call me hem master......

Or at least assistant master!


One my first failures I had at sewing was "way" back in 2003 when I made my first button down dress shirt.  I was obsessed with David Page Coffin and his use of sewing machine feet.  One of the feet he uses in making shirts is a hemming foot.


These specialty feet must have been all the rage back in the day because it seems that most vintage sewing machines came with at least one if not multiple in just about every width.
I'm sure lots of people still use these feet but there's not a lot of chatter online about hemming with feet these days.  I suppose hemming isn't a very glamorous topic....  


In my recent obsession with the perfect button down shirt pattern I've be practicing with my hemming foot.  This particular foot has been challenging me since I started sewing.  Somehow I just never quite understood how to get it through the curves and keep a perfect and even hem.  I've found many work arounds to hemming a shirt without this foot that take much longer but I feel like if David Coffin can make it work, why can't I?


Well that's just what I did, make it work.  I spent an afternoon with some strips of curvy cut fabric and my little tiny 1/8" hemming foot.  I found that using a short stitch length made it much easier to learn how to control the fabric through the foot.


Here's a quick video I did showing my technique:



Once you get the hang of it it's really quite easy when you're practicing.  As these things often go as soon as you start applying the learned techniques to real garments it somehow becomes more difficult and mistakes become easier to make.  

19 comments :: call me hem master......

  1. I see you are using the Vigorelli - considering the camera angle, you must have sewn bearly blindfolded. :-)

    Great video on the hemming foot. I have a couple of those feet as well and have yet to take the plunge. A friend gave me the advice to snip off a small corner when beginning the hem, it should make it easier to start.

  2. bearly = nearly

  3. Thank you so much for this video. I will be referring to it again and again. I have a couple of hemming feet, including a rolled hemmer and have never been able to get a great result. I use a binder foot all the time with great results and it took me a while to get used to it, so why I can't persist with a hemmer is beyond me. I hope we see some of your shirt journey as I have decided I have a love/hate relationship with the Shirtmaking book. Most of the time I put it away in frustration, feeling inadequate that I can't produce the beautiful work that David Page Coffin does. I'm keen to see how you make a shirt. I might just have to spend some quality time today with a hemming foot.

  4. Oh my gosh! I just bought a whole bunch of old Griest feet at a thrift store and this video will help immensely once I'm able to try them out. Thank you, Brian!

  5. Glad everyone enjoyed the hemming video! Maybe I should do a machine feet series? Even I'm fascinated with the closeup of the foot turning the hem. It's certainly closer zoom then I get while actually using the foot.

    also.. You know I don't pull down the Coffin book very often anymore. I construct my shirts using the Islander techniques which seem a lot more approachable. Coffin is often criticized for his somewhat pompous and unapproachable attitude in the first book. Regardless, Shirtmaking remains the definitive resource and I won't ever get rid of my copy. On a side note Coffin did take that criticism to heart and his new trouser book is an absolute joy to read. Down to earth yet just as informative and detail orientated as you would expect from someone of his exacting nature. I highly recommend it!

  6. Brian, I have always thought Shirtmaking to be a thoughtful and patient tutorial on how to make well-constructed shirts - not pompous or unapproachable at all. I'm curious why or how you got this impression of the book. Granted, when I first picked it up I had already been sewing for years, so I was not a beginner (and it's definitely not a book for beginners). However, it changed the way I sew, and the way I approach garment construction - for the better. Just curious, don't understand the criticism.

  7. Great video. I have the hemming foot but could never figure out how to do curves. Thanks!!

  8. Thank you!! Thank you!! Thank you!! I have two hemmer feet and have tried them once or twice and had absolutely no success. I really appreciate you explaining how to line up the fabric. I'm so excited to try again!

  9. Thank you Brian - this is perfect timing. I tried using my new narrow hem foot the other day and it was a disaster...now I see exactly what I was doing wrong!

  10. Gregory, I think it's great you enjoy Coffin's Shirtmaking book. I have always thought it was a valuable resource. That being said I'm really not interested in debating why, besides valuable, I also find it pompous and unapproachable. That is simply my opinion and I'm entitled to it especially here. I did review this book in more detail over at PatternReview and you'll welcome to find my full review there if you wish.

  11. Just found your blog! Great video! I just got a few specialty feet after reading about them in David Coffin's book. I've so far been flummoxed by the felling foot, but haven't tried the hemming one yet! You made the process seem very clear. Would love to see a felling video!

  12. Hey Lyn,

    I've never used the felling foot so... it would be an excellent opportunity to do a video showing its use. Maybe I'll whip that out tomorrow!

  13. I love my felling feet. I use a 6mm foot instead of the 4mm DPC recommends. I should probably try the 8mm foot on a jacket or something, but I never have.

    The new ones made by AlphaSew (?) REQUIRE a machine that has different needle positions (5 or more for fine tuning). I wish they made some that are in the correct position when the needle is centered but they don't. I've experimented with different ankle adaptors on my straight stitch machine and have gotten them to work for my particular setup, but it did take some experimentation.

  14. This is exactly why I'm always on the lookout for vintage machines with multiple needle positions. Easier to find is right, center, left. However the Singer 500a lets you set the needle in any position you wish. Unfortunately it's not my favorite machine to sew on.... I guess you can't win them all right?

  15. If we ever found the "perfect" machine it would probably take all the fun out of shopping :)

  16. Thank you so much for the video! I've been tempted to play with these feet for a while, but it's a bit daunting. Your results are a great inspiration.

  17. This thanks comes rather too late, Brian. I followed your tutorial earlier in the year, after the young designer I do some work for needed narrow hems on some silk. Curved edges the lot. Since then my Sewing and Alterations business has taken off and I've been asked to do some bridal work. Thanks to your fab tutorial and lots and lots of practice strips I can now even do crinkle silk chiffon!
    I'm still most successful with the narrowest foot, but.... getting there.
    Now I need to go back to your underwear tut....for my hub! I managed to get hold of that vintage McCalls pattern !

  18. I can use the narrow hemming foot with ease after lots of practice. I also have the same Geist hemming feet that you posted and like them because they do not have the groove on the underside which makes doing curves easier. I have been using the Singer adjustable hemmer and really like that one. I have been able to do 1/4" to over 1" hems without changing feet. Check that attachment out.

  19. I love the Singer hemmer foot (you have to get the right one - I'm in boxes right now, but I can check if I ever get unpacked). That foot on the Singer 15-91 makes the most beautiful hem ever! ~Page

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