Dewey Decimal
-- finish bed-making essay 
broken link repaired 2 October 2019, 17 November 2020

Household Linens and Flat Things

Except for pillowcases, this section is for things which are squares, rectangles, or right triangles of cloth.  I begin with squares that have handles at the corners, then discuss various purposes for simple cloths.  Curtains will have their own section, and ponchos are discussed under "garments".  Bags which are not pillowcases also have their own section.

See also edge finishes.

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leaf carriersS M L; other flat bags
Bed Linens: pillowcases and sheets
Youth Hostel sheet sacks
Towels, washrags, mopping cloths
Dish Towels
Table Linen
Handkerchiefs, bandannas, and head scarves

Leaf Carrier

A leaf carrier is a square of burlap with loops at the corners to lift or drag it by.  Instructions are given for small, for grass clippings, medium, for chopped leaves, and large, for fluffy leaves.

After the leaf-carrier instructions are suggestions for shopping bags etc.

All three leaf carriers are made from agricultural burlap, available at garden stores.  This fabric is so coarse that you can cut along a thread without drawing it first.  Very cheap, flimsy burlaps are useful for "ball and burlap" plants, so you may have to look in more than one shop to find a sturdy-but-lightweight burlap.  Decorator burlap is tightly woven, for use as curtains, and that makes it too heavy for a leaf carrier.  (Not to mention too expensive.)

For handles and hem tape, use carpet binding from the fabric store, or a lightweight webbing or coarse twill tape from an outdoor supplier.  Thicker tape can be narrower, but don't go below 3/4 inch, and use inch-wide tape if you've got it.  Wider tape is easier to install, and more comfortable when you are pulling a heavy load of leaves — but don't get carried away.  I wouldn't go wider than two inches.

Cotton tape is adequately weather-resistant and durable, easier to sew than polyester, and easier on your hands.  But one usually wears gloves at leaf-hauling time, and this is a particularly easy pattern, so use whatever tape is cheap, strong, and easy to get.

Theoretically, one ought to sew jute with cotton or linen thread, but strong cotton thread is so hard to come by that it's a waste to use it on a leaf carrier, and linen thread isn't available at all.  Use whatever strong thread you have on hand and want to get rid of, since color doesn't matter.  Or use a weak thread double.

For the two larger sizes, with their zig-zag seams, you will need quite a lot of thread.

If you haven't got a zig-zag sewing machine, overlap the selvages and stitch along each edge to join two breadths of burlap.  Since the threads are so easy to see, it is not necessary to draw a guideline first.  (See "lapped seam" under "seams".)

Use the coarsest pins you can get your hands on, as ordinary sewing pins will fall out of the coarse weave.  You might go so far as to use fine finishing nails, if some happen to be lying around.

NOTE:  Burlap sheds like crazy.  After making a leaf carrier, take off the needle plate and other detachables, and brush out your machine.  Blow vigorously into the corners that your brush can't reach.  If the machine is electronic, use a vacuum cleaner with an extra-small crevice tool — blowing will blow dirt deeper into the intricate works.  You can buy mini attachments for a vacuum cleaner at a computer store.

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Small Leaf Carrier

Cut a piece of burlap two inches longer than it is wide, cutting between threads at both ends to make the edges straight and square.  Turn under one inch on each end.  The iron will not be needed; pinch the fabric between two threads, and pin near the fold.

Now pin tape about a quarter inch from the edges (a trifle more if using 3/4" tape), beginning on a selvage edge a foot or so from the corner.  This extension along the selvage anchors the handle, and re-inforces a point of wear.  Measure one foot of tape from the corner and put in a pin.  Lay the tape in a triangle to bring it back with the pin at the selvage and the tape in position to continue along the hem.  Make both folds in the same direction, so that the tape still has the same side up, and there is no twist in the handle.  Continue across the hem, covering the raw edge, make another handle, and continue down the selvage as far as you did on the other corner.

Use a spool or suitable round object to draw a smooth curve from one outer edge of the tape to the other, in the square where the tape crosses itself.  A curved corner will spread the strain over several stitches when the handle is pulled.

Straight-stitch along the edge of the tape which is nearer the edge of the fabric, stitching along the curve you drew at the corner to pass from one stretch of tape to the next.

Now sew down the ends and inner edge of the tape.  Ironing with spray starch before this step is convenient, but not strictly necessary.  If you have a zig-zag machine, zigzag the inner edge — it is easier to put a wider stitch in the right place.  Since this edge bears little strain, you can turn a square corner, but take a stitch between pivots.

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Medium Leaf carrier

Cut a piece four times the width of the fabric, plus four inches.  Fold it in half crosswise, set the machine for maximum stitch length and width, and zig-zag down the better selvage, trying to catch just one thread in each layer.  Don't get upset if a stitch or two misses here and there.  Stick the point of your scissors into the fabric at the corner, and cut between two threads to the other side.  (This rather peculiar way of proceeding is meant to reduce the handling of raw edges, since agricultural burlap ravels easily.)

Press open the seam with your thumbnail, snipping thread as required to make it lie flat.  You will need to loosen the stitching where you've caught more than one thread, and may need to snip where the thread has drawn up between missed stitches.  The thread will loosen for an inch or more to each side of each snip, so don't snip *too* often.

You can do this pressing on the bed of the sewing machine as the fabric approaches the needle.

With the stitch still on maximum width, but a trifle shorter — say three millimeters — zig-zag down the seam, securing the selvages edge-to-edge.

Hem and make handles as for small carrier.

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Large leaf carrier

Cut three pieces of burlap, each two inches more than three times the width of the fabric.  Join them into a square with two seams like the one seam in the medium carrier, and hem and make handles as for the small carrier.

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Flat shopping and knitting bags

You can make the small carrier of finer materials and use it for less-rugged purposes. 

