How to hem sheer or lightweight fabrics

Hello again from Laura at CraftyHour! I’m here today to share some of my favourite techniques for working with sheer and lightweight fabrics.

The first experience I ever had sewing any sheer fabrics was when I made my wedding dress 8 years ago. There was ample opportunity to learn – the dress had three overskirts of organza to seam and hem!

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More recently I made my daughter a flowergirl dress with an organza overlay and used some similar techniques to get a beautiful finish. The dress with more photos and details is blogged here.

dress-2

Fabric types

So to begin with, let’s talk about the sheer variety of fabrics out there (see what I did there?!). As I mentioned, the two dresses above were made with organza, a woven, very light, sheer fabric. Organza ravels easily and has a lot of body, not much drape. I used polyester organza, but it is also available in silk and nylon. Chiffon is another type of fabric that is woven, generally less transparent and quite a bit more drapey than organza. Both of these are often used to make formal wear.

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Another fabric that I love to use is voile, a gauzy, floaty fabric that is great for blouses, tunics and scarves. Cotton voile in particular is ideal for summer garments. Similar in hand to voile is cotton silk, which I used to make this yoked tunic (details blogged here).

Valencia-1

Voile, cotton silk, cotton batiste, and rayon challis are fabrics more suited to daily garments, as they are less transparent than true sheers and drape well. These are just some of the sheer and lightweight fabrics available.

Cutting

When cutting such lightweight fabrics, it’s important to lay them out straight and square. Because they are less stable, these fabrics can shift around and cause a lot of off-grain moments when cutting! For the yellow organza I used for flower girl dress, I pinned the selvedges together to keep the yardage from slipping around. I also used pattern weights and a rotary cutter and mat instead of pins and scissors.

Seams and hems

To finish hems and seams in a sheer or lightweight fabric, it’s best to make them as narrow and tidy as possible. A narrow rolled hem is ideal, using either a serger or my preferred method, outlined below.

Run a line of basting stitches about 1/4″ from where you want your final hem to be.

step-1

Then using that line of stitching to fold crisply, press the raw edge up.

step-2

Next, using a basting stitch again, sew at about 1/8″ from the folded edge.

step-3

Carefully use a pair of scissors to trim the raw edge away very close to your second line of stitching.

step-4

Fold once again, enclosing the stitched-down raw edge, and press. Using a regular stitch length, stitch very close to the inside fold as your final line of stitching.

step-5Remove any basting stitches that might show, and press once more – your delicate hem is completed!

step-6

A serged rolled hem is what I used for the organza overlay on the yellow flower girl dress. Check your serger manual for the exact method for a narrow hem or rolled hem. Basically you will need to disengage the stitch finger, increasing the lower looper tension, and decreasing the upper looper tension, with the left needle removed and only three threads. You’ll need to play on scraps with this till you get the settings right.

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The same basic idea of stitching, folding, stitching, and trimming is used to make the tiny seams, as can be seen in this closeup of my wedding dress.

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You will stitch the seam, right sides together, using about 1/4″ smaller of a seam allowance than called for. Then press the seam to one side, very close to the stitching, and stitch again. Trim close to the second stitching line, then fold once more to enclose the raw edge and stitch one final time. Tiny seam finished!

Tips and examples on how to hem sheer and lightweight fabrics such as organza and chiffon.

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20 Responses to How to hem sheer or lightweight fabrics

  1. maria says:

    i spray my material with hairspray and let it dry then i have a workable material .when i am done i just rins out and dripdry.

  2. Linda M Bice says:

    I am having significant trouble stitching a narrow hem on Silk chiffon. I’m trying to use a rolled narrow hem foot which I have just used on some silk organza and it worked perfectly. The stitches pull and skip on the chiffon. I switched to a size 9 needle – no better. Any suggestions? Should I be using special thread for chiffon?

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      I would personally never use that foot unless is cotton voile or organza, Silk chiffon is very difficult to work with. The only method that i know that work well even on a curve is to sew a stitching line all around your hem at 1/4″ then fold and iron, then trim half of the seam allowance and fold back up again and stitch very close to the edge, that should give you a very narrow hem.

  3. sarie steyn says:

    Thank you for sharing!

  4. Emilie LaFave says:

    Also Use a size 9 or 11 needle for sheer fabrics.

  5. Emilie LaFave says:

    fI thought you might want to mention that you should use a size 9 or 11 needle for sheer fabrics.

