Nine tips for dealing with curved hems

Today I’m sharing my best advice for getting a good finish on curved hems!  On Instagram, LC was interested in learning more and keen to move beyond the frustration of cutting them off, so this post is dedicated to her and anyone else looking for some sewing tips and tricks.

Before anyone asks, I do not have any sponsors and, apart from LC above, nobody’s asked me to do them any favours. The pattern is the Sew Liberated Aida mentioned in the previous post, the tools are my own and I am using a 100% cotton Swiss dot fabric from my stash. Let’s get to it!

  • Place a regular stitch on the hemline | This makes it easier to press up and fold.  Stitching is also a pressing technique; it manoeuvres fabric into place and leaves an impression.  This tip is especially good for delicate fabrics, lightweight fabrics, and fabrics with low tolerance to heat.
  • Place an easestitch on the inner fold line | The seam allowance here will be much wider than the stitching line if you’re dealing with a convex curve, such as a shirt-tail hem.  Adding a line of easestitching does a similar job to the regular stitch above AND you can pull up the fabric tails as required.  Pressing and finger manipulation isn’t always enough.  If in doubt, put an easestitch in – you can always remove it if it’s not needed after all.
  • Make the most of your easestitching by observing the fabric grain | At the deepest point of a convex curve, the eased creases will usually converge to form a 90-degree angle, the vanishing point of which is somewhere in the body of the fabric.  This angle indicates that the bias grain of the fabric – which is a factor in all woven fabric curves – has been brought under sufficient control by your easestitching.  This preparation is as good as it gets, but read on to make the most of your hard work so far.
  • Use a stencil or template | This is probably the most practical thing you can do to get a well-shaped curve, and it’s something that’s used a LOT in industry.  You can buy a heatproof stencil like the one in the photo, but you can make your own out of card or anything else that’s heatproof or insulates heat.  All you have to do is use your pattern piece as a guide: trace the shape of the contour onto card, cut it out, and it’s ready to use!
    You can use your template to press up the hemline (in point 1, using a regular machine stitch), and you can also use it when pulling up the threads of your easestitching so that you gather up the required amount of fabric.
  • PRESS! | Heat will make your fabric more malleable and receptive to folding, especially around complex curves – and definitely when used in conjunction with a template.  One thing I’ll mention is that concave curves need particular encouragement; unlike convex curves, which have excess fabric to ease, concave curves require the fabric to stretch.  Obviously, they will be going through the bias grain, which helps, but you will need a bit more manipulation depending on the shape of the pattern piece and fabric you’re using.  If your fabric is delicate, use a pressing cloth to protect it from the iron plate.
  • Hand baste the curves in preparation for machine sewing | If you use a millinery needle, which is about 1cm longer than a regular hand sewing needle, you can do this quickly.  The extra length allows you to take in more stitches in one pass of the needle, so you don’t have to work like an embroiderer.  Being able to dip in and out of the fabric is a big time saver.
  • Use an awl | Curved hems tend to have narrower seam allowances, so it can be difficult to use your fingers to control the fabric when at the sewing machine.  A round-tipped awl is useful for applying pressure in small spaces, and you can also use it to rescue any stray bits of fabric that want to unfold themselves. In these photos I pressed up a total of 5/8 or 1.5cm, and each fold is about half that amount.
  • Place pins straight on, in line with your machine needle | Mildly controversial, but perpendicular pins are not helpful for tight curves simply because they don’t hold enough of the fabric – which, as mentioned earlier, has undergone a lot of manipulation (folding and easing).  Straight pins work better because, like the millinery needle, you can anchor and direct more fabric in one go.  The obvious alarm bell is to remove the pin before your machine needle gets to it, otherwise there will be breakage!  Make sure the head of the pin is nearest you whilst you sew, so that you can grab it easily.
  • TAKE YOUR TIME | This is an obvious one, but you need to go more slowly than you realise!  Sewing curves is much like steering a car or anything else with wheels; you’re moving forward and turning simultaneously, but at a rate that allows you to observe the change in direction.  The tighter the curve, the slower the manoeuvre – and if that means one stitch at a time, so be it.
  • Bonus tip: Check your pedal technique | When machining, I always wear socks or thin slippers so that my foot is as sensitive as possible, and my heel ALWAYS rests on the floor.  This allows me to use it as a fulcrum, and reduces the likelihood of applying too much pressure – or not being able to control the amount of pressure applied.  Thanks to my heel, I can rock my foot back and forth.  It’s much less effort too: you don’t have to lift your leg to use the ball of your foot at all.  You’ll discover a new range of sewing speeds once you use your foot correctly – if you don’t already, try it and see for yourself! 😊

Did you find any of this advice helpful?  If so, comment below and let me know – and feel free to share or pin this post if you know another sewist will appreciate it.   And if you can, a few pennies in my tip jar (the floating button in the bottom left corner of the screen) are always much appreciated

Next fortnight marks one year since the end of the From Needle to Needle series, and I’ll be sharing my current thoughts about the state of play on Wednesday 23rd March.  For the uninitiated, this was an 8-week long series about professional practice and standards in the hand knitting sector as I saw it.  You can catch up with the series here at the index page, but apart from that – until next time!

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Heather says:

    Hi Natalie! It’s wonderful to wake up and see a blog post by you first thing in the morning. This is a really excellent article, I thought, and very helpful. It all makes perfect sense. I’m laughing at your remarks to sew in socks or light slippers, I have always sewn barefoot! And I learned to drive a car barefoot, too! But it’s true, I have always felt more in control of the sewing machine when barefoot. Great advice from you! I learned to sew from my mother and she was always barefoot in the house. But we were raised in Hawai’i, everyone is barefoot in their houses there.
    How is your coat coming along? Thank you for such an interesting post.

    1. 💕 Thank you very much Heather! I wondered if there’d be a response to my pedal tips 😆
      As for the Lagan coat, it’s on pause. We haven’t really had a winter here in London, so I’ve put the lining to one side and will go back to finish it later this year. It’s a shame, but it makes sense for now.
      At the moment I’m looking at the Pekka jacket from Ready to Sew and the Deer and Doe Luzerne. Both are more suitable for layering in autumn and spring, so I’ll wear them more often too.

  2. susan says:

    Good tips, thank you

    1. You’re welcome! ☺️

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