A square of thin, strong fabric takes up little room in your purse or pocket, but can gather many small purchases, or put handles on a large one.

Flat bags are good for carrying work around, because they can be spread out to provide a clean working surface, and they automatically gather up all your bits when it is time to move on.  If you want to put the bag down and haven't got a convenient hook or doorknob, you can tie the corners together.  (There are also uses for a circle with a drawstring around the edge.)

You will probably want a hem around all four edges even if the selvages are good.  Miter the corners by folding down each corner on the true bias before folding the hems.  You might want to make the bias creases slightly inside the intersections of the hem creases, to blunt the corners a little.

The easiest way to join twill tape that goes around a circle or square is to fold under the raw edge of the tape at the beginning, then fold the end to just meet the fold of the beginning.  Whip the two folds together after the tape is sewn on.  *Don't* begin and end at a corner; start somewhere along one side.

Handles of various sorts can be sewn to the corners of a hemmed or lined square.

You can make handles of twill tape or ribbon without running it all the way around the bag — line up the loop with the bias of the corner.  The strongest method is to sandwich the corner between the two ends of the tape.

You can line a strip of fabric and bar tack the ends to a corner, putting a flat button on each side to take the strain.

Bangle bracelets are elegant, but the bag must be small, lest the weight of the contents cause the bracelets to bruise your arm.

Flat bags are tempting targets for patchwork, appliqué, embroidery, tie-dye, fabric paint, and the like.  If you decorate a bag, bear in mind how it will look in operation — the corners of the bag will be gathered together, and the middle will point at the earth where only gophers can see it.  If it is a knitting bag, you will find the decorated side hidden when it is spread on your lap or a table during work.  You can, of course, turn the decorated side to the inside, or decorate both sides, but a plain surface is easier to work on, and the work will hide your decorations anyway.

If the bag is patchwork, it should be lined to hide the seams.  (Unless the design lends itself to being put together with flat-felled seams.)

One way is to turn down a wide strip of patchwork to form a border around the inside, and appliqué a smaller square of plain fabric over the middle.

Another is to make the lining and patchwork the same size, put the wrong sides together, and bind the edges together with bias tape.

I don't like the method of putting the bag and lining right sides together, sewing around the edges, turning right-side out, and slip-stitching the turning gap.  It is harder to make neat, and some sort of border between the lining and the cover considerably improves the appearance.

One good design is to make two patchwork squares the same size, with the lining made of one large square surrounded by smaller patches that echo the design on the outside, turn under the raw edges of both squares, put them wrong sides together, and stitch around the edges.

Flat bags are a good way to practice techniques that you plan to use on bed covers or wall hangings.

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Bed Linens


Take a piece of cloth one yard long and forty inches wide — or whatever suits your pillows.

Mom used 36" fabric to make her pillowcases, and I have an imported pillow that requires 43" fabric.  One yard of forty-inch fabric will fit a standard American pillow.  If the pillow is non-standard, measure a pillowcase you like, and add allowances for hems and seams.  If you have no pillowcase, measure the pillow and add ease and allowances.  To keep the pillow hidden, the finished case must be at least four inches longer than the pillow, and six inches is better.

Match the selvages, and sew a half-inch seam down the side and across one of the torn ends.  Take one stitch on the bias when turning the corner, since a sharp turn is like a knife in your seam.  Trim the corner by making two straight cuts on the bias, one a trifle more than an eighth of an inch from the bias stitch, and one a trifle farther.  Or cut both layers to a quarter inch, then cut a sixteenth of an inch off one of them.

Stitch straight off the folded edge, and don't trim the allowance in this corner.  Tie the threads in an overhand knot and tighten the knot around a pin stuck into the folded edge, to persuade it to snuggle close to the end of the seam.  Trim the threads to half an inch.

You have many other choices about securing the end, since there is little strain on the corner.  Among them: tie the two threads together in a square knot, shorten the stitch length for the last few stitches — you can even get away with backstitching (take one stitch in reverse just before you sew off the edge).  Or just don't trim the ends too close; there aren't going to be any forces that would pull them back through the cloth.

Do nothing about securing the beginning of the seam, since it will be covered by the hem.

Press the outer end of the seam open and turn down a hem.  Press the raw edge under a quarter of an inch, then turn down one-and-a-half to two inches for a hem — or whatever makes your case the same length as one that you like.  Stitch by machine near the fold.  Turn the case right-side out, using a corsage pin or a point turner to make the corners lie flat.  (A point turner pushes from the inside; a corsage pin pulls from the outside.)

If you have a sleeve board handy, press the seam all the way to the corner; it will make the case easier to turn right-side out.  If the pillowcase is to be a fancy one, also press open the bottom seam.  I snap everyday pillowcases like a dirty rug to settle the bottom seam.

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Preparing fabric to make pillowcases

Buy four, eight, or sixteen yards of fabric.  Wash it.  Bed linen can be made without knowing the exact finished size, but you'll want the fabric washed before you put your face on it, so you might as well do it before cutting it.  Besides, after it's washed, you might find that you didn't buy what you thought you bought, and want to make something else out of it.  (If you intend to do fancywork, soak the fabric in detergent overnight, or wash it more than once.) To prevent ravelling, baste the two raw edges together.  This also makes the strip half as long, which reduces tangling in the washer.  Dry it before attempting to remove the basting.

If the fabric isn't the correct width, tear off *both* selvages, to make a neater seam.  If there isn't enough excess width to tear twice, use the full width — it won't be enough extra to matter.  Before tearing off the waste strips, find out what width roller bandages your missionary society or first-aid instructor uses.  The cloth need not be white; bright, pretty bandages make a patient — or a nervous trainee — feel better.

Selvage strips can sometimes be used instead of twill tape in other projects.

