How I hem knits. Also a side trip to sergerland.

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How I hem knits. Also a side trip to sergerland.

Greetings quaggas. You know what I don’t get? If you’re half horse and half zebra, how could you have gone extinct? We could just make more of you – we have tons of your purebred bretheren still hanging about, chomping grass and messing up the plains. Or whatever. But today we’re going to talk about hemming knits. I snapped some pics while I was making the Tahitian T! Before we get to the hemming, I thought I’d do a quick introduction to Mr. Serger – just in case there’s anyone out there who hasn’t used one and is sort of scared of the dangerous knife. Or perhaps didn’t know there were cutting instruments involved. In any case, here it is in all its glory – the Mr. Serger.


Serger 101

I’m including the serger info because I like to use my serger to finish the raw edges of my knits before hemming. If I didn’t have a serger, I might do a simple folded over finish or even leave unfinished since knits don’t really ravel. But the serged edge is nice and quick!

The quick and dirty on sergers – for our purposes – is it’s a sewing machine with extra spools of thread that trims and finishes the seam allowance as it sews. It finishes by wrapping the seam allowance up with loops of thread while also stitching like a traditional sewing machine. In the photo above I’ve got the serger set up to use three spools of thread – it can use four as well. The pink X’s mark the spools that are doing the traditional stitching. That thread goes through the needles. The yellow X’s mark the ‘looper’ spools – that’s the thread that wraps around the seam allowance and gets threaded through the bottom of the machine – marked by yellow X’s. Sergers are awesome because they are fast, make a nice finished seam that’s super strong and they’re great for sewing knits. They also do a nice rolled hem (well, some of them.) I mention the rolled hem because I believe in information overload, but I did not  take pictures of a real, live rolled hem (is that a collective sigh of relief I hear?)

The most maddening aspect of working with a serger is probably the whole threading issue. They’re a pain to thread. This serger – a Viking and on the mid to nice end of the serger scale – is nice and open which makes it a bit easier to thread. The threading difficulty is all in the bottom of the machine where the looper thread goes – I’ve opened the trap door to give you an eyeful.

Scary, huh? Here’s a closeup of the insides – check out all that fuzz! One of the threads follows the pink dots and the other follows the yellow dots. Often you can rethread a serger by tying the new thread to the end of the old thread and pulling it through. Sometimes that doesn’t work, though and you have to start from the beginning. It took me a few tries (and fails) with the machine manual to figure out how to thread this machine, but now it only takes a few minutes to just thread it from scratch.

Threading horror show is over! Let’s head back up the the needle and knife area. Since I’ve got the machine set up for three threads I only need one needle. If I was using four threads, there’d be a second needle where I drew the pink line. The knife that trims the seam allowance is right there where the pink arrow is. You just sort of hold the raw edge up to the seam allowance guide over on the right where it says 3/8, 5/8, etc.

Here it is in action – the black stitching in the background, the strip of orange fabric on the right is getting trimmed off and heading to the rag bag.

Here’s a closeup. See the loops (circled in yellow)? They wrap around the edge and the tension’s a bit on the loose side – those threads are the ones that got threaded through the bottom of the machine. There’s a single line of stitching right along the bottom of those loops. That’s the spool that was threaded through the needle. If I’d used four threads there would be two lines of straight stitching instead of one.

Here you can see the stitching on the back (marked with the pink X.)

OK! Serger 101 is over. Let’s go on to hemming knits!

Hemming Knits

OK. My main problem with hemming knits is they roll, they get wavy and some knits are sort of hard to press a nice fold into and get warped if I pin. My favorite trick to get past a lot of those problems is to use Steam a Seam TWO. LITE. 1/2” – man! That’s a lot of words! This is a fusible double sided ‘tape’ that comes on a roll and is a bit sticky (JUST a bit) on both sides to help position it. Once you’ve got it in place you can steam it into place for a ‘permanent’ bond – sorta like stitchwitchery.

The steam-a-seam (‘kwee call it SAS from now on?) comes with paper on one side so you can get the first side into position before dealing with the other side. Here, I’m working on hemming the arm of my Tahitian T. I’ve cut a strip of SAS to length and stuck on the inside of the sleeve that’s been finished with the serger.

After I’ve got the SAS positioned, I peel off the paper backing (pink arrow.) You can see what the SAS looks like in this closeup shot (yellow arrow.)

Here the paper is all peeled off!

I applied the SAS to the other side of the sleeve as well and then turned up the edge of the sleeve right along the edge of the SAS. I love just using the tape as a guide for turning up the hem rather than eyeballing or measuring! The yellow line shows the turn up.

