The first modern sewing machine made its way onto the scene in 1851 courtesy of Mr Isaac Merritt Singer, and these machines have evolved over generations to allow us to complete many types of sewing tasks more efficiently. But how do you use a sewing machine to hem a dress?
For many generations, sewing has been portrayed and viewed as a handy pass-time for bored housewives, but when you consider how many things you can do with a sewing machine, sewing is an incredibly useful skill for just about anyone to have!
After all, we all wear clothes and sometimes these clothes need mending or altering. What better tool to have to hand than a trusty sewing machine?
One common task you can use your sewing machine for is hemming a dress or skirt, and where clothing is involved, precision and care are of the utmost importance – no one wants to be caught with a haphazard hem!
Hemming a dress using a sewing machine is easy once you’ve mapped out the process and had some practice. Sticking to a set of simple steps will make the task that much easier as well as minimise the risk of you taking a wrong step.
Before we look at these steps more closely, it’s worth familiarising yourself with a few sewing machine basics. Whatever your current skill level, a bit more info can’t hurt, can it?
Why Use a Sewing Machine?
It might seem obvious to you that a sewing machine is going to provide an easier and more efficient sewing experience but the specifics of why that is might be a bit trickier to pin down. Below is a list of a few basic factors that make sewing machines a helpful and often necessary tool.
Speed and Efficiency
Because sewing machines are powered by electricity rather than your own energy, sewing can be done faster and more efficiently than doing the same work by hand.
You can work at a consistent speed for longer periods of time than you’d be able to if hand-sewing – a sewing machine doesn’t get tired, people do!
This is ideal if you’re in a hurry or if you’re sewing items in bulk, whether that be for your own use or for sale.
Stitch Strength and Durability
Sewing machines have the capacity to sew with a double thread which means all stitches and seams will be twice as hardy as a hand-sewn single thread.
Sewing machines can get through tougher fabrics such as leather and denim much more easily which will preserve the integrity of the fabric, improving its longevity.
Because sewing machines automate the process of sewing thick fabrics or complicated stitches, you’ll also be saving your fingertips a world of hurt – sometimes a thimble will only get you so far before the pokes and pricks find another part of your hand!
Sewing machines can also minimise eye strain and headaches caused as a result of the repetitive action of hand-sewing and concentrating, as well as reduce the risk of repetitive strain injuries.
Greater Variety of Stitch Finishes
Whilst it is possible to accomplish many different stitched finishes with hand-sewing, it is much faster and easier to achieve them with a sewing machine.
Sewing machines provide more accurate and precise results than hand-sewing, and decorative finished such as embroidery and other complex patterns will look neater and more professional.
Sewing machines might make the work of sewing easier by automating many of the steps as well as offering greater precision, but learning to properly utilise one for the job at hand takes time and effort, and is certainly not a feat to be sneered at!
This list is a mere sample of all the benefits that come with using a sewing machine over hand-sewing.
Now onto the reason we’re all here!
How Do You Use a Sewing Machine to Hem a Dress?
As we’ve briefly touched on above, there are several steps you’ll need to follow to hem a dress using your sewing machine. Before getting into that though, here are the materials you’ll need:
Sewing machine (of course!)
A few pins
A pencil or other utensil for marking measurements
Thread and correct bobbin
The whole process should take between 30 minutes and an hour depending on your experience and confidence, as well as the complexity of the hem required. For arguments’ sake, we’ll say that the alteration is relatively simple and is just a matter of shortening a dress that’s too long.
Here are the main steps you’ll need to follow:
In order to accurately measure the new length of the dress, either hang or wear it so you can clearly see how much fabric you want to lose.
Using your measuring tape, measure how long you want the finished dress to be, and use the pencil to mark where you want to place the new hem.
Once you’ve made your measurements, take the dress off or remove it from the hanger/ mannequin and place it on a flat, smooth work surface.
Ensure your measurements are clearly visible and connect all marks with a continuous, straight line to show you wear the cut and hem will be.
Give yourself at least 10-15cm of wiggle room before you start sewing and make a second line across the fabric, cutting away any excess fabric that falls below this new line.
Cutting and Folding
Make sure you cut this excess fabric along the line perfectly straight otherwise you’ll be left with an uneven hem!
You should be left with a line drawn where the new hem is going to be, as well as a new, straight edge to the fabric which represents the allowance you’ve left for folding the hem.
Depending on the fabric of the dress, it might be necessary to use some zigzag stitching to secure the cut fabric ends and prevent fraying.
Finally, before you begin sewing the new hem, fold the edge of the dress upwards to the hem line you drew, and iron it flat to define it a bit more.
Once you’ve defined your new hemline, you’re ready to begin sewing. Majority of stitch techniques will require you to turn the dress inside out before sewing as this will ensure the neatest finish.
Select the type of stitch you want and set up your sewing machine accordingly with an appropriate bobbin and thread colour.
Lay the inside out dress flat on your work surface and position the hem line with the sewing machine needle you’re going to use.
Activating the sewing pedal, gently push the fabric of the dress forwards to begin sewing, making sure you keep the hem line you measured straight and even.
Continue sewing along this line until you’ve made your way around the whole bottom of the dress – you should now have a tidy and even new hem!
Depending on the style and fabric of the dress, you may choose to iron the new hem down to create a sharper and neater edge, although this isn’t always necessary.
You can then turn your dress the right way and it should be good to go! This hemming technique can also be used for skirts, other items of clothing (eg trousers) and other household fabrics (eg curtains) with some small modifications.
So What Have We Learned?
Using a sewing machine is not difficult and sewing tasks can be completed much faster and more precisely than via hand-sewing. That said, it takes a lot of effort to master using a sewing machine correctly and therefore, your sewing machine should not be underestimated!
Sewing machines have a wide range of advantages over hand-sewing beyond merely being quicker, and they can help us to create intricate and beautiful decorative designs as well as execute practical functions.
Hemming is one of the most common sewing tasks that a sewing machine is capable of completing, and following the steps outlined in this post, you should find yourself well on your way to hemming your own dresses and skirts!
Mum, Wife and Blogger at TopSewingMachines.uk, having excelled at textile arts in school, I soon thereafter embarked my journey as an assistant to a Fashion Designer. This fueled my passion for making clothes and soon lead me to creating Top Sewing Machines. A site where I talk sewing machines, overlockers along with tips and tricks and buyers guides.
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