If the fabric is about 60" wide, tear it into one 40" strip and one 20.5" strip.  If just barely enough, divide it into thirds, and start the tear a quarter inch from the one-third mark, so that one strip is half an inch more than half as wide as the other.  If you are fudging on the width, it will be necessary to sew a selvage to a torn edge, since you can't spare fabric to tear the selvage to match.  Since it can't fray, the selvage may use a narrower seam allowance than the torn edge:  Just barely enough to conceal the different texture of the edge is plenty.  You can use even less, if you don't care how it looks.

Tear the narrower strip into two-yard lengths and make two seams per pillowcase.

Straighten the ends of the fabric by tearing or by drawing a thread, whichever is more convenient.  Tear the cloth in half, then tear the halves in half until you have as many pieces as you bought yards.  (Or half as many, in the case of 20.5-inch fabric.)  If the number of yards you bought isn't a power of two (4, 8, 16, 32, 64 . . . ), you'll have to measure.  Try to divide it into powers of two the first time you measure, to save work.  Twelve yards, for example, can be divided into three four-yard pieces, then you can tear the pieces in half twice.  Twenty yards can be divided sixteen and four, nine yards becomes one and eight.  When measuring, remember that your yards got shorter when you washed them.

Steam-iron the torn edges to shrink them back into shape.  It may be convenient to dampen them with a wet rag and use a dry iron instead.  (I keep a spray bottle of water to dampen large areas, but a wet rag or a slice of sponge is easier to control.)

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Hand-seaming pillow cases

Pillow cases are an item that might be made by someone who doesn't have a sewing machine — an embroiderer or lacemaker might want to trim a pillow case, and those that you can buy are either poorly made, or extremely expensive — often both! Since there is little stress on the seam in a pillow case, you don't need to make the tiny stitches of a patient and skilled seamster.

Prepare cloth as for machine stitching.  Use a water-erasable marker to draw a line one-half inch from the edge, where I told you to sew by machine.

Sew along this line with a running back stitch.  Choose a long, thin needle.  Begin by taking a few back stitches to anchor the end of the thread.

Weave the needle in and out of the fabric as many times as you conveniently can.  You can pleat the fabric on the needle to get more stitches per pass, but it's best to do only what's easy the first time you try it.

Weaving the needle through the fabric is the "running" part.  The "back stitch" part is that each time you put the needle into the fabric, instead of beginning one stitch length beyond where you left off, you put the needle in one stitch behind where it came up.  This interrupts the line of running stitches with an occasional back stitch, which adds a bit of elasticity to the seam to make the thread less likely to break.  If the thread does break, the seam will stop unravelling when it gets to the next back stitch, so you won't have as much repair work to do.

Keeping the fabric taut with a sewing bird makes hand sewing easier to execute.  See the list of sewing tools.

Taut fabric is also easier to pin and machine-stitch, but I use corsage pins to anchor the fabric to the ironing board when I'm pinning, and I have both hands to stretch the fabric with when stitching by machine, so I don't use a bird for these operations.

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Hand-hemming pillow cases

The hem can be blind stitched, or secured with small, neat running stitches close to the fold.  Or baste near the fold to show you where it is, and secure the hem with embroidery worked from the right side.

If you hemstitch the hem, draw the threads before sewing the side seam, so that the drawn threads can match precisely at the seam.  Hemstitch after sewing the side seam, so that the raw edges of the seam can be hidden inside the hem.

Consider sewing the hem with thread left from making the lace.

The embellishment you have in mind may in itself constitute a hem, and there are lace-attachment methods which also finish the raw edge of the linen.

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Making pillowcases from sheets

Sometimes it happens that the sheets are a bargain, but the matching pillowcases are exorbitant.  In this case, even someone who doesn't ordinarily sew will consider buying an extra flat sheet and making pillowcases.

Watch out for crooked hems; manufacturers no longer tear cloth straight, but cut it off at whatever angle happens.  If you aren't sure of a hem, tear it off or open it up.  If you want to salvage the hem (despite having the seam allowances show at the edge), cut by a ruler, and accept whatever angle the manufacturer did.  You're likely to get a pillowcase that twists on your pillow, and won't fold along the seams, but it beats wasting a whole sheet by tearing off a piece that's a yard long on one side and twenty inches on the other.

The most sensible thing to do with a factory hem is to tear it off.  If the hem is easy to open, however, open it, wash the sheet, and then tear off the unusable part.  You can tear a lot closer to the stitching if it isn't there.

If you tear lengthwise first, tearing the ends straight will waste less fabric.  Check where the selvages are; very wide sheets use the fabric crosswise.  If the sheet is hemmed on the sides, the sides are almost certain to be the ends of your fabric.

Creases that are still in after the first washing will never wash out, and the holes left by stitching only get worse with wear.  But the extra inch gained by letting the old stitching-holes show may mean that you get three pairs instead of two.  It's a judgement call, and depends considerably on whether you want the pillowcases to match the sheets because it looks elegant, or because it simplifies sorting the laundry.

Another way to get three pairs out of a sheet that isn't quite three yards long is to add false hems of a contrasting fabric.  You might make two pairs of cases from a printed sheet, and use the left-over fabric to make false hems for three pairs of cases made from a solid sheet.  False hems are a bit of work, so resort to them only when the fabric is quite good, or when you want to fancy up the cases.

Permanent-press fabric won't straighten, so cut it by a ruler.

Synthetics and blends won't tear neatly, but there is no point in sleeping on a synthetic sheet if it isn't permanent press, so you'll be cutting by a ruler anyway.

Fabric that is acceptable in a sheet may be too irritating in a pillowcase.  If the sheet isn't 100% plant fiber, consider using the sheet fabric to decorate a pillowcase made of softer fabric.


