The Rolled Hem Foot—Devil or Divine?

Hemmers

It’s no secret, I think, that the rolled hem foot is one of the more frustrating of the assorted sewing machine attachments out there. Particularly since at least one is included with every machine I’ve ever seen (And if your machine didn’t come with one—well, not sure if I should offer condolences or congratulations on a bullet dodged 😉 ). (Above is the selection of hemmers that came with my vintage Domestic straight-stitcher, hence the weird clamp style foot. Most of the ones I’ve used are on the narrower end of things.) The basic idea is simple—the curls of the foot guide the fabric up and under itself, making a neat, narrow little hem without you, the stitcher, having to measure, press, or otherwise futz with the fabric. The practice, alas, seems to be the problem.

If you are a past-master of this particular, frustrating little foot, please chime in with your secrets—I’d love to hear them.  Because I have a few tips, but definitely no miracles to offer.

I was totally intrigued when I first found this foot among my mother’s plethora of attachments (I was probably ten). Needless to say, my early experiments were not a resounding success. Not that Barbie minded much, fortunately.

I too a stab at the foot now and again through my long-but-indifferent costume-sewing career. Mostly without significantly improved results. The fold wouldn’t form, or it would but bits would stick out; it lumped and bumped and was generally inconsistent, since my cutting was pretty inconsistent, too.

I can count on one hand the number of really awesome hems I’ve gotten with one. Actually, scratch that. I can count the more-or-less-adequate-acceptable bones. There aren’t any totally flawless awesome ones. But frankly, with this foot, I feel pretty darn proud of even achieving “adequate.”

Tiered Skirt edges

Tiered Skirt rolled hem

My first “breakthrough” in the use of the rolled-hem foot came while making a tiered skirt for tribal bellydance. I’ve been meaning to do a post about these skirts for ages, but haven’t gotten around to it.  I used the hemmer foot to hem the five zillion miles (ok, actually only about 25 yards) of the bottom tier. This is actually an AWESOME way to gain skill (or something vaguely approximating it) with this attachment, because it’s lots of practice and after the first yard or two you really stop caring. And the edges are perfectly straight and ripped, which is relatively easy to maneuver (although the ripped threads may stick out). The only tricky part (as usual) is going over the seams, and like I said, after the first few, you really stop caring.

Skirt in action

More recently, I discovered in making the Sheer JJ blouse, that it’s much easier to get a nice hem if you zig-zag over the little roll.

Sheer JJ

This isn’t great for all hems, as it makes a somewhat stiffer edge, but if you want a lettuce-edge or a perky ruffle, it’s a great, easier finish.

Sheer JJ blouse ruffle.

And now, I’ve managed to (semi) successfully apply a rolled edge to the hem of my friend’s Ruby Slip. So I’m really kinda stoked with myself.

Pretty much, anyway.

Shut up. I’m calling it a win.

Silkier Slip hem

Now, first off, I did not do this blindly. I took some extra fabric and I sampled and sampled and sampled. Between my various machines I have several rolled-hem feet to choose from, and I tried LOTS. I wound up using one of the zig-zag machines, because I could adjust the position of the needle to be in the right spot to catch the inner edge of the roll. I opted for the narrowest hemmer of the Pfaff’s feet, which is very narrow indeed. And, miraculously, I was able to get a really nice, insanely narrow hem around about 90% of the hem. I still made a hash of the seam-crossings, and yes, there are a few areas which aren’t fully curled, but really, I’m still pretty stoked.

Messy seam area.

In some ways, the fine, bias fabric was a blessing for this kind of hem. It was easy to cut smoothly (no jags) and the bias doesn’t fray much, which also helps a lot. On hems like this, even tiny stray threads can be a problem. And, although the slippery bias was a pain to get started, it was also easy to adjust as I went, keeping the hem even.

Rolling the hem. I wish I could get a picture of how I *actually* hold the fabric, but that takes two hands.

For the sake of those of you who are more like me—generally frustrated beyond belief by your frigging’ hemmer foot—here are my tips, for what they’re worth. Please chime in if you have your own!

