SEWING \ Susan Khalje Options for a sewing dilemma

I remade a skirt for a client the other day, and in addition to being totally different stylistically from any of my previous endeavors the new skirt had a completely different hem treatment.
I'd like to discuss a few of the options -- the good news is that there are always a number of good solutions for just about any sewing dilemma.
The original skirt was a silk charmeuse circle skirt. Charmeuse is a difficult fabric to hem nicely. A narrow machine hem can be used, but all the stitching (this technique requires three rows of machine stitching) tends to distort the grain of the fabric. And that comes atop the issues involved with a full circular skirt, which incorporates every possible variation of the fabric's grain.
Acceptable solution
The stitching, even when nicely done, is always visible on the right side of the garment. It's not a very dressy solution and I'm not sure how it looks on an evening skirt. I think it's acceptable with chiffon, and even taffeta, but it seems to looks just a little bit industrial on charmeuse. Hem lace can always be used, but the hand-stitches, no matter how carefully done, are always visible as well.
In the end I decided to bind the hem with a narrow strip of bias self-fabric. I first stitched it on by machine, carefully checked to make sure it was even, then folded it under and finished it on the inside with small hand stitches. I was careful to hide the thread in the inner layers; otherwise, it becomes a bit of a liability. I also like to secure my stitches from time to time; that way, if a thread does get caught the entire hem isn't lost. It's also really critical to cut the bias at exactly 45 degrees; otherwise, ripples will appear and nothing spoils the look of that treatment faster than drag lines.
Lots of sewers like to cut bias strips with rotary cutters. As long as your angle is correct, it's a great way to do it. I'm pretty low tech, but if I had to prepare lots of bias strips I'd invest in a rotary cutter simply for that purpose. Instead, because I have such limited need to conduct the operation, I use chalk (one of the tiny rolling wheels) and a quilter's ruler and carefully draw my lines. I then cut with micro-serrated scissors, which keep the fabric from getting away from me.
Stitch trick
When I remade the silk char-meuse skirt I underlined it with cotton. When it came time to hem it, I simply folded up the hem allowance and caught my stitches to the underlining, not the charmeuse. No matter how carefully you stitch, visible hem stitches in the charmeuse aren't pretty, but having an underlining -- that layer of fabric that doubles the fashion fabric -- is essential. Not only does the underlining add body and structure to a pretty flimsy fabric, it's essential for creating a beautiful hem. I used a catch stitch to attach the hem allowance to the underlining, taking care not to inadvertently catch the charmeuse as I stitched to the cotton underlining.
The lightweight silk lining covered the stitches and most of the hem allowance. I always leave a jump pleat in the lining of a fitted skirt (similar to what you'd incorporate in the lower hem of a jacket's lining) for ease of movement. I didn't need hem lace for the remake because the lining covered all the raw edges, but I also didn't want to risk the imprint of the lace showing through the charmeuse.
So, although the fabric was the same, the hems couldn't have been more different. And I think both worked beautifully.
XSusan Khalje is the author of "Bridal Couture -- Fine Sewing Techniques for Wedding Gowns and Evening Wear," from Krause Publications. Contact her at or Box 51 Long Green, Md. 21092. For more information, visit or

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