  6. Ann says:

    I am very short & tunics look ridiculous on me. Shirts look much better if I shorten them. I’m afraid to shorten thin fabrics like silk, and I’m not a great seamstress. I was wondering how attaching a fabric trim to the bottom edge would work & then cutting the fabric at the seam behind it. The trim would then be the bottom hem.

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      I think it will work just fine, as long as you realize that the focus point will be the trim, if you do not want this try to find a fabric that blends well with the rest of the shirt. A satin binding could work for you, but you need to go very slow to get this done. I think this would make a good tutorial topic I will keep it in mind. Some Tunics can be worn with a nice belt around the hip bones, and if you lift your arms the fabric bunches a bit around the waist, but yes the tunic can not be too long for short people like me, I am 5″1. So I totally get you!

  7. Lilly says:

    This is very interesting and I do have some questions I hope you can answer.

    1) I am nervous that the teeth that moves the fabric forward as one sew will chew up such delicate materials. Any tips to avoid that ?

    2) What size needle and what type of thread is best to handle such material ? Had wondered if wrong size needle will damage delicate fabrics.

    3) Any particular tension and stitch length would be best for this type of project ?

    I am thinking of just heming a prom dress. Thanks.

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      Thank you Lili for sharing, yes some people do prefer this method, I am of the opinion that whatever works for you and it is the easiest is definitely the best. Interestingly enough I have seen this method on mass produce garments.

  8. Chris says:

    Thank you! This has been very helpful, as I have never sewn on organza before, and I am attempting to make my daughter’s wedding dress.

  9. Amy Doderer says:

    Great tutorial! Thank you.

  10. Cathee says:

    This is a wonderful article on hemming sheer fabrics. I have tried many methods, and I agree that the first method has always given me the best results. HOWEVER, I can never find an article on how to mark the hem before cutting. Could you please see what you could find for that method. Is it best to have them stand on a stool, or mark from the floor. I am talking about prom/bridesmaids dresses. There are usually 3 layers. I tend to still leave the sheer layer longer than I like because I am afraid to cut too much off. The original top layer is usually so out of shape that you can’t just mark 3″ off all around and have a nice hem.

    • lrschenk says:

      I usually have the gal stand straight with arms at side looking forward. Very important she does not look down. Make sure all dress layers are pulled down and lying well on the gal before pinning. I then determine the length of her dress. I get my starting point by pinning to the floor and leaving about a fingers width from that point. Once I have done that I will cut off leaving about 2 or 3 inches from my pins. You need to get rid of the excess fabric. It may be easier if you and the gal would like to leave a slight train and then find a spot at the side seam and work out from there. This way you only need to worry about the front and gradually taper the fashion fabric into the train. Then just turn up the fabric where you have marked your pins. I usually allow a slight drape of a finger width for the dress to lay on the floor. Do the same with the liner, but make it a bit shorter than the fashion fabric. Have the gal walk in her dress to see how she feels with the length and that is all there is to it. Just do the rolled hem. Do this procedure on a low piled carpet or a hardwood or linoleum floor. A low pile carpet allows you to spread the dress out and the carpet kind of holds the dress in place for pinning and cutting excess fabric from the dress. Then you move around the dress while the gal keeps her pose.

  11. Elize van Schalkwyk says:

    Thank you

  12. Carol says:

    Interesting article, and the finished seams above look wonderful. Three questions (for anyone who would like to jump in!):

    1) What weight thread seems to work the best?

    2) The technique shown for making seams involves stitching the seam three times. So as above, I wondered about thread weight, and also why not use a regular French seam? I’m honestly wondering – would only only two rows of stitching be too weak? In the method above the seam ends up enclosed the same way, but has been stitched twice before the final seam is sewn.

    3) I’m reading the instructions incorrectly I think – sew the first seam right sides together. Then press the seam allowance over to one side and stitch through those three layers of fabric and trim away excess. At this point the right side would be smooth with an extra line of stitching visible but seam allowances still on the inside/wrong side of fabric. Then fold over and enclosed the trimmed seam allowance and stitch together. Doesn’t this end up with the enclosed seam allowance to the right side of the fabric? If not, where am I making a mistake?

    Thank you so much, I look forward to trying these out, and learning how to sew with some of these more delicate fabrics.

  13. claudia says:

    Hi, I’ve also used these methods for light to medium weight linen fabrics too.

  14. ozlem says:

    thank you

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