What's the best way to hem a stack of fat quarters?
March 9, 2012 9:08 AM   Subscribe

Is there a simpler way to sew a hem than how I'm doing it now?

Here's how I made napkins a few years ago:

1. Take one fat quarter. Iron it.
2. Fold one hem up by 1/4" or so and iron it.
3. Fold the same hem up again. Pin and iron it.
4. Repeat on all four edges.
5. Sew, using my sewing machine.
6. Repeat.

This gets tedious. My napkins are rags and I'm in need of replacements. Is there a less-annoying way to do a hem?

I have a Brother CS-6000i. The fabric is always cotton.
posted by The corpse in the library to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
That's how I do my hems, mostly, but I only pin & iron once, even though I fold twice.
posted by shamash at 9:20 AM on March 9, 2012

Well, you could buy a hemmer foot. I have a Brother and a hemmer foot. It automatically turns up the edge of the fabric into a small, narrow hem. They are relatively cheap and available online.

That being said, it's a pain in the ass to use properly (at least for me). But it does remove all the pinning and ironing. Might be worth a try.

You could also try looking into some sort of faux-serging finish (very, very, very narrow satin stitch?).
posted by pie ninja at 9:20 AM on March 9, 2012

you could get a rolled hem foot for your machine. No ironing, super easy, looks great. This is how I do napkins and handkerchiefs in our house.

Or if you have access to a serger, do a served and rolled hem.

You could sew a line a scant 1/4" in from the edge and then let the napkins fray deliberately. Rustic-cute and incredibly easy, though the first few washes are linty, tangly nightmares.

You could use a folding pen instead of pressing the hem; it will save you some ironing time.

Tangential idea—you could do a sewn miter like so. It doesn't save you any ironing time, but it will make dealing with the corners less fussy.

Yay cloth napkins :)
posted by peachfuzz at 9:20 AM on March 9, 2012

If you fold the hem twice in one step and then iron, it's at least less time spent ironing. I'm not sure if that counts as less annoying because it can be more finnicky to keep the hem straight that way.
posted by helicomatic at 9:21 AM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Pinking shears? just cut the edges and you're done. When they eventually need refurbishing, cut off andother 1/4 inch on each side.

Using a rolled-hem foot looks easy in this video, but I've always had trouble with it.
posted by wryly at 9:28 AM on March 9, 2012

I find rolled hems a massive pain in the neck to do on a machine, more trouble then they are worth. My rolled hem foot is currently banished to a back drawer and we are not on speaking terms. ;)

I do the folding method also, although I trim the corners to be mitered.
Sew Mama Sew has a good tutorial I use for mitered corners.

The purl bee does bound edge napkins, also double sided napkins that are sewn and turned, handstitched napkins, and then also pulled fringe napkins.

(One of these days I will be crazy and make the fabulous but oodles of work Nautical flag napkins)
posted by lyra4 at 9:52 AM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I press up the full hem allowance just once. When I go over to the sewing machine, I fold the raw edge in so it meets the fold and stitch, continuing to fold as I sew. It takes a little practice, but is waaayyy faster than folding, ironing and pinning twice.
posted by sarajane at 10:03 AM on March 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

I prefer hem clips to pins. It's generally simpler and a lot faster when absolute precision isn't required.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:12 AM on March 9, 2012

I just fold as I go with no ironing or pinning. I just sort of line up the fold of the fabric with the tip of my fingernail and the raw edge with some part of my fingernail that I think looks right and sew slowly as I fold. You'll have to stop and make some sort of corner and pin that, but try just doing it as you go. Set the machine so the needle is down when you stop sewing, that helps. If I didn't only have the Spanish version of the brother manual, I'd tell you how to do that. Set the machine on slow to medium speed. I only bother ironing and pinning when I'm sewing for someone else or for something important.
posted by artychoke at 10:25 AM on March 9, 2012

I like sarajane's method for hemming.

I was also going to suggest that depending on the napkin, you could skip the hemming. I have two sets of my granny's napkins: she hemmed the "company" set but the everyday napkins have a fringed edge. It's a fairly light cotton, standard weave, and she just cut along the grain lines, then pulled the long threads off along each edge to make a short (maybe 3/16") fringe. Occasionally another thread comes loose, and I just pull it out. Maybe the fringe started at 1/8 and will be 1/4 someday, but for now it's about as easy as it gets.
posted by aimedwander at 10:27 AM on March 9, 2012

practice. practice. practice. drop steps 1-4. try these instead:
1. fold over the first inch or two 1/4"
2. fold it over again.
3. sew it.
4. keep folding as you sew.
5. iron it flat if it needs it.

the sewing part of the sewing will take longer, but you'll save time with all the other steps. with some fabrics, its even easier, as, when you hold your thumb in juuust the right place the fabric will roll around it and end up double folded as it goes under the needle (similar to a hemming foot, but without all the snagging)
posted by sexyrobot at 10:49 AM on March 9, 2012

I iron in one step and don't pin. Pinning seems completely unnecessary.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:29 AM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have a bunch of napkins where I simply sewed a line of stitching along the edge and then pulled out the threads between the edge and the seamline to create a fringe effect. These are looking pretty ratty these days so I'll probably do a rolled hem on my serger for my next set.
posted by vespabelle at 2:35 PM on March 9, 2012

I have a really good welting foot for my Necchi (circa 1955) that will roll a tube around a thin piece (think cotton string) of welting and looks for all the world like a very expensive french-hemmed handkerchief. No ironing or pinning involved. The welting foot cost $12 in 1995. I do sides A and C first, then go back to B and D, and trim the corners.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 3:36 PM on March 9, 2012

Does your machine have a bias binding foot? You could round the corners of your next set of napkins, so you could bind the whole edge in one shot, without having to worry about mitering the binding. Also, you could do contrasting binding!

I think I've heard of people making those 1/4" double turned hems using some kind of heatproof straight edge to fold the fabric over. You could take a piece of that thin plastic template stuff quilters use with a straight edge a little longer than the edges of your napkins, and hold it about 1/4" from the edge and use the iron to crease the fabric over the edge. If you use the iron to sort of scrape the fabric off the ironing board and fold it over the template it's very quick and simple.
posted by Lycaste at 6:55 PM on March 9, 2012

I used a friend's very good, heavy iron instead of my crappy-ass plastic one, and it made all the difference. I got away with folding, ironing, and sewing, and skipped the pinning. Success!
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:25 PM on March 12, 2012

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