How to sew a narrow hem

How to sew a narrow hem on thin fabrics

This is hands down the best method for sewing narrow hems on thin fabrics. The trick is to stitch a row of straight stitches close to the edge and then use that row of stitches as a guide when folding the fabric. Plus as a bonus, I will show you how to avoid twisted seams when hemming, which can be a problem when hemming thin fabrics, especially if the hem is curved.

You’ll need

  • A sewing machine
  • An iron
  • An awl or some other sharp object
  • A thinner sewing thread (optional, but I will explain why it can be beneficial further down)

How to Sew a Narrow Hem on Thin Fabrics

1. Sew a row of stitches to use as a folding guide

Start by sewing a row of straight stitches around 1 cm (⅖ in) from the edge. The row of stitches will be used as your guide when you are folding the hem.

You generally don’t need to overcast the edges since the seam will be closed. There might be exceptions to this rule, but I’ve never had a hem unravel using this method since a big chunk of fabric will be enclosed and secured with the first row of stitches. Omitting overcast stitches will also make the hem less bulky and neater.

2. Fold the fabric, using the stitch as your folding guide

Press over the fold to make it flat

3. Fold the fabric a second time to create a narrow hem

Use the edge of the fabric as your guide. Press again

4. Stitch the hem

Try to sew close to the fold to get a really neat seam. But since we are humans and not robots the fold might be a tad bit uneven so to be on the safe side, sew a little farther from the edge to make sure the seam will catch the entire fold.

Bonus tip: How to avoid twisted seams when sewing narrow hems

Sometimes a hem will end up looking twisted when sewing a narrow hem on thin fabrics. To prevent this, use an awl or another sharp tool to gently push the outer layer of the fabric towards the presser foot in a rhythmic motion. Also, this method, using two rows of stitches, will also help keep the fabric in check.

Bonus info

Why do straight stitches get slightly diagonal and or wavy when sewing over thin fabrics?

This phenomenon has been puzzling my mind for decades, and recently I decided to ask the questions in the Self Sewn Wardrobe Facebook group and got some fantastic answers that explain why this happens.

The gist of it is that a thin fabric doesn’t have enough thickness for the thread to fully form the twist that will make the stitch straight. To fix this issue you can either try using a thinner thread or sew over a water-soluble stabilising paper to create more thickness.

Also. I was told that industrial straight stitch machines do a better job keeping the stitches straight than regular household multi-seam sewing machines. Fascinating stuff!

How to sew a narrow hem on thin fabrics


  • Anthonia
    February 6, 2018 at 4:03 pm

    Great tips, thanks!

    • Johanna
      February 8, 2018 at 2:56 pm

      Happy to hear you found it useful!

  • PsychicSewerKathleen
    February 6, 2018 at 10:36 pm

    I’ve read this before and I always forget to do it! But you’re right even for the second folding that row of stitches is helpful. I should spend more time planning my makes – I’ve been thinking about this for a while – sit down, read the instructions from start to finish, then make notes of what I will be doing. If I were to do this more thoroughly I could make a note in the hem instructions to stitch first before ironing!

    • Johanna
      February 8, 2018 at 2:58 pm

      Hehe, yes I think we all think that from time to time, but then we are lured into just wanting to get on with it and learn as we go. I do try to prepare better now, but sometimes the last thing I want to do is read the instructions!

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