Sewing Blog

Stretch Your Skills: How to Hem Knit Fabric 5 Ways

Garments sewn from knit fabrics are comfortable to wear, relatively easy to fit and generally don’t need fiddly closures, which makes them quick and gratifying sewing projects. However, learning how to hem knit fabrics is trickier than hemming wovens because of the stretch factor.

five ways to hem knit fabric
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Let’s focus on 5 different ways to hem knit fabrics for perfectly finished garments.

Hemming knits is often the trickiest part because you need to make sure the openings to your garment stay stretchy enough to pull on and off your body. If you hem knit garments in the same way as you would a woven garment, the fabric may become wavy or the stitches may pop when you try to stretch the garment over your head.

There are a few general rules for hemming knit fabrics, regardless of which technique you use:

  • Knits do not fray like woven fabrics do, so you only need to turn the hem under once.
  • When sewing knits, always use a ballpoint or stretch needle in your machine, which will glide through the looped knit fabric without piercing and breaking the fibers. You can read a bit more about choosing needles here.
  • If you have one, use a walking foot on your machine. The two layers of fabric feed evenly under the foot, which results in a flat, instead of wavy, hem.
  • Stabilizing the knit fabric you’re going to hem will significantly improve the outcome, especially if your knit fabric is lightweight. There are several options for stabilizing, such as fusible elastic interfacing, fabric spray starch, wash-away or tear-away stabilizers and knit stay tape. Choose something that will slightly stiffen the fabric, making it less likely to curl, stretch out under the presser foot or get sucked into your feed dogs, while maintaining the stretch of the fabric. Below I have attached a strip of fusible elastic interfacing before turning up the hem of this cotton jersey fabric:
Fusible Elastic Interfacing to Stabilize Knit Fabric

5 stitches to hem knits

1. The zigzag stitch

The nature of the zigzag stitch allows the thread to stretch with the fabric. Turn the hem up the desired amount, then use a zigzag stitch to secure it. A narrow zigzag stitch is less noticeable.

Zigzag Hem for Knit Fabric

Again, this stitch is most successful if you stabilize the fabric and use a walking foot. You can see the difference in hem waviness above.

2. Double needle

Double Needle Hem for Knit Fabrics

To achieve a more professional-looking hem without professional equipment, turn up the hem and sew with a double needle (also called a twin needle) from the right side of the fabric. The bobbin thread will zigzag between the parallel stitches, resulting in a stretchier hem.

If you have a serger, you may opt to first serge along the raw edge before turning up the hem so the underside looks like more like a professionally coverstitched hem, assuming the thread colors match!

You can find more tips for threading and sewing with a double needle in our post on how to thread a double needle.

3. Stretch stitch a blind hem

You may have sewn a blind hem on woven fabrics, but you can also use a variation of this stitch on stretchy fabrics.

Many modern machines have this stitch function, which is essentially a zigzag blind stitch. This creates a hem that is attached to the garment in intermittent stitches, so the stitches are less visible (as long as the thread color matches the fabric). This hem is ideal for garments such as knit pencil skirts or unlined knit blazers, where you want a more polished finish than you would on more casual knitwear.

Stretch Stitch Blind Hem on Knit Fabrics

First, press up your hem as usual. Then fold the hem back toward the right side of the garment, leaving a narrow edge of the hem that will be sewn on.

Blind Hem Stretch Stitch for Knit Fabrics

You can use a blind hem foot on your machine if you have one, but it’s not required. Test on a scrap how wide to make the stitch and where to position your needle. From the wrong side, sew along the exposed hem edge, making sure the wide zigzag catches the fold of the garment every few stitches. Press the hem down.

4. Fabric bands

Hemming Knit Fabric with Fabric Bands

If you are a sewing a knit top and would prefer to hide all your stitching, you can finish the sleeves and/or bottom hem with a separate folded band of fabric. The fabric doesn’t have to be stabilized for this finish.

Measure the circumference of the opening to be hemmed. Cut a separate rectangular piece of fabric (making sure the stretch is going the same way as the stretch of the garment) that is slightly smaller than your garment opening. This will ensure that the bands won’t get baggy after pulling them over your hands or shoulders.

