Tag Archives: sewing techniques

The Rolled Hem Foot—Devil or Divine?


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? 😉


Filed under Sewing