Once the entire hem is turned up with no ripples, I hit it with an iron to hold everything securely. Supposedly, I could just leave it as the fusible bond is listed as permanent on the box. I don’t really believe that any fusible is actually permanent, though, so I’m stitching it as well!

I’m securing the sleeve hem by topstitching with a feather stitch on my machine. Using a twin needle is also a great option and I’ll cover that below. I just lined up the right edge of my presser foot with the folded edge of the hem. oooo… check out that pattern matching!!

Here, I’m almost done stitching all the way around! again, pattern matching my dear zebra-horses!

Finished! The yellow X marks the right side of the shirt, the pink marks the wrong side. I could have boosted my stitching over a bit to try to catch that serged edge. Oh well…

A nicely hemmed knit! This fabric is a hefty cotton interlock, so it was fairly easy to work with – I probably could have just pressed the hem up without the SAS to secure it. On flimsy, slippery or hard to press knits the SAS is a godsend!

Using a Twin Needle

I was having fun with my funky stitches when I hemmed the Tahitian T. Mostly, though, I’ve been using a twin needle to hem knits. Here’s what a twin needle looks like.

If you’re using a twin needle, you need two spools of thread. Most modern machines that have a side spindle will also come with a little plastic attachment that you can stick into the top of the machine for a second spool of thread. In the photo below I’ve drawn a pink arrow pointing at the upright spindle. I put a bobbin on the upright spindle for this quickie sample sewing and photo op! Once you get the two spools of thread loaded up (or, in our case, the spoon and bobbin) grab both tails of thread and start threading normally – my two tails meet up by the yellow arrow.

Once you get the two pieces of thread down to the needles, separate them and thread each needle. Insert your bobbin as normal and bring up the thread – also as normal! Then sew your hem as above!

UPDATE!! I was reminded in the comments by the lovely Oonaballoona about zig zag stitching and knits. If you are using a twin needle, stitch with a very narrow zig zag – I usually set the width to 1mm. Not only will your line of stitching have a bit of give (since the zig zag stitch is naturally stretchy), but it will appear to be straighter than if you use the straight stitch. Knits are funny that way!

Twin needles come in varying ‘widths’ – the amount of space between the two separate needles. The needle in this photo is size 2.0/80. This means that the two needles are 2 millimeters apart and each needle is a size 80 (or a size 12, if you’re used to that kind of sizing.)

And here is a size 4.0/80 needle – you can see how the needles are farther apart (4 millimeters!) Schmetz (and other sewing needle companies!) make twin needles in a range of distances from 1 to 4 and sizes from 70 – 100; maybe more! We only stock these two sizes at the shop and that seems to be the case at the other shops around where I live. Generally speaking the needles with the shorter distances should be used on lighter fabrics. In practice, I like the look of the 2mm needle and tend to use that for most hemming.

Here’s a comparison of the two needle widths. The yellow X marks the 2mm needle, the pink X marks the 4mm needle!

Since you only use one bobbin thread, the back looks very different! I like to topstitch and hem with the wrong side up so that I can see that I’m catching the hem properly. On more than one occasion I’ve happily twin needled my hem only to realized once I’m done that I have a beautifully stitched INSIDE of my hem, and that not-so-beautiful railroad track on the side of the hem that faces the world. Sigh.

So there, my dear half-zebra-half-horsies, is the extent of my knowledge when it comes to hemming knits! This was one of those sewing tasks that I lacked confidence in for a lot longer than I should have. As with many things, finding the right tool and notion really helped out!

Jump in with any of your own advice! Run free and wild zebrahorses! Don’t let the lions get you! Or sing too many show tunes.


  1. […] with a ball point needle.  No matter what I tried the fabric slipped and puckered.  After reading this tutorial which I found on Pinterest, I tried once more with a twin ball point needle. Still no […]

  2. julie says:

    If you use wooly nylon thread in your bobbin, when you hem with a twin needle, it’ll give some stretch to the hem. I’ve had the stitches kind of pop when stretched, if I’ve used regular sewing thread in the bobbin. Very frustrating! Wooly nylon thread can be a little hard to find, but my local fabric store has just started carrying it. I first found it at the shop where I bought my sewing machine, and of course you can find it on line.

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  4. […] I used a blind hem stitch for the muslins but I don’t recommend it. It’s hard to get a good result because of the way the knit fabric shifts and the threads pull. Next time I’m using Patty’s Steam-A-Seam solution from this post. […]

  5. Grace says:

    Super great tutorial!!! Thnx!!

