Sewing Techniques / Tips & Tutorials

Tutorial : hand sewn hems

When it comes to hemming, sometimes topstitching with your machine just doesn’t cut it. A lot of time, you want a hem to be discreet, and not distract from the garment. That’s what is nice about hand sewn hems – they can be nearly invisible from the outside.  So, today I am going to cover three  basic options for hand sewn hems.

note – I’m using a contrasting thread so you can see the stitching better. But, of course, you would be using a matching thread to your fabric. So it will blend in and be even more invisible!

one more note – I’m a lefty, so I tend to start most of my stitches from the left side. If you are right handed, you most likely start from the opposite side. Same concept, just different direction.

Ok. Let’s get started!

First up is the whipstitch. This stitch is one of the more basic and faster hem stitches. It produces slanted stitches on the inside, and near invisible, tiny stitches on the outside. Here’s how…

1. Start by hiding your thread knot, and bringing your needle up through the underside of the fold.

2. Cross over  diagonally, and catch just a few threads of the fabric above the fold with your needle. The less fabric you pick up, the more invisible it will be from the outside. If you can, try to pick up only one thread. Then swivel the needle and come back up through the fold.

3. Continue steps 1-3: Picking up single threads and coming back up through the fold diagonally.

4. Keep your stitches evenly spaced and lined up. And keep your pick up stitches small.

Next is the catch stitch. This stitch creates a row of overlapping diagonal stitches on the wrong side (almost like a chevron), and then tiny stitches on the right side. It’s sturdy, and creates a more visibly pleasing look on the inside of your garment, if that is what you are looking for. Here’s how to do it….

1. With this stitch, start from the opposite end that you would normally start. I’m a lefty, and start my other stitches on the left, so for this one I will start on the right. If you are a righty, start on the left. Hide your thread knot by coming up from the underside of the fold with your needle.

2. At a diagonal, pick up a very small amount of fabric (one or two threads) just above the fold. Your needle should be pointed at your starting point when you do this.

3. Cross back over, and pick up a a small amount of fabric on the fold (only picking up threads of the fold, not all the way through). Again with your needle pointing at your starting point.

4. Continue at this pace, spacing your stitches evenly. This will create that crisscross/chevron effect. Make sure you only pick up one or two threads each time, so the less you see from the right side.

Lastly- the slipstitch. This is my go-to stitch, and my most often used because it is the most invisible. Invisible from both sides, that is. Not only is it good for hems, but it also comes in handy for many other cases – like attaching patch pockets, attaching facing to zipper tapes, attaching linings, etc. Here’s how to do it…..

1. Like the others, hide your thread knot by coming up through the underside of the fold. This time, make sure your needle comes out right on the edge of the fold. Right where it folds over.

2. Right above where you just came through, pick up a tiny amount of fabric above the fold (only one or two threads).

3. Move directly back down, right next to where you last came out of the fold, and insert the needle back into the fold, pulling it through about 1/4” through the fold. Almost like you are going through a tube.

4. If this sounds confusing, this photo shows the thread left loose after completing steps 1-3.

5. Continue steps 1-3 at an evenly spaced pace. Again, this is what it looks like with the threads loose so you can see….

6. And this is what it looks like when it is pulled tight. See? Nearly invisible!

About Author

Holly writes part time for the Megan Nielsen blog– sewing like crazy, creating tutorials and sewalongs. She has been sewing since she was a little girl, and has her degree in apparel design. Now she’s a stay at home mama, and spends all her free nap times at her sewing machine.

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11 years ago

Wonderful reminder on these great hand stitches! I have to admit, sometimes I get them confused and end up creating some kind of “sallie stitch” which is just a weird amalgamation! But handstitching is one of my favorite ways to hem. The finish is just so pretty! And it’s sturdy too!

11 years ago

Whenever I try to do the catch stitch around hems that will lay curved (like pants or skirts), the outside ends up looking ripply. So I just end up doing an invisible backstitch FROM the outside, so the ripply effect doesn’t happen. It doesn’t look nice on the inside (it’s okay-looking), but the outside is great. Am I doing the catchstitch wrong though? How am I supposed to hold the fabric?

11 years ago
Reply to  Holly

You know what, my stitches were probably too wide when I did it. Sometimes I see this result on other people’s hems, making me think that all catch stitched hems end up looking like that. I’ll try making shorter stitches next time though. (:

11 years ago

Thanks for the tutorial! I usually do something like a whip stitch I think. I just learned by doing. It’ll be nice to try something different. Also, I love your new look book photos. Your model is absolutely gorgeous and so are the clothes. Congratulations.

11 years ago

You want your hem to be discreet, not discrete – unless you’re planning to sew it then cut it off altogether.

Rochelle New
11 years ago

Perfect timing! I need to hand sew a hem to a dress I just finished this weekend and I wasn’t really sure where to start. Thanks! :)

11 years ago

bookmarked this and will sit down and try some after i pick up a few flicks from redbox:)

11 years ago

My mom taught me the slip stitch years ago for hemming my own pants. It’s nice to know the actual name after all these years!


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6 years ago

I hardly ever handstitch a hem, but this is a great tutorial, and I have a couple of projects right now that actually would benefit from this instead of topstitching like I normally do…

Thanks for the information!


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