How To Hem a Dress With a Sewing Machine?

Hemming refers to the finishing done at the edge of any garment, in this case a dress, to prevent it from fraying or unraveling over time.

It is an essential sewing skill for any seamstress.  Once learned, you will apply the skill all the time whether creating garments from scratch or altering ready-to-wear.

Let’s learn how to hem a dress with a sewing machine without breaking into a sweat.

How To Hem A Dress With A Sewing Machine?

Hem Dress With Sewing Machine

There are a few different methods when it comes to hemming. It is great to learn multiple ways as each one may be better for specific fabric types and the type of project at hand. 

For example, I would hem a stretch knit dress differently than I would a dress with a lightweight woven fabric. In today’s “How-To”, I will go over a few of these different hemming methods and describe which is best for which situation. 

Step by Step to Hem Dresses

Supplies Needed to Hem a Dress

  • Good fabric scissors
  • Sewing machine
  • Tape measure
  • Marking tool
  • Pins
  • Matching, all purpose thread
  • Iron

Step 1 – Measure For Hemming

preparing the dress

All hemming will start with measuring to see by what amount you would like the dress shorted by.

To make this step easiest, you can have a friend help you mark while you wear the dress, or use a dress form, adjusted to the dress wearers height.  If you don’t have access to a friend’s help or dress form, you can mark with sewing pins.

Place a sewing pin at the desired length of the dress, look into a mirror standing straight, and adjust the pin as necessary until the desired height is marked correctly.  

Next, turn the dress wrong side out and spread it on a flat surface, with the bottom edge nicely visible for marking. Going up from the hem, measure the length you are wanting to remove, and mark using a marking pen or chalk. 

Do this all along the bottom and then connect all of the marked points to draw a continuous line.  This is your hemming line. 

Step 2- Adding Hem Allowance

cutting the dress

You will now need to add a hem allowance. This is the amount of fabric needed to complete the sewing of the hem. Without it, the dress would become shorter than the desired length.  

Measure and draw a second line (which will be the cutting line) parallel to and below the hemming line. For a narrow rolled hem (we will discuss this further in the next section) mark the cutting line ⅜-½” below the hemming line. For a single fold hem, you will want your hem allowance to be between ¾-2”.  

You can now cut off the excess fabric, using the cutting line as your guide. 

Step 3- Sew a Hem

There are a few different ways a hem can be sewn. Typically, the type of fabric being hemmed will determine the type of hem that should be used.  Knowing how to sew a narrow rolled hem and a wide single fold hem will give you the ability to successfully hem just about any type of fabric. 

1. Sewing a Narrow Rolled Hem 

A narrow rolled hem works best on light to mid weight, woven fabrics. The fastest way to sew this hem is by using a rolled hem foot.  To do this, you feed the raw edge of the fabric (wrong side up) through a guide on the special presser foot, which rolls the fabric (folding it twice) for you while it stitches.

Iron the hem after stitching.  If you are using a rolled hem foot, you will want your hem allowance to be ⅜”. Using this presser foot may take some practice, but once you’ve got it down it can be a huge time saver.

If you do not have a rolled hem presser foot, you can certainly still sew a narrow rolled hem, it just may take a little bit longer.  To sew a narrow rolled hem without the special presser foot, start by  folding ¼” of the fabric towards the wrong side of the fabric.

Use an iron to press the fold in place.  Sew the fold down by stitching only ⅛” from the fold line. Trim excess hem allowance, getting as close to the stitch line as possible.  Fold the fabric once more, hiding all raw edges, another ¼”.  Once again, iron and stitch this fold. 

If you are doing a narrow rolled hem without the rolled hem foot, you will want your hem allowance to be ½”.  

2. Sewing a Wide Single Fold Hem

A wide single fold hem is preferred for heavier weight fabrics, or if using a double needle, is also great for stretch knit fabrics. 

To sew a wide single fold hem, you will first want to finish the raw edge of the fabric, as it will only be folded once and the raw edge will still be visible. Serge the edge if possible. If you do not have a serger you can sew a zig-zag stitch along the edge or slightly trim the edge using pinking shears.

Next, you will fold the fabric towards the wrong side using the hemming line as your folding guide.  The hem allowance used for this type of hem is more based on your aesthetic preferences.

Use a width between 1-2” for a heavy weight fabric.  Iron the fold and then stitch the hem down, sewing near the raw edge (not the fold) of the fabric. You now have a wide single fold hem completed.

3. Using a Double Needle to Sew a Single Fold Hem on a Stretch Knit

If you are looking to hem a stretch knit with a single fold hem, (which is my favorite way) use a hem allowance of ¾”.  You will not need to finish the raw edge first, as stretch knits do not fray.  Fold the fabric towards the wrong side and press in the same way described for the heavyweight fabric. 

Use a double needle to stitch the hem, which will sew 2 rows of straight stitches on the top while simultaneously stitching a zig zag on the back side. 

When using a double needle, sew with the right side facing up. Try your best to  have the raw edge, which will be on the underside, line up in between the two needles so the stitch catches it.  Press after sewing.

You have now completed your hem. I love using a double needle with a single fold hem on stretch knits because it resembles a coverstitch (very professional) and allows the fabric to stretch without thread breakage. 

Now that you have learned a narrow rolled hem and a single fold hem, you will be prepared to take on any hemming project at hand. Happy hemming! 

How Do You Hem Stretchy Sheer Fabric?

A lot of beginners tend to struggle when it comes to creating hems with sheer or stretchy fabric. However, working with stretchy or light dresses can be easier if you do the preparation right.

First, you, need to catch the dress with something heavy when you are cutting and make sure there is no pressure on either side of the cut to avoid going off the line. 

Secondly, you should try and create as thin a fold as you can so you don’t end with a bulky, unsightly hem- use a hemming foot if possible or sew a straight line in the middle of the fold and iron it down first.

Lastly, make sure you sew a simple straight, but short stitch as close to the edge of the fold up as possible- again- a hemming foot could come in handy for this. 

What Is The Best Stitch For Stretchy Fabric?

There are no right or wrong stitches for a hemming job as it sorely depends on your design and sometimes, your skill level. In most cases, a simple straight but short stitch will do just fine although zigzag and overedge stitches do also work with stretchy dress fabrics.

Feel free to try different stitches on some material before you choose the right one for your project.



I'm Jessica Flores, a professional fashion designer and an expert seamstress. Crafting has always been a deep-seated passion of mine, one that has flourished and evolved over the years. I've dedicated considerable time to both studying and practicing in the realm of fashion and sewing, amassing a wealth of experience and skills. It brings me great joy to share these insights and experiences with you all, hoping to inspire and foster a similar passion for the art of sewing.

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