Sometimes, it's the simplest makes that are the sweetest. Whether it be a thoughtful housewarming gift with a personalised embroidery, or a comforting and re-useable replacement for all those winter tissues, handmade napkins and hankies whip up pretty quick, have infinite variation potential, and are always well received. Excellent for stash busting and selfless sewing too - so that's two points checked on my re-sew-lutions list!
What you need:
- Fabric. Natural fibres and lightweight preferably. I've used a red floral cotton lawn, a pale and speckly Nani Iro double gauze, and a plum silk something. Remember, you're going to be smearing it all over your - or someone else's - face, so it needs to feel good! Dimensions-wise, a traditional men's handkerchief is 12"x12", while a woman's is 8"x8" (does anybody know why this is? Do men produce more snot and therefore need a larger hanky with which to mop it up??). A standard napkin is 24"x24" - but really, you can make any size you wish
- A measuring tape/ruler
- An iron
- Pins, thread, and your usual sewing supplies
Cut your fabric to your desired measurements, plus 1 1/4" seam allowance added to each edge. I've gone for handkerchiefs that are 12"x12", so I've cut my fabric 14 1/2" square.
Follow our Perfect Mitred Corners tutorial to fold and press in each edge and create those perfectly finished points.
Give your napkin/hanky a good press and pin down the folded hems ready for stitching.
The technique you apply to hemming your hankies will have a dramatic effect, and depending on the type of fabric you've used, you might want to use an appropriate stitch...
This is the most straightforward option, and best suited to a stable cotton with a pretty print. The straight machine stitches will make for a durable hem, without detracting the eye from the fabric itself. From the wrong side, choose a wide-ish straight stitch and sew close to the fold, pivoting when you get to the mitred corners.
If you're using a beautifully drapey or delicate fabric like silk, it will be screaming out for an equally delicate hand finish! Machine stitches will look out of place, and can even distort or flute the seam. Use a super sharp hand sewing needle and a blind slip stitch, keeping your stitches as even as possible as they will show through ever so slightly (especially if you've chosen a solid colour, like I have...).
I actually really love the way those teeny tiny hand stitches look - you instantly know that more love and time has gone into the making of it, and it reminds me of delicate vintage hemstitched handkerchiefs. Take it to the next level and check out this article from Seamwork for some really stunning vintage-inspired hemstitch techniques.
Decorative machine stitch
This is a great way to add something extra to a more subtle fabric, especially if you're not going to embroider it later. I love the way the stitches create a symmetrical border to contrast the romantic print of the double gauze I used for this hanky. Decorative stitches should be sewn from the right side of your fabric, and make sure that you play around with stitch options and thread colours on a scrap first.