How to make a hem facing--tutorial!

I'd like to share with you how to make a hem facing--or, for my purposes, how to make a skirt longer!
Hem facings are an age-old tool for saving fabric; in the days of long, full skirts, you needed a stiff, sturdy hem to make the skirt stand out for itself, but no one would see the fabric.  The hem was sometimes 10" deep from the bottom of the skirt!  (I know this because my family does civil war reenacting here in Oregon and I've been wearing 1860's clothes three weekends a summer since I was a kid).  There's no reason to use 10" of the dress fabric when no one will see it, and the dress fabric may not be the best for stiffening, so dresses almost always had hem facings or "false hems"--that is, another fabric sewn to the dress fabric at the very bottom, and treated like an extension of the dress.

I'll show you how to do that with a modern dress here.  I'm adding a hem facing to a dress I made recently, because after wearing it I've realized, it's not long enough!  I don't have much extra fabric but I unpicked the hem and am going to add some fabric on the inside--it won't be seen, but it'll allow me to use all the fabric that was in the 1" or so hem.  Here's the dress in its slightly-too-short state:
But I recommend you use this hem facing technique on an unfinished garment; if you're a little shy on fabric, you can cut out the skirt, top, or dress as usual with only a 1/2" seam allowance at the bottom, rather than the standard 2-3" for hem and turn-under.
Here's the tutorial:
  • You'll need a garment and a hem facing.  I'm using my dress, and I took out the hem I originally had.  I'm also using some white quilter's cotton that I bought oodles of for just this sort of use.
  • Tear two widths of fabric 1" wider than you want your facing to be.  I'm doing mine about 5", so my facing will be about 4" after I take out seam allowances.  If you have a super full skirt (more than two panels wide itself), you'll need three or more panels 5" wide.  Most modern dresses are less than two panels wide, although if you used 60" wide fabric for your dress and 45" wide fabric for the facing, obviously you'll need more than two widths then, too.  Does that make sense?
  • Sew the hem facing pieces together selvage-to-selvage and press the seam open flat.
  • Go to the bottom of the skirt, top, dress, whatever.  Right sides together, sew the hem facing to the skirt with a 1/2" seam allowance.  Start 1/2" from the selvage, so you'll have room to close the loop when you come all the way around.  I started at the center back on my dress, since there's a seam there.
  • Once you get all the way around the hem, stop just millimeters shy of where you began your seam and tear the excess hem facing away, leaving 1/2" for your seam allowance.  Sew the hem facing closed, selvage-to-torn end.
  • Press that seam open.
  • Press under 1/2" on the hem.  Also press the skirt-to-facing seam allowance toward the hem facing.  The pic is a little misleading--where my fingers are, you'll press the seam allowance there toward hem facing.
  • Fold the hem facing back, leaving a teeny tiny space of fashion fabric at the very bottom, ensuring that the hem facing won't show.  I leave a couple millimeters, but if you're not comfortable you can leave more like 1/8".
  • Keeping everything nice and flat (and on the grain, if possible), press and pin your facing down onto the skirt, making sure it's even throughout--otherwise, you'll have bubbling!  Unless the skirt is perfectly even panels, like with gathered skirt, you may have to make some little tucks in your facing.  My skirt is tapered and is widest at the bottom, but the facing is rectangular, so I compensated by making my tuck and keeping it on the grain wherever possible.
  • Sew the facing down.  If you want to use a blind hem stitch, do it now.  Knock yourself out.  I was feeling simple on this skirt and I don't mind seeing the stitches on the front, so I'm using a normal straight stitch.
That's it!
Now my dress is more than an inch longer.  Not a whole lot, but it will make a difference!
It looks pretty nice, too, and gives the skirt some good weight.  It's such a great way to conserve fabric!

P.S. I meant to tell you, thanks for the reminder in the comments--I used McCall's M5266 on this.  I bought this fabric during a "must have everything bright yellow" phase, and didn't really know what to do with it.  Then recently, when McCalls were 99 cents at JoAnn, I bought this pattern, and the two just sort of went together!  I don't usually wear big, tent-like A-line dresses, but this one is beltable.

I modified the sleeves quite a bit, and I added some "smocking" at the front to keep things in place.  The pattern is for a lined dress, but I didn't have any good lining fabric and didn't feel like waiting to buy some, so I just gave the neck a facing instead, cut out from the top 2" of the lining pattern.

15 comments

  1. What a great idea, I'm going to have to try that! I love your dress!
    Stop by and visit me sometime!
    http://songberries.blogspot.com

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  2. Fantastic! Another post of yours that I have starred in my google reader :)

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  3. Anonymous4/26/2010

    I "ruined" some pants I was hemming for my daughter....long story....and it was suggested I put in a false hem. I'm using the same fabric I cut off, and needed to know how to do it. To think you posted this today...the very day I needed the information! Thank you. Here I go to try.

    Careless Mom

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  4. Great tut, thanks. Another thought might be to square up the original hem of the garment before adding the facing. I remember one I did this way, and being sometimes a little careless on my hems (I mean, who really looks?) it came out wonky. Thanks much.

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  5. cute yellow plaid!
    i have used this type of technique before but I had no idea of the history behind it. it's very interesting! thanks!

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  6. Glad you like the tutorial!
    I wouldn't want to square off the hem, since it's tapered to be fuller at the bottom than at the waist, and you want the hem to have a nice shape. Of course it should be symmetrical from side to side, but sometimes you want it shorter in front, etc. or curved. Do be careful, though, and only make tiny, tiny tucks so it's still flat!

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  7. Great idea, I will be using this one!

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  8. Thanks! I can use this as well.

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  9. I am SO using this technique on the curtains I just made for my daughter's room. After I pre-shrunk the fabric, I didn't have enough at the bottom for a nice fat hem. THANKS a TON!

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  10. Thank you so much for this tutorial! I love that you made the yellow dress. Its adorable! What pattern did you use?

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  11. You can make a "matching" facing for a-lines-- no tucks needed-- by using the skirt pattern piece. Trace the bottom edge up to the depth you want your facing; finish off the top edge with a serging, zig-zag stitch, twill tape or hemming lace.

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  12. Anonymous11/24/2011

    I have a fine knit jumper that is too small and I would like to lengthen it, any ideas please? It does not have a hem, has a panel of vertical ribs across the bottom!

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  13. @Anonymous, hard to say without a pic, but you could add a horizontal stripe of fabric, a few inches wide, around the hem to give it sort of a trim band!

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  14. Janice4/04/2012

    I just discovered this tutorial. This technique is also useful when hemming a sheer or semi-sheer fabric. By using the solid fabric as a hem you don't get a shadow-through of the fashion fabric on the right side of the garment.

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    Replies
    1. Absolutely, sheer things are just begging for hem facings!

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