Learn Hemstitching For A Vintage Look

The hemstitch, often seen as a border on linen tablecloths and napkins and used as an heirloom sewing technique, is easy to complete using a sewing machine and a wing needle (1).

Screen Shot 2017 05 09 at 3.08.03 PM Learn Hemstitching For A Vintage Look The side “wings” on the needle push the fabric yarns aside, leaving a small opening as the needle moves back and forth to create the stitch around the opening. Refer to your machine manual to identify which stitches are hemstitches. Experiment on a fabric scrap to decide which stitches look best on your project. Try two rows of stitching to add even more vintage detail.

hem stitch 500 Learn Hemstitching For A Vintage LookTunic
Make an ordinary tunic extraordinary with hemstitching details.
•    Tunic pattern (such as Simplicity 1422)
•    Cotton broadcloth (amount according to pattern envelope)
•    Wing needle
•    Lightweight tear-away stabilizer (See “Sources.”)
•    Thread: all-purpose to match garment & lightweight to match or contrast garment
•    Buttons & interfacing per pattern instructions
•    Chalk or removable fabric marker
•    Presser feet: standard zigzag, satin stitch & hemstitch option


Pre-wash and press the fabric.
Cut out the paper pattern pieces and press with a cool dry iron.

From the fabric and interfacing, cut out the tunic pieces according to the pattern guidesheet. Transfer all pattern markings.
Tape a strip of paper to the garment hem allowance so that the finished hem will measure 11⁄4”. The hemstitch looks better on a hem that’s at least 1” deep.


Construct the garment front per the pattern guidesheet. Create the patch pocket, but don’t attach it to the garment.

Install a wing needle onto the machine, change the presser foot to a satin stitch foot and thread the machine with lightweight thread. If a satin stitch foot isn’t available, use a clear foot or a foot with a groove on the underside to allow taller and thicker stitches to pass under the foot more easily.

Using chalk or a removable fabric marker, draw a line across the pocket 1” from the upper-edge fold. Select a hemstitch on the machine.

Cut a narrow strip of tear-away stabilizer slightly wider than the pocket and place it on the pocket wrong side under the marked line. Begin stitching at the pocket edge and stitch very slowly along the line. The needle creates a hole in the fabric while going back and forth over the fabric to create each stitch.

Backstitch at the opposite pocket edge. If desired, leave a long thread tail at the stitching end. Bring the thread tails to the pocket wrong side and knot them for extra security. Gently tear away the stabilizer.

Install a standard needle onto the machine and thread it with all-purpose thread to match the garment. Topstitch the pocket sides and lower edge to the tunic body, following the pattern guidesheet.

Construct the front, collar sections and sleeves following the pattern guidesheet.

Double-fold the hem allowance toward the wrong side; spray with starch, and then press. Ensure the hem depth is pressed as accurately as possible, particularly if using contrasting thread for the hemstitch. The starch keeps the fabric stable when hemstitching. Pin the hem allowance.

Draw a line on the fabric right side, following the hem allowance fold. Install the wing needle, and then thread the machine with the chosen hemstitching thread.

TIP: Don’t use the machine’s automatic needle threader with the wing needle. The side wings could damage the threader. 

Select the desired hemstitch on the machine. Cut narrow stabilizer strips, ensuring they’re larger than the stitching line. Place the stabilizer strips on the fabric wrong side behind the hemstitching line; pin. Beginning at one side seam, slowly take a few stitches as close to the edge as possible, and then stitch along the line (2).Screen Shot 2017 05 09 at 3.08.13 PM Learn Hemstitching For A Vintage LookInstall a standard needle onto the machine and thread it with all-purpose thread. Attach a buttonhole foot, if available. Select a buttonhole stitch, referring to the machine manual.

Place the buttonhole guide over the tunic front following the pattern instructions, and mark the buttonholes. Stitch the buttonholes, clip the thread tails, and then cut them open. Complete the tunic following the pattern guidesheet.

TIP: Insert a pin across one buttonhole end when cutting open with a seam ripper, to prevent accidentally cutting the buttonhole stitches.

Catherine Barley; catherinebarley.com.
Lynx Lace; lynxlace.com.
Gingher carries appliqué scissors: gingher.com.
Simplicity carries patterns 1463 and 1422: simplicity.com.
Sulky carries Tear Easy tear-away stabilizer: sulky.com.

 Learn Hemstitching For A Vintage Look

About Jill

I write for the Sew News and Creative Machine Embroidery blogs. I love sewing, vintage and would love to get a comment from you!
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