When I was working in a bespoke tailor shop, the summers were filled with wedding gowns. As you can imagine, we had to deal with lightweight and sheer fabrics – you gotta be careful when sewing with organza and other fine fabrics.
One of the daily tasks was shortening and hemming the seams of wedding dresses. For the lightweight fabrics, we used the rolled hem setup on an overlocker.
The rolled hem is a narrow hem sewn with three threads that enclose the open edge of the fabric. It’s important that the thread tension isn’t too high, or the hem will get twisted.
You need a little bit of time to adjust the tension, and basic knowledge of adjusting tension on an overlocker.
Because this hem can be a little tricky to sew on lightweight fabrics, I’ll share my tips for how to achieve a neat rolled hem with you.
How to sew a rolled hem on viscose, chiffon, organza and other lightweight fabrics
The first tip is especially for polyester fabrics. Sometimes, fabrics fray even though you enclose the edge with a rolled hem. We had this problem with organza layers of wedding dresses.
We developed a method that requires a steady hand and a lighter: run the flame over the cut edge of the fabric. The flame won’t have to actually touch the fabric – you’ll see that the heat is enough to melt the fibers and the edge will get sealed.
Make sure to practice on a piece of leftover fabric first to get a feeling for how close you can hold the flame to the fabric without it melting or leaving dark soot stains.
With this preparation, the rolled hem will look even better!
Next, set up your overlock for the rolled hem: You’ll need three threads and one needle. Consult your manual for details and suggestions for the thread tension.
Because we sealed the edge of the fabric with heat, we don’t need the knife or else our sealed edge would be cut away.
Want to start sewing at a corner? A pin will help you move the beginning of the fabric if the feed dogs don’t catch it right away.
With the pin stuck in the fabric, you can pull it slightly along. Be careful not to sew over the pin, though.
Make sure the fabric lays flat. Don’t stretch it – unless you want a lettuce hem -, but you can use your hands to hold it flat so the hem won’t get bunched.
I use the right edge of the stitch plate as a guide and run the edge of the fabric along this edge as I sew.
Take a look at the hem: Is the edge enlosed by the threads? Is it evenly, or does it strain or bunch in some places?
Make adjustments accordingly.
My settings that worked for my fabric were: (no thread) / 4 / 4,5 / 6,5.
I used a stitch length of 1,5. The stitches should have a small space between them, otherwise the seam will become a hard, firm edge.
The second fabric I used was viscose. It’s partially made from natural fibers, so it’s not a good idea to use a lighter on it. To get a clean edge, I apply the knife to cut away excess fabric.
If you are sewing one continuous hem that goes all the way around, I would recommend not starting at a corner. Instead, start in the middle of the seam.
If you sewed once around the hem and are back at the starting point, just sew over the beginning of the seam a few centimeters, then pull your fabric to the back and the side as you sew. This will leave you with a small “tail” that you can cut closely to the seam.
When approaching a corner, sew until you reach the end of the side you’re sewing. You can use the hand if the sewing pace of the overlocker feels too fast.
When you’re at the end of the side, lift the foot and the needle (for this you need to use the hand wheel).
Carefully pull the fabric to the back.
The threads should slide off the stitch plate.
Turn the fabric so that you can sew the next side. Lower the foot and start sewing. You might want to use the technique of helping the fabric feed with a pin I described earlier.
When you reach your starting point, sew over it and cut the tail like I described.