Initially, one might wonder, “What is there to talk about in regards to side finishes? It’s just a hem, isn’t it?” Well, yes, in most cases, the side finish is a hem. But not always. And even when it is a hem, there are different styles and sizes of hems, depending on the drapery style, the fabric used, and how the drape will be used.
In some cases, the fabric itself has a clean edge (selvage). As a result, for some drapes utilizing those fabrics, no side hem at all is required. This is often the case for simple one-width drapery panels (such as Exhibit Booth drapes or special event drapes). Encore Velour is one fabric that, when sewn into single-width exhibit drapery, is generally made with a selvage side finish. Voile drapes are also made with a selvage side finish, especially when sewn as single-width panels for special event usage. However, selvage sides are virtually never used for traditional stage drapes and are rarely used for multi-width panels (i.e. drapes that are unioned together to create a drape that is wider than the width of the original fabric).
Standard Double-Turned Hem
The standard side hem for most custom stage curtains and backdrops is a 2-2. This means that 2″ of fabric is folded in on the side, and then another 2″ is folded over and then the hem is sewn. This creates a clean finished edge to the hem with no chance of fraying. In some cases, the hem may be slightly different, such as 3-3 or 1-1, but the standard is 2-2.
Another option for a side finish is a half-width turnback. This involves folding the side edge back 1″, folding it again so that approximately half the width of the fabric is used for the side hem, and then sewing the turnback in place. For example, if the fabric is 54″ wide, then 27″ of the fabric would be used for the side hem. This side finish is typically used for the onstage edge of bi-parting traveller curtains (where the curtains meet in the middle). If the onstage edge of the curtain should flip open slightly while the curtains are being opened or closed (thereby exposing the back of the curtain), the audience will see the “good” side of the fabric rather than the back of the fabric. This side finish is also more durable due to the double thickness of fabric – the center point where bi-parting curtains meet is often subjected to more wear and tear, especially if the curtain is a walk-along (hand-operated rather than rope operated).
Often a traveller curtain will have different side finishes on the two sides – the onstage edge will have a half-width turnback and the offstage edge will have a standard 2-2 hem. However, in some cases, a half-width edge is designated for both sides of bi-parting traveller curtains. The benefit to this option is that, if the onstage edges of the two traveller curtains becomes frayed, the curtains can be reversed – the stage right curtain becomes the stage left curtain, and vice versa. Suddenly, the frayed edges are on the offstage edges (and are therefore less noticeable), with the more pristine edges now on the onstage edges (more visible to the audience in the center of the stage).
Twelve Inch Turnback
A 12″ turnback serves the same purpose as the half-width turnback – but is sometimes selected due to budgetary concerns, as this option saves a little money as less fabric is needed (just about 1/4 of a width of fabric vs 1/2 a width).
A very small hem (usually 1/2″ – 1/2″) is generally used for very delicate fabrics, especially sheers, when it is important that the hem be clean and finished but not noticeable. This side finish is often used for special event drapery that may be seen close-up (as opposed to traditional stage drapery that is generally seen from a distance).
Marrowing is a technique in which the actual edge of the fabric is sewn to provide a finished edge and prevent fraying, without actually folding back the fabric. This finish is often used for table linens.