Like most mid century loving ladies, I adore a full circle skirt, but that hem! It takes me ages to hem a circle skirt, it ends up being over 18 feet of hem. (That's nearly 5.5 meters for those of you outside the US!) How do I know it is over 18 feet around? Because I use bias tape to hem my circle skirts and the packaged cotton/poly bias tape from Wrights at Joanns is 3 yards to a package and I always use 2 packages plus a little extra (and with 3 feet to a yard= 18 feet around!)!
Using bias strips to hem a circle, A-line, or any shaped hem is a super useful technique because any curved edge is difficult (to impossible) to hem by just turning it up twice like you can on a straight edge. I like using self bias to hem too instead of the pre-made store bought kind, or sometimes I make bias tape from a lightweight silk for clean but stable hems on various weights of fabric. I know this is a super easy technique, but just in case there was someone out there that didn't know this very simple way to hem a circle skirt painlessly (well, it takes ages but it looks clean and nice every time!) I wanted to write up a little tutorial for you all today.
I am just using some scraps of cotton sateen here to give you an idea of the technique I use. You can use matching bias tape, something stiffer if you want the hem to stand away more and have more volume, or use a cute contrasting color or print for a fun detail.
To begin start by sewing the pieces of bias together if you know your hem is going to be more than the length of bias you start with. For circle skirts I always make a continuous piece of bias at least 22 feet (thats 670 cm!) long so it will reach all the way around. I realize now I should have taken a photo of how to join bias tape so I will try and put one in here this weekend when I can take a photo! I use 1/2 inch extra wide double fold bias tape when I hem and I always iron out the middle fold so it looks like it does above, about 1 inch wide with just less than 1/2 an inch turned in on each side. When I make bias myself I simply iron it to look the same way. When cutting your own bias you can always make it narrower or wider too of course, but I find this standard-ish 1 inch finished look woks for most applications
Unfold one edge of the bias tape and pin the right side of the tape to the right side (that's the outside) of your skirt (or dress) hem. Since the above is just a straight edged scrap (...pretend it's a pencil skirt?) I started off the edge with a bit of extra bias but on a finished skirt or dress you will end up just overlapping the ends of the bias when you reach the beginning again after going all the way around.
Sew along the fold line all the way around your hem. I use my machine of course as this stitching will never be seen from the outside in the end.
Now you have this little bias trim around the outside hem of your skirt but that's what we will turn underneath to the "wrong" side of the fabric next.
Flip to the underside of the hem and fold the bias tape over with a 1/4 inch (or less, or more, whatever you like) of space between the bias and the edge. Since the other side of the bias is already ironed things are already looking pretty clean and nice! Iron into place and pin.
Now you can stitch the other side of the bias down to the fabric using any stitch you would like and all the raw edges will be contained away. It makes hemming curves a breeze! I tend to just use a slip stitch but you can get fancier with a catch stitch or which ever you prefer. (Colettes guide to 5 hand hem stitches). Of course you can also machine stitch the bias down, and on a busy print odds are no one would notice, but hand stitching gives you a more invisible and clean finish.
Here is the same technique on a curved edge like a circle skirt hem. Bias stretches and conforms to the curve no problem!
Stitched in place.
Ironing the bias down inside (sometime with a little steam) will curve the bias again to the correct shape. The threads in the bias tape have enough room to mold to the shape you need.
Pin in place as before.
Hems ready for hand stitching!
I anchor my thread by poking the needle up from inside the "pocket"-ish channel created by the bias so that the knot/end is hidden. Then to slip stitch I take a small stitch of the skirt fabric and then a larger stitch through the folded edge of the bias tape as above. By using the perfect amount of tension with the thread you can help the bias sit totally flat by allowing it to curve a little bit more. Hopefully that makes sense!
So that's how I hem my circle skirts! Sure you still have to spend a few hours hand stitching 20 feet of hem, but at least it will be pretty and clean in the end! This is also a good trick if you ever cut a skirt shorter than you meant to and don't want to turn much of it up for a hem; using bias like this will help retain the length you want.
What are your favorite hemming tricks? Do you have a different way of hemming circle skirts? Let me know!