How to Sew Traditional Curved Hem on Skirts & Dresses

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Tutorial For Sewing Traditional Curved Hems

Here are a few clear diagrams of how to turn up a curved hem by hand. It can also be adapted to sew by machine using herringbone or blind hem stitch after the hem is basted and pressed. 

If you want to use traditional techniques when sewing your vintage patterns then hems are sewn by hand. the time is taken to get a beautifully curved hem will make your garment look tailored and professsional.

sewing a curved hem

The first part of getting the perfect hem is to hang the dress at least 24 hours after sewing before hemming. 

Panelled skirts are cut on the bias.  This means it will stretch slightly with the fabric weight over time. 

The traditional way is to mark the hem with a ruler and chalk or attachment on a dressmaker’s dummy. 

mark a hem in doorway with chalk string

Another dressmaker’s trick when sewing alone is to tack a cotton string or coarse thread across an open doorway at the height you want the hem to be marked. 

Rub this string with tailor’s chalk. 

Then try on the dress/skirt. Then standing in a normal position turn around slowly so the fabric rubs along the string. 

Easy and you will get marks dotted along the hemline. 

Remember the string may need re-chalking.

Don’t forget to remove the string straight away. Then you will not trip yourself up walking through the doorway!

hemming curved fabric

There is more fullness in the edge of the fabric than the line the hem will be sewn. 

Start by basting with a running stitch all way around the hemline, barely 2mm 1/8″ longer than the finished hem so it will turn just on the edge on the inside of the hem.

You need to very gently gather the excess fabric by basting a thread and easing the fullness around the skirt evenly. 

Natural fibre fabrics are much easier to work with here than synthetics, be patient and find the correct temperature to press man-made fabrics. Cotton, silk and fine wool are the nicest fabrics to work with. 

Press the hemline with a cloth between iron and fabric. A barely damp cloth will give the best results.

how to sew curved hem the vintage way

The traditional hand stitch taught in the 1950s was the herringbone (French is point de chausson).

This stitch overcasts the raw edge and is invisible on the right side when done carefully.

how to sew a hem on full circle skirt vintage way

It is important to press well before starting the hand stitching. Don´t press over the top edge of the hem or you may end up with a ridge on the right side of the fabric.

Take care to make sure seams are pressed open and folded carefully.

Clip and trim bulky seams in the hem allowance if needed.

Remove the lower hand basting when finished. 

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