How to Hem (In 4 different Languages!)

Teaching anyone to sew by hand for the first time can be challenging.  The awkward way they hold a needle, overcoming their mental block of not understanding a new skill and using the new vocabulary of sewing is difficult in of itself.  Imagine having these obstacles combined with not speaking the same langauge as some my students and a dead video projector that usually blows up the images so students actually see what’s going on in my hands: That was my week.

My school has a very large population of English Language Learners (ELL students) which require special attention while planning a lesson.  With my projector, I could literally display what I was doing on the board using my Document Reader (like a really awesome camera that zooms in on my hands while I sew!).  This helps ALL my students  see  an enormous image of what I am trying to show them, instead of having  small groups gather around my hands like a pow-wow.  So now I have no camera, which is helpful for my ELL kids since they can simply follow my hands instead of my voice.  Challenge.

This made for a very humorous couple of days in my Fashion Design class.  These girls were awesome: they were patient, asked good questions and didn’t get too frustrated with me.  Our main problem came with my interesting way of explaining things (which is usually helpful to American students!) but completely confused my ELLs!

While hand hemming (which I will post below), one step requires the needle to angle down into the fabric.  This is a strange step because the students always assume everything has to be perfectly straight when they sew.  Therefore, when I am performing this step (usually on my camera, but this time standing in front of the class) I make an airplane noise and tell the students to nose dive into the fabric.  Don’t judge me.  They like it.  They get it.  But, my Ukrainian student gave me the oddest look.  With her dark eye brows furrowed, she says “What airplane are you talking about?” (imagine in kind of a “Moose & Squirrel” type of accent).  Funny.

I also enjoy personifying the English Language a little bit.  In the last step of the final stitch, the needle goes through the loop to make a knot.  For some reason, this is beyond my students realm of thinking.  But, telling them to put the bunny in the hole always makes them laugh and they know exactly what I’m saying.  Not a kid who doesn’t speak English.  My Russian girl yells, “Meesis Dahmreen, whahhht bunnies are you talking aboud!?”.  All the Americans had a good laugh, and her partner showed her the loop on her fabric- she got it then and gave me a smile.

Then, my Burmese student begins to mock me.  I start to discover that she knows exactly what she is doing- growing up in the jungle of a war-torn country, I guess you learn how to sew without a machine pretty proficiently.    Before I have chance to describe a step, in her raspy, meek and (I have no idea how else to describe a Burmese accent) she talks to herself and mimics exactly what I’m going to say before I have a chance.  SO FUNNY! 

By the end of the week we had successfully sewed on buttons and learned to sew a hem- language barriers and all. Tune in next week, when I teach my Culinary Arts students to julienne a carrot (in Vietnamese, Ukranian, Burmese and Spanish!)



1. Measure the length of the desired hem and press.

2. On the raw edge, press under ¼”

3. Place the needle INSIDE the two pieces of fabric (so the knot is hidden between the fabric) and push out into the wrong side of the folded fabric (the inside of the garment)

4. Pull the thread tight and push the needle back through fabric JUST above the folded edge (into the single layer of fabric) and to the left of where the needle come out.

5. Once you’ve pushed the needle through the single layer of fabric, take a SMALL amount back onto the need (however much fabric you take is how much the thread will show!)

6. Push the needle back through the folded fabric, angled slightly.  Stitches will not be straight, but consistently angled.


October 5, 2012. Uncategorized.

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