Sunday, December 23, 2007

Sewing shut hems and facings (part 5 of better cuffs and bands).

includes 4 illustrations--click any illustration to enlarge
Today's post is about sewing shut a hem or facing: it is part 5 of the series "better cuffs and bands."

After the last post in this series (about knitting shut hems and facings) you may wonder why, if it is possible to KNIT shut a hem, a knitter would want to SEW shut a hem. Here are three reasons--reasons I believe are good enough to convince even knitters to hunt out a large-eyed, sharp-pointed sewing needle and get sewing.

First, and most obviously, it is not always possible to knit shut a hem. Knitting shut a hem only works for items started on the same edge as the hem (a bottom hem on a bottom-up sweater, a top hem on a top-down sock). Knitting shut a hem on the cast-OFF edge isn't very feasible. 

Second, you can't knit shut a hem facing made of a different color. If you are asking why you would WANT to knit a hem facing of a different color, here are two reasons:
  • A. plain old good looks. Have a look at the top of the man's sock in the photo below. From the outside, this is a practical black sock, suitable for business wear. But on the inside, it features a flaming red hem facing which makes its wearer smile when dressing.
  • B. Another reason why a hem facing might be a different color than the main body of the garment is when you reduce bulk by knitting the hem facing of a thinner yarn. The birthday sweater (click HERE) from the last post had a thinner hem facing than the outside of the hem, and so do the socks, above--the red of the hem facing is a thinner sock yarn than the black of the sock body. It would be unusual to find a perfect color match between a thinner yarn and a thicker one, so this bulk reduction trick is often going to land you with a hem facing of a different color.
If you are wondering WHY a hem of a different color cannot be knitted shut, I believe this illustration says it all.

This is a close-up of a knitted shut hem. At the black arrow, you will see that knitting shut a hem draws a little "collar" of the hem stitch (hem made in red) to the fabric surface (knitted in green). In the illustration, the red of the hem facing shows as a little collar around by each green stitch where the green and red come together in the blue "knit-together row." The knit-together row is illustrated in blue so you could see it easily, but even if the knit-together row were green, like the rest of the garment front, that little red collar of the red hem facing would still show around the base of every stitch in that row--not a nice look. Moral of the story: You cannot successfully knit shut a hem when the hem is knit in a different color than the garment.

The third reason you might want to sew shut a hem or facing instead of knitting it shut is the most important, imho. You see, a sewn hem is FAR LESS LIKELY TO FLIP than a knitted-shut one. This is a BIG consideration, as many garments suffer from hem, band, or cuff flip. Cardigans with flipping front bands, and sweaters with flipping bottom bands are one of the banes of the knitter's existence, yet a sewn shut band will not flip with anything approaching the abandon of a knitted shut band.

If I have convinced you of the virtues of a sewn band or hem facing, here is how to do it:

  • Begin the hem by casting on via the long-tail method.
  • Knit the hem. You may use the same yarn as you will use for the body of the garment, OR you may use a thinner yarn for bulk reduction. If using a thinner yarn, knit the facing loosely on the same number of stitches as you will knit the garment OR on a larger number of stitches with a smaller needle, with the plan to get rid of the extra stitches before you turn the hem.
  • If using the garment yarn for the hem facing, knit the hem as deep as you would like it, then purl one row. For a slight refinement, you may cast on and knit the hem on slightly fewer stitches (5% or so) than the garment, increasing to the necessary number of stitches TWO rows before the purl row.
  • If using thinner yarn for the hem facing, switch to the garment yarn when you are one or two rows shy of the ultimate depth you desire, work a row or two in the garment yarn, then purl one row. If you are using knitting the hem facing on MORE stitches, and a SMALLER needle than the garment, the row to get rid of all the extra stitches is the row where you switch to the garment yarn.
  • The reason to purl one row is to make a nice fold, as seen here.
  • After the purl row, you will be knitting the first row of the garment--that part which is on the FRONT of the hem. You may knit this portion in ribbing, as is traditional, OR you may knit it in stockinette--because you are going to sew the hem facing to the back of the garment, this will prevent rolling, regardless of which stitch pattern you use.

On the illustration below, the knitting has been finished. The hem (white) has been folded up over the back face of the garment fabric (purple). As you can see, the "knit" side of the hem shows, while the "purl" side of the garment fabric shows. Thread a sharp pointed needle with a thin yarn (in the picture, green). In real life, of course, you would not use a green yarn to sew up a white hem to a purple garment, you would use a sewing yarn as close as possible to the color of the garment face--the sewing thread is green in order that it shows in the illustration. In other words, if I were sewing this hem shut in real life, I would do it with a purple yarn. As far as that goes, I also would probably have made a purple hem to go with my purple garment, rather than a white hem, but in illustrations, a white hem is a lot easier to see than a purple hem facing sewn with purple yarn onto a purple garment.