  • cut the edge SMOOTH. Those little scissor jags or stray threads that you can ignore in a normal hem? They’ll FUCK YOU UP!
  • experiment with your needle placement (assuming you’re using a zig-zag machine) to get it to stitch right at the inner edge of the fold. Too far to the left and you won’t catch the fold; too far to the right and you’re more likely to have it unfold on you.
  • Better yet, try zig-zagging over the whole roll (see above)
  • when stitching, you need to watch both sides of your fold—the fabric edge, and the fold, and keep them in place relative to the foot. Also watch for any hidden folds that might develop under the foot. Don’t be afraid to stop (needle down), lift the foot, and re-position stuff.
  • keep the tension light on the fabric (ESPECIALLY if you’re sewing on the bias). Yeah, this makes it really easy to manage the previous point 😛
  • start the hem by rolling a little bit of the hem with your fingers, then putting that part under the foot (secured with a pin if necessary and possible) and then wriggling the roll into place around the little scroll of the foot. The very start is the second hardest part; the hardest is crossing any vertical seams, at least in a narrow little hem like this one.
  • using a pin or awl tip to help manipulate the fabric inside the scroll, particularly when starting or when crossing a seam, can help. A bit. Or make things worse, but hopefully help. It seemed to help more on slightly wider hems; on this narrow hem there was just no room for the bulk of the serged seam to fit through the scroll. Your best bet (again, I’ve had more luck on less slippery fabric with slightly wider hems) may be to stop (needle down) just before the seam, raise the foot, pull the fabric out of the scroll and hold it rolled by hand, lower the foot, stitch over the hand-rolled bit, and then lift the foot and wriggle the fabric back into the scroll.

Using a pin to poke the seam through.

Even after all that, I can’t really say that the rolled-hem foot is the best method I could’ve used. Probably I could’ve done as well, maybe even better, using Sherry’s baby hem method. And yet I persist with the rolled hemmer, just to say “I tried.”
My previous comments on the rolled hem foot did bring out a few lovers along with the haters:
Anne and LinB, both of whom appear to be blog-free (but if you’d like a link somewhere, please let me know!), recommended stitching with the fabric held up from the bed of the machine. I will totally be giving this a try next time the insanity seizes me (I do still have the Ruby Blue to finish…)
The Perfect Nose loves her rolled hem foot (I know, I want some of what she’s on 😉 ) and uses it for seam allowances, which had never even occurred to me but is a great idea if you’re trying to do that fold-over finish! Of course, hers came with an instruction manual. Yeah, instructions, pfft! 😉
Got your own story of rolled hem disaster or conquest? Or another great tip?
Like, maybe, don’t even try? 😉
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56 Comments

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56 responses to “The Rolled Hem Foot—Devil or Divine?

  1. Interesting blog post. None of my three machines have ever come with this foot- BUT I just bought one this weekend. I HATE hemming, so I hoped it would be a cure. Doesn’t sound like that is going to be true, but I’m going to give it a try to be sure.

    • Interesting! The only machine I have bought new (a bottom end Janome) came with one, and all my other machines have at least one and often several, so I had assumed they were pretty standard. I hope you will enjoy yours! 🙂

      • Emma

        Hello, I have a Singer Simple now and I can’t see how this would fit on it. Any ideas?? I have 4 now from an old machine. I would love to try to use them.
        Thank you

  2. I’ve done baby-hems – but not rolled hems *whispers – they scare me a little O_o!*

  3. Oh, good idea on seam allowances in that I’d get practice where it doesn’t count. My machine did not come with that foot but I got one for Christmas, hence the need for practice.

    • Sandi

      I solve the problem with the intersecting seams by angle cutting the seam from the edge to be hemmed to about 1/4″ into the seam. Then it goes through easily.

  4. I don’t have this foot with my Brother but I do a rolled hem with my serger. It’s so easy. Of course it should be on a brand new fancy serger, right?

  5. I gave up on this foot a long time ago, truth to tell. I used it on men’s shirt hems and it was just too frustrating and the results were nothing to write home about. Now I just hem at 1/8 inch and hem again, just using a straight stitch foot. Works for me!

