Lettuce Hem: What Is It and When to Use One?

Below, we explain when you can use the lettuce hem and give step-by-step instructions on sewing it.
Jean Chaney
Jean Chaney
Research Writer
Jean is the brains behind her fashion label. She's a whiz with a needle and thread, and has been sewing since she was old enough to hold a pair of scissors. Jean has always read more
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Isabel Misner
Isabel Misner
Expert Consultant
A professional seamstress. Isabel has her own video blog where she shares her experience about all the aspects of sewing – from choosing suitable materials to step-by-step read more
Last updated: August 12, 2023
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Lettuce hem provides a lovely edge finish for stretch fabric items. It’s not hard to figure out where its name comes from. The edges look a bit like the wrinkles on lettuce. Traditionally, the hemming technique can be done with a Serger, but you can sew it on conventional machines easily with a zigzag stitches.

In this article, we will explain to you what lettuce hem means and show you how to give it a try. It might not surprise you to learn that this is a sewing technique. It’s actually not that rare. If you’ve ever looked at the bottom of a shirt or skirt and seen a “wavy” look, you’re most likely looking at a lettuce hem.

What Is a Lettuce Hem?

Lettuce Hem: What Is It and When to Use One?A lettuce hem is a very decorative stitch finish that you can make on ruffles, sleeves, bodices, and more. A lettuce hem is called so because of its resemblance to a lettuce leaf. They are ideal on garments that are made of knit fabric. It’s a lot like rolled hem but it has an edge that is stretched-out deliberately, hence, making a rippled effect.

Sewing a lettuce edge hem onto a garment will give it a cute curly effect that is very feminine.  This type of hem produces a smoothly ruffled edge that is similar to the edges of curly lettuce leaves.

The lettuce edge hem is easy to sew and can be done with a regular zigzag stitch on a conventional sewing machine, but it is even easier if done with a serger sewing machine. Start by practicing on an ordinary shirt to sew this type of hem and then on to other more elegant clothing such as a blouse or skirt.

To make a lettuce hem, you need quality embroidery or all-purpose cotton or polyester threads.

When to Use Lettuce Hem

A lettuce hem can be sewn only on stretchy fabrics. Stretch fabrics stretch a lot along the cut edge. However, a woven fabric wouldn’t; hence, this isn’t great for making lettuce hem.

So, you’ll get great results with stretch fabrics that are thin and can curl a lot. These can be spandex, knits, sateen, stretch cotton, stretch silk, stretch wool, stretch velvet, stretch lace, organza fabric, and more.

You can try out making a lettuce hem with a computerized or mechanical sewing machine. A simple serger, also called an overlocking machine, can also give you great results.

Lettuce Hem Sewing Instructions

Lettuce edges are a great decorative way to finish your hems. They’re very feminine. They are a lot of fun to make and they’re super easy.  You can do this on a knit fabric either a jersey or anything that stretches. The technique to get the good full-volume curvy edges is to pull on the fabric as you’re feeding it.

You should use threads that have a lot of recoveries. These are the most ideal with the lettuce edge.

Do you have a serger or a conventional sewing machine? Below, we will give you the instructions on sewing a lettuce hem on sergers and sewing machines.

With a Serger

Lettuce Hem: What Is It and When to Use One?You can use an overlocker or a serger to make shoulder ruffles on your dress. You can find the free pattern online. The ruffles would also go nicely with a mock neck top pattern. For those who don’t have a serger yet, according to most reviews, the sturdiest model must be the Baby Lock Vibrant Serger Machine, which, thanks to its reinforced construction, is the most reliable option out there.

To create the narrow stitch, follow the steps below:

  • Remove the left needle and thread to sew a three-thread overlock stitch. Thread your overlocker in a color you don’t mind showing on the finished edge; whether that’s matching toning or even contrast.
  • Set the stitch length to “R” for a rolled hem. Do the same with the stitch width if your overlocker has this setting.
  • And to help stretch the fabric, lower the differential feed. Remove the stitch finger by pressing a lever. If your machine has a stitch finger or training finger switch knob, set this to R to make the fabric roll to the underside.
  • You will need to adjust the thread tension. Try raising the tension. Dial on the lower looper by three notches and raise the right needle tension by one notch or check your manual for recommended rolled hem settings.
  • As you sew the edge, pull the fabric both towards you and away from you. The more you pull, the more the edge will curl up. And there you have your lettuce-edge hem!

With a Sewing Machine

Lettuce Hem: What Is It and When to Use One?Sewing a lettuce edge hem on a garment will give it a beautiful, very feminine curly effect. This type of hem produces a slightly tousled edge that resembles the edges of leaf lettuce. A lettuce hem is easy to make and you can do this with the zigzag stitch on conventional sewing machines. Follow the process below:

  • On a sewing machine, we recommend that you sew this type of hem first, by practicing over a regular T-shirt. Then move on to other more fancy clothes, like a blouse or skirt.
  • Remove the existing hem from the T-shirt or other clothing you exercise on by cutting it off with scissors. Use a thread cutter if you prefer to remove the seams from the hem by hand rather than just cutting them. After removing a hem by hand, trim the excess fabric to give the garment the length of the original hem.
  • Thread your sewing machine with the color of the thread you have chosen. Again, the best threads for making a lettuce hem are cotton and polyester threads. Cotton threads are especially known for their strength and medium sheen. They are ideal for sewing lettuce hem on stretchy cotton. One of the most recommended for this type of fabric is the Aurifil Cotton Mako 50wt. It’s a natural white material made from Egyptian cotton.
  • Set the machine for a narrow zigzag stitch and set the differential feed to its lowest level.
  • Lift the needle from your machine by turning the handwheel towards you. Place your T-shirt or other clothing on the machine directly under the presser foot and lower the foot to hold the material in place.
  • Turn the handwheel again until the needle is inserted into the fabric at the side seam of the garment with the right side of the fabric facing up.
  • Grasp the fabric on the back of the presser foot with one hand and pull back to stretch it. With the other hand, pull and stretch the fabric in front of the needle. Begin sewing the zigzag stitch while continuing to stretch the fabric back and forth as you continue to zigzag along the entire edge of the garment.
  • Zigzag around the edge of the garment twice. Finish your seam by sewing a few stitches in the back when you have finally reached the starting stitches. Release the material by lifting the presser foot and cutting the threads.

Final thoughts

Sewing a lettuce hem is an easy process. This can be done on a sewing machine or a serger machine. First, you have to roll up the edge. But we advise that you test a piece of fabric to make sure that your technique and stitch length are correct. If your fabric is curly, it will be very easy. Just flip it over with your fingers, without ironing. It doesn’t matter if the front or back of the fabric is facing up, as the zigzag stitches will cover the edges.

Set the width of the zigzag stitch. Your machine may have satin stitch applique and it may work well. Stretch your fabric as while ensuring you have a small egde folded. The zigzag will extend past the edge as well as the crease. When you’re done making the lettuce hem, let the fabric relax back into shape.

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