When I made my linen bedsheets I cut squares out of the corners for the corner boxes. Instead of wasting the linen scraps I decided to make handkerchiefs! Handkerchiefs have been around in some way, shape, or form for as long as people have needed to wipe their hands and faces. I was surprised to learn a few years ago that mens’ and womens’ hankies are not the same size (a standard man’s handkerchief is 12″ square, while womens’ hankies vary from 8″ to 10″ square). Was this yet another subtle sexist thing? Why weren’t women allowed to have hankies as big as those men used? One of the joys of being a maker is the ability to make things just as you want them. I resolved to make myself a 12″ hanky.
I had 4 offcuts from my sheets, and they were roughly 19″ square. But they weren’t actually cut square. I didn’t draw a thread when I cut the corner boxes out, and the pieces turned out pretty ragged. To make my first hanky I drew threads to create a true 12″ square, then cut my hanky out, and hemmed around all 4 sides with whip stitches. Easy peasy. But I was annoyed with the waste cutting a 12″ square caused. The remaining pieces were 6″ wide and 12-18″ long. I could piece them to create a second 12″ hankie, but it just wouldn’t be as pretty (or fold as nicely) as a piece with no seam.
For my second offcut I cleaned up the edges, and divided the piece in 4. I followed the same finishing steps as for the larger hankie: small double-fold hem secured with whip stitches. These hankies turned out between 8-9″ and almost square. The lack of waste (other than cleaning up the ragged edges) was very satisfying.
Then I started using the linen hankies instead of my regular Kleenex. I was surprised to find that I actually preferred the smaller size hankies instead of the larger. I guess this is one of those conventions that is actually due to personal preference instead of being a result of sexism.
I love my new hankies. I’m considering embroidering initials or flowers on the corners, but that is a project for another day. I learned an important lesson, though: sometimes I make assumptions about things, but once I learn more I find that my assumptions were wrong. There are a lot of things wrong with this world, but just because something seems unfair doesn’t always mean it is, or that it was meant to be. I don’t believe that people are inherently good, but if you let yourself see things in a positive light you can be amazed by the goodness of ordinary people.
In a way all of us who sew, knit, or otherwise make things do it for the love of creation, knowing that it will often be less expensive and/or easier to buy something rather than make it. But that doesn’t stop us. We want to try a different colour or fabric than we can find in stores, or we want to tweak the fit or make some other alteration. Whatever the reason for making by hand, we enjoy the process and take pride in having made something useful and beautiful. But sometimes we hit a wall and realize that the specific thing we are making might be better bought. I came to this realization while knitting socks a few years ago. I still have a bunch of sock patterns and sock yarn, I just don’t enjoy the process (or the tight gauge) of sock-knitting.
A few weeks ago I got into bed and our sheets ripped! We’ve had these sheets for 7 years, so I suppose they were due to be retired. After I got over my shock, I formulated a plan to make a set of linen sheets. It was just sewing a bunch of straight lines, right? How hard could it be?
I bought 15 yards of IL019 linen from fabrics-store.com. This ended up being more than I needed, but I would rather have too much fabric than not enough. I measured the sheets we had and planned the lengths I needed to cut. When my fabric arrived I pre-washed it and cut it using the drawing-a-thread method to ensure everything was straight. Drawing a thread takes longer than making a normal cut, but it was the only way I was going to get this very shifty linen cut straight.
I started with the top sheet since it seemed less intimidating than the bottom sheet. I cut 2 lengths, seamed them together selvedge to selvedge, and hemmed them. Easy peasy, right? Wrong. I think I’ve told you before about how I can’t resist making things harder than they need to be. I have been dying to use some of the decorative stitches on my new sewing machine, and I decided this was the perfect time! So I embroidered a Greek Key motif on the outer edges of the top sheet. It looks beautiful, but it took FOREVER.
With the top sheet done I could no longer ignore the bottom sheet. My process was a little chaotic: I drew a thread and cut my fabric. Then I seamed the lengths together selvedge to selvedge and trimmed everything to the correct length. Next I cut a square out of each corner to make the corner box. I did not draw a thread for these cuts (I actually stacked the linen and cut all 4 corners at once), and they turned out pretty off-grain. I sewed the corners with a French seam for durability and a beautiful inside finish. Then I unpicked the corners and re-sewed them right side out. Then it occurred to me that the double fabric width was probably wider than our bed, so I measured and re-seamed the center using a flat-felled seam.
I had cut 4 lengths of elastic, so I attached them to the corners at this point using a zig-zag stitch. I have no idea what lengths I cut or how I got to the numbers I did, but it worked. The last step was to hem the sheet. I used a normal straight stitch, since the bottom of the fitted sheet won’t be visible on a daily basis.
Before declaring victory I made a couple pillowcases using French seams and the same decorative top-stitching as the top sheet.
I was elated to be done with this project!! The linen was lovely to work with, but the huge amounts of fabric made it such a pain to wrangle. I was so looking forward to snuggling into a pile of deliciously soft linen. We put the fitted sheet on the bed…and it didn’t fit. By a lot. I may have sobbed uncontrollably at this point.
I took a break from the project, since it had consumed an entire week of sewing at this point. The following weekend I compared the new fitted sheet to an existing sheet that fit well. I needed to add a whopping 11 inches!!! I am honestly not sure how I mis-measured on such a grand scale.
I cut the sheet down the center (by drawing a thread) and added a panel to make up the missing width. All the seams are flat-felled. I felled the center seam of the insertion the opposite direction of the main center seam to reduce bulk. This was not an elegant solution, but it worked, and the seams don’t feel obvious when laying in bed.
The last step was embroidering the word “side” on both side edges of the fitted sheet. Our other sheets have a little tag saying whether you’re looking at the side or top/bottom of the sheet, and it is super helpful when making the bed! I used one of the alphabets on my machine for this. The embroidery went really quickly, but cleaning up the threads in between the letters was a bit of a pain.
I love these sheets turned out! They are soft, and yet textured! My husband keeps remarking that he feels like we’re at a hotel. I would definitely like more linen sheets in my life, but I’m not sure I would be willing to make them again. Buying linen sheets costs about twice as much as making them (if I get the fabric on sale), and that extra money seems like a good investment in my mental health and happiness.