  6. Rolled hem foot is definitely the devil, mostly because it still seems like such a wonderful idea in my head even though I’ve had a TON of stressful sewing experiences because of it! Usually I’m really careful at the beginning, then I just get annoyed, rush through it and decide I don’t really care how the hem looks after all. Then a few weeks pass and I think I’ll try again because it SHOULD work. It’s a vicious cycle…

  7. Amy

    Great tips! My older Bernina came with two (the original machine owner had collected over 30 feet–score!) but my newer machine doesn’t have one. I tried a few times but it was so frustrating, and I could never get over the bumpy intersecting seams. One thing I was experimenting with, for rolled hems and slippery bias bindings, was painting on some washaway stabilizer on the edges to be rolled. An embroidering friend of mine bought me some to try and it helps. But I’d love to figure it out without the mess of getting the fabric edges wet, drying, etc.

  8. My machine didn’t come with one, but I bought one last year to hem a friends chiffon evening gown. Luckily we had to trim off several inches so I had a lot to practice with, but it was a pain. I think I’d give myself about 80-90 %, it was the seams which were a major pain. It has not been used since, and I’m not sure if I’d try again!

    I just saw Sherry’s baby hem method which is very similar to a video on threads insider, “Hem sheers with ease”
    http://www.threadsmagazine.com/item/23018/industry-insider-techniques-dvd-vol-1
    I really liked how she pressed the fold up with an organza press cloth so you don’t burn your fingers!

  9. My sewing machine didn’t come with one, but I did buy one for it, and use it sometimes. The serger rolled hem is much easier/nicer than the sewing machine one, but it is also heavier/stiffer. Which could be good for ruffles, but not as nice for something like the slip.

    My advice: cut things that will have rolled hems with a rotary cutter – very easy to get that smooth edge that will help the foot with hemming. Oh, and DON’T try to go over seams with it – at least on my foot it just buggers the whole thing up. I would say them, then finish the seams because otherwise it will look like a mess where ever two pieces of fabric are sewn together.

  10. mamsellerna

    Interesting post!
    My vintage Singer’s got one, but I haven’t tried it “for realz” yet, but I’m pondering on if it would work together with my prefered method of serging the edge. Hm…I’ ll give it a try, and see what happens…

  11. I actually like the narrow hem foot. I was determined to learn the trick of it. I found that if you held the fabric slightly up and to the left, and kept a little tension on the piece as it feeds into the foot it worked for me. It is slow going though and the hardest part was just keeping engaged with what I was doing. Hope this helps.

    Jeff in VA

  12. Maybe a wider one would be easier to use? I’ve got the super narrow Pfaff one (like the one on the left) that is so blasted teensy that it’s super hard to get right. The other ones you pictured that’re a bit bigger seem like they would be easier to use.

    • I think the medium-size ones are a bit easier to use. The largest one (which makes a full 1/2″ hem) is also pretty tricky, especially if you have any curves to go around.

  13. I am yet to do a rolled hem. After reading ur post I wantto try it… But I’m also scared!

  14. Cindy

    I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the foot itself. The one on my first machine worked perfectly, however, the one on my newer machine has mixed results. I’ve used the same technique on both. I’ve read that other people have had the same experience.

  15. I’m so glad to hear it’s not just me – I had assumed I was just a sewing klutz, but my rolled hems are demanding to sew and very inconsistent to look at.

  16. Great post! I ususally do a 3-thread or the old fold, press, stitch, fold, press stitch rolled hem because I just can’t get mine to give me adequate results. Especially on curves, what a nightmare! You make me want to take another stab at it… !

    (Maybe with a great big butcher knife, Psycho music playing in the background…;))

    • If my serger would do a rolled hem (without insane adjustments requiring screwdrivers and replacing the needle plate, anyway) I would probably do that instead in most cases—certainly for the dance skirts.

      LMAO… I am picturing you looming over your sewing machine, the knife dripping… sewing machine oil? … hmm…

  17. When I tried hemming my yards and yards of chiffon hem for my fire dress, I got lots of practice. A lot more practice than I ever wanted. Unfortunately, I also knew it was only really going to be a costume, so I confess my mind wandered quite a bit. When I was paying attention and the edge was cut nicely and I held my fabric up and to the left, things went well. Anything less than 100% attention, and things went to pieces.