The traditional size for a sheet was three yards of 81" fabric.  This allowed for shrinkage of loom-state muslin, and it was customary to fold a foot or two of sheet over the blanket to keep it clean, so the modern sheet is somewhat shorter.  Beds are also much wider, so it is likely that you'll have to buy fabric as wide as the desired length, and use it sideways.  (You will note that narrow factory-made sheets have the traditional woven-in side edges, but Queen and wider are hemmed on all four sides.)

If the widest-available fabric isn't quite wide enough, put false hems that match your pillowcases on both ends.  Attach the hems with long stitches, or a chain-stitch machine if you have one — the hems get the least wear, and can be used again on another sheet.

Another trick (and why didn't I think of this a lot of ripping ago) is to tear the false hem off with a generous seam allowance, and flat-fell it to the new sheet.  The second trip will probably be its last, but if the hem is of an unusually durable fabric, leave room for another seam allowance between the flat fell and the hem.  Since the false hem is being attached to the selvage, you can make a mock flat fell, which is one layer thinner than the turned-under flat fell.

It was traditional to make one hem of a sheet wider than the other, a vestige of the habit of decorating the end that was to be folded down over the blankets.  If a sheet is not decorated, make the hems match.  A sheet will last longer if it can be put on the bed with either end at the top.  (Not to mention that it's easier to make the bed if you can't possibly put the sheet on backward.)

Sheets are simple:  tear a rectangle of appropriate size and hem all raw edges.  Half an inch if the hems run down the sides, one or two inches if they run across the ends, and four or more if they are to be decorated.

Caveat:  if the run down the sides and selvages run across the ends, you are going to be confused when you make the bed — unless all your sheets are made from the same bolt, and the person who made the sheets always makes the beds.  The ends of the sheets should be hemmed even if they are good selvages, or cover the selvages with false hems, or mark them in some way.  One suggestion:  appliqué a short piece of contrasting tape, with the ends folded under to make points, in the middle of each end.  (This helps in centering the sheets when the bed is made.)

Or turn the kids loose with fabric markers.


If the selvage is a proper sheeting selvage, you can turn the hem just once, since the edge is finished.  If the selvage is puckered or lumpy, tear it off.  If the selvage is fringed, there may be a nylon edging thread you can pull out to release it.

Ironing the edges of a sheet after its first wash will go a long way toward preventing the accordion-pleated effect.  If you dry sheets on a line, always check to make sure the hems and selvages are flat.

If you have to dry sheets in a dryer, make up your mind that the edges are supposed to be pleated.

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Preparing fabric to make sheets

If you buy enough fabric to make several pairs of sheets, you won't be able to get all of it into the washer.

One way to deal with this is to wash a sample: straighten one end and tear off exactly one yard, or exactly two yards if a two-yard sample will be easier to make into pillowcases.

Wash the sample thoroughly and measure it again.  Suppose, for example, that the sample has shrunk to thirty-four inches.  If the rest of the piece shrinks the same way, you'll get thirty-four inches for every yard you tear off.

Suppose you want the finished sheets to be three yards wide.  Three yards is 108 inches.  Add two inches to allow for two half-inch hems, making 110 inches.  (You need only an inch and a half, but half an inch in three yards is too little to mess with.)  According to my handy dandy solar calculator, thirty-four goes into a hundred and ten 3.2352 times.  Since the difference between 0.23 and 0.25 is too little to worry about, tear off three and a quarter yards for every sheet wanted.

Since things don't always work out so neatly, note that I could have multiplied .2352 by 36 to get 8.47, which would have told me that I needed three yards plus eight or nine inches.

(And will you guys who think in metric quit snickering?)

If you don't plan to do anything but hem the ends, if the fabric doesn't stink, and if the selvages on the sample haven't puckered or ruffled, there's nothing wrong with making up the sheet before washing it.  The fabric will shrink more than the thread, to be sure, but that counteracts the tendency to pucker.  (Do wash before *using* the sheet.)

On the other hand, if the finishing left the edges of the fabric stretched into dramatic waves, if the sample did something astonishing in the wash, if you plan to sew other fabrics to the sheeting, or if you plan to miter corners in the hems — I just sew narrow, flat hems in the sides and treat them thereafter as selvages — you will need to wash the fabric first.

It is convenient to tear off two sheets at a time, if you have a large washer, and separate them after washing.

If you are certain that the color won't bleed, or if you won't mind if it does, soak the fabric overnight before washing it.

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Youth Hostel Sheet Sacks

When you are carrying your own bed linen, a "sheet sack" weighs less than a pair of sheets and a pillowcase.  The official sheet sack has a pocket to put a pillow in, but I like to hug my pillow, and consider a separate pillow case well worth the trifling weight.

Remember that a good night's sleep is essential, and don't skimp on your bed linen in any way that matters.  Sheer nylon is very light in weight, and quick to dry after washing — but it's apt to be ugly after the threads have slipped a little, and do you *really* want to sleep on nylon?  Some people don't mind, but if you aren't one of them, don't use nylon for your sheet sack.

You can, however, choose cotton fabric thinner than you would consider durable enough for your sheets at home — as long as you are sure that it will last until the end of the trip.  On a long trip, extra weight is a bigger pain than on shorter trips; if you can buy suitable fabric along the way, you can use flimsy fabric and carry needle and thread to make a new sack when the old one wears out.  On the other hand, equipment wearing out when you are way out in the boonies is a bigger hassle than it is on a short trip, and failures seldom happen close to a shop that sells replacements.

If you use the pattern below, it is important that the fabric have good selvages which don't pucker, ruffle, or fray.  In any case, choose a color you like to look at, and a fiber and weave that you don't mind having pressed against your skin.  Consider how the fabric will look after being washed in strange places by rough methods.  Undyed cotton was once the default for bed linen, and it still has a lot to recommend it.

