Tips for levelling hems

I wanted to share some tips for getting level hems on your sewing projects. Often by the time we get to the hemming stage, we’re impatient to finish and rush through this final step. Sometimes that’s ok, and other times, this will leave you with a less than satisfactory finish


If you’ve ever ended up with a hem line that rises up at the back, or dips at the sides, or curves up at the front then this is a sign that you need to level your hems.


We are all beautifully different shapes, some of us have fuller rounded bottoms, some may be pregnant, we may appear wide at the hips from a side to side view, or we may have a squishy tummy. All these wonderful body shapes can cause your hem to hang unevenly.

Tips for levelling hems

As a pro Costumer it’s the one task I need to do most often, particularly when working on hired costumes that have drooped over time like the 18th century yellow cloak above, that I re-levelled for series 3 of “Harlots” 


I can hear you thinking, hmmm, doesn’t the pattern just instruct me to fold and sew the hem? Well, you’re right, usually patterns just instruct you on how to hem the edge based on keeping the pattern as intended. But this won’t make the pattern bespoke to you the wearer of the pattern who has a beautiful unique shape, that is very likely different than the one the pattern was originally designed for. By choosing to create a custom levelled hem, you can make that dress to your preferred length, and ensure that it looks perfectly parallel with the ground ( unless of course the design is asymmetric!) 


So, what’s the best way to do this, and when can we skip it?

Tips for levelling hems

Technique 1: Get a fit buddy to help


If you’re lucky you may have a sewing friend or teacher who can pin up your hem for you, measuring as they go with a ruler to ensure that the hem is parallel with the ground. Remember all those black and white movies with a teenager standing on a table whilst her mum pins the hem using a ruler?


To do this, I like to use either an L ruler like this prym one, or a large quilt ruler like this as they’re less wobbly than a simple metre stick and are more likely to give a better/consistent line. 


  • Get your fit buddy to start by choosing your preferred hem length, they will then place a pin at that point, they will then note what measurement on the ruler lines up with that pin. 
  • You will slowly turn around pausing at intervals and ensuring to stay the same distance away from the ruler so your fit buddy can keep placing pins at the same height all the way around the hemline. The pins should be around 5 cm or 2 inches apart to make sure you can create an even hem. 
  • Take off your garment and then mark with tailors chalk the new hem line on the inside of your garment, smoothing off any lumpy bits in the pin line. 
  • Measure down your hem allowance from this line, and cut along this lower line.
Tips for levelling hems
Tips for levelling hems

Technique 2: Use a dress-form or mannequin.


This method works best  if you have set up your mannequin to be a custom replica of yourself. Don’t worry it’s not tricky, just add a padded bra, and some extra padding onto the mannequin in the places where you are bigger than your mannequin.  If you are exactly the same shape as your mannequin then you can skip adding padding. 


Depending on the type of mannequin you have, you can either use one of two methods

Tips for levelling hems

Option 1.


Follow the same process as described for the fit buddy method, ie using a ruler and turning the mannequin as you place pins at the new hem level.

Option 2- use the hem marker that comes with your mannequin


Since different mannequins have different types of hem markers you will need to refer to the manual of your specific model.


Essentially though, most of them have some kind of clip, that you fix at the required height of your new hemline. You then use this clip to place pins around the hem. Opening the clip as you move, and then turning the mannequin to move around the hem.


Mark up as per technique 1


Tips for levelling hems
Tips for levelling hems

Technique 3: Solo fitting with a chalk hem marker.


So how can you level a hem working solo if you don’t have a mannequin?  My fav method if I need to make a hem solo, is to use a chalk marker. This simple tool is small so doesn’t take up as much space as a mannequin, and they do work really well. I like this one from Adjustoform,  a British brand.


  • Assemble the hem marker and fill the chalk puffer. You can get both white and yellow powder as well as refills. Use a small funnel to avoid getting chalk powder everywhere.
  • Set the height of your hem. The pole has measurement lines, and there’s a beak shaped piece that slides up and down and delivers the chalk. This needs to be set at the height of your new hem. 
  • Hold the chalk “puff” which is like a small balloon, in your right hand. Then stand straight, looking ahead. Again if you are looking down, you’re actually creating a shorter hem that WILL be wonky.
  • Squeeze the puffer with the fabric of your garment close to the beak shaped piece. There will now be a short straight line of chalk on your garment. Don’t worry it will easily brush off.
  • Slowly turn, repeating the process of squeezing the puffer to release the chalk until you have marked all the way around. 
  • Remove your garment, and either tack this chalked line so you can see check it before it disappears, or remark lightly, smoothing out any inconsistencies. Then mark a line further down that is your hem allowance and cut along this lower line.
Tips for levelling hems

You can also watch my video on using a chalk marker too.

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