I love embroidery and various needle arts. A few years ago I was looking for a way to finish edges on a pretty apron I’d made and discovered drawn thread embroidery. I taught myself how to make simple hand hemstitched edges using the drawn thread work technique and I’ve been in love ever since. The great thing about this simple technique is that you hem and decorate at the same time! It’s a win win! In this hemstitched handkerchief tutorial, I will teach you basic hand hemstitching drawn thread work, specifically the mouse teeth, ladder, and serpentine hemstitches. I’ve taught over 100 people how do this, of all different skill levels, and you can do it, too!
Hemstitched Handkerchief Materials
I’ve linked the materials below with Amazon affiliate links for your convenience.
- A handkerchief sized square of 100% white linen (about 12″ x 12″)
- White cotton or linen thread
- Small scissors (embroidery needle nose works best) or a seam ripper
- Sewing gauge, ruler, or other measuring device
- Pins (optional)
- Fabric marker
Hemstitched Handkerchief Step-by-Step Tutorial
Step 1: Prepare your linen by cutting it to size (if it’s not already a 12″ square) and then square it up. To “square up linen,” find a thread near a corner, pull it out, and cut off the excess threads so you have a perfectly straight line on the grain of the fabric. Here’s my tutorial on how to square up linen (it’s on my costuming blog).
Step 2: Determine the width of your hem (I recommend 1/8″ or 1/4″), multiple your hem width by 3, and measure and mark that point at one corner of your linen. For example, if you want to make a tiny 1/8″ hem, you would measure 3/8″ from both edges at one corner and mark it clearly with a fabric marker.
Step 3. At the point you marked in the prior step, gently pull up one thread with the end of a needle. Cut this thread (and only this one thread )as seen in the photo below. I recommend you use small, needle nose scissors as I do, but a seam ripper will do in a pinch.
Step 4. Gently tug the warp thread you cut (it helps to use tweezers here) until the fabric gathers along most of the edge of your linen, but do not pull it out yet. Stop pulling when you see the material gathering about 1/2 inch from the opposite corner.
Step 5. Following the tugged thread all the way to the other corner of your fabric, measure the same distance from the edge that you marked in step 2 (for example., 3/8″). Now find the point at which your tugged thread meets that point, and cut it. Your goal is to remove the thread between the two marked points, leaving bits of thread in the “margin” of your fabric.
Step 6. Using your tweezer, gently tug the thread out of your fabric.
Tip: Sadly, most linens available for purchase today have weak threads that like to break while pulling. Not only is this frustrating, but it can leave fuzzy bits in your linen. If this happens to you, try removing shorter sections of thread by snipping the thread at intervals. The best way to do this is follow the tugged thread and then use a needle to pull the thread up (as seen in the photo below). Now insert the point of your scissors and cut. You can pull that thread without it breaking midway now.
Step 7. If you want to take out more warp threads, which I this is a good idea for this tutorial, cut the warp thread(s) at the two ends just above where you took out your first thread and pull out the thread(s). It’s a lot easier to take out threads once you’ve got the first thread out. For this hand hemstitched handkerchief tutorial, I took out eight threads.
Step 8. If you intend to hem the other sides(s) of your hand hemstitched handkerchief (which I recommend), you will also want to cut the same number of threads going in the other direction. For now, you can cut them at the bottom and flip them out of your way, then pull them later.
Step 9. Fold your hem up twice so that the top edge of the hem is in line with the bottom edge of pulled threads, as shown in the photo above. Press down on the hem with your fingers and, thanks to the properties of linen and the heat in your fingers, the hem will likely stay in place without pins.
Step 10. Thread a needle and knot the end. Insert the needle into the hem, just to the left of the area without any threads. Push the needle through the fabric, making sure the knot stays under the fold of the hem.
Step 11. Put your needle behind several of the threads. For this handkerchief tutorial, I recommend going behind exactly six threads, as seen in the photo below.
Step 13. Insert the needle again, just as you did in step 11. See how I am holding the thread at the bottom of the hem with my thumb? This is helpful for keeping the thread at the bottom.
Step 15. Secure your hemstitch by taking a small stitch into the hem, from the inside of the hem out to the front, as shown in the photo below.
Step 16. Repeat steps 11-15 across the length of your handkerchief, as you can see me doing in the photo below.
Here is a handy diagram of this hemstitch to help you see how it works:
This hand hemstitch is the most basic. I call it the Mouse Teeth hemstitch. It’s excellent for a beginner’s hemstitched handkerchief. There are two other variations on this drawn thread hemstitch you can do. You can make a ladder hemstitch by repeating the same stitching across the top of the pulled threads, as seen in the photo below:
Tip: You can avoid knots completely by weaving your needle a bit some the threads above the area you’ll be working with and then stitch over it as you go along. After you’re done stitching you can cut the end of the thread’s tail and you won’t be able to tell where you started. To end this hemstitch, weave your thread back through threads and completed stitches along the edge of your hem, then cut off.
Another option is the serpentine hemstitch. For this stitch, just repeat the same stitch across the top edge of the section with the pulled threads, but this time stitch half of the threads from one group and half of the threads from the other group, like shown in the photo below:
To turn the corners of your handkerchief neatly, cut the folds of the hem at the corner (this reduces bulk), fold up the hem on the adjoining side, press closed with your fingers (or pin), and use a button hole or satin stitch around the corner to keep it in place.
Repeat around each of the four sides of your linen to create a beautiful hand hemstitched handkerchief!
Isn’t that a pretty hand hemstitched handkerchief?
Hand Hemstitched Handkerchief Notes
You can do the hand hemstitch on as little as one pulled thread or as many as a dozen or more — it all depends on the look you want and the weight of your fabric. Finer fabrics can have fewer stitches drawn out, but coarser fabrics will need more drawn threads for the full effect. This technique can be done in places other than a hem, too, meaning you can stack lines for a more complex look.
This hankie took me about four hours to create. Expect to spend a bit more time on it if you’re new to this technique.
I hope you enjoyed this tutorial! Please let me know if you have any questions.
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