How to Hem a Dress

Taking the scissors to a favourite piece might seem daunting but raising the hem can completely change a garment - and it's not it as scary as it sounds! Here's a super basic guide to hemming that is a great #isewlation project as well as extremely satisfying. You can do this by hand if you don't have a machine.


  • Don't make your first attempt on a highly valued garment - give it a go on that old skirt/jeans you never really wear anymore. 
  • Use the correct needle. Use finer needles for lightweight fabric - and stronger, heavier needles for canvas, wool, denim etc. 
  • Make sure your garment is washed and ironed if necessary - wrinkles make getting a straight hem much harder. 
  • Make sure you have thread to match your garment colour - high contrast stitching will show every mistake and you're better than that. ;-)
  • RELAX! It doesn't have to be perfect and you can always unpick and re-do bits.


1. Roughly pin the new length
Put the garment on. Roughly pin or mark where you want the hem to sit. If possible get someone else to do this for you.

2. Lay out garment for refined marking
The best technique for getting your garment sitting evenly is to fold it at the centre front and centre back, then pin it together along the hemline. Imagine laying the garment out side-on, as if in profile.

3. Measure and mark the cut line
Measuring from the existing hem upwards, mark the distance from the existing hemline to 2cm below the new hemline mark. Mark every 5-10cm along from front to back. You can use a ruler to join these points to make cutting clearer.
This line is where you will cut, leaving 2cm to use for the new hem.
Eg: if it was 10cm from the existing hemline to the new hemline, cut 8cm off the garment. 

TIP: put some pins in above the new hemline to hold the garment together as you're cutting.
Cut along the line. You line should be 2cm below the desired finished length of the garment.
Ok, that's the scary part done! 

5. Serge your new hem
Serging, overlocking and zigzagging are all ways to stop raw fabric edges from fraying away, and I recommend it as a rule.
Use an overlocker if you have one (you only need the 3-thread setting for this).
If you're on a domestic machine, use zigzag. Set your zigzags wider and your stitch length shorter for best results.
If sewing by hand, use a blanket stitch - try YouTube for tutorials.
TIP: Practice on some of the cut-off fabric to get the stitching right. Not all fabrics have the same needs or behaviour. 

6. Pin up the hem
Fold your hem under 2cm from the edge and pin. Do this all the way around the hem, pinning approximately every 5cm. 
TIP: pin at the side seams, centre front and centre back first, then do each quarter separately to get the most even results.

8. Sew!
Set your stitch length normal/long.
Start at the centre back with the folded hem facing up (so you can see what you're doing!).
Sew a straight stitch all the way around. 
If you're on a machine, try and keep your machine foot 1.5cm from the edge.
If you make a mistake just stop, cut the thread, unpick the part you don't like and start again, making sure to overlap with the previous stitching. 

9. Finish up
Give it an iron, put it on and take a 10-minute smugness break to admire your handiwork - you nailed it! 


By Rachel Bradstock
Elise Design in-house tailor/sales consultant
Owner of The Definite Article fashion brand

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