How to hem a formal gown

Written by b. ellen von oostenburg
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Formal gowns can be daunting to hem. First of all, you aren't dealing with just one hem. Many times there is an underskirt that acts as a liner, so you can't see through the fabric of the overskirt. Also, the underskirt offers structure to the overskirt. So we have two skirts to hem. If there is an additional crinoline underskirt, then that has to be shortened as well so it doesn't stick out from underneath the other two skirts. If you measure accurately and recheck yourself, then getting out your scissors and starting to cut shouldn't be anything to be apprehensive about.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Ruler
  • Fabric-marking pencil
  • Scissors
  • Sewing machine
  • Ironing board
  • Iron
  • Stick pins
  • Matching thread
  • Needle

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  1. 1

    Determine how much the gown has to be hemmed up. If there is a crinoline underskirt, mark all the way around its hemline with a fabric marking pencil and then cut off the exact amount. Crinoline doesn't get hemmed.

  2. 2

    Lay the gown on a table and take a tape measure and measure up from the existing hemline all the way around on the inside of the underskirt and overskirt. Measure the exact amount that has to be cut off from the bottom of the gown that will leave a 1/2-inch extra at the bottom that will create the hem. Mark on the inside of the underskirt and the overskirt. Use a marking pencil that will not show through to the front of the fabrics.

  3. 3

    Sew a zigzag stitch on the raw, cut edge of the underskirt all the way around. Using a ruler, turn the fabric under a 1/2-inch all the way around and pin it with stick pins. Take it to the sewing machine and sew all the way around a 1/8-inch in from the zigzag edge.

  4. 4

    Sew a zigzag stitch on the raw, cut edge of the overskirt. Turn the gown inside out. Place a chair under the end of the ironing board and lay the gown on it. Steam press the bottom edge of the overskirt with the underside facing up.

  5. 5

    Roll the hem back a 1/2-inch and press. The under side of the skirt is still facing up. Do this for the full circle of the bottom edge of the dress.

  6. 6

    Open the pressed hem up and fold the 1/2-inch hem in half to create a 1/4-inch hem all the way around. Pin the folded hem to the skirt with stick pins.

  7. 7

    Pull the gown off the ironing board. Thread a needle with thread matching the colour of the overskirt and tie a knot at the end. Sit down and lay the gown on your lap so the inside hem of the overskirt is facing out. Make an initial anchoring stitch by sewing twice through the skirt and the hem at a seam line where the front and back of the skirt are sewn together.

  8. 8

    Stick the needle horizontally through the hem so it passes through the hem where it's been folded back on itself and pressed. Push the needle through for about 1 inch and then pull it up through the hem at the top of the pressed fold line. Take a tiny stitch through the overskirt and the hem. Take a second stitch in the same place to anchor the first one. Don't pull the thread too tight, otherwise a pucker on the front of the dress will be created. Repeat this all the way around the bottom of the overskirt. Tie off your thread when you finish and clip with scissors.

  9. 9

    Take the gown back to the ironing board and steam press the hem flat from the inside. Don't iron the overskirt from the outside. Don't press hard so that the top of the hemline from in back dents the overskirt. Press very lightly with the iron; the hem should be invisible from the front of the skirt.

Tips and warnings

  • Another name for stitching a zigzag stitch is overcasting the raw edge of the fabric so fabric threads don't unravel.
  • On really fine fabrics like silk, use a silk needle and silk stick pins to pin up and stitch the hem. They won't pierce the fabric making noticeable holes to the degree standard stick pins and sewing needles will.

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