As you can see on this illustration (above) the action of sewing is as follows: with the sewing needle, reach under one arm of the long tail casting-on at the very edge of the hem, then pierce (skim) through the top of a purl "bump" on the target row--the row TO which you are sewing the hem. Draw the needle through, and repeat this action, adjusting the tension of the green yarn as necessary. Be gentle in your adjustment, you want to avoid any puckering on the outside. As you can see, it isn't difficult!

The photo on the left side of the illustration below shows the back of a sewn hem "in the wool." The hem is made of the same yarn as the garment face, but sewn shut with dark yarn, so you can see the path of the sewing. The right photo of the illustration below shows the front of this same hem. As you can see, even though this swatch is stockinette, the sewn hem has tamed the dreaded "stockinette roll," as well as the feared "hem flip." You can also see that the sewing does not show on the outside--this is the front of the same swatch on which the hem is sewn shut in dark yarn.

One final point: Hems combat "hem flip" best when the hem facing is SLIGHTLY shorter than the outside of the hem AND when the hem is sewn shut very slightly (1 row) ABOVE any ribbing or garter stitch on the outside of the hem.

* * *
This post is part 5 of a series. The other posts are:

*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 1: Opera and Soap Opera (November 1, 2007)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 2: Why cuffs and bands are wonky, and what to do about it (November 14, 2007)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 3: Hems and facings:(November 22, 2007)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 4: Knitting shut hems and facings (December 9, 2007)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 6: Your steam iron: a mighty weapon in the fight against curling and flipping (December 25, 2007)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 7: Zig-zag bands (December 29, 2007)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 8: Provisional tail method of 1x1 tubular cast on (January 11, 2008)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs, part 9: Tubular cast off for 1x1 ribbing (it's pretty) (January 15, 2008)
*How to knit better bands and cuffs: the wrap-up (January 23, 2008)

You have been reading TECHknitting on: "sewing shut hems."


kilgore said...

i so cant wait to try this out. But you mention the guernsey cast on in a previous post... is this also a feasible solution? It seems a but like the knit-hem....
love the blog!

Nancy said...

On your last illustration -- the peach garment -- there appears to be a 'gully' or 'valley' where it is hemmed. Is your example blocked? How do you suggest not having the hem seam show? There are several methods in sewing fabric, but just wonder your ideas for knitted garments.

--TECHknitter said...

Hi Kilgore: Thanks for your question. The cast on for the guernsey was a knitted shut hem, I believe, just a very short one--very similar, I believe, to the mitten cast on in that same post.

Hi Nancy: The sample is steam blocked. As you will note, gully is far more evident on the ribbing side, and that is because the ribbing is fairly 3-d, and stands out much further from the hem facing than does the stockinette side. Another reason for the gully is because this swatch was self-hemmed (the same yarn on the inside) which is worsted weight--a bit thick. A sport or even a sock yarn would have been a better choice, but I wanted to show a simple hem, without shaping or color complications. It IS indisputable that a hem, any hem, will add bulk. As with all things, there are trade-offs--in the case of a hem, the trade off is between flipping/curling vs. bulk.

Thanks for writing


Stella said...

I wanted to wish you all the best in the new year. And thank you for the countless times I have consulted you for how-to-do-it better. You are an amazing resource and I look forward to each posting. Thanks!

Katie said...

Thank you for this! This post was very well-timed for some mittens I am finishing up for xmas. I don't think I have commented before, but your posts are extremely helpful and I really appreciate the time and effort your put into your explanations and illustrations. Best of luck in the new year!

Kris said...

Thanks so much for this post. I have been contemplating some hemmed items and I wasn't aware that sewing the hem shut later would reduce the flipping!

lillysmuul said...

Merry Christmas to you!

Camping Jason said...

Great tutorial. Question though...If I'm knitting toe-up socks and want a hem at the top, can I just hem the live stitches when I fold it over, or should I cast off first? Also, if the sewing up yarn is the same, can you go through the purl loop instead of splitting the yarn?

ChiaLea said...

I find that the hem is least obtrusive when I use a provisional cast-on, block the garment, free the stitches, and then sew them down. Normal cast-ons are both less flexible than the rest of the knitted fabric and can leave more of a ridge when sewn in. (Depending on the cast-on, you'll get more or less of one or the other drawback. :) ) Sewing down raw loops is especially nice when you're using a bias hem.

(Likewise, when knitting a hem at the end of my garment, I put the stitches on scrap yarn, block the garment, then sew down the stitches.)

--TECHknitter said...

Hi Jason--you can either cast off, or, as Chialea has so clearly & succinctly written, you can hem down live stitches. I personally hem down bound off stitches so that if the hem ever pops loose, that's all I have to worry about--I don't have the additional worry regarding stitches running out. However, Chialea is correct that a bind-off adds bulk. So, like so many things in knitting, it's a trade off and you have to make up your own mind. Thanks for writing!

Sass E-mum said...

I'm visiting via Ravelry. Great tutorial and showed me the answer to the question that's been nagging me as I approach the hemming stage of a child's skirt.

joanne macfarlane said...

