I saw a great tablecloth on Ebay… and it was made out of wool. Wool? For a tablecloth? Yeah- no. But I have a huge roll of linen that one of Mom’s friends gave me… so I plan to make my own. (How hard could it be?) The center is going to have a fairy ring of mushrooms and then I’m planning trees for the corners- possibly going along the sides as well. Crewel work is pretty easy and fast and I’m quite good at it so that will be no problem… but I have to learn how to hem linen. It’s trickier than you’d think. Here is the plan I have for the center:
Directions for Hand Hemstitched Linen Handkerchiefs (reprinted from A Little House in the Suburbs)
- Select a fine, lightweight linen fabric. It will get softer and softer with every wash.
For each handkerchief, you will cut an 18″ square. This makes an approximately 17″ handkerchief. For this I prefer to use the drawn thread technique to get an even square. This is also good practice because you will be drawing more threads to make the hem. To make this easier, you may want to cut out a larger piece of fabric, perhaps 19″ square so you don’t have to wrestle with an entire yard or more of cloth while you do this. Measure out 18″ and make a small cut. Tease out a thread right at the cut and pull it out gently, shirring the fabric. Pull the thread out completely. You will notice a faint line where the thread once was. This is your cutting line. Make another small cut at the next 18″ mark. Draw another thread to get your second cutting line. Continue in this way until you have drawn out a thread on each of the four sides. Cut out your square carefully along the lines of drawn thread.
Measure one inch from one edge. Isolate a single thread at this one inch point (tweezers are helpful for this) and give it a tug, holding the fabric firmly in your other hand. Carefully draw out the thread, pulling gently and shirring with the other hand to help slide out the thread.
Now you will pull out a few more threads next to the one you just drew out. How many will depend on the thread count of your fabric, but it will probably be three to four threads total. Make sure the subsequent threads are drawn to the inside of the first drawn thread so the width of the hem is not diminished. Repeat for the other three sides of the square.
Take the linen to your ironing board and fill up the steam iron. Turn over the raw edge just shy of 1/2 ” all around. Leave a little more than half of the distance to the beginning of the drawn threads so you can turn the second fold easily without bulk. Rotate your square in one direction, either clockwise or counter-clockwise, it doesn’t matter which way, just let the pressed-over corners “chase” each other all the way around.
Now press down a second fold, being sure that the fold line comes up to, but doesn’t overlap the beginning of the drawn threads.
Once the folds are cool, open out one of the corners. The creases will have formed a collection of small squares. The square in the very tip-most corner may be cut out without incident and will help reduce the bulk of the final corner.
If you are terribly squeamish about this you don’t have to do it, but you will thank yourself later if you do. Repeat for the other three corners. Fold the corners back and steam press them back down.
The next step is the hemstitch. I recommend that you get a scrap of the same linen (about a 4×4 square) and use it for practice. Prepare the hem as above along two sides so you have one corner and practice your technique to get the hang of it before you work on your actual handkerchief.
This technique may sound a bit complicated in writing but it is not difficult in reality. Hold the square of linen with the body of linen toward your body and the hem away from you. Beginning at a point near a corner, secure the end of the thread in the fold. Traveling from right to left (you resourceful and intrepid lefties are left to your own recalculations here–I salute you) place the needle under several of the threads of the drawn thread channel.
It is not necessary to count them, just try to get the same approximate amount each stitch. Pull the thread through and give it a little tug back to the right to reveal the “hole” you just made.
Put the needle back again into the place you first inserted it and up through the same “hole” you just made, but this time pick up a few threads of the hem
Pull thread firmly but gently. This is one stitch:
The object is to make a little wedge shape with the blank spaces created by the successive stitches. One of the benefits of the practice piece is to help you get a feel for how many threads to take up to get the nicest effect–too close and you won’t get a wedge–too far apart and you will make a tuck in the hem.
The corners are a bit of a challenge. Several layers of fabric have to be stitched as one, and it is difficult to get a distinct hemstitch here. Cutting out the corners helps some (see above). The handkerchief will look just as nice if you make a nice neat whipstitch over the edges and abandon the hemstitching on the corners.
Once you feel comfortable with your hemstitching, move from the practice piece and hem the handkerchief. Wash it normally and iron while damp for presenting.
I never did update this, did I?
The tablecloth got itself finished- abet without the hemstitching! That was just too much for me. But here are the photos:
I also put a little mushroom on each of four napkins.