how to: level a hem

Isn’t it funny how quickly people can dismiss sewing as “easy” or “old fashioned”? I used to get really, really bothered when someone would say they didn’t know sewing was “a thing” anymore or assume that because I knew how to sew that I also spent my spare time in a dark basement somewhere churning butter or washing clothes on a washboard. Because that goes together? At any rate, I don’t care anymore. Sewing is a serious skill, and there’s a lot more that goes into it than people realize.

Back in the day, before all the sewing hours and experience had really added up, I was a little intimidated by hemming things. How do I do it? Is it done by hand? How much does one hem something, anyway? Turns out, just like everything else, there’s tons of different ways to do things and different projects call for different hems.

Have you ever noticed a dress or a skirt in a store with a funny looking hem? Uneven or longer in some spots? I have, and I even bought one once because it was linen and floral and pretty and I had to have it. I also knew it was an easy fix.

Sometimes, full skirts and certain fabrics (chiffon, charmeuse, linen, rayon, and others) will “fall” on the bias and require a leveling off before you can hem it. You can make changes to your pattern to account for this, but I think it’s better to cut it as you normally would and just level it off after you’ve sewn it. No need for the headache of figuring out the pattern for that. (I try to avoid headaches whenever possible.)

If you’re working with one of those tricky fabrics that may need to be leveled, or if you have a full skirt, this post is for you. Don’t be intimidated–it’s really easy! There’s a little tool that basically does all the work for you.


My hem marker is vintage, and quite short (so I park it on an upside down trash can to raise it up). JoAnn and others sells a modern version of this tool, but instead of using pins like mine it uses chalk to mark where the hem should be cut. Still does the same job. In addition to a hem marker you will need the following for this project: pins, measuring tape, and fabric scissors.

The dress I’m hemming in this post is one that I almost didn’t want to finish once Labor Day rolled around and I started having all the feels for fall, but it was already cut out and I have all the stars in my eyes for that gorgeous print. Plus, it’s Texas so it’s not like the fall weather has made it’s way down here just yet, so I can squeeze in a few more days of summery clothes.

I cut this dress to finish to midi length, but after trying it on I decided that I wanted it a little shorter, knee length. Because the dress sits at my natural waist, I could just measure from there to my desired length and mark it with a pin. Also, this is a full circle, which makes it even easier to mark and hem by myself, which is to say that if something is off by hair it won’t be noticeable. Oftentimes, this little project is a two person job, with a model wearing the garment while a tailor carefully marks the hem.


Notice that I’ve pinned at 25.75″, which will give me a 25″ length after it’s been hemmed. Now, I use my hem marker and adjust it to the spot of my pin, and then I pin all the way around the skirt in the same spot.




Following your pins or chalk marks, carefully trim the excess.



Ta-da! Leveled and ready to be hemmed. In case you’re wondering, this pattern is Vogue 9197 with a self drafted circle skirt. I’ll be dedicating a post to the dress next week, so stay tuned for the finished project. Let me know if you have any questions, and have a great weekend!


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