I knitted a topdown in-the-round A-line dress using your jogless stripes technique and your invisible increases. It's knit every round. I did a round of K2tog, YO to make a picot hem. Then I did about 5 more rounds and bound off. I turned up the hem and did a hem stitch like I would in sewing fabric hems. When I finished, I noticed that my very pretty picot edge "flips up" a little. I saw on your blog how to do hems on garments made from bottom up, but couldn't find anything on hems on top down items.
Can you suggest how to prevent this "flip" on my picot hem? I can't use live stitches because this dress is for a 5 yr.old and I'm afraid it would unravel if she caught the hem on something. I thought I'd check with you before I take out the hem. Should I re-hem using thread instead of yarn?
Thank you very much. Joanne

--TECHknitter said...

Hi Joanne: If you sew the hem shut pulling it up a little on the inside, this works to combat the flip. Another way of saying this is that the inside hem facing should be knit slightly shorter than the outside of the hem facing. When the inside facing is sewn up, it will "pull up" slightly because it is shorter. If this still iisn't working, then try the sewing up with a thin (like a baby) yarn--sometimes the thickness of the sewing-up yarn itself pushed the hem to want to flip.

Thanks for writing. --TK

Anonymous said...

Hi, I can't quite get if I did my hem right. I knit 9 rounds, did one round of K2tog.YO for picot, then did 5 more rounds. I did the only bind off I know which is take first stitch on right needle and bring it over second stitch on right needle and drop it off needle.
I'm wondering if I should have knit 5 rounds before picot row and 9 rounds after picot row. I think this is how you described when you answered me.(facing lengths)??
Also should I have used a different bind off? I've been reading about some different ones.
You said when I sew the hem to pull up a little on the inside. I'm not sure what this means. Sorry for being so dense. Thanks again for your help.

--TECHknitter said...

Hi Joane--the idea is to do a facing maybe 1 row shorter, and to sew it up to the (back of) the garment body perhaps one row, or a half a row before where the hem starts on the outside. This draws the hem facing up ever so slightly. Sorry to have been obscure before, and thanks for writing again. --TK

Anonymous said...

I'm having trouble turning corners with the hemming of my cardigan. I have hems down the center of the sweater and then round to the hem of the bottom of the sweater. Your tips on hemming were helpful but when I try to make the turns they aren't very neat - any suggestions or tips?

TECHknitter said...

Hi Anon--I have done a whole post (dated 12-8-2010) in answer to your question. Thanks for writing! --TK

Rochelle said...

Bless you, Tech. I have 2 pairs of cotton and 2 pair of wool women's argyle knee socks, which I'm sure I couldn'y buy today. I'm working on making a casing on each top with internal elstic, using a stretchy back-slanting slipstitch to close the casings.

LeslieK said...

I knit a top down sweater and tried to make a different color hem on the bottom of the torso and both arms. I use a purl turning row and then knit the facing using one-size smaller needles. Then I sewed the live stitches into the inside. The hems are still flipping up (on the outside of the sweater). Is this a blocking problem or is there a better way to sew the stitches in place?

TECHknitter said...

Hi Leslie--what you are describing can be combatted somewhat by blocking, but more commonly, the problem arises when the inside of the hem facing is made LONGER (or AS LONG) as the outside part. Stated otherwise, you want the hem to be a row or even two rows shorter inside than out, and the reason is to combat the strong tendency to stockinette fabric to want to flip. Having the hem facing slightly shorter presents a counter-stress to the curl.

Plus, the fact is that if you are sewing down live loops, the last row of loops being sewn down stretches lengthwise amazingly, because it has no loop of yarn pulled through to puff it out dimensionally. So, that is another reason to go a row or two, or maybe even (on tightly knit and stubbornly curling yarn) three rows shorter for the inside of the hem facing.


twin lambs said...

Thank you so so much for this! I'm knitting a jacket at the mo with loads of hemming and was getting myself in a tizzy even thinking about the sewing so thanks so much for your clear explanation!

Irish rose said...

You are terrific - and incredibly generous & patient with your talent and wisdom. Thank you.

Kris Van Allen said...

I am curious if a facing could be knit in ribbing, to possibly help 'draw in' and keep tighter, the top of a sock or brim of a hat. What do you think?

TECHknitter said...

Hi Kris--the problem is, ribbing is somewhat bulky--parhaps not what you want in a facing? Knitting the facing in stockinette on somewhat smaller needles would probably be a better idea for a facing used inside a stockinette garment. However, IF you want to knit a facing FOR RIBBING, then it makes perfect sense to knit the facing IN RIBBING--arrange matters such that the facing ribbing is the exact same kind as the ribbing of the garment, and knit the facing ribing so it exacly mirrors or "fits inside" (snuggles up to) the outer ribbing--try this on a swatch and you will instantly see what I mean. Good luck, TK

Kris Van Allen said...

Thank you, TK! You saved me a great deal of frustration in trying what I was thinking might work. Your recommendation concerning ribbing makes perfect sense, too.