If you are tall, consider buying more fabric than suggested, and make the sack long enough to let some hang off the foot of the bed.  If you are short, a smaller sack might do.

My favorite sheet sack is much simpler to make than the official sack, and perfectly flat, like a pillowcase, so that it's easy to pack.

Buy five yards of 45-inch fabric, wash, straighten, hem the ends.  Then fold it in half with the *wrong* sides together, and sew up the sides with basting stitches.  Sew only part of the way, and do *not* secure the ends of the threads.  You want the thread at the end of the stitching to stretch out an inch or more, forming a sort of gusset that prevents the fabric from tearing under stress, but disappears when you fold up the sack to pack it.  Lay this sack on the bed with the fold at the foot of the mattress, then tuck one of the flaps at the top under the mattress to hold the sack in place.  Put the blanket or blankets on the bed, then fold the other flap over the blanket to keep the blanket clean — and to protect yourself in case the previous tenant of the bed was not so fastidious.

A bed can be made up very quickly this way, but you should do it first thing when you check in, and also lay out your pajamas so that you can find them in the dark.  When you come back from supper, you may well find that other hikers are already in bed and trying to sleep.

If you like having your pillow under your sheet, make a pocket at one end, then follow the instructions above.  This makes a smaller flap for covering the blanket than my version, unless you make the ends unequal.  One way is to mark the center of the fabric before making the pocket, then fold there to make the sack.

To make a pillow-pocket, hem the ends of the fabric, then fold one end to a width adequate for a pillow, and stitch parallel to each selvage, leaving space adequate for a pillow between the rows of stitching.  Bar tack the end of each row of stitching if the fabric is stout; leave the ends of the stitching raw if the fabric is thin — popped stitches are easier to repair than torn fabric.

Make the bed by putting the pillow into the pocket, then laying the sack on the bed with the pillow where you want it, add blankets, and fold back the flap.

If you aren't going to be gone long enough to bother making a sheet sack, a flat double-bed sheet can serve as both top and bottom sheet for most bunks.  Fold it crosswise and tuck the fold under the mattress on the side next to the wall, then tuck one of the free ends under the mattress on the near side.

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Fitted sheets

Fitted sheets are vastly over-rated, and make it harder to make the bed neatly and keep it from wrinkling.


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How to make a bed

When stripping the bed, you may leave the mattress pad in place if it doesn't need shaking, but check to make sure that it hasn't shifted.

Throw the pillowcases and the bottom sheet into the wash.  If the weather hasn't been particularly hot and the pets haven't been walking on the bed, keep the top sheet to use as a bottom sheet.

First, adjust or install the mattress pad.

If it is a fitted pad, put on one corner, then walk around the bed to the diagonally-opposite corner and put that one on.  Go to the corner farthest from the corner you have just tucked in and put that one on, then install the remaining corner.

If the bed is queen or king size, it is unreasonably difficult to wash and dry a mattress pad that big.  Three old blankets make an excellent mattress pad, and the blankets from the double bed you just discarded will do nicely.  When the pad gets dusty, throw the top blanket into the wash, shake the other two, and put a clean blanket next to the mattress.  In this way, each blanket will get its turn in the washer, and dirt is carried away from the mattress.

A quilted pad should be shaken occasionally, to slow the accumulation of dust.  When you shake the pad, vacuum the mattress.

Next, put on the bottom sheet.  Shake the sheet out onto the bed, then adjust it so the bottom hem lies along the edge of the mattress at the foot.  The middle of the hem should be in the middle of the bed; there is usually a crease from folding to mark this spot, but you can make a permanent mark if you want to.  Instinct will tell you that it is neater to tuck the sheet in at the foot, but it is almost impossible to make a sheet perfectly smooth and tight with all four edges tucked in, and the foot of the bed is the only edge where it's convenient to leave the sheet free.

After arranging the sheet on the bed, tuck it under at the head.  To "box" the corner of the sheet, pull the part that's hanging down at the sides out straight, continuing the plane of the top of the mattress.


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If you should happen upon a great bargain in dry-clean-only 100%-wool fabric, you can make your own blankets.  I like my home-made blankets better than my store-bought blankets because they are thinner, so that it's easier to adjust the degree of warmth.  And because they are pure wool, I don't need so much weight and thickness on top of me to keep warm.

Almost any all-wool fabric will turn into blanketing when washed in hot water, but those marked "dry clean only" will shrink the most.  It helps to crowd the washer, to encourage felting.  (In other words, do all the things you are careful not to do when laundering the finished product.  Except bleach! Bleach dissolves wool, but does not encourage felting.)

Dyes meant to be dry cleaned are apt to bleed when wet.  Since the finished blankets will be washed separately anyhow, this is not a problem — but it's something to consider when you are trying to crowd the washer.  Don't put in items that will be spoiled if the dye runs — and don't put in items that will shed lint onto your wool.

Most dry-clean-only wools are sixty inches wide, which is a good width for single-bed blankets, so you need only tear them to the desired length and hem or bind the ends.  I have yet to find a wool fabric in which the selvage shrank differently from the rest of the fabric, but there is always a first time.

In making single-bed blankets, it is best to shrink the fabric before making it up, so that you can tell how long the blanket is going to be.  Nonetheless, make it the longest of the acceptable lengths, especially if it's on a child's bed, or if it will be washed frequently for some other reason.  Unlike plant fibers, which merely spring back from having been stretched during manufacture, wool honestly shrinks, and it will continue to shrink until the fibers are packed as closely as possible.  Wool shrinkage requires both water and agitation, and (like most reactions) it happens faster at higher temperatures, so shrinkage is easily avoided by washing in cold water and being careful not to rub.  But if a blanket gets thrown up on frequently, you are not going to fuss much about how you wash it, except for getting it into the washer before the stains can set or mildew, so allow for a little shrinkage.

