam allowance if you're more comfortable that way - I just don't like the way it washes up when the top edge is all loosey-goosey.


  1. Jamie
    Jamie March 1, 2011

    Oh my goodness!! You are so wise! Thank you so much for sharing this tip. I have been so unhappy with my non ironed seams and who has time to stand at the iron all day?! Not me!!! I think of this tip as the best thing I have ever learned….ever!

  2. Talia
    Talia January 10, 2012

    Hello, I know you wrote this post long ago, but I just stumbled upon it and it’s great. Can you tell me what kind of fabric this was? I am looking for an open weave, lightweight cotton just like this but haven’t liked any I’ve found.


  3. mosew
    mosew January 2, 2013

    Using the seam allowance as a guide on the sewing machine is ingenious!

    What fabric does this NOT work well on? What about satin or other fabrics that aren’t as cooperative in folding and tend to poof or round out instead of flatten with a fold?

    • missa
      missa January 5, 2013

      Good question, Mo. :) This, like so many things, works best on plain weave fabrics and fibers that fold willingly. I mostly use it on chemises and underskirts, so that’s your light to shirt-weight cotton, silk, and woolen crowd.
      I am pretty certain I have done this with relatively cheap crepe-back satin of questionable fiber content, and it worked with moderate cursing. This is really not the best sort of hem for that. If you are ok with stitches on the right side of the work, I would use a bias strip facing, a self-facing, or a horse-hair hem. (I have demos for none of those – ack!) You could also do something festive with a ribbon hem, and get a jump start on decorating fancy fabric.
      I would not use it on anything with big, thicky fibers – heavy raw silks, those upholstery fabrics we have all used for a bodice/doublet (and suffered in sweaty sadness all day at fair!), those gorgeous Chanel-looking weaves that burst apart into their composite threads the second you take a scissors to it, etc. Those don’t tend to like rolled hems by any method.
      Lighter corduroys are fine. The heavier ones will give you a very stiff, bulky hem that will always look a bit unnatural. Again, that will happen with any rolled hem method you care to name. The bulkier the fabric, the less suited it is for a turned hem. Use a facing on those, or a bias-bound edge to reduce the amount of bulk. (Remember, you can make bias tape out of many kinds of fabric (mmmm….. silk….), so this can be a decorative addition instead of an act of hemming desperation!)
      I would use a smaller variant of this technique on a silk organza (if I could not find my rolled hem foot!), but I wouldn’t even bother on a polyester organza – darned dead-dinosaur based fibers tend to get feisty. Light weight fabrics with some body, like your organzas, will do best with a rolled hem, or a serge-and-turn hem.
      If it frays like the dickens, serge it. Then use the serge as a guide for your roll – you’ll get a smaller roll, but it will still work. Looks right nice, even.
      Speaking of sergers… If you have a lot of curve in the hem, use the serge method. Adjust the differential feed on your serger to pull the fabric in slightly – that way when you roll it, the edge of the fabric will no longer be larger than the hem and you won’t get all those annoying little puckery-tuck bits in your finished hem.
      Last but not least…. You can always iron it *after* you get it sewn in. That will control some fiestier fabrics. ;)

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