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How Did They Sew That: Edged with Elegance

Finish a curved facing with hand embroidery

Threads #195, Feb./March 2018
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Designs weave in and out of fashion through the decades and sometimes even hundreds of years. The simple pullover style of this ensemble’s top has been worn for centuries, yet it is as pleasing today as it was in the 1930s when this example was made. You could easily wear this exact look while walking on the beach in Italy or shopping in town. Or, you could change the fabric to fluid black crepe, embroider it and a matching skirt with tone-on-tone thread, and wear the ensemble on New Year’s Eve. The top’s hand-sewn edge finish yields smooth curves with colorful topstitching. Read on to learn more about this edging method from Threads #195.

Part of this timeless blouse’s charm is the hand embroidery, fashioned in No. 5 pearl cotton, and the coordinating hand-finished edges. The simplicity of the execution is fetching. The flattering round neckline and interestingly shaped sleeve hems (see the facing page and the back cover) are faced with bias strips of self fabric. When you choose this edge finish, the proper preparation of the bias strips is essential. That includes the right fabric choice, prewashing, and pressing the facing to a template. This last shaping step ensures a smooth, flat finish on any shape.

1. Cut the bias strips. Use a plain-weave (not twill) fabric with a loose weave. The facing can be cut from matching or contrasting fabric. Prewash, dry, and press it before cutting. Cut bias strips 2 inches wide and long enough to cover the edges to be faced. Piece the strips, if necessary, to make longer strips.

2. On each strip, press one long edge under 1⁄4 inch. Use a pressing template to ensure an even edge.

3. Make a template of each edge to be faced. On a piece of stiff paper or board, trace the pattern’s stitching line or hemline, and add a 1⁄4-inch-wide seam allowance. Draw a placement line on the template 1 inch inside the stitching line, following any curves. The template shown mimics the sleeve’s shaped hem edge.

4. Align the bias strip along the placement line. Lay the folded edge along the inner line, and mold and press the fabric strip to match the template shape. Miter any corners by folding out excess fabric. Pin as needed to maintain the shape.

5. Trim the strip’s width. Pressing and stretching will change its width. Trim the outer raw edge exactly along the template edge.

6. Join the facing to the garment edge. With right sides together, sew the facing strip to the corresponding edge with a 1⁄4-inch-wide seam allowance. Press the seam allowances open, then turn the bias strip to the inside. Press lightly.

7. Finish with hand stitching. Thread a needle with No. 5 pearl cotton. Choose coordinating colors, or use a monochromatic scheme. Working from the garment’s right side, sew a line of evenly spaced running stitches, each about 3⁄16 inch long and placed close to the facing’s folded edge. Add two more rows, placing each stitch adjacent to a space between stitches in the neighboring row.

Judith Neukam enjoys reverse-engineering vintage techniques and sharing what she discovers in the process.

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