Do you hate tripping over yourself every time you get out of a car or stroll down the sidewalk because your favorite dresses hang just a bit too long? Most ready-wear dresses come in generic sizes that do not fit every body type, so you may struggle to find a dress off-the-rack in the perfect length. The good news is that you can learn how to hem a dress in a few easy steps!
The best way to hem most dresses is to measure the new length and use a hand-sewn stitch such as a slip stitch to hold the new hem in place. Other popular ways to hem a dress include using a rolled hem on a sewing machine or an enclosed edge on a serger. The best way to hem a dress without sewing is to use fusible hem tape to heat-seal the new hem.
In this article, you will learn how to measure your dress to find the right hem length. You will discover ten ways to hem a dress. Finally, you will find tips on how to hem special dresses such as prom gowns or pleated dresses.
- Can I Hem a Dress Myself?
- How to Hem a Dress: 10 Methods
- How to Hem a Formal Dress Without Sewing
- How Much Does it Cost to Hem a Dress?
- How to Make a Dress Shorter Temporarily
- How to Hem:
- How Long Does It Take To Hem a Dress?
Can I Hem a Dress Myself?
You can learn how to hem a dress yourself in just a few minutes with tools as simple as a measuring tape, a needle, and thread. Most of the time, the best-looking hems use hand-sewn stitches. You can also use a sewing machine or a serger to create quick hems for your dresses.
The most important things you need to consider when you decide how to hem your dress are the style of the skirt and the type of material.
First, spread the dress on a flat surface like a table or floor. Look at the shape the bottom edge of the skirt forms. Does it have a straight line, a curved half circle, or triangular points?
Any skirt with a straight or mostly straight edge, such as a dress with a pencil skirt, will work well for a hand-sewn hem. But if the dress has a curving edge, you will find that the bias tape hem or the curved hem methods work much better.
Second, you also need to consider the fabric used in your dress. Stretchy fabric like the jersey knit cotton used in many maxi dresses does not do well with a normal sewing machine straight stitch. To hem this kind of dress, you should use a serger or a sewing machine that can form a stretch stitch.
On the other hand, any fabric that can hold a crease when ironed will look nice if you sew the hem by hand.
How to Hem a Dress: 10 Methods
You can hem a dress by hand, with a sewing machine, using fusible tape, or by attaching add-ons such as ruffles or facings.
Before starting any hemming technique, you need to measure the dress for its new length. You can do this using a regular flexible sewing tape, but it is even easier with an adjustable sewing gauge ruler.
For the most accurate results, hang the dress up overnight before taking any measurements. This will let the fabric stretch out to its normal shape.
Also, if the skirt already has a deep hem sewn into it, you should use a seam ripper to remove the old stitching before you begin. If the skirt has a small turned-under or serged hem, don’t worry about this.
To measure your new hem length:
- Try on the dress and decide how much shorter you want the skirt. Fold up the bottom edge, use a safety pin to hold it in place, and then check the new length in a mirror to see if you like it.
- Next, take the dress back off, turn it inside out, and smooth it on a flat surface.
- Measure how much of the skirt edge you folded up and held with the safety pin.
- Use your sewing gauge ruler to measure that far up from the current hem of the skirt, and mark this point with chalk on the inside of the skirt.
- Now measure that same distance from the hem all the way around the inside of the skirt, using chalk to mark each point.
- You may have several inches of skirt below the new chalk line. That is Ok! You can decide if you need to cut off the extra fabric or not when you pick one of the hemming methods listed here.
1. By Hand
The best, most professional-looking way to hem many types of dresses is to stitch the hem in place by hand. This is because sewing by hand lets you place tiny, almost invisible stitches on the outside of the dress, while stitches made by a sewing machine look much more obvious.
The great thing about this method is that you do not need fancy equipment, just scissors, a needle, and a thread matching the dress! Of course, the downside to this method is that it does take longer than using a sewing machine.
- First, make sure you follow the steps above to measure your dress and mark the spot for the new hem.
- The best way to have a nice hand-sewn hem is to create a double fold. To do this, fold up the bottom edge to meet the chalk marking you made during the measuring steps. Use an iron to press the fold in place.
- Then fold the folded edge again to the inside of the skirt. The crease at the bottom edge of the fold should fall exactly where you marked the chalk line for the new length of your dress. Iron the double fold to hold it in place.
- Cut a piece of thread about as long as your forearm or a little over 12 inches. You do not want to cut a super long length of thread because it will tangle up as you try to sew.
- Starting on the inside of the skirt, push the needle all the way through to the outside and make a tiny stitch, bringing the needle back to the inside.