Now serge or zigzag stitch the short edges of the band together. Fold the long edges of the band wrong sides together. Serge or zigzag stitch both layers to the right side of the garment, matching seams. Press the band down.

5. Coverstitch

Hemming Knit Fabric with Coverstitch Machine

The coverstitch is the ideal way to hem most knit garments, and you will typically see this finish on store-bought knitwear such as T-shirts and leggings. The right side features parallel rows of straight stitching, with the underside in a loop of thread that allows maximum stretch.

You need a special machine for coverstitching, however, which makes it the least accessible option. Many higher-end sergers have a coverstitch function that requires a slightly different threading and blade configuration. There are also stand-alone coverstitch machines available for home sewers to purchase. If you’re new to coverstitching, it is covered more in-depth in the class Creative Serging: Beyond the Basics.

This sewing technique works similar to the double-needle finish, except you have the ability to adjust the differential feed, so the fabric doesn’t stretch out as you sew. Simply press up the hem and coverstitch from the right side of the garment. Admire your pro finish!

As you can see, hemming knits is really not any more difficult than hemming woven fabrics. Hopefully these techniques will help you easily finish off your knit garments so you can wear them with confidence.

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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in June 2014 and was updated in January 2018.

9 Comments

Arielle

This post is AMAZING! Every time I try hemming knits, it ends up looking like your picutre, the “without interfacing, with a regluar foot” one. I can’t wait to try these techniques! Thank you SO MUCH!

Reply
Staci

I love this! I’ve never had success sewing knits before. Such a great explanation! It helped me hem my daughter’s pants! Yay!! Thanks!!

Reply
Anastasia

Fabulous!
Thank you SOOOOOO VERY MUCH for your 3rd tutorial! That’s what I’ve been searchung for!
You made my day!

Reply
Katharine

Thanks, this is such a well written and illustrated piece. Much appreciated.

Reply
am

If you use knit stay tape, as mentioned in the paragraph on stabilising, wouldn’t it prevent the hem from stretching? I use this on shoulder seams where you don’t want the seam to stretch out! Otherwise this is an excellent article, I’m looking forward to trying out a few new techniques!!

Reply
Cynthia Gilbreth

This is a great post, but you left out another option, the Triple Stitch. I used this on a few knit tops and it looks great. I also stabilize the hem, and stitch one or even two rows. It quicker than rethreading my Coverlock for the cover stitch and looks much better than twin needle, which always bubble a bit between the rows of stitching (even with stabilizer).

Reply
Lesley

Thank you, this was just what I needed!

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Sara

We are home sewers. Why do we now need three types of machine to do what is considered ‘professional’ sewing? It’s like the diet industry trying to highlight non existent body flaws in the name of consumerism! ‘Professional’ generally means ready to wear and much of that is a mess with serging frequently being a tangled up mass of threads and easily unravelled seams.

It is okay that we make our garments. We don’t need to be apologetic for it. A zig zag finish is not inadequate, it actually looks the neatest. We should aim to do our sewing well and skilfully but I don’t want a house full of machinery; it’s unnecessary to get an excellent result. It is expensive, wasteful of thread and resources and takes up far to much space which for those of us sewing on the kitchen/dinning table and stashing machines in cupboards under the stairs if we are lucky is a primary concern. We don’t need to feel inadequate because we don’t possess all the machines.

Reply
Macha Bennet-Shephard

I believe the object of having all the machines is for the ease of the sewer. Some prize space more than that, or don’t want to or have the $ to fork out for 3 machines- for them, one good quality sewing machine is perfect. For some of us, time and ease are more important- I’d rather thread my 3 machines once, allowing me to switch from one machine to the next in rapid succession so I can complete the sewing aspect of my garment construction faster and without complications. Also, if you don’t sew that much 3 machines would definitely be overkill. My 3 machines are small, efficient and of the best quality I can afford.

I still enjoy learning of new ways I can utilize my sewing machine, and really enjoyed this blog post.

From my perspective it’s not a matter of feeling inadequate, it’s simply a matter of priorities.

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