Learn how to hemstitch by hand

Hemstitch? How do I do that?

Once your needlework project is complete, you may need to tidy up the edges of the fabric, especially if the item will need laundering regularly. Danish hem stitch is a lovely method of doing this. It gives a neat, attractive and strong edge.

The aim of hemstitching is to pull threads together into groups, creating a series of tiny bead like openings and a tidy hem.

To create a more elaborate hem, you can withdraw several fabric threads and decorate those remaining with needleweaving and other decorative stitches.

We know this technique as drawn thread work.

For our Danish hemstitch, try to use a thread that is the same colour as the fabric so that the holes show up rather than the stitches.

Also, choose a thread that is a similar size to the threads in the fabric itself. You don't want something too thick! For the sample shown, I used 28 count evenweave fabric and no. 8 pearl cotton.


Folding the hem

Decide where you want the hem to be in relation to your design. Count out the required distance from the outside edge of your embroidery. We will then fold the fabric along this line. To "assist" the fabric to fold, we will use a technique known as scoring.

Place the fabric onto a table, face down. Place the blunt end of your tapestry needle in the channel between two fabric threads where you wish to score.

Keeping a firm pressure with the hand holding the needle, gently pull the fabric with your other hand; the needle will temporarily "mark" the fabric in a wonderfully straight line. If you mark the wrong place, do not worry as you can easily remove this score line by pressing the piece flat again.

After scoring, finger press the fold in the fabric.

Decide how deep you want your hem (how much fabric between the outside edge of the work and the stitching). Six to ten threads are normal and here we will use eight. Working out toward the edge of your fabric score another line eight threads outside the first.

Then count another seven threads (or one less than the number you chose for the depth of the hem) and withdraw the eighth thread. 

The easiest way to do this is to snip the thread in the centre and, using the needle, gently tease it out until you have enough to grab hold of. Then pull gently but firmly to remove it. This drawn thread gives you a lovely straight line to guide your scissors as you cut off the excess fabric.

Fold and finger press the scored lines, from the outside in, to create the hem. Turn your work clockwise and repeat on the other sides.

Folding corners

To avoid bulk, you will need to remove a small piece of fabric in the corners. Lay the work face up on the table. Gently unfold the left-hand corner. Carefully cut off the piece marked in the diagram.

Refold the cut edge first. Turn clockwise and repeat. Each corner will "chase" the rest around the piece of work. You can tack the hems in place if you wish.

Working the hemstitch

Hold the hem horizontally with your thumb on the hem. Lay the end of your thread in the hem's fold.

Working from left to right, take a small backstitch through just the hem to anchor the thread.

Pick up two threads from the work and pull gently. Then pick up two threads from the folded hem, to the right of the first stitch.

Move on to the next two thread in the work, pull gently, then pick up two threads in the hem. Note: in the first picture, below, that the stitch in the body of the work goes from right to left, although we are working our row in the opposite direction! Continue towards the corner.

Compensating for the corner

As you get close to a corner, count ahead and check whether the number of fabric threads left is an even number.

If not, take a compensating stitch by working one bundle over three threads at this point.

Try not to leave this compensating stitch until you are right in the corner, as it will be more likely to show.

Neatening the corners

When you reach the corner, take the needle through the hem to the point of the corner, then overcast with tiny stitches back around to bring you back into position to work the next side as in the diagram below. This will help prevent distorted, misshapen corners to your hemstitching.

I will cover other edge treatments for your embroidery projects soon. Don't forget to click on the orange button below the navigation bar to be informed when I add new pages to the site.

Image link to my hardanger patterns store


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