- Put the needle in the same spot where you started, make another tiny stitch in the same spot, and bring the needle to the inside. Do not pull the thread taunt–leave a small loop of thread on the inside of the skirt, and slide the needle through this. Then pull the thread tight, creating a secure knot.
- The easiest hand-sewn hem stitch is called the slip stitch. To form this stitch, insert the needle through the top of the folded edge on the wrong side of the hem, but do not poke the needle through to the outside of the hem. Slide the tip of the needle about ¼” inside the folded edge.
- Now, poke just the tip of the needle out to the outside of the hem. Scoop up three or four threads from the weave of the outer fabric, forming an almost-invisible stitch.
- Pull the needle all the way through to the wrong side, and then repeat this stitch at ¼” intervals all the way around the hemline.
- Once you get back to where you started, knot the thread off again to secure your stitching.
The key things to remember with a slip stitch are that you space out your stitches by sliding the needle inside the top of the double fold before you stitch through to the outside of the dress. Also, make sure you make tiny, regular stitches outside the hem.
2. With a Sewing MachineWhile you can sew many types of hems with a sewing machine, one of the best ways to hem a dress using a sewing machine is to create a rolled hem using a special attachment. This lets you easily hem transparent or silky fabric that would not work well with a normal double-fold hem.
For this technique, you need a sewing machine tool called a rolled hem foot. It simply slots into your machine where your presser foot normally sits.
- As always, start by measuring your dress for the new hem. For this method, you will only want about half an inch of extra material below your chalk marking, so cut off the extra fabric using sharp sewing scissors.
- Insert the fabric into the rolled hem foot with the wrong side of the hem facing up to you and the folded-over raw edge slotted into the flange you will see in the metal foot.
- Lower the rolled hem foot down using the presser foot lever on your machine.
- As you sew, the foot will hold onto the fabric, folding it over into a neat, tiny hem along the bottom edge of the dress.
3. With a Serger
If you have a serger or overlock machine, you can create a neatly encased raw-edge hem for your dress in some cases. This often looks best on a casual type of dress or dresses made out of stretchy material like a maxi dress. You can also use this method to hem voile, chiffon, or sheer fabrics, though it does look more casual than a rolled hem.
- Try on the dress and go through the steps to measure your new hem length.
- Thread your serger–you do not have to use matching thread, as white or black will look unobtrusive with most dress styles.
- Insert the hem so that you sew directly on your chalk line. You do not need to cut off the extra fabric, as the serger will do that for you! You also do not need to fold the edge for this hem style.
- Sew around the skirt on top of your chalk marking. When you reach the end, leave a tail of the chained-off threads. You can hold the tail to the inside of the dress with a dot of sewing glue or make a few tiny stitches with a needle and thread.
4. Without Cutting or Sewing/With TapeThe best way to hem a dress without cutting or sewing is to use a special kind of semi-permanent tape called fusible hem tape.
This method works best on hems with a straight edge, such as a pencil or A-line skirt. It will not work as well on a dress with a curved hem or very fine or silky fabric, though.
This seems obvious, but it is also worth noting that you can only use this technique if your dress contains fabric that can safely handle the heat. Check the manufacturer’s label inside the garment to find out if you can iron your dress or not.
You can find fusible hem tape online or at any sewing store. It looks like a strip of mesh or interfacing, but it has heat-activated adhesive on both sides, allowing it to stick two layers of cloth together.
- Measure around the bottom edge of your dress to see how much hem tape you need. Cut off a length of tape ½” longer than your measurement.
- Follow the steps described in the introduction to this section to measure your dress for its new length.
- Use an iron to fold under the dress at that length, using your chalk markings to help you.
- Now unfold the pressed edge. Spread the tape between the wrong side of the dress and the folded-over edge you just pressed. Think of the tape as glue to hold the folded edge down to the inside of the skirt.
- Press each section of the hem to activate the adhesive in the tape.
- Let the hem cool down, then gently tug on the folded edge to make sure the process worked. If the folded edge comes up, repeat the pressing process.
5. With an Invisible HemThe best way to sew an invisible hem is to use a blind stitch on a sewing machine. This is a professional way to create a hem you can’t even see from the outside of the dress.
You will need to purchase a blind stitch attachment like this one to sew this style of hem. Follow the instructions in your sewing machine manual to set up and use this stitch.
Different sewing machine brands and models may provide slightly different instructions for this process.
6. With a Curved Hem
If your dress forms a circular or curving line at the hem, you may want to try the ease-stitch method to put in a new hem.
All you have to do is sew ¼” from the raw edge of the skirt using a basting stitch. Then, as you fold over the skirt to press your new hem into place, use the blunt side of a seam ripper to gently tug up every third stitch. This eases the fabric so that the wider bottom edge of the curve can fold up onto the narrower portion of the skirt without creasing!