Shrinking wool makes it stretchy, like a knit, and hard to measure, so it's better to do any piecing required before washing the fabric.  If the fabric is sewn only to itself, and if the grain is matched, it will shrink the same on both sides of the seam.  Making up before washing also helps you to avoid seams that pucker.

Making up when you don't know how much it's going to shrink feels a bit rash, but when one is using bargain wools, one tends to use the entire piece and accept whatever size happens, so this isn't as much of a problem as at first appears.  (But measure everything before and after, so you'll get an idea of how much extra fabric to buy next time.)

To make a wide blanket from 60" fabric, buy a length one and a half times the desired width, plus allowance for shrinking.  Tear the ends straight, if the fabric wasn't torn off the bolt.  If it has woven-in stripes, you can cut the fabric straight, but drawing threads in wool isn't usually a serious option.

Measure off one third of the fabric.  Move the mark a quarter inch toward the longer end, then tear the fabric into one long piece and one short one.

Not making any allowance for a seam will make the pieced piece half an inch shorter than the longer piece.  Taking a quarter inch off the long piece and adding it to the short piece will make the long piece a quarter inch shorter than the pieced piece, but a quarter inch is less than the uncertainty in measuring a long piece of stretchy fabric, making the cut come out precisely right calls for calculus, and I never did quite understand calculus.

Tear the short piece in half lengthwise, overlap the ends half an inch, and zig-zag down the middle, guiding on one torn edge.  Use a long stitch and your widest zig-zag.  (Well, up to a quarter of an inch, anyway.)

Check the other side to make sure the other torn edge also remains a uniform distance from the stitching.  If the fabrics have slipped during stitching, pick out the stitches that are too far or too close, and re-stitch those sections.  Conceal ends by threading them into a needle and hiding them between layers.  Sometimes you can hide an end by sticking the blunt end of a needle between the layers to catch a thread and pull it through.  The ends of the old stitching can be concealed, before you put in the new stitching, by separating the layers and pulling the threads from both sides in.

Once you get the seam firmly held in the proper position, zig-zag over both of the torn edges.  You may or may not want to shorten the stitch length, but don't satin-stitch; give the threads a chance to hide in the fuzz.

Draw a chalk line half an inch from one selvage on the longer piece.  Choose the worse selvage if the selvages don't match.  Mark the middle of the selvage.  Pin the torn edge of the pieced piece to the selvage, matching the seam to the middle.  Since torn edges stretch more than selvages, you will have to ease it on.  It may help to mark both pieces into quarters or eighths first.

Make another lap seam like that joining the pieced piece, and finish the ends as desired.

Simply turning under a half inch and zig-zagging over the torn edge works very well.  It may be easier to stitch the edge down if you first flatten the hem with a row of permanent basting guided on the fold — the basting should also be zig-zag, since zig-zag stretches more than straight stitch, and on fuzzy fabric, it shows less.

If you want to bind the blanket with silk or satin, wash it very thoroughly first.  If you hem the edge, you can wash the blanket gently from the beginning.  It is a very good idea to wash it before using, since the chemicals used in dying and finishing might be irritating, and because washing the fabric will cause it to fluff up and become warmer.

If appearance is of no concern, don't finish the edges at all; wool has little inclination to ravel, and thoroughly felted wool has none at all.

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Towels, Washrags, Mopping Cloths

Wool will absorb more water than any other natural fiber, but it is hard to get it wet, so it isn't particularly good at mopping up.  In addition, wool shrinks and felts when agitated in hot water, dissolves in household bleach, and decomposes in alkalis.  You might consider an animal-fiber cloth for use with acid cleaning agents, but it is more common to use disposable rags or paper.

Most of the commonly-available synthetic fibers are water repellent.

That leaves plant fibers.  Bast fibers absorb faster than seed-hair fibers, but tend to be more expensive, so most towels are made of cotton.  Some linen fabrics are made especially for making kitchen towels.  Linen crash was formerly much used for hand towels, because it dries quickly and doesn't stain easily.  Lint-free "lens cloth" is linen.  Many other kinds of linen — particularly those in which the fibers have been chopped short enough to spin on machinery designed for cotton — remind you emphatically that "lint" has the same root as "linen".

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Bath towels

Bath towels are made on the loom, then they are separated and the cuts hemmed or fringed.  You aren't likely to make bath towels at home unless you want something unusual, such as a flannelette bath sheet.

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Traveler's towels

One towel you almost have to make at home is the Youth Hostel towel.  When you are travelling light and carrying your own linens, you want a very thin towel, so that it will dry quickly after use — and so that it will cover a lot of territory for its weight when you are surprised in the shower.  Most of the fabrics suggested for dish towels make good Youth-Hostel towels.

A yard of sixty-inch checkered damask with dish-towel hems on the sides makes a good towel, and it can double as a light shawl.  If you want two, split two yards lengthwise into two thirty-inch by two-yard pieces, and hem all four edges.

Or make a shawl or sarong of a washable, absorbent fabric that you won't mind using as a bath towel in a pinch.

At the very least, you should have a washrag or bandanna in your luggage.  You can dry yourself all over with a washrag, if you stop to wring it out fairly often.  A washrag won't blot your hair dry, but you can squeegee it enough to stop it dripping.

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Guest towels

The original idea of the guest towel was to save laundry by not letting each guest dirty a full-size hand towel.  Alas, the natural urge to make things "nice" for guests led to guest towels so ornate that guests refuse to use them.

When you are expecting guests, put something rumpled that obviously isn't anybody's personal towel in the bathroom.  It might be well to hide all the personal towels!

If you want each guest to take a fresh towel, put out a generous heap of guest towels — and a conspicuous used-towel basket that has a few used towels already in it.

