What is Hemming Gum?

Hemming gum is a natural, plant-based adhesive used to securely bind fabric edges, seal seams, laminate papers, and fabrics, and adhere to wood veneers. It creates a strong yet flexible bond and is valued for its longevity and moisture resistance compared to other glues. While traditionally used in sewing for hemming fabrics, modern innovations and product developments have expanded hemming gum’s versatility across crafts, manufacturing, and restoration applications.

History and Origins

The origins of hemming gum date back centuries with early mentions found in texts from ancient Egypt. However, widespread adoption occurred in the 19th-century fabric and garment industries in Europe and North America.

Traditional Uses

Its traditional and most ubiquitous use has been sewing and tailoring for finishing interior hems and seams on fabrics from delicate silks to heavy canvas. Compared to stitching, hemming gum offered garment-makers greater efficiency in production along with a clean, flat finish on hems devoid of bulk and visible stitching. The gum provided a much stronger bond than glue or starch paste without leaving stains.

How to Use Hemming Gum

Follow these detailed steps for broad or situational usage tips when applying hemming gum to bond, hem, seal, or mend fabric:

Choosing the Right Fabrics

Hemming gum works best on natural fiber wovens with texture and absorbency to grip into the weave such as:

  • Medium to heavyweight cottons like canvas, denim, and duckcloth
  • Linens and crisp woven cotton blends
  • Wool and wool blends, Cashmere
  • Silk only when used sparingly to avoid water stains

The gum bonds inadequately to very smooth, tight fabrics like taffeta or synthetic materials such as polyester blends which lack sufficient porosity for the gum to penetrate. If in doubt, test gum adhesion on a fabric swatch before committing to the glue.

Preparing the Fabric Surfaces

To ensure the strongest grip, fabrics need proper cleaning and sometimes light abrasion:

Cleaning – Wipe away dirt, oil, and fabric coatings using gentle detergent, vinegar solution, or solvent on a lint-free white cloth depending on the stain type. Avoid residue.

Abrasion – For heavy canvas and denim, very light sanding with 200+ grit emery paper improves penetration into the weave without damaging the fabric excessively. This is generally unnecessary on lighter wovens.

Selecting and Preparing the Gum

Tailor the type and consistency of hemming gum to each project:

Gum Selection – Natural or black gum works on most fabrics. Specialty options like red, blue, or glow gum contain dye or pigments. These tint fabrics are once dried.

Consistency – Knead a gum portion till pliable and warm between fingers. It should feel moderately tacky without being runny for optimal control while brushing it on fabric edges.

Application Tools – Use fingers, a small stiff brush, craft stick, or roller suited to the task like edging narrow hems vs coating large patches.

Applying the Gum

Use these techniques when affixing hemming gum adhesive to fabrics:

Spread EVENLY in a THIN layer – Uneven globs weaken overall adhesion once dried so distribute very thinly for best results. Too much gum also shows through finer fabrics.

Hold brushes at 45 degrees to apply gum across hem allowances or veneer-style for edging seams and patches. This enables smooth, feathered spreading traction.

Work in Sections for long hems and seams – Complete 2-4 inches at a time for best control before moving clamps down the run. Allow previous sections to set up slightly before adding more wet gum nearby.

Reactivate gum with minimal moisture if it begins drying out mid-application. Light fingertip dampening enables re-spreading without fully dissolving the previous layer.

Clamping While Drying

Proper pressure is vital while the gum cures:

Clamp Types – Alligator clips, quilter’s clips, small binder clips, spring clamps secured with tape, or tightly pinned fabric folds.

Apply EVEN clamping pressure along the entire bond line to prevent weak spots but avoid excess squeeze-out. Use small clamps staggered closely.

Tape delicate fabrics to stiff cards or release paper during drying to better resist pinching clips without crushing delicate fibers

Allow 24-48 hours for curing times for humidity and temperature. Test subtle flex before removing clips fully. If adhesion fails, try more clamp pressure or reactivating the glue line for another cycle.

Curing and Finishing Touches

Correctly curing hemming gum secures the bonds while finishing touches add polish:

Humidity extends curing so allow additional drying times for fabric projects destined for tropical climates or outdoor use where humidity resistance matters.

Reinforce bonded hems and seams with hand or machine stitches placed 1⁄4 inch away from glued lines if items undergo hard use for years. This safeguards connections.

Steam press completed hems using medium heat through a damp press cloth. Avoid iron directly on gum. Pressing flattens overly stiff sections.