After that, you can stitch the hem in place by hand or on your sewing machine.
7. With Bias Tape
Another great way to hem a dress with a curving hem, such as an A-line or swing dress, is to use bias tape on the inside of the hem. Bias tape is a long strip of folded fabric cut diagonally out of a piece of cloth, which makes it extra stretchy and flexible. For this process, you want to use a kind of tape called single-fold bias tape.
- Go through all the normal steps of measuring and marking the new length on your dress.
- Cut a piece of bias tape slightly longer than the circumference of your skirt.
- The bias tape has two folds in it. Unfold the top one and keep it flat as you attach it to your dress.
- Pin the tape right sides together to your skirt so that ¼” inch of the skirt fabric extends beyond the top of the tape.
- Using a sewing machine, stitch around the skirt, sewing in the groove made by the top fold that you pinned flat to the skirt.
- Once you get close to the end, overlap the extra bit of bias tape to neatly close the circle.
- Press the bias tape up to the inside of the skirt.
- Use a slip stitch to sew the second folded edge down to the inside of the skirt.
8. With Fabric Facing
One of the best ways to hem a dress with stiff fabric is to add a facing at the hemline. Experienced sewers often use this method to create a very crisp hemline in structured dresses with material that has a lot of body.
The basic idea is that you cut another piece of fabric, about three inches deep, in the same shape as the bottom edge of the dress. You can put the two pieces of fabric right sides together, sew a seam around the bottom edge, and then fold the facing to the inside of the dress. This leaves the neat seam at the very bottom edge of the dress to make a nice hem.
9. With Ruffle
The great thing about sewing a hem with a ruffle is that you can use this method to make the dress longer or shorter! If you want to make the hemline longer, simply sew the ruffle onto the existing skirt. To make the dress shorter, measure and mark the new length, and then cut off the extra fabric below your marking before you begin.
- Buy a premade ruffle from the ribbon and trim section of a sewing store. You will need enough to reach around the circumference of the skirt, plus about one inch extra for overlap.
- Sew the short ends of the ruffle together with a ½” seam allowance, creating a circle the same size as the bottom edge of the skirt.
- Pin the right side of the ruffle’s top edge to the right side of the skirt edge using sewing pins or sewing clips.
- Use a straight stitch on your sewing machine or a serger to sew around the circle, removing pins as you go.
- Cut off thread tails and then press the sewn edge up to the inside of the skirt to make the ruffle hang straight.
10. With Piping
Adding piping to the hem of a dress gives it a crisp line that looks great on skirts with a straight or slightly curved hemline.
Follow all the steps for adding a ruffle described above, with two exceptions.
First, you will need to use a zipper foot in your sewing machine because piping has a piece of cord inside it, giving it a raised shape. The zipper foot lets you sew close to this raised edge.
Second, when you reach the end of the circle, you will want to finish the piped edge by opening up half an inch of the fabric covering the cord, folding it over, and then stitching it down on top of the piping you began with so that none of the cord shows on the bottom of your dress.
How to Hem a Formal Dress Without SewingYou can hem a formal dress without sewing using fusible hem tape or double-sided fabric tape.
To use fusible hem tape, follow the steps described in the “how to hem without sewing” section earlier in this article. But here’s the catch: this method only works on fabric that can withstand the heat of an iron.
Many formal dresses contain delicate fabrics like satin, velvet, or tulle. This kind of material may scorch or melt if you try to iron it! Fortunately, there is an alternative.
You can also use double-sided hem tape to fold under the too-long hem and stick to the inside of the skirt. You need double-sided tape designed for fabric, not the normal office tape roll. Double-sided fabric tape has a strong hold but will not last if you wash or dry-clean the dress, so keep that in mind!
How Much Does it Cost to Hem a Dress?
It can cost as little as two or three dollars or as much as $75 to hem a dress, depending on if you want to DIY the hem or pay a professional.
If you have the time to hem a dress yourself, it will only cost two or three dollars to purchase a spool of matching thread and a needle.
If you do not want to sew the hem yourself, most tailors will charge between $30-$75 to hem a dress. This does depend on the kind of dress, though. If your dress has multiple sheer layers, the tailor may charge more because of the extra yardage to sew.
How to Make a Dress Shorter Temporarily
The quickest ways to make your dress shorter temporarily are to hold it up with a knot, tuck it up with a belt, or pin it up with safety pins. These quick hacks do not put a shorter hem into your dress but provide a temporary fix for a too-long hem.
- Long, casual dresses like maxi dresses look summery and cute, with a side knot holding up the extra fabric from above your feet. To make the knot, gather up a handful of fabric near your hip and scrunch it in place with a hair tie.
