A hemmer that actually works

The narrow hemmer foot is supposed to be an absolute wonder helping you to make narrow rolled hems. There is no shortage of manuals and videos demonstrating how it’s done – and what marvelous results you get. And then you try it yourself, and all you get is a hot mess of fraying fabric. 😫

Previously I investigated four narrow hemmer feet that came with my 1950s Haid & Neu Primatic machine (why four different feet?).

I followed the manual to the letter and produced absolutely beautiful rolled hems – but not of the sort that we’re normally thinking of. My rolled hems were 1mm to 2mm wide and they were overcast – the sort of thing you could make with a good overlocker.

What I’m rather thinking of though is a 3-5mm hem where the material is folded twice (“rolled up”) and stitched with a straight stitch along the fold. And such a hem is in my experience impossible to produce with a narrow hemmer foot because the fabric stretches along the raw edge as you sew and turns into a nightmare.

A bed-mounted adjustable hemmer

But today I found something that actually really works – and it is not a foot! It is an attachment for the bed of the machine.

You can slide the top bit allowing you to change the width of the hem from 2mm to 2cm. This particular attachment came with a 1905 Stoewer VS3 machine, but this was one of the standard accessories at the time, supplied with most machines of various makes. These attachments disappeared some time in 1920s, replaced by the newly invented narrow hem feet. But hang on – what’s this?

This is a modern industrial hemmer. Fixed width, but otherwise the same! Now, I wonder why they are not using those miracle narrow hemmer feet in industry? 😉

I decided to try my hemmer attachment because I’m “hemming” seam allowances on a crêpe chirimen dress – and it is an absolutely devilish fabric to sew – completely uncooperative, it is flexing and snaking away like you cannot believe. It is also quite soft (which makes for beautiful draping), so any overlocking or even plain zig-zag stitches in a single edge becomes too bulky and comes through as if embossed on the right side – without me ironing them in, that is! But I found that a single turned up “hemmed” seam allowance does not show embossed zig-zag on the right side, so that’s what I’m using.

Just a regular zig-zag foot, and gently guide the material into the hemmer. It comes out folded over once, and goes straight under the foot.

For a particularly difficult fold such as when the edge is cut on a curve, you can also use a foot with a blind hem guide – not to sit on the fabric but to prevent the fold from flipping open again.

I am folding the fabric once here, but you could also fold it twice and stitch on the edge. Here is how you would make a wider rolled hem:

The attachment mounts onto the holes designed for a stitch guide. Every machine has them, roughly in the same place with respect to the needle. Also, hemmer attachments can vary slightly in the way they are mounted. Mine has a pin in the right slot that is meant to go into the right hole, with the screw going into the left hole.

You set it up so that the folded material as it comes out of the attachment, aligns with the needle. You can use straight stitch, zig-zag or decorative stitches – it’s up to you. You can also use feet with guides if needed – because the attachment mounts onto the bed, you are free to choose whatever foot you like!

The swirl hemmer

Here is another bed-mounted hemmer that actually works: a double turn swirl hemmer of a fixed width, virtually identical to the industrial ones.

These hemmers come in different widths, so here in fact I have two – one on each side of the attachment. The actual width of the hem is supposed to be printed on them, but it’s not printed on these, and just as well – it depends on the fabric and whether the hem is straight or curved.

Hemmers often have troubles to get seams through the swirl, especially on narrow hems – the thick seam allowance gets stuck. So I cut it away to help things along a bit! 😀

Hemmers make life a lot easier, although on curved hems the result is a bit twisted.

This can usually be fixed with ironing, but do check your fabric – sometimes it twists a bit too much.

What I really want to know here is why such a useful piece of kit was removed from the accessories of our domestic machines? I mean, you couldn’t even buy it separately if you wanted! Yet they kept using it in industry for obvious reasons – it works!! So why people at home can’t have something that works, too?

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7 thoughts on “A hemmer that actually works

  1. Elena,
    I’m glad it’s not just me that suffers from “success shortfall” with those narrow hemmer feet. I bought a couple of fixed width hemmer attachments from Helen Howes:

    that attach to a special presser foot with a screw on the back of it. They do work, but the ones I have are designed for wider hems and of course you can’t use “custom” presser foot with them or zigzag. A bed mounted adjustable one seems a much better idea. I suspect the reason the narrow hemming presser feet are so widely found is more to do with their value when selling new machines with accessories at a good price than their usefulness!
    Dan H


    1. Dan, I’ve got those back-mounting hemmers too, both the old version on a long stalk and a modern short-stalked version. They are not bad, but like you said – not adjustable, and even at the same width they still don’t work as well as the bed-mounted hemmer. Which are also available from Helen at £4 each: If there ever was a bargain, this is it! 😀


  2. Thanks. Helen Howes comments that these adjustable hemmers don’t go narrow. What do you think is best for a narrow hem then – I’m thinking the hem of a cotton shirt for example?
    Dan H


    1. Well, I don’t see why they wouldn’t go narrow. Mine does, and it is very similar to the rectangular ones that she’s got there. But also have a look at the fixed width narrow ones below – they are virtually identical to the modern industrial ones (or rather the other way around, of course). I think you’ll just need to experiment. May be get one adjustable and one fixed and try them out? BTW, fixed width ones also come for bias binding – with double swirl.


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