How to Hem Handwoven Fabric

by Amanda Rataj

Getting Started

A sewn hem is a great way to finish the raw edges of your next handwoven project. Sewing hems by hand or machine is a technique used on many of Gist’s weaving projects, like the Beginner Cotton Towels or the Windowpane Blanket, and is a very clean and tidy way to complete your projects.

Supplies:

  • sewing needle or sewing machine
  • sewing thread
  • pins or clips

The first step to hemming hand woven fabric is to secure the raw edge. I have a sewing machine, so I like to use the zig zag stitch to go over this edge. If my warp has more than one item on it, I carefully cut them apart at the spacer and zig zag the edges as I go. If you don’t have a sewing machine, you can leave the hem raw, though you’ll want to be careful when washing.

Washing is a critical part of finishing your projects, regardless of how you’re finishing the hem. I usually secure the raw edge first and then wash my project before moving on to hemming. If you don’t have a sewing machine and can’t zig zag the edges like I do, you might want to wash before cutting your projects apart — the washing will help your threads settle into place and stick together when you cut them apart.

Hemming by Hand

Hemming by hand is how I finish all my most important weaving projects because it is invisible and very tidy. To hem your weaving by hand:

  1. Fold over the zig zag end. Some projects will specify how much, but most of the time there’s a little wiggle room — do what feels comfortable to you! Make sure you fold over enough so that your needle has something to bite into.
  2. Fold over again, hiding the zig zagged edge between the two layers of fabric. Pin or clip the hem into place.
  3. Measure out your sewing thread - I usually do 1.5x the length of my hem. Using your needle, catch one stitch inside your hem and tie your thread to your project. I like to start by sewing the short edge closed.
  4. Begin sewing across your hem. I run my sewing needle through the channel created by the fold of the hem for a few stitches and then bring it out. I catch one end of the face of my cloth, and then dip it back into the channel for a few more ends. Do this somewhere bright and sunny, especially if your project has a high EPI!
  5. Once you’ve finished sewing, knot your thread around an inner end of your hem and feed the tail through the channel to hide it.

Hemming by Machine

Hemming by machine is much faster than sewing by hand, and results in a tidy row of stitches that can be seen from both the front and back of the cloth. To hem your weaving by machine:

  1. Fold over the zig zag end. Some projects will specify how much, but most of the time there’s a little wiggle room — do what feels comfortable to you! Make sure you fold over enough so that your needle has something to bite into.
  2. Fold over again, hiding the zig zagged edge between the two layers of fabric. Pin or clip the hem into place.
  3. Sew using a straight stitch on your sewing machine, backstitching for one or two threads at the start and finish to secure your thread.
  4. Once I’ve finished sewing, I like to tie the two tails of thread into a knot and use a sewing needle to hide them inside the hem.

Tips for Hemming Handwoven Projects

Here are a few of the things I do to make hemming a bit easier:

  • I like to weave a few picks of thinner yarn at the start of my projects and fold these picks over first. The thinner yarn makes the hem less bulky — try 8/2 Un-Mercerized Cotton for projects made with Beam, Duet, or Mallo. With higher EPI, I use 2/16 cotton for my hems, but Christine suggests using sewing thread in her Coastal Linen Towels, which I think is also a great idea!
  • Use an alternate colour for your thinner picks. I sometimes use a different colour to weave my first few picks, then switch to my main yarn. It gives me a handy guide for folding over and is hidden inside the hem when finished.
  • Weave in a contrasting thread to mark your fold lines. I like to use polyester topstitching thread in a bright shade, because it’s not thick enough to affect your weaving, but it’s slippery and can be easily pulled out and reused once you’ve finished hemming.

  • Use your iron to press the folds of your hemming flat - this will help wiggly yarns stay put and make pinning easier.
  • Use a walking foot on your sewing machine. Quilters will be familiar with a walking foot/even feed foot attachment for their sewing machine. This useful tool makes sewing multiple layers of fabric easier because the presser foot has little ‘teeth’ on it that move the fabric in the same way that the feed dogs on the bed of your sewing machine do - this means that the top layer of your sewing moves at the same speed as the bottom. If you’ve ever sewn a hem only to have it turn out askew, a walking foot will help! It’s my favourite tool for sewing hems on my work and I highly recommend getting one if you have a lot of hemming to do. A sewing store should be able to help you find one that fits your machine.

About Amanda Rataj

Amanda Rataj is an artist and weaver living and working in Hamilton, Ontario. She studied at the Ontario College of Art and Design University and has developed her contemporary craft practice through research-based projects, artist residencies, professional exhibitions, and lectures. Her textile focus of the material and conceptual nature of vernacular, everyday objects used for the home and body; her work (and weaving patterns) are available at her website, and at Guildworks, or by commission.



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