  18. Amy

    I like mine, but I’m not sure I’ve used it enough to get too frustrated by it. I followed the Threads lessons (already linked to above in the comments) from the start, and so far so good?

  19. My serger has a rolled hem, but no foot involved. I’ve played around with the attachment once but to my annoyance, it requires me to unscrew the throat plate to change from rolled hem to serging. Also, it seems to just turn the hem under once then do a sort of modified serger stitch on top. Looks pretty nice, though. I have a pattern I want to try it on, but I’m not sure if any of the fabrics I have are appropriate.

    I’d be too annoyed with the foot to use it on a regular basis, but I can see the appeal for 25 yards (gulp) of skirt hem!

  20. katherine

    I love doing rolled hems. Not sure why. I did notice during some rare ironing this week that some rolled hems that I thought were beautiful at the time have not withstood wash n wear terribly well.

    When I cross over seams, I either trim the seam allowances, or I take the fabric out of the rolled part of the foot, stitch for an inch or so, manually folding the hem under, and then jiggle the fabric back into the hemmer to keep going.

  21. If I know that I have cut my fabric to right hem length, I roll hem the pieces individually before assembling to avoid that lumpy mess over the seam allowances. Stitch from the bottom up to ensure those two lower ends meet up perfectly.

  22. i’m sorry, i lost my brain after that GORGEOUS BELLY DANCING PICTURE. cannot process anything else.

  23. I want it to be divine, so very badly! After hemming my Taffy muslin with amazing serged rolled hems, I thought I’d get lucky with the real deal fabric. Of course, every practice scrap has nine inches of beauty, four inches of insanity. On to the rolled hem foot I just snagged from my mom… blerg! Irregular results, at best, but I’m going to practice a bit more before switching to a hand-rolled or Sherry’s method. Maybe stitch witchery will help stabilize?

  24. hatforbat

    The one trick I learned from the instructions that came with mine is to iron the first inch or so to teach it how to fold, and use a thread to pull it from the back. Of course, a lot of the time I end up using my rolled hem foot to make a baby hem in two passes – it works really well for that!

  25. Jane

    Ha ha just yesterday I threw a UFO in the corner in disgust, stupid rolled hem foot. It cost me a fortune for my “special foot” for my bernina. I think I have done one hem successfully. The rest look like a 3 year old sewed them. I’d rather hand stitch my hem, takes about the same amount of time as a rolled hem and not nearly as stressful!

  26. June

    Sorry – I didn’t see if someone posted this already, but here’s a nice tutorial
    http://thesewingdivas.wordpress.com/2006/10/16/tutorial-rolled-hem-foot/

  27. I’m too scared to try a rolled hem on anything other than my serger. Its perfect, though I have yet to do anything really light and floaty – will try the 2 thread option it has one day for that I think. Even with the serger, going over seams is bulky and not great, but workable.

  28. Pingback: I will NOT throw my rolled hem foot across the floor « Almond Rock

  29. Pingback: Children, magazines | Tanit-Isis Sews

  30. Heyyyy, thanks for the link love – wordpress didn’t send me a pingback on that link so I only saw it just now while catching up with my RSS feed! You might want to check that you have trackbacks enabled, in the dashboard (when you’re on new/ edit post) click on screen options just under post notifications on the right upper corner of your screen and then activate/ click box for ‘send trackbacks’ and ‘discussion’. Wrt narrow hemming feet-love ’em! No more French seams for me (not like I ever did them to begin with)! Happy to put up/ send you those instructions. I scanned ’em in and edited them to remove all the other languages (English was third so I had to scan through 3 levels of meaningless fluff every time I read ’em). Let me know.

    • I do have trackbacks enabled, but I’ve noticed that it’s a bit erratic—usually the first link (or two) are good but ones later in the post often get missed. I’d love to see the instructions if you ever want to email them to me. 🙂

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  32. Syble

    Wow. Thanks for sharing your experience. The very fact that I am on this page, is proof enough for how frustrated I am with my rolled hem foot. I had dream’t of fancy projects in my head before getting my new brother machine. The moment I gave a try to the said foot – Pooof my dreams have vanished. I liked the idea of manually rolling the hem before feeding into the foot. Will give it a try.

