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30-Minutes with Workroom Tech: Episode Six / Smiling Draperies

In episode six of the Sew Much More Podcast: 30-Minutes with Workroom Tech, host Ceil DiGuglielmo and Susan Woodcock discuss side hem take-up... also known as "smiling draperies". It's a common problem so keep reading, and listen to the podcast (air date December 26, 2018) for tips and solutions.

You can listen to the podcast here: 30-Minutes with Workroom Tech Podcast

What are "smiling draperies"?

On a drapery, the side hems can end up slightly shorter than the rest of the drapery panel. It sounds happy... but it makes workrooms frown.

Keep in mind that every job is different whether it’s the fiber content, linings or lining combinations, and there are different finishing techniques. Once you’ve worked with a lot of different materials, you will gain the knowledge and experience to know what to do… and what not to do! It can be challenging but every job will teach you something new.

Susan's Top Five Tips for Preventing Take Up on Side Hems

1. Remove as much bulk as you can.

Traditionally, draperies have double folded side hems. With each "turn of the cloth", there is a tiny bit of take up. This can become a problem with thicker fabrics, or when adding linings and interlinings into the side hems. For lined only draperies, trim away the lining for a single fold into the side hem, or cut the lining even with the finished width. For interlined draperies, cut the interlining 1.5 inches less than the face fabric on each side so it will single-fold into the double-fold side hem, and cut the lining to the finished width. In some cases, cutting both the lining and interlining to the finished width works best.

interlined drapery with lining cut to the finished width

If the drapery is lined with blackout only, use a single fold of blackout in the side hem to prevent the edges from having light gaps – where the blackout might not stay put in the edge. But with interlining, you can cut the blackout even with the finished width and let the interlining fold over in the side hem.

2. Heat and steam can shrink up the side hems.

Don't over-iron side hems when fabricating draperies. Susan encourages students to give the side hems “a lick and a promise” and try not to get too serious with the ironing. It's always good practice to test fabrics first, before you use a hot iron, or steam.

Sometimes you don't need to iron at all, especially if it is a fabric like linen or chintz, that holds a crease. Use a small wooden ruler to press by hand.

Hand pressing the side hem with a small, wooden ruler

3. Machine blind hemming tension.

Every time you use the blind hemming machine, you have to do a test run first. Once again, every job is unique. To prevent take-up, try adjusting for less tension, depth of the needle and/or using a different thread. Sometimes you have to pull the fabric as you are blind hemming, holding it taut and stretching it a bit. Make sure the stitch ratio is set 2-1, so that it’s catching the face fabric with every other stitch. Blind hemmers have to be adjusted for every job... that's just the way it is.

Hand hemming is less likely to cause take-up on side hems. A hand sewn stitch is very forgiving and the stitches blend with the fibers. They almost float. Plus, you don’t have to move the panel from the worktable to the machine.

When pinning for hand sewing side hems, space the pins at a hands-width apart and at each pin take a small stitch to the front. It’s not pulled tight – you don’t want to make a dimple. Susan uses Coats Hand Quilting thread, or Coats Terko Satin thread, and John James #7 Long Darners for hand sewing side hems.

hand sewing side hems with Coats thread and John James needles

4. Measure last.

If you think the drapery is going to smile, don't frown; measure the finished length AFTER you finish the side hems so that you can compensate, and add to the length at the sides. It's often just a small 1/4 inch adjustment and easy to do at this stage.

Measuring the length on a lined and interlined drapery.

5. Trim off the selvages.

This gives a little ease to the fabric since the selvages are more tightly woven. You can also clip the selvage... but unless the drapery is blackout lined, you might see the clipped edge through the fabric.

Will adding drapery weights solve the problem of take up on the side hems?

Placing drapery weights at the corners, inside the side hems, is one of the little steps that professional workrooms know to do. Weights help to keep the sides hanging straight, but the weights are not weighty enough to compensate for very much take up.

What about blocking draperies by stretching and clamping and then steaming?

It’s a good thing to try if you have already completed the drapery, if the fabric can accept heat and steam. In the podcast, Susan expressed hesitance with blocking fabrics or completed panels because "once they are off the flat worktable surface and free hanging, they can revert back to how they were before. It’s something I keep filed away for future use".

The unavoidable and unpredictable; growing fabric and gravity

Lastly, there is one thing that may happen that is out of your control. The fabric may grow. This is most common with a stretchy fabric, or linen material in a humid environment. Once a drapery is installed, the side hems are secured but the body of the drapery is free hanging, and can sag. Your first impression might be that the lining has shrunk. But if you take down the drapery and place it flat on the worktable, you will most likely learn that the fabric has grown, and not the lining shrinking. The drapery will need to be re-hemmed. Draperies made using the English method, where all the layers are interlocked together, is one method that can help to prevent the body of the drapery from stretching and sagging.

Installation tips

When installing the drapery, if you notice that the side hems seems slightly shorter you can adjust the drapery pin (if pins are used like on a pleated drapery). When steaming and dressing the finished drapery, smooth and slightly stretch the side hems with your hands. In most cases you will only need a fraction of an inch to make it right! If you find that the drapery has a big "smile", then the workroom might need to try some of the tips shared above.

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