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  7. […] saying the fabric is crappy, but we all know that all knits are not created equal.  I sometimes use Steam a Seam 2, at the recommendation of Patty’s blog, and I think it would’ve been really helpful in this case to produce a more pleasing […]

  8. […] The gathering is done via a shirring technique. Meringue designs referrers it’s visitors to a shirring tutorial on the ruffles and stuff blog, which is another great sewing tutorial […]

  9. […] about my lack of understanding on how to finish the armholes/neck than anything else. Fortunately, I found a tutorial that should help me in the future. Matter of fact, I’m finding a ton of tutorials for my new […]

  10. Okienana says:

    Thanks so much! My first post to a blog. Have two gd’s and they like knits, and I have a serger. Your post gives me courage to try to sew knits. Thanks.

  11. […] “How I Hem Knits. Also a Side Trip to Sergerland.” by Patty at The Snug Bug. Demonstrates using Steam-a-Seam fusible tape for securing hems and also twin-needles. […]

  12. PatCSM says:

    Thanks for the information on how to use a twin needle. If I had relied on the (non-existant) instructions on the package I would never have figured it out. With your instructions, I was able to do alterations my son asked for on a couple of his tee shirts. It looks professional, and it was so easy!

  13. kslaughter says:

    Oh my goodness…what would we do without the generosity of bloggy friends! I just jumped in, with both feet, to the world of knits. I don’t know why I waited so long as about 99.9% of my clothing is made up of knits. Thanks so much for your great advice on hemming–gotcha bookmarked!

  14. Evie says:

    I love this post. I’m new to your blog, having just come here from Lladybird and I’m off to look around!

    I took a slight detour between reading this post and posting this comment to order some steam-a-seam. I’m just about to hem a top and cardigan so I think the sewing gods took pity on me.

    Thanks for a great post!

  15. katie says:

    hi, I have the same sewing machine and don’t recognize the sewing foot you’re using for the feather stitch on the striped top. would you please let me know what it is? I’m curious b/c sewing knits on my machine has been so-so. thanks

  16. sweetharsh says:

    Great tutorials. Easy to follow and the pictures really help! Still not ready to tackle knits but this just be the inspiration I needed.

  17. Patty (in CA!) says:

    I found you through a review you did on — and LOVE your blog! You’re so generous with your info, photos and tips — much appreciated!

  18. […] Stabilize and hem knits using steam a seam. […]

  19. TracyKM says:

    I like your tutorial on the SAS. I haven’t tried any of those need hemming things.
    I have tried the double needle, and had mixed success. I liked the wider twin, but I was using a stretch wide twin and a universal narrow twin, which did not work for me on knits at all. I see you do have skipped stitches….is that because of it being a universal needle? My last attempt at twin stitching didn’t work as well as my first try, but I think I’ll try the tiny zig zag idea.
    TracyKM recently posted..SewingPatterns . comMy Profile

  20. Anonymous says:

    Can't remember where I clicked to find you, but this post is GREAT as I just bought my first new-to-me serger and not a soul locally could give me a demo. This explained everything so nice and neatly, the basic functions, I really appreciate it! And, I'm sure I've missed an inside joke somewhere, but for my first post to read on your blog, the whole ongoing zebra/horse thing had me cracking up!

    Thanks for the help!

  21. JaimeSews says:

    I tried to post yesterday, but I guess it didn't take – lol. You might already be aware of this so forgive me…but there is an adjustment on higher end sergers called the differential feed. On a serger there are two sets of feed dogs, a front set and a back set. If you were tryign to do a lettuce edge, you set the differential setting one way causing the back feed dogs to feed faster than the front set, essentially stretching the fabric as it stitches. If you set it the other way, the front feed dogs move faster than the back set, preventing the fabric from stretching as you sew and giving you a nice, flat stitch even on knits. I used to sell Vikings and I believe your serger should have that setting.

    Love your tip with steam a seam 2, too – will have to try it some time.

  22. Alexandra says:

    If your machine has a stretch straight stitch, you can use that with the twin needle instead of a narrow zigzag. Using any zigzag with a twin needle kind of scares me, I'm afraid it'll hit the presser foot or throat plate and go flying. I'll have to try the SAS. I've been using strips of water-soluble stabilizer but they're awfully fiddly.

  23. NuJoi says:

    Great info. Thanks!

  24. Michele says:

    Ooooh! We have serger twins! And I am so going to use SAS on the top I am just finishing. Thank you Snuggy!

  25. [patty the snug bug] says:

    @emcrorie & candice! Yay! hope it was helpful!!

    @K.line! Ah! I think I mentioned in the post that my stitching was off a bit – I usually try to do what you're talking about – my aim was off in the T-shirt (my machine is impossible to predict with the fancy stitches – the seam allowance marks mean NOTHING!!)

