Let’s investigate the mysterious world of hem stabilizers today.
Hem stabilizers are one of those things many of us might have heard of, but are never quite sure when to use. Like other forms of stabilizers (namely interfacing), there are a wide variety of choices for different applications.
Unlike interfacing, it’s not likely that your sewing pattern instructions will let you know if you need one (unless you are making a tailored jacket, perhaps). The need for stabilizer, and the choice of which to use, mainly depends on your fabric.
At the end of this article, you will understand:
- Why you might use a hem stabilizer.
- What the main types of stabilizers are.
- How to choose the right hem stabilizer for your project.
Why use stabilizer?
There are two main reasons to use a stabilizer:
- To improve the appearance of your hem. A stabilizer can add crispness, structure, or volume to the hem of your garment. This is why they are almost always used in tailored jackets and coats, where a crisp look is so prized.
To make your hem easier to sew. Some stabilizers are used not to change the drape of the hem so much as to allow you to execute the hem without problems. For example, when sewing a knit hem, a stabilizer keeps the hem from stretching out and becoming wavy.
Types of hem stabilizer
You are probably familiar with at least some of the various types of interfacing that exist. Interfacing is a stabilizer that can be used anywhere in a garment, including the hem. There is a huge variety of interfacings for almost any need.
In addition to traditional interfacing, there are some specific products out there that can also help you adapt and stabilize a hem.
Fusible interfacing is available in several forms, including woven, non-woven, and knit.
You can find fusible interfacing at any fabric store. It’s intended to be bonded to fabric with the heat of an iron.
Fusible interfacing provides a quick and simple way to add stability to a hem. Cut your interfacing in long strips and bond them to the hem before sewing.
Sew-in interfacing can really be any type of fabric that’s used to add an additional layer of stability!
You can buy fabric that is specifically made to be used as a sew-in interfacing, or choose a fabric that works well with your main fabric.
A few good choices are:
- Canvas. Commonly used in jacket and coat hems, and usually cut on the bias.
- Silk organza. A great choice for light fabrics, because it adds crispness while remaining extremely light.
- Netting. Like organza, netting adds stiffness without much extra weight.
- Self-fabric. Sometimes self-fabric can be used to give just a bit of extra structure to a hem. Reserve this for crisp fabrics that won’t add much bulk.
Elastics and tapes
Clear elastic is often used to stabilize knits, and other elastics can be used for the same purpose.
In addition, there are several adhesive tapes on the market that are specifically made for adding stability to hems and seams.
Horsehair braid is commonly used to add extra volume at the hem, especially in full skirts.
Other forms of braid can also be used for the same purpose. They are well worth experimenting with, because they hold their shape well and are easy to mold around curves.
If you simply need a stabilizer to make sewing easier, but don’t necessarily want the extra structure or bulk they might add, try using a wash-away stabilizer.
These can be adhered to your fabric, sewn over, and then removed with a single wash. This is a great option for delicate fabrics that tend to stretch or shift when they’re sewn, such as knits or light silks.
Wash away stabilizers can be purchased as fabric (similar to interfacing), or as tapes like the wash-away stabilizing tape above.
How to choose a stabilizer
If you think your hem might benefit from a little more stability, choosing the right stabilizer is your next step. This is a bit more art than science, and you’ll probably want to experiment and try sampling some ideas on scrap fabric.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- What is the goal of this stabilizer? Do you want to add crispness and structure? Do you want to make a full hem more voluminous? Or do you simply want to make a flimsy hem a little easier to stitch?
- How will it affect the texture? Choose a stabilizer that won’t be visible from the outside. If it will change the outer texture of your fabric, don’t use it. For example, if your fabric won’t stand up to heat, a fusible won’t be the right choice.
- Will it add too much weight? The last thing you want is for your hem to be weighed down by a heavy stabilizer. Match the stabilizer to your fabric weight.
- Will it add bulk? If your fabric is light, thick and sturdy stabilizers can make your hem appear bulky. For light fabrics, think about light stabilizers, like netting or organza.
Common uses for stabilizer
Hem stabilizers can be used in almost any garment, depending on the look you’re going for. Think of this as a design choice that you can make when you’re sewing. It’s all about the final look.
Here are a few common scenarios for using a hem stabilizer:
- Stabilizing a coat or jacket hem (often with canvas, cut on the bias).
- Stabilizing knit hems with fusible tape or knit interfacing to avoid wavy lines.
- Stabilizing silk hems with organza for added crispness.
- Stabilizing full skirt hems with horsehair braid for more volume.
It’s up to you how and where you use them, but they really can open up possibilities and make hem sewing a little easier.
Do you use hem stabilizers regularly? Or have there been projects where you wish you had?