  33. Moonflower

    I am having some success with my rolled hem foot (on a Janome MemoryCraft) after making the stitch one increment wider, which moved it a bit to the left and closer to the rolled hem edge. My project has curved edges, so I’m stitching very slowly and coaxing the fabric in between my two forefingers. I envy all of you with hand-sewing skills – hopeless at that!

  34. HarlemHaute

    Can you kindly share the part # inscribed on your Rolled Hem foot? you appear to have a Singer and you are using the BEST foot I have seen for this odious chore, but necessary finishing.

  35. Hi I’ve been looking everywhere for a tutorial on a rolled hem but like the rolled hem you have done which kind of looks like x’s running across the edge. I would love to learn it as it’s sort of studier and stronger with a more pleasing finish. Do you have a tutorial on this stitch?

  36. Crabhappy

    I have for years starred at that funny looking foot. I finally set down one day with some 100% cotton fabric which I cut on the grain. After fussing with it for about an hour I tried something different. Since most of these feet are 1/4 ” seams I did the following and had great success. First off turn under 1/8″ and turn under again 1/8″ , finger press. Start sewing as usual for about 1/2″. Now mount the rolled him foot and jiggle it until the material is wrapped around the curve. Start sewing, slowly at first. Once you have got the hem started, slightly hold the fabric edge to the right. Now if only I could figure out those older larger hemming feet. Hope this helps some…..we’re nutty enough without letting our sewing machine make us nuts.

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  38. Danni

    This cracked me up. Yes. I have also tried and mostly failed at rolling a hem but I persevered and I actually did one the other day. YouTube videos helped me a lot; you iron an inch of the fabric about 1/4″ deep, take a few stitches, stop with needle down then lift the front of the fabric up a little and slightly to the left and start stitching. The foot will do the rest. Sometimes you have to stop and adjust, but it gets there. You feel like you’ve run a marathon afterwards. 😊😊

  39. Nikki H

    Thank you so much! The zig-zag technique was just what I needed. I don’t know why this didn’t occur to me to try before, but no more looking back! 😀

  40. SuzaneMic

    Great advice here. These feet are tricky. The best rolled hem by machine I ever did was pressed by hand and done without a rolled hem foot.

    With that said, when fone right, the rolled hem foot makes things easier. Here are a few additional tips:

    1. Understanding the width of fabric a particular rolled hem presser foot takes is key. Mine needs 1/4″. I make sure I hold the fabric, with my rt hand, 1/4″
    2. Go slow
    3. With left hand ensure grain of fabric is at right angle to foot (exception is bias fabric, but even here, whatever grain is true, shud be at a rt angle to the left side of the presser foot)
    4. Do not give the foot more than the width it is designed for

    Note: if you over feed, it’s hard to correct. If you underfeed, you can cheat, that is stop sewing and manually shift in the fabric to fit the curved metal on the foot.

    I hope these tips help.

  41. Kristen biles

    I have to tell you I found your blog after searching for “why won’t my fabric feed right in the rolled hem foot?” I laughed until I cried when I got to your tips and read about cutting the all the little or “they will “F.. YOU UP!” Because that is how I am feeling about this foot and what it did to the formal gown’s hem!!! The reason I couldn’t help laughing hysterically is that I don’t use the “F” word myself , generally. But boy did it fit his I was feeling !! LOL!
    (I am hemming a formal gown and practiced on the piece I cut off with NO problems and a beautiful edge –but I was using the “inside” of the curve –the edge I had cut off. I think the problem is trying to use it on a curved hem such as the bottom of a full skirt because it has to catch the extra fullness if the curve–Which makes this *@!$ foot totally useless, BTW!!). So, how the *@!$ do I hem a formal dress decently– I have fought with the rolled hemmer on my serger over the past 15 years, too!!

    • Oh, I’m so sorry for your pain! I wish I had an easier remedy. I have generally had better luck with the rolled hem feature on the serger for chiffon, but it definitely depends on the serger! 😦

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