    @Faye – Yay – working with something that's sticky on both sides is certainly problematic, but I really like using this stuff and wash away wonder tape for helping out with hemming!

  26. Faye Lewis says:

    Your SAS tutorial was right on time. It gave me the courage to give it one more try. I have actually had a difficult time in the past getting the product to work easily. This time it was a bit easier so I had to say thanks.

  27. K.Line says:

    I serge the edge of the fabric (generally before I sew the sleeve up i.e. while it's all still flat). Pin up the hem and iron a crease. Keep pins in. Go to machine and twin stitch from the right side. I feel where the serge line is to ensure that my 2 needles are in the right spot (I also generally turn up my sleeve hems the same amount so I know where to align my fabric against the grid on the machine). Then stitch entirely within the serged area i.e. the channel where the loops and stitches are But as close to the outer edge of that line as possible. You won't see the bobbin thread of the twin stitch (or will only see it very vaguely) and if you position things right, it's just like a cover stitch i.e. the bobbin thread aligns just inside the outer edge of the serged fabric and therefore it lies completely flat. It's hard to explain but easy to show.

  28. Candice says:

    Thank you what an awesome post!

  29. emcrorie says:

    thank you! just what I needed :)

  30. [patty the snug bug] says:

    lladybird – i was curious about the air threading! I assumed it was pricey, though! it seems like you sort of have to pay a few hundred extra $$ for each feature – one more spool of thread, coverstitch, computerized cheat sheets, super easy threading! So many choices!!

    K.line – so… how do you do it? Do you turn up the hem at all? I usually serge to finish the hem, then turn, then topstitch… i should go reread all your great sewing knits posts!

    sarajane – the reason i like the steam a seam is because of the stickiness and it acts as an extra pair of hands when turning up the seam (as well as a guide!) and you don't have to use pins. It also provides some extra stability to keep the hem from flipping up once you're done. Stitchwitchery (and fusible tricot!) would provide the stability, but it seems like it'd be hard to get the stitchwitchery sandwiched, the knit turned and everything lined up to get it to be nice and smooth! At least, with an annoying curly knit (the kind that rolls up along the edges! For a sturdy interlock type that takes pressing well and lies flat it'd probably be great! You could turn up, press and tuck the stitchwitchery into the folded up hem and use it more as a stabilizer. And SAS2/lite IS lighter than stitchwitchery – so I suppose it'd probably be good to test, especially if you need the hem to stretch a lot.

    Alessa – yikes! I totally just did that with an edgestitching foot and forgot my machine was still on zig zag – isn't that the worst feeling when your needle hits something hard?

    Laura – awwwww… shucks.

  31. LAP says:

    You are the tutorial QUEEN! I have to start a relationship with SAS.

  32. Alessa says:

    Ooh, I'd love some of that sticky tape! Almost all the knits in my stash are of the roll-up variety… I wonder if I can get it in Germany…

    Last time I used a twin needle (of the 4mm apart variety), I had forgotten to switch from a wide zigzag stitch to straight and one of the needles hit the presser foot and snapped… So, careful when you set the zigzag!

  33. sarajane says:

    Oh thank you for this post. I've been collecting all of the requisite supplies for sewing on knits: twin needles, fusible tricot, etc, but just haven't managed to get up the gumption to actually do it. I think you have convinced me to give it a whirl!

    Is there any reason why Stitch Witchery wouldn't work in place of the Steam-a-Seam 2 – aside from the off-the roll stickiness? Is SAS2 lighter? Asking because I seem to have an abundance of Stitch Witchery.

  34. K-Line says:

    What a great post! I have to get some of that tape – I haven't seen it at my fabric store but maybe I wasn't looking hard enough.

    FYI – I prefer to serge the outer edge of the hem first, then twin stitch over it quite close to that edge so that the seam lies completely flat and looks almost cover stitched. (You can't really see the twin stitch under the serged edge, esp. if it's in the same colour and the finished edge also looks neater IMO.) No reason why you couldn't serge first, then use the tape, then do the twin stitch…

  35. zilredloh says:

    Ooooh! Thanks Ms. Patty! This is an awesome tutorial. :)

  36. Sigrid says:

    I'll have to try that steam-a-seam as I have some lovely cotton that seems impossible to hem. I'm dreaming of a machine that makes a coverstitch hem, meanwhile I hem all my knits with twin needles. I have found that the stretch twin works better than the regular twin needle. I think the regular twin was originally invented for embroidery (like that shown on the package) and I have more skipped stitches with it. And I have better luck with the wider twin, because I think pierces better. Some machines have an extra disc in the top tension mechanism to separate the top threads and that can also help get an even stitch. I think your feather stitch hem is quite charming.