Or hang up a roll of paper towels.

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Wash rags

During the Depression, people cut up old towels to make wash cloths, often finishing the edges with embroidery or crochet.  This sort of economy isn't apt to appeal to you unless you already have an overlock machine for some other purpose.

Don't try to make your washcloths match your towels.  Washcloths wear so much faster than towels that it's just not going to happen, unless you buy half a dozen "face cloths" for every towel.  Perhaps you'll have a few matching sets to make it easier for guests to remember which towels are theirs, but make your main supply plain washrags of neutral colors — not necessarily black, gray, and white, but rather colors that don't clash with anything else you are likely to put into the bath.  For example, royal blue can be "neutral" for this purpose if none of your towels are pale blue or navy.  Since colors change with harsh washing, don't choose colors that you have to see together before you can be sure that they don't make each other look dirty.

You can make guest sets wear more evenly by putting the towels out for family while reserving the washrags for guests.

Wash rags are usually about twelve inches square.  A man may want a bigger rag if he uses it to steam his face before shaving; it is usually satisfactory to make the cloth longer without making it wider — "fingertip" towels make good man-sized washrags.

If a rag is to be washed after every use — when changing diapers, for example — six inches or eight inches square is big enough. 

A twelve-inch washrag that has worn thin in the middle can be cut into four baby wipes, each with a thin corner.

You will probably want to finish the edges — here's one way to do it:

First, select a thread that you have altogether too much of.  If you haven't got a backlog of mistakes, use a cheap basting thread.  If you have an assortment of left- overs, choose a cotton thread of light color.

Then mark cutting lines on the cloth — if none of your marking tools work on terrycloth, use a ball-point pen; it doesn't matter that it won't wash out.  Zig-zag near the cutting line, just far enough away that you aren't worried about cutting the stitching.  At the end, stop with the needle down on the side away from the cutting line, pivot, and stitch back just inside the first row of stitching.  It doesn't matter whether or not this row of stitching overlaps the first row, as long as it doesn't cover the first row entirely, or wander too far away from it.

At the far end, pivot, stitch across the cutting line, pivot again, and repeat on the other side of the cutting line.  If the edge of the rag is in good condition, break the threads and repeat for the other cutting line.  If the stitching of the washrag has worn away, stitch near the edge to the other cutting line, stitch it, then continue all around the rag.

If the thread is cotton, if you are serious about wanting to get rid of it, and if you need the practice, you may zig-zag back and forth over any small holes before cutting the rag apart.

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Kitchen Towels

Don't fringe a towel that you are going to use near the stove, as fringes catch fire very easily.  See "Hems for Dish Towels" in Edge Finishes.

Fabrics for Dish Towels

A fabric for dish towels must be absorbent, it must withstand hot water and bleach, and it shouldn't leave lint on your glasses.  There are many special towel fabrics, but few are available by the yard.

Terrycloth is less popular in the kitchen than it is in the bath. 

The linen fabric made especially for making dish towels may be called "toweling", "crash", or "crash toweling".

Birdseye diaper fabric makes excellent towels.  (I think that babies' breechclouts were named "diapers" after this fabric.)

A lot of fuss is made about "floursack" towels.  They are good, but I don't think them worth a premium price.

Table linens made entirely of plant fiber usually make good dish towels when they have been washed a few hundred times.

Checkered damask makes a cheerful kitchen towel, and most cotton damasks are absorbent.

If you see reject kitchen towels offered at a bargain rate, take a close look — if you happen to be the first customer who does so, you are apt to find several which have nothing wrong with them except that they are dirty, and you would have washed them before use anyway.

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Table Linens

Table linens, scarves, and handkerchiefs are easy: buy suitable fabric, cut or tear to desired size and shape, finish edges.

If a fabric has good selvages — and fabric especially woven to make tablecloths *should* have good selvages — you can make a length of cloth into a tablecloth just by straightening the ends and hemming them.

The usual rule is that a piece of fabric should have selvages on both edges or selvages on no edges: Selvages on the tablecloth, but not on the napkins; ribbons or tapes for apron ties, but not a strip cut off the edge of the fabric and hemmed on one side only.

But if a handkerchief is for "blow, not show", if the apron is for stopping grease and you don't care how it looks, it's a waste of time to cut off a good selvage and replace it with a hem.

On the third hand, dirty work is depressing enough without using ugly tools.

On the fourth hand, good selvages are getting so rare that it is a sin to waste one.

Put mind in gear & decide what suits your taste and situation.

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A square of fabric used to wrap or carry things.  See "Handkerchiefs" and "leaf carriers" in this section.  A handkerchief or bandanna can be used for a furoshiki, or one can hem a square of any cloth that looks good on both sides.  A furoshiki is a tempting target for recreational decoration, but reflect, first, on how the decoration will look when the furoshiki is in use.  It's depressing to do a beautiful job of patchwork only to discover that the only way you can see it is to take everything out of your knitting bag and turn it upside down.

Consider making furoshikis that can double as handkerchiefs, scarves, shawls, beach wraps, etc.

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Paper handkerchiefs are much more sanitary, but if someone in your family has chronic breathing problems, an ample supply of well-worn soft handkerchiefs may be a necessity.  Also, handkerchiefs serve many other purposes: it's a good idea to carry a large cloth handkerchief or a small furoshiki to use as a towel when paper isn't supplied, to use as a washcloth, to tie up small objects when one has forgotten to bring a bag, and on and on.

If someone is using vast numbers of cloth handkerchiefs because paper handkerchiefs are flimsy, consider buying him a roll of premium-grade paper towels or a package of cheap table napkins.  If possible, collect disposable handkerchiefs in a paper sack, and burn them sack and all.