- If your dress looks good with a wide belt, put on the belt and then tug some of the body of the dress up over the top of the belt. This puffs out the bodice a bit but gives you a shorter hemline.
- You can also measure and iron a new hem length into your dress but then use safety pins to hold the new fold in place instead of sewing it. This is not a perfect solution, but it can work in an emergency!
How to Hem:
Now that you know ten different ways to hem a dress, check out these tips for the best technique to use with special kinds of dresses!
The best way to hem a prom dress is to hand-stitch the hem or to use a rolled hem on a sewing machine.
This depends on the kind of fabric in your dress. Does the skirt of the dress use a heavy, thicker kind of fabric such as satin or velvet? In this case, use the hem-by-hand method.
On the other hand, if your skirt has layers of a silky or floaty material such as mesh or tulle, try using the rolled hem method. This works much better on very light materials.
No matter which hemming method you use, make sure you wear your fancy prom shoes when you measure for the new hem.
The best way to hem a flowy dress depends on the kind of fabric it is made out of. If you hold up the fabric and cannot see your hand through it, you can often put in a hand-stitched double-fold hem.
Another good test is to fold over a section of the cloth and pinch it between your fingers, then let go. Do you see a tiny crease in the cloth? If so, it will likely hold an edge and you can put in a double-fold hem.
On the other hand, if you can see your hand through the silky or semi-transparent fabric, you should use a rolled hem on a sewing machine.
The best way to hem a maxi dress is to use a sewing machine that can form a stretch stitch. This kind of stitch does not make stretchy fabric like a knit maxi dress look weird because it gives the fabric room to flex and stretch within the hem.
If your sewing machine does not feature a stretch stitch, use a flat zigzag stitch instead. It will look almost like a straight stitch, giving the fabric more movement.
- Measure your dress and mark the new length with chalk.
- Measure a second line half an inch below this point, and draw it all the way around the hem.
- Cut off the skirt at your second, lower, chalk line.
- Make a half-inch fold around the skirt, and use an iron to press the fold to the inside of the skirt. You do not need a double fold because the knit fabric will not fray.
- Set your sewing machine to a straight stitch and thread it with matching thread.
- Sew around the hem of your maxi dress.
- Neatly snip the threads when you finish.
Most of the time, the best way to hem a polyester dress is to either use an invisible hem or to hem it by hand. The only exception to this rule is if you have a polyester dress with layers of sheer fabric in the skirt. In this case, use a rolled hem instead.
Another thing to keep in mind when hemming polyester is that you need to keep your iron set to very low heat. High heat will melt right through your polyester dress!
The best way to hem a chiffon dress is to use a sewing machine to put in a rolled hem. This creates a tiny, folded-over edge that is impossible to duplicate yourself by folding over the material and pressing with an iron.
Plus, most chiffon today contains polyester fibers, and it might melt if you try to iron it!
Dress with Pleats
The best way to hem a dress with pleats is to put in a new hem with a sewing machine and then get a dry cleaner to add the pleats back or to shorten the dress at the waist to keep the pleats intact.
Most pleated fabric goes through a special manufacturing process that puts the pleats in semi-permanently. The trouble is that you need to iron them out into a flat line to measure and fold a new hem, which will destroy the original pleats!
So you can hem a pleated skirt using any method you like, but you will likely find that you need to take it to a professional dry cleaner or tailor to have the pleats put back in.
Alternatively, you can skip the hemming and cut the dress in half at the waist. Take out an inch or two of the top of the skirt, and then re-sew it to the bodice. This will shorten the dress without ruining the pleats.
How Long Does It Take To Hem a Dress?
It can take as little as one hour or as long as several weeks to hem a dress, depending on the method your choose. If you have some experience sewing, you can often measure a new hemline and stitch in a hem by hand or on a machine in under an hour. If you need to learn how to sew a hem, you should plan to set aside several hours for this process, though.
If you decide to get your dress professionally altered, you may need to wait as long as two weeks to get your shortened dress back from the tailor. Most professionals have a turnaround time of one to two weeks, even for simple alterations like hemming a dress.
You can hem a dress by hand by creating a double fold at the bottom edge and using a needle and thread to slip stitch the fold into place. You can also use a sewing machine to create a blind stitch hem or a rolled hem, though you do need special attachments for these methods. You can also use a serger to create an encased edge at the bottom of a casual dress.
For fun added decoration, you can even attach a ruffle or piping to the hem of your dress! If you do not want to sew a new hem into place, you can use fusible hem tape or double-sided fabric tape to seal a new folded hem into place, though these quick methods will not last forever.