Turned hems

We were sitting around the fire at knitting camp, discussing different types of hem treatments (as you do) and I realized I have a favorite kind of hem. I love turned hems*. The turned hem is just a little bit of stockinette fabric which you fold to the inside of your garment/hat/mitts etc… They’re so neat, so tidy, so fully customizable. Really, what’s not to love?

turned hems

Well, apparently some people don’t love the seaming. But seriously, it’s a tiny little chore at the end of your knitting. It goes quickly, and I think I can show you a few tips that’ll make it (dare I suggest this?) way more fun. First, let’s go over some turned hem options.

The basic turned hem is, essentially, an invisible edge to your knitting. And this is why I love it. You can work a nice, smooth, stockinette stitch fabric right to the very edge. No need to break up the flow with ribbing, garter stitch, or to be constantly fighting the curl of the fabric:

plain edge hems

Now to get this neat, uninterrupted fabric, that little bit of fabric on the inside needs to be slightly smaller than the rest of the fabric (otherwise it’ll flare out at the edge) The common way to do this is to go down a needle size. Knitting a sweater on US 8’s? Knit the hem on 7’s. A hat on size 2’s needs a hem knit on size 1’s.

lined hems

And know what’s another great thing about turned hems? The extra fabric right at the hem can be exactly what you need over your ears on a cold wintery day. AND the turned hem hides the stranded back side of the fabric. Have you ever gotten the back of an earring stuck on the inside of a stranded hat? I can’t recommend the experience…

Anyway, where was I? Oh right, once you’ve finished the lining fabric you go to whatever needle size give you true gauge for the project, work a turning row (generally a single purl row on the right side of the fabric) and continue merrily along.

But what if you don’t have the next needle size down? Another option is to use slightly fewer stitches in your hem. You really don’t need the the hem more than 1 inch smaller, so cast on a handful less stitches than you need, and work some m1p’s in that turning row for a well hidden increase. Or if it’s a top-down garment work some p2tog’s in the turning row before working your hem. You get the idea!

twisted hems

Another fun option for making smaller hems on the same sized needles is to create a biased fabric. This is easy-peasy. Just knit every stitch through the back loop. The stitches will all be a little tighter than in your normal fabric and volia! You’ve got a lovely, sturdy hem on the inside of your garment.

I also use the turned hem a lot for knitting where I want a picot edging. Instead of the plain row of purl stitches for the fold line I spice things up a bit with a *p2tog, yo* repeat for the turning row**. It makes for a row of purls and holes which becomes an lovely little design detail once the lining is sewn up.

picot hems

Usually for these garments I DON’T make the hem liner any smaller. I use the same needle size, same number of stitches – I think the slight flare of the fabric accents the feminine look of the picot edge.

Right – about that sewing. I suspect that knitters don’t like sewing because it’s not as precise. When your knitting your stitches are all lined up on the needles and you know exactly what happens next. With sewing you have a great swath of fabric- and do you make your stitches half an inch long? an eighth of an inch? Or what? So here’s a great little secret for seaming turned hems – you’re just connecting the back sides of knitted loops. Like this:

Fold the hem up, making sure that the fabric isn’t bunched and that the turning row is right at the bottom:

setup for whipstitch

Pick up one purl bump from the row just above the hem and one loop from your cast on edge:

first stitch

Pull the yarn through, and go back to the purl bump row making a single spiraled loop:

second stitch

Pick up the next purl-bump-and-loop pair as described above and pull your next stitch through. Continue this process along the edge of the hem:

continue stitching

Make sure that you’re pulling the yarn just tight enough to hold the two layers of fabric together. Don’t pull too tightly, or your seam won’t have any stretch to it.

not too tight

If it looks like this, your stitches are too tight. And knitted fabric is so stretchy, you really want a stretchy hem to match!

Two caveats here:
1) If you cast on fewer stitches and increased in the turning row then your cast on loops and the purl bumps won’t line up all the way around. You’ll need to skip as many purl bumps as the number of increases you made. Be sure to spread them evenly around the hem.
2) If you made biased fabric by knitting stitches through the back loop then the columns of stitches in the fabric won’t line up exactly with the columns in the hem. But if you let the hem slant naturally in the first step this won’t be a problem.

If you really can’t wrap your mind around seaming you can always use this backup method: Do a provisional cast on instead. Work your hem, your turning row, and then your knitted fabric. When the fabric is as long as the hem remove the provisional cast on putting all those stitches on a second needle. Now knit 2 together using 1 stitch from the outside of the fabric and 1 stitch from the hem all the way around. This joins the hem seamlessly to the garment (assuming you’ve got the same number of stitches in both – as for caveat 1 above)

I really find this MORE complicated and time-consuming that stitching the hem up at the end. But the wonderful thing about knitting is that we each can choose our own favorite way of doing things! Whichever way you like best, I hope you’ll try a turned hem project. I really think they’re a fabulous way to edge a piece of knitted fabric.

*I have 7 designs with turned hems: La Moelle, Queen City, Hyde Park, Aperture, Emma Woodhouse, Hirta, Morningtide, and Lime Sorbet.

**if you have an odd number of stitches, be careful you don’t accidentally screw up your stitch count.

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10 responses to “Turned hems

  1. I once knit a pair of socks where the designer had you pick up cast on stitches and k2tog with the stitch on the needle to create a turned hem. Now that was difficult (and, of course, I was using dark green yarn)! Makes seaming look like a piece of cake.

    • When the pattern is written like that I’ll usually replace it with a standard sewn hem. If I’m smart I read all the directions first to make sure they don’t have a special reason for using that method- but yeah, that’d slow me way down!

  2. I hate sewing but you might have convinced about hems. Sometimes at least. ;)

  3. I love turned hems too! I’ll often do a provisional cast on and k2tog rather than seaming. Depends on the garment.

  4. I also like the turned hem – I graft my stitches down on the underside. I’ve never seen your way before, but it might be a little faster than grafting.

    • This method is just a basic whipstitch which I carried over from my sewing. But since it’s just one sewn stitch per knitted stitch it’s almost certainly faster than grafting would be. Possibly less stretchy than a grafted seam though…

  5. I don’t mind seaming, but usually don’t get a very pretty result. Your photos make it very clear how simple and neat it can be. I’ll have to bookmark this post. Thank you.

  6. One of my favorites too! I’m even too lazy to use a provisional cast-on a lot of times with them. (not for public consumption, just for lazy-me!)

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