  37. lladybird says:

    i've worked with a lot (a lot a lot a lot – i have an entire bookcase full of 'em) knits, but i've never used any kind of hem tape for finishing. amazing! i'll have to pick up a box and try it out.

    also, re: sergers: if anyone is scared of threading the serger (or lazy like me :3) and has extra $$ in their budget, babylock has self-threading sergers. yes! i have an imagine and yes it was expensive as heck and yes it was absolutely worth every.single.penny :) i love my serger!

  38. [patty the snug bug] says:

    Stevie – I know when I've worked with denim I've had to go up to a size 16 needle in order to avoid skipped stitches. I think schmetz makes a size 14 twin needle, so that might be enough – 'specially if you have lighter weight denim! Test away! There is NOTHING more annoying than a great line of top stitching with a couple stitches skipped halfway through. And it's expensive! That thick thread is pricey!

    Sarah! Thanks!

    Tilly! Eek! Double Eek! I've certainly hit pins before but normally it's just frozen up the serger. Our serger knife is SO DULL right now that on a couple projects I've had had to trim the bulky seams with scissors and overcast on the serger without trimming. Grrrr….

    Casey – it was Andrea from A New Vintage Wardrobe who suggested this to me when I was struggling. I like to make fitted sweaters from (admittedly, cheap) sweater knits but was really unhappy with the home-made looking roll to the hems. The SAS really smooths things out and it's so handy since it's a bit sticky to help keep curling knit edges under control!

    Jacqueline – I've heard that too and have been meaning to try it! All tips are good – we all sort of have our ways of doing things and might not have considered other options. I tell the peeps in the sewing 101 class that there's absolutely no ONE way to do things when we're sewing!

    Oona – egad! i can't believe I did a whole post on hemming knits and didn't mention zigzagging! I was uber focused on the steam a seam! I think I'm gonna update with a little note about zig zagging in the twin needle section!

    Taran. I would LOVE to have mammoths wandering the plains. Preferably the Canadian plains, though! Since we're going to be building a fence to fend off disgruntled Canadianian expatriots, we'd also be safe from roaming cloned mammoths… (speaking which, I have an uncle who headed to canada in the early 70's in a red pickup with white daisies pained on it – have you seen him?) Did you see the note on gawker (and I'm sure other places) about the hummingbird-sized ant fossil they found in wyoming? ewwwwww…

  39. Tanit-Isis says:

    Although quaggas resembled half-zebras, half-horses, my understanding is that they were actually their own distinct species, albeit closely related to the other two (especially zebras). I have still heard some musing about cloning them, though, using genetic material from museum specimens… Them and mammoths. Wouldn't that be fun?

    That's two recommendations I've heard in the last few days for steam-a-seam, I will have to look into this magical stuff… :D

  40. oonaballoona says:

    awesome possum post. the kind of information that makes you excited to sew…. i have a knit on my table and woke up this morning thinking i'd just zigzag it, now i'm thinking i'll try out the 5 thread function on my overlock. if you hear a scream from the new york area, it's me.

    i'm putting that SAS on my list!

  41. Jacqueline deRuyter says:

    Thanks for the great tips, Patty! I've never used Steam a Seam before and I will definitely try it – knits give me a headache! One trick I learned recently for sewing very thin, super-stretchy knits is to put a piece of tissue paper between the bottom layer and the feed dogs. I've always had the problem of the fabric getting chewed up and pulled/pushed down toward the bobbin and this eliminates that issue. If you decrease the stitch length it's easy to tear away the paper once you're done stitching. (I'm sure this is old news to most sewers but it's a new trick to me!) Have a great day!

  42. Casey says:

    Wow! Perfectly timed hemming tips! I've been tenatively dipping my toes in the world of sewing knits, but hated how the hems on things I tried to make always looked "homemade". Going to pick up some of that fusible tape next time I'm at the fabric store. Thanks for sharing these! :)

    - Casey

  43. Tilly says:

    Patty, this is brilliant! I'm serging my first (self-drafted!) t-shirt and will be sure to try out that tape stuff on the hem. That is, once my new serger knife arrives in the post. It snapped off yesterday, flew at my face, but luckily it was the blunt end that hit me. Eek! Not sure what happened. Maybe I serged over a pin?

  44. Sarah H says:

    Love your blog; your style and your explanations!
    Thank you!

  45. Stevie says:

    Thanks This is a really helpful post as I am making quite a few knits at the moment and was wondering about topstitching whilst making some jeans! Now I don't have to worry about either!

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