I don’t know how to sew napkins and tablecloths
There are plenty of things I’ve never sewn but I don’t worry too much about it. I figure it out one way or another since so much of one’s repertoire applies from one project to another. I’m guessing most of you feel the same way. I have to say though, I have been defeated by this project -namely linen tablecloths and napkins. I do not know how to sew these. I got through it okay but there is no way these are sewn in the factory the way I did mine -because that’s how I gauge successful completion of a project -that it looks as good or better than expensive RTW.
For the longer seams, a hemmer is required -unless you’ve been sewing 1/4″ hems so long you can turn them better by hand. There are people like that. The long edges on my products look fine. It is the starting and stopping at each corner I had problems with. I think they look terrible. I wanted them for the holiday. I console myself that the only person who’d notice would be my mother in law but she wouldn’t be so graceless as to mention it.
I used two different hemmers (Lisa B provides most of the advice on hemmer types in the forum). A 1/4″ basic hemmer and a swing hemmer. Or was it a spring hemmer? I am confused. I bought four of them. I just know I’m missing something, that one little trick that someone who had sewn in a napkin or tablecloth factory would know right away. Accordingly, I have wanted to meet someone who sewed in a cloth napkin factory in the worst way. I couldn’t find anything about it on the internet.
I have figured out a few things. Tensioning is critical. When the fabric goes through the folder, it stretches the tiniest bit more than the rest of it so you end up with a telescoping edge by the time you get to the other end. I suppose I could have fiddled with the tension (or maybe it needs a puller?) but I didn’t want to get the machine all set up for this fabrication and then have to readjust it to regular use later. I figured I could deal with it like this for such a small lot. Anyway, of the two hemmers I used, there was a pronounced difference in tensioning between them. The scroll hemmer that most of us have, didn’t feed as evenly as the more expensive one ($26, a double fold spring hemmer) I bought from SouthStar.
I also couldn’t get the starting edge to feed as evenly as I liked. It was easier to manage the start point with the scroll hemmer, less so with the spring hemmer since the foot print is larger and you can’t see the fold as easily to know where to stitch. The usual advice on hems like this is to hand crease the hem to start, sew down an inch or two normally (not feeding through the scroll), then lift the needle and foot and work the hem into the fold guides of the foot. This sounds a bit awkward but with a little practice, wasn’t as difficult as it sounds. Again, the scroll hemmer was better for doing it like this but then again, the scroll hemmer pulled more on the fabric resulting in telescoping hems so I preferred to use the spring hemmer instead.
In the end, I sewed all the long edges with the spring hemmer and then went around and repaired each corner. Considering I made 4 tablecloths and 21 napkins, that makes 100 corners. Plus I didn’t trust my handling of each corner so I pre-pressed them. There is no way they do it like this in production.
Speaking of handling… I learned first hand why linen is awesome material for napkins. Guess how I know? My hands are fried and dried. Linen is outstanding at pulling oil off your fingertips. My hands feel like I’ve been cleaning with ammonia for a week. Okay, not a week but my hands and finger tips look pretty bad. I’m guessing that people who sew this regularly have built up a lot of calluses.
If there is any interest, I can provide some photos of the issues I mention (telescoping hems etc) with the hopes someone out there has suggestions for improvement. And of course, I’d love to hear from someone who has experience sewing these operations in production.
One last mention -fabric sources. I bought this linen from Fabric-Store.com. Their prices are very reasonable considering it’s retail. For the napkins and cloths, I bought the medium weight goods (5.3 oz, IL019). The per yard cost is about $7 but they have sales every week. Sign up for the mailing list to be notified of specials, usually 10% off. One last thing to mention about weights is that I would recommend going with a heavier weight than what I used. The color selection isn’t as good but there’s always a trade off. Then again, I suppose it would depend on how much use you intend to get out of yours. My project was inspired as a replacement for much worn cloths and napkins. We use cloth napkins and table cloths every day -the last time I bought some was about ten years ago. So, if you don’t use cloth napkins except for special occasions, the medium weight linen will probably be fine for you. If you intend to use them daily like I do, you should get the heavy weight.
Oh, one last last mention since this came up this morning -ironing. You don’t need to iron linen tablecloths and napkins but there is a trick to having them look clean pressed. Don’t dry them all the way, they should be slightly damp. Lay them out on a slightly padded surface and wipe them flat. Then fold them, creasing each turn with your palms. If your napkins are dry, spray them with a bit of water to fold. Here in the desert, I fold them right out of the washer (we have one of those front loaders). It is so dry here that you can put a pair of wet swim trunks in the laundry basket on Monday and by the following wash day on Saturday, not only are the trunks or anything else not mildewy, they’re bone dry (although in a hard wadded mess).