Hand-sewing a cotton scarf is perhaps one of the simplest projects you could undertake, easy enough for a beginner yet so useful and versatile that even the savviest sewers enjoy the process. Given the virtually unlimited array of cotton fabrics available, as well as the range of style options to consider, a DIY scarf is customizable in every way. Look for inspiration online, in magazines and in the stylish women you see walking down the street, then head to the fabric store. With no need for a sewing machine, you can whip out your own perfect accessory in a matter of hours.
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Decide the shape and dimensions you want for your scarf. If you have an existing scarf you want to copy, just measure its sides and jot down the dimensions. Cotton scarves are commonly square, triangular or long, skinny rectangles. Bear in mind the characteristics of the fabric you are using. Drape the fabric around your neck to see how it behaves -- a light, floaty gauze, for example, will tend to scrunch up and lose volume, so consider giving the scarf larger dimensions than you initially think necessary. A thick cotton fleece, on the other hand, will likely be bulky around your neck, so make the scarf narrow enough to prevent it from being overwhelmingly warm.
Press the fabric well with an iron, then spread it out smoothly on a flat surface. Trace the outline of the scarf with a fabric marker or tailor's chalk and a ruler, according to the dimensions you decided upon, plus a hem allowance. Add a 1/2-inch hem allowance to each side of the scarf if you are using a lightweight cotton fabric; add a 1-inch hem allowance for heavier fabrics.
Cut out the scarf shape carefully, then take it to your ironing board. Use a hem gauge or ruler to measure and fold one of the scarf's edges over by 1/4-inch (lighter fabrics) or 1/2-inch (heavier fabrics) and press the fold with the iron. Fold this side over again by another 1/4- or 1/2-inch, concealing the raw edge of the fabric, and press. Place straight pins along the fold.
Repeat the folding, pressing and pinning along the other edges of the scarf, one edge at a time. Take the time to fold and press the hems neatly -- it's worth the effort to get a clean, professional finish.
Thread a sharp sewing needle with an arm's length of thread and knot one end. Use thread that matches the scarf fabric. Starting at a corner, slip the needle underneath the hem and poke it through near the inner folded edge. Pull the thread taut so that the knot is concealed under the hem.
Sew along the inner folded edges of the side hems using a slip stitch. Create a slip stitch by -- in one movement -- picking up a tiny thread just underneath the fold with the tip of the needle, inserting the needle into the fold just above the stitch and poking it back out of the fold a short distance, about 1/4-inch or less, away. Repeat this along the hem, moving from right to left. Keep the stitches small and evenly spaced.
Finish the hem when you have slip-stitched all the way along the scarf's sides and returned to corner at which you started sewing. To secure the end of the thread, sew two or three tiny stitches in one spot, then thread the needle through the loop of the final stitch before you pull it through. Trim the thread end close to the fabric.
Press the hems one final time with your iron to set the stitches.