Tip for sewing stable hems on stretchy knits

Hi everyone! Here’s a quick tip for sewing stable hems on stretchy knits. Readers of my blog, JetSetSewing, know that I’m usually sewing in an “urban environment,” meaning that I’m parked in my son’s “boy cave” when he’s at school. The small space requires me to sew everything on one machine.

Tip for sewing stretchy, stable hems on knits - finished hem with stretch thread

Luckily, I have my fab BERNINA 560, AKA “Karl my Swiss intern” at the ready to take care of any sewing task I toss at him. I’ve found that Jersey Stitch #14 has been a lifesaver when I’m hemming knits.

Here’s all you need to do to created a strong, stretchy straight-stitch hem:

I like to use Maxi-Lock Stretch Thread, which I’ve ordered online from Wawak.com. It has strength and give, allowing you to topstitch knit hems with a straight stitch.

First, put the big spool of stretch thread on the vertical spool pin of the BERNINA 560, and fill a bobbin. Ideally, if using bigger thread cones, it is suggested to use the BERNINA multiple spool holder, where the cone has a bit more space to sit on.

Tip for sewing stretchy, stable hems on knits - thread spool

Put a stretch or jersey needle in your machine and thread it. I’ve found that using the onboard needle threader really helps with stretch thread, as it has a lot of loft and can come apart while you’re threading the needle.

Tip for sewing stretchy, stable hems on knits - using the needle threader

I set the stitch to #14 on the BERNINA 560, which is a jersey or lingerie stitch. (In a pinch, you can use a wide zigzag for this.)

Tip for sewing stretchy, stable hems on knits - select stitch number 14

Then I hold some lightweight clear elastic along the edge of the fabric, and attach it with the jersey stitch. I recommend practicing this on a scrap first, as it can take a few tries to get the hang of it. If the elastic is sticking, a Teflon foot can help, though I didn’t have any problems at all with foot #1C. If you’re doing a circular hem, overlap the ends of the elastic slightly and keep stitching when you get to the end.

Tip for sewing stretchy, stable hems on knits - Jersey stitch

Press the stitching lightly on the fabric side (and keep the iron temperature low; you don’t want to melt the elastic).

Tip for sewing stretchy, stable hems on knits - stitch pressed flat

Then, flip the hem up and press again.

Tip for sewing stretchy, stable hems on knits - hem turned up once

Flip the hem up again to hide all of the stitching. The elastic keeps it stable, so I didn’t need to pin this wool jersey.

Tip for sewing stretchy, stable hems on knits - hem turned up twice

Select a long straight stitch (I used 4.00). The thread will contract, making the stitches look smaller. Test the stitches on a scrap of the knit fabric folded over three times, to see how the thread and fabric respond to each other on your machine.

Then, put the hem under the presser foot and topstitch close to the top of the hem, about 3/8” from the edge. The stretch thread is very strong, but it is slippery, so secure it by going back and forth several times at the beginning and end of the stitching.

Tip for sewing stretchy, stable hems on knits  - tops stitching hem

Pretty, strong, and stretchy!

Tip for sewing stretchy, stable hems on knits - finished hem with stretch thread

If you don’t want to use stretch thread, you can get the same effect using regular thread and a very narrow (1.00) zigzag stitch, as I did on this hem.

Tip for sewing stretchy, stable hems on knits - zigzag hem

Try it! Your hems will look great and they’ll last a whole lot longer.

13 thoughts on “Tip for sewing stable hems on stretchy knits

  1. Oooooooooo – I love my “Swiss assistant too” (love the name Karl as well!!!) This is something many people don’t know about their regular machine….thanks for the nice demo!

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