Modern Applications

Beyond the persistence of traditional sewing applications, there has been innovation and product development around hemming gum. These have expanded their uses for mending, crafting, manufacturing, and restoration across wood, textiles, paper, leather, and more. Specialty gums have also been formulated to expand color options and tack levels.

Key Properties and Benefits

What makes hemming gum so versatile are its inherent working properties and advantages over other adhesives.

Adhesive Strength

Properly prepared hemming gum forms an incredibly strong yet flexible bond between porous materials like fabric, wood, and paper. The rigidifying process chemically transforms the gum into a durable adhesive.

Flexibility

Unlike rigid glues, the bonded joint retains flexibility after drying. This prevents cracking over time which is essential for fabrics and wood subject to movement and vibration.

Moisture Resistance

Hemming adhesive cures into a water-resistant bond that prevents joint failure and deterioration in high-humidity environments. This makes it well-suited for outdoor applications.

How it’s Made

Hemming gum begins as a natural exudate from trees and requires processing into a usable form.

Ingredients

The raw sappy extract originates from species of acacia and cassia trees native to Africa and Asia. It consists of complex polysaccharides along with water, sugars, and resinous compounds.

Manufacturing Process

The tree gum first gets cleaned and filtered to remove impurities. It then undergoes an evaporation process to remove excess water before adding extenders like chalk or gypsum. These modify viscosity, tack, and curing time. Finally, dyes or pigments may be incorporated to produce colored varieties.

Uses in Woodworking

In woodworking applications, hemming gum functions as a veneering adhesive, edge banding glue, and laminate binder.

Edge Banding

It can adhere thin strips of matching veneer along the exposed edges of plywood sheets and particle boards. This finishes rough edges and conceals layered core construction.

Veneering

It bonds thin slices of decorative wood veneers onto cheaper plywood and MDF substrates while allowing the veneers to move and flex seasonally without splitting.

Laminating

Craftsmen also use hemming gum for laminating paper or fabric to wood substrates when stiffness, moisture resistance, and high bond strength are desired.

Uses in Textiles and Upholstery

The traditional use of hemming in garment construction extends to other general textile bonding applications like:

Hemming

It produces flat, non-bulky narrow folded hems on fabric edges, ideal for drapery making.

Seam Sealing

Hemming gum seals and reinforces stitched seams on heavy outdoor gear like tents, tarpaulins, and canvas luggage.

Patching

It adheres to fabric patches and repairs tears on valued textiles when stitching would cause further damage.

Other Unique Uses

Beyond textiles and woodworking, versatility and innovation have opened up niche applications of hemming gum:

Bookbinding

Specialized bookbinder’s gum is ideal for hinge-gluing book spines and attaching delicate end sheets.

Flower Arranging

Floral designers use it to glue foam, wires, and fabrics when arranging dried, long-lasting displays.

Model Making

Model makers prefer it for affixing parts of model boats, aircraft, and architectural builds made of wood. Paint adheres well over dried gum.

Buying Considerations

When searching where to buy hemming/gum adhesive, keep in mind:

Types

It’s commonly available in natural and black and hobbyist varieties like red, white, yellow, and glow-in-dark. These contain pigments and dyes.

Quality

Seeking reputable branded hemming gum ensures reliable curing and bond strength suited to the project. Poor quality gum never dries properly.

Storage

Proper sealed storage at room temperature keeps gum from drying out while cold conditions can cause it to separate. Heat can liquefy gum.

Future Outlook

While deeply rooted in history, hemming gum remains highly relevant for restoration work, sustainable manufacturing, and artisan craftsmanship. We can expect product innovation and process improvements to continue as traditions carry forward on this ancient adhesive.

FAQs

Q: What types of fabric work best with hemming gum?

A: Medium to heavyweight tightly woven natural fabrics with absorbency like canvas, duck cloth, and densely woven cotton perform best. Performance is inconsistent on synthetics and delicate fabrics.

Q: Does hemming gum remain flexible permanently?

A: Yes, it retains lifelong flexibility and bonds do not turn rigid and brittle over decades like many wood and fabric glues.

Q: Can hemming gum bond parallel to the grain of the wood as well as the end grain?

A: Yes, it provides very strong bonds on both slash-grain and end-grain wood surfaces. Proper adhesive preparation boosts bond performance.

Q: Is hemming gum waterproof?

A: Once fully cured, it forms a water-resistant bond. However, it is not suitable for continual water immersion applications. Proper formulation enhances water resistance.

Q: Is hemming glue sold under any other names?

A: Yes, it’s commonly called gum adhesive or gum glue. Botanical gums like gum acacia or gum arabic also have similar properties and are used when properly compounded.

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