What’s A 1920s Picot Hem?

What's a 1920s picot hem

In the 1920s, the hem of sheer and lightweight dresses were often finished with a picot hem. Nowadays, the term ‘picot hem’ is often used wrongly. So what’s a real 1920s picot hem?

A picot hem is a hemstitch cut through the middle. In the 1920s, you obviously had your dresses hemstitched for money, according to this 1920s source: ‘Many of the daintiest summer frocks for the young girl are […] trimmed in machine picoted ruffles of self-material. The machine picoting […] is machine hemstitching cut through the center as shown in sketch 1. The charge for this work is made by the yard, and there is a great saving in planning picoting so that both edges of the hemstitching may be used’.

Here you’ll see a picot edge used on the jabot of a 1920s silk chiffon dress. And for this pretty 1920s floral chiffon dress it’s used as hem finish.

In 1921, machine hemstitching ‘is used on blouses, dresses, lingerie, etc., to put together seams, finish hems and put on trimmings such as bands, etc. It is neat, durable and gives a garment a dainty, finished look. […] Prices for the work vary, but it is not expensive. It can not be done at home, as the machine required is too costly’. All the lines and seams are basted in self-colored thread before the garment is sent to the hemstitcher. A foundation of silk muslin or thin lawn is necessary for bias edges and thin materials, such as net, chiffon and lace. ‘Picot edging is simply machine hemstitching cut through the center. It makes a very dainty and yet strong finish for edges of collars, sleeves, tunics, ruffles, sashes, etc.’

The first hemstitching machine was invented in 1893. Real hemstitching machines have two needles and two bobbins. Here are pictures of antique hemstitching machines and of a hemstitching sample. And more pictures and instruction manuals of antique hemstitchers and a patent for hemstitching machines. Here are very interesting drawings how 1894 hemstitching machines work. And some videos of picot and hemstitching machines: a heirloom hemstitch machine, another double needle hemstitcher, double needle picot hemstitch machine, how to thread an antique Singer hemstitching machine, how to thread an Cornely hemstitching machine, and a Singer one needle hemstitcher and picot edger where it’s necessary to finish each side of the holes separately; and here the fabric is pierced with a wing needle which isn’t a real hemstitch. Today, even a zig-zagged rolled hem or shell hem is often wrongly called a 1920s picot edge.

Commercial hemstitching seems still to be available in the 1950s, according to this great source: ‘A picot-edged hem, which is very satisfactory, is done by having bottom edge of garment commercially hemstitched. […] Placing a strip of tissue paper under fabric, make a line of basting along marked hemline, stitching through tissue. Have commercial hemstitching done over basted line. Remove paper only after hemstitching is done. Cut as shown.’

Here you’ll find my tutorial for a 1920s imitation picot hem.

20 thoughts on “What’s A 1920s Picot Hem?

  1. You always share the most interesting little tidbits of history Lina. I always worry that we’re going to lose that but thank goodness there’s someone like you keeping all of it alive through your blog.

  2. That was a super fun history lesson! I do love a good history lesson especially when it is one in the world of fashion, style, and garment making!

    Thanks so much for linking up with me On the Edge!


  3. What an interesting post. I’m so glad I visited! Thank you for sharing. I love vintage clothing & it is great to learn more about their construction.


  4. thanks for the lesson, I am sure my mother and grandmother knew what this stitch was as I recall them making many clothes as I was growing up

  5. I am in my 80th year and I am trying to decide what to do with some baby clothes that were made by my mother. She did amazing handwork, but I was curious that so many had hemstitching. I have been researching and in awe that there were hemstitch machines prior to 1900! I have a doll dress that she told me was made out of parachute silk. It is quite fragile now, but still in tact. She added rosebuds to everything, even things we bought later for grandchildren. . .she would put that lovely little touch to so many things. I just have a few things, but the kids, grandkids don’t seem to have any interest. There is one dress that has a small scalloped edge that I wonder if it could have been done by a machine but every other stitch on the item is hand stitched. OH. . .the things we take for granted. She also did remarkable applique. The back of her needlework is as pretty as the front. I just have a few things but I can’t bear to just send them to a thrift shop.

    1. How wonderful that you still have the baby clothes! 🙂 Do you have pictures of the baby clothes on a blog, instagram etc.? I’d love to see them!

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