The best "blow" handkerchiefs are salvaged from cloth that has worn out in other service, because fabric that has been washed many times is softer and more absorbent.  Fine linen makes the best handkerchiefs, but cotton is much easier to come by.  White is the default color, because it stands up to harsh washing and bleach.  Loosely-spun fabric from the outdated mule-spinning mills in India is best for making handkerchiefs — some modern cottons can wear out completely without ever getting soft.

If you want a handkerchief to be square after washing, wash the fabric thoroughly before cutting.  If you don't mind a change in shape, you can hem handkerchiefs first and wash them afterward.

It is good to have things either exactly square or obviously oblong, so that you don't have to worry about which way to fold them on wash day.  When you make a great many handkerchiefs for daily use, it is better to make them identical, for an easier washday and neater storage — and so that someone who grabs hastily to catch a sneeze won't be surprised.

Ladies "show" handkerchiefs are usually only eleven inches square, and I've seen them as small as six inches.  A lady may carry a not-too- precious show handkerchief for use, but the more practical carry a full-sized man's handkerchief, sixteen or seventeen inches square.  (I once saw an advertisement for a very practical fifteen- inch embroidered handkerchief.)

A bandanna is twenty inches to two feet across — I make mine twenty-two inches, as the available fabric is forty-five inches wide.

A two-foot-square bandanna can be used as a skimpy head scarf in unexpected weather.  A full-time head scarf of wool or silk should be at least a yard square.  Neck scarves are usually long and narrow.

Sixteen inches square is about right for a handkerchief stuffed into a bra in hot weather.  Any edge finish at all on handkerchiefs made for this purpose will mark your skin, so tear squares out of worn-out bed linen, and let it go at that.  The cotton will be slightly felted from much wear, which will inhibit ravelling, and the tearing will leave a slight fringe, which further inhibits ravels.  Newer fabrics, between being less felted and lasting longer, are apt to develop a fringe around the edges, but that only makes them look more finished, and does not harm the function.

When ready to use a bra handkerchief, fold it into a "cravat bandage" — fold it corner-to-corner, not quite in half, so that the edges don't match.  Bring the point up to the middle of the fold, then fold parallel to these folds until you have a narrow strip that is pointed on the ends and thicker in the middle.  Fold this strip in half and push the middle of the fold up under the bra band between your breasts.  Tuck the trailing ends under the band, one to the left and one to the right.  The ends anchor the handkerchief to keep it from popping out through your neckline at embarrassing moments, and also provide some protection from sweaty elastic.  If you use these handkerchiefs conscientiously, and change them frequently, you'll be much less likely to develop prickly heat.  (All-linen bras are an even better idea.)

The paragraph above illustrates why computer programs bloat and complicate without limit.  I knew how to make a cravat out of a triangle, so without thinking, I folded the square into a triangle to reduce it to a previously-solved problem.

Eventually I realized that when folding a square -- or a rectangle -- that it is easier to fold two opposite corners in, then fold the resulting hexagon.  And one should watch the edges, not the points; keep edges that aren't parallel at right angles to each other.

Eight inches square is a good size for spectacle-cleaning rags.  If made of shirting -- preferably linen or cotton-and-linen -- that's plenty big enough, and an eight-inch square folds to fit a pocket meant for a man's sixteen-inch handkerchief.  I mark out spectacle rags with drawn threads, then zig-zag the edges before cutting them apart.

Men's show handkerchiefs are called "pocket squares", and lack the ornamentation characteristic of ladies' show handkerchiefs.  They may be obviously fake, and sometimes consist of a couple of corners stapled to a card, whereas it is always at least theoretically possible to use a lady's handkerchief.  If pocket squares are overlocked instead of hemmed, the thread must match perfectly.  (All this varies with fashion, of course.)

See "handkerchief hem" in Edge Finishes.

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A linen sarong is a good idea for travel — it packs perfectly flat, and fills in for a towel, a skirt, a dress, a blouse, a beach wrap, a bath robe, and many other things that you didn't think you were going to need.

Fabric for a sarong should be soft and thin: almost sheer, with a busy-enough print to block the view.  Linen is best, but cotton is cheaper and easier to find.

I have seen ads for sarongs everywhere from 44" x 62" to 60" by 84", but 45" x 72" seems to be canonical.  I find a 66" sarong just barely long enough to wrap around my back, cross in front, and tie behind my neck.

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Ordinarily, bandages are not hemmed, but triangular bandages subjected to heavy use in first-aid classes may have finished edges.  Scarves, neckerchiefs, etc. may be designed to double as triangular bandages in an emergency.

A triangle bandage makes a good head scarf, as it is easier to knot than a square scarf folded to the same size, and it is rather difficult to wrap the tails of a square scarf around your neck.  On the other hand, the triangle is only half as thick as a square cut from the same fabric.

Since a triangular bandage is four inches larger than a standard square head scarf, you may wish to fold a wide cuff at the diagonal edge before tying it on.  This also makes it behave more like a square scarf.

Use a handkerchief hem to finish triangular scarves.  See "Edge Finishes".

There is more information about making bandages in the section on mending sheets, and the section on bias tape tells how to get a 40" triangular bandage out of 39" fabric.

For home use, "roller" bandages are torn as required from a piece of thoroughly-clean bed linen kept in the rag drawer.  For donation to charity, lengthwise strips are torn from old sheets, sewn end-to-end, and tightly rolled.  The charity will tell you how long and wide to make them.  It is usually easier to roll them by hand than to use the gadget supplied.

If you don't know what I'm talking about here, take a Red Cross First Aid course.  Then take the advanced course.  If you get a chance, take the introductory course taught to ambulance riders.  (There were some shocking photographs in my "first-responder" course — but the most shocking thing about the course was that I'd been allowed to think that I had a high- school education when I didn't know any of this very important and extremely elementary stuff.  I should have gotten about half of it in grammar school!)

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