Tying of Loose Ends

The silk shirt project that I have been working on is nearing its completion. With the neckline finished with bias tape in last week’s column, we only have to finish the sleeve hems and lower hemline and the shirt will be completed.

Before I finished the neckline, I took three yards of cream colored single fold bias tape and ironed one side of it open. Bias tape is a cotton material that is pre-cut and pre-folded to form nice, crisp edges. When I ironed one of those pre-folded sides out and sewed it into place, I was able to use it to finish the neckline easily. Now it was time to do the sleeves using the same method.

I pulled the shirt on and held out my arms as I looked in the mirror. The sleeves were a little too long to be short, but a little too short to be long. I placed a sewing pin through the material on the top of my left arm where I wanted the sleeve to end. Then I took the shirt off again.

I laid the shirt out flat and examined where the pin was. Since I had marked the top of the sleeve, the pin was at the top. I examined the natural diagonal end of the uncut sleeve, and eyeballed how to transpose that diagonal onto the sleeve with the pin as the new top point. I slid a sewing pin into the bottom of the sleeve at the point that looked right.

I began adding pins around the sleeve, careful to keep the diagonal line parallel to the original sleeve shape. When it looked about right, I began to drape the bias tape around the sleeve. Bias tape naturally has two sides which had been folded in to face each other with a small gap between them. One of those had been ironed flat, as described in a previous column.

I placed the bias tape with the still-folded side facing upward, and lined the ironed-flat edge up with the row of pins on the sleeve, all on the right side of the material. Using still more pins, I pinned along the original fold line in the bias tape around the sleeve. When I was finished, I took the length-marking pins out of the material and turned to my sewing machine.

I sewed the bias tape along the original fold line around the sleeve. When I was finished, I tied the strings in a square knot and used my scissors to trim the excessive cloth away until the sleeve end was flush with the edge of the bias tape. I carefully turned the bias tape over then, folding it along the line I had earlier ironed out. As I folded the bias tape, it turned under the sleeve and formed a neat, crisp finished edge on the inside of the shirt.

I flipped the shirt inside out, and sewed the bias tape in place near its edge. Sleeve one was finished.

Getting the two sleeves to be the same length is a trick that I learned long ago. I folded the shirt in half so the two sleeves were together, then lined the sleeves up at the point where the hem between the shirt’s front and back met at the shoulder, and pinned the two sleeves together at this point. I found where the front and back of both sides met just under the sleeve, and pinned there also.

I positioned the folded shirt so that the already finished sleeve was on top of the unfinished one and smoothed the material out. I was able to slide pins into place to mark the position of the finished sleeve’s edge on the unfinished sleeve.

Once this was complete, I unpinned and unfolded the shirt. I repeated the process I had used for the first sleeve, the system of pinning, sewing and turning bias tape to form the sleeve edge.

Then it was time to put the final touches on the shirt. I pulled the shirt on and took my pins to seek out assistance. I found that assistance in the form of my mother, Debbie Richards.

When putting the bottom hemline in a shirt, it turns out best if someone can assist by folding and pinning the fraying bottom of the shirt into the final hemline position. While the hemline can be achieved without assistance, that extra set of eyes to make adjustments while the garment is being worn makes a difference.

I slowly turned around and around as my mother adjusted pins for twenty minutes. This one was moved up a centimeter, that one angled differently, another taken out and the fold redone altogether. Finally, when Mom was happy with how the hemline looked, she handed my container of pins back to me.

There is a certain skill involved in climbing out of a shirt that is ringed with pins at the bottom. It is a skill which I have mastered over the years to the point that I only drew blood in three places while trying to escape from the booby-trapped silk.

I laid the shirt flat and began a slow process of placing pins at the bottom of the folded area, and along the outside of the shirt. Originally, the bottom of the shirt had been pinned by folding the bottom area up so the wrong side of the cloth was showing on the outside. I spent the next hour reaching into the pinned cloth and placing pins at the bottom of the fold on the right side of the material before I took out the pins which were holding the folds in place.

When I finished, I had a line of pins around the bottom of the shirt which marked where the bottom hemline would be, nestled several inches above the bottom of the cloth. I started in the back of the shirt and carefully pinned the bias tape in place, performing the same process I had used on the sleeves and earlier on the neckline.

When the bias tape was sewn in place, I cut the fraying edge of the charmeuse off so that it was even with the bias tape. I turned the shirt inside out and folded the bias tape over. I pinned it in place to form the finished edge and sewed the bias tape in place, being careful to keep the stitches neat and even. When I was finished, I cut the strings and tied the final square knot to keep the stitching from coming undone.

I checked the shirt over one last time, cutting away loose strings and double-checking that all of my seams and hemlines were secure. Finally, I pulled the shirt on and modeled it for the first time without the risk of poking myself with a sewing pin. The quest for the silk shirt had been completed.

Next week, I will begin walking my readers through a new project. I have chosen a counted cross stitch of a Bermuda sloop on an ocean at sunset. The project will consist of roughly 10,000 stitches in 53 colors with 14 stitches per inch.


Gretchen Richards is a reporter at the Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She is a fifth-generation artisan, skilled in numerous art forms. She enjoys sewing her own clothing and custom purses, making quilts, and weaving. She is skilled in knitting, crochet, embroidery, counted-cross stitch, and working with cloth of all types. Gretchen also paints with acrylic, practices calligraphy, and is skilled in metal-working and book binding.