What does pressing a hem mean? (I just did a double take, it almost looks like I wrote pressing hams. Are we pushing down on the bacon? Nope, we’re pressing hems so that they are crisp and accurate.) What is a hem you ask? A hem is the edge of a garment that has been folded over and sewn so it does not fray or look unfinished. A well done hem is the difference between a garment/project looking homemade vs handmade. There is a difference! Homemade means you’ve just slapped something together in your house and unfortunately carries a negative connotation. Handmake means you have taken the time to create something beautiful with your own hands and carries a positive or luxurious feel. Or at least that’s what it means to me and the people at thesaurus.com.
We will be talking about straight edge hems since that is where a beginner should start. Curved hems can be tricky and require a different approach so we’ll talk about them another time.
What is the difference between pressing a hem and ironing a hem?
Many times sewers will call it ironing a hem and not pressing a hem. Technically there is a difference. Pressing sounds just like what it really is. You are pressing the iron down onto a spot, leaving it for a few nanoseconds/microseconds/seconds and then picking it up. Pressing is good for not only hems but for other things like applique and fusing interfacing to fabric. Best used when you do not want the fabric to move or distort in any way.
Ironing means you are gently moving the hot iron over the surface of the fabric to remove any wrinkles. This motion will move the fabric slightly, especially if it is a knit fabric. If you don’t know what kind of fabric you are working with, check out this post.
Gather your supplies:
Iron, ironing board, squirt bottle with water (ideally distilled or hard water, not softened), pressing cloth. For some good resources, check out this page with links to tools and thingys you’ll find on this site.
Pressing straight hems
The simplest way to press a hem is to just fold the hem over and press it with a hot iron. But if you want it to be professional, you’re going to want to measure it accurately and use the correct heat setting for your fabric. No dip Marissa!!!
1) You can draw a line on a piece of cardstock, measuring the depth of your hem away from the edge of the fabric. I use a pencil. I feel like if I use ink, it might melt slightly and transfer to the fabric. It might be waaaaay other thinking it, but I’d rather not have ink on my fabric!
Fold fabric over edge to meet line. You can do this either shown in this photo below, or you can turn it to whatever angle you are comfortable ironing at. The cardstock is resting on the wrong side/back side of the fabric.
Apparently I am more comfortable doing it this way, with the iron on the right side. Makes sense, I’m a righty.
Iron the hem all the way, keeping the iron constantly moving up and down off the board and fabric to avoid scorching. Please don’t burn yourself.
2) You can sew a line of long straight stitches where you need the hem to be, then fold the fabric with the line of stitches just barely showing on the back side, then press on the back side.
I realized that this was not a good fabric to show right side vs. wrong side. So the image below has a better sample fabric that’s blue. But do you see how the line of stitching is just barely showing?
When you iron a hem, have the edge of the hem facing up. This way you are ironing on the back side/the wrong side of the garment.
If you like the ‘wrong side’ of the fabric better, just use it! There is no fabric police. This is a typical quote from my Mom, just insert your word of choice. “There is no __________ police.” Very good way to think about a lot of topics in art and being creative.
Look Ma! No stitches. By folding the fabric in this manner and ironing well (Plus sewing a really straight line – this was my second attempt 🤐) there are no stitches on the right side/front side.
2) You can use a measuring instrument of some sort and fold it over as you go. (this is what I generally do, skips a step because that’s just how I roll) This is my favorite tool, helps me be hands off.
This is really all you need to do and know about them. Just be consistent all the way around and don’t burn your fingers. See this post here about pinning the fabric in preparation for sewing.
I DO NOT like moving the iron around when it is on the hem. It can move in unfavorable ways. You need to get a feel for pressing hems just like any other technique, then you can decide how you want to make that crease with the iron – pressing or ironing. You can move the iron slightly when pressing, but too much and you might be making more work for yourself by having to do it over. Not cool.
Plus the longer you use the iron, the higher the likelihood of burning something.
BTW What is finger pressing?
So, you may have heard the term ‘finger pressing’. It really is just what it sounds like. Pressing along a hem or fold with your fingers. The heat from your fingers is usually enough to make a crease on thin fabrics like quilters cotton. This is helpful to get your hem started before ironing it and helpful for when you just need to visualize something that will eventually need to be ironed.
See Below: The right half of the fabric was ironed on the right setting for the fabric with an iron. The left side was finger pressed, using the heat from my fingers. Not bad, helpful for seeing how a hem will look or to make a quick ‘note’ on the fabric without having to drag out the iron or use any kind of marking tool on the fabric.
Very useful and you don’t need any special equipment!! Double plus in my book.