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Author Topic: Hand sewing  (Read 4123 times)
Collinsky
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« Topic Start: August 25, 2010, 08:07:54 pm »

Ana mentioned in another thread that she hand sews quilts. I haven't hand sewn anything since I was a teen, and I don't remember being particularly adept at it. I've only used a needle and thread a few times over the last decade, and that was mostly tacking up hems. Lately, I've been feeling a big push to start sewing -- and I kind of want to sew by hand. What's a good way to get started? Is there anything I need to know in order to make strong seams? That's my concern with hand sewing, that my seams will be weak and after all the hours and hours of work making stitches, it will fall apart the first time its washed. I know that all clothing and fabric items used to be hand-sewn, and didn't fall apart... but women back then also had to learn to sew from a young age, and they had skills I don't possess and the expertise of their mothers to call on. So I feel trepidated... especially when anyone I've mentioned it to has said I'm nuts.  Grin

Should I just figure out how to use my sewing machine instead?
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« Reply #1: August 26, 2010, 12:44:32 am »

Ana mentioned in another thread that she hand sews quilts. I haven't hand sewn anything since I was a teen, and I don't remember being particularly adept at it. I've only used a needle and thread a few times over the last decade, and that was mostly tacking up hems. Lately, I've been feeling a big push to start sewing -- and I kind of want to sew by hand. What's a good way to get started? Is there anything I need to know in order to make strong seams? That's my concern with hand sewing, that my seams will be weak and after all the hours and hours of work making stitches, it will fall apart the first time its washed. I know that all clothing and fabric items used to be hand-sewn, and didn't fall apart... but women back then also had to learn to sew from a young age, and they had skills I don't possess and the expertise of their mothers to call on. So I feel trepidated... especially when anyone I've mentioned it to has said I'm nuts.  Grin

Should I just figure out how to use my sewing machine instead?

I've actually taught many people to sew, and it sort of depends on why you want to sew.  Is it that you want to sew because you want to be able to wear a new garment, or do you like the feel of sitting quietly and piecing something together?  There is a benefit to both the machine and sewing by hand, though I will tell you that sewing by hand... probably sewing in general, is ruining my eyesight (along with all of the other things that I do that involve miniscule detail work....) but, sewing brings me peace and sanity, and pride in my creations.  For a while I decided that I was going to learn how to make Civil War era gowns and I was going to sew them by hand.  Well... I didn't get very far.  Most of the projects that I work on entirely by hand simply just don't get very far.  As I said, when I make my quilts I piece them with the machine, and some of them I even quilt by machine, but the large more intricate ones I quilt by hand. 

I think part of it may also depend on how you intend on doing what you're doing.  Is it a solitary project or a group project?  Remember that yes, women used to sew by hand, but they also weren't doing it alone.  To make a quilt entirely by hand is a huge undertaking.  The quilt that is on my bed right now took me 3 weeks to piece together- and that was with a sewing machine.  Then I put it aside for a while, and when I finally got around to the undertaking of quilting it, it was 3 months of working on it every single night while watching TV with my husband.  The quilt I'm currently working on has been an off and on project for a good part of three years.  They wouldn't take nearly so long if I wasn't working on them alone.  Quilting bees or quilting circles were social occaisions, but also women would get together and would sit around the quilt and work on quilting it together, so it would get done in a MUCH shorter time.  Also, if a family of five women are all working on a quilt together and each one of them does four of the quilt squares instead of one person having to do all twenty herself... you see the difference.

If you don't care how long it takes, and simply want something to work with your hands, then just pick up some fabric squares and start sewing.  (though remember to wash your fabrics first before you even cut them to pre-shrink them)

My favorite I think is the hybrid.  I sew the top of the quilt together, then sandwich it (backing, batting, top) and pin it with safety pins.  then I can sit comfortably with my quilt hoop and the not-quite-finished quilt and snuggle under it while I sew my designs into it.


Additionally, I did once have an elderly woman tell me that for hand sewing clothing, there should be 7 stitches per inch, and for quilts there should be 10 stitches per inch.  I think she might have had it backwards personally, but those two numbers have stuck in my head even from our very brief meeting once.  If you sew clothing, you can reinforce your seams by taking the inside part of the seams and cutting along one of the two sides so that it is a scant 1/4 inch, then fold over the longer side and sew it down again.  These are called "flat felled seams." 

I've been sewing now for about 23 years.  If you have any questions or need help with either sewing by hand or by machine, please feel free to ask and I'll do what I can to help!  My mother and grandmother taught me the basics starting when I was 6, and I just never stopped. 
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« Reply #2: August 26, 2010, 12:32:35 pm »

Ana mentioned in another thread that she hand sews quilts. I haven't hand sewn anything since I was a teen, and I don't remember being particularly adept at it. I've only used a needle and thread a few times over the last decade, and that was mostly tacking up hems. Lately, I've been feeling a big push to start sewing -- and I kind of want to sew by hand. What's a good way to get started? Is there anything I need to know in order to make strong seams? That's my concern with hand sewing, that my seams will be weak and after all the hours and hours of work making stitches, it will fall apart the first time its washed. I know that all clothing and fabric items used to be hand-sewn, and didn't fall apart... but women back then also had to learn to sew from a young age, and they had skills I don't possess and the expertise of their mothers to call on. So I feel trepidated... especially when anyone I've mentioned it to has said I'm nuts.  Grin

Should I just figure out how to use my sewing machine instead?

Ana has a good point - why hand sewing?  I sew for the finished product (though I do enjoy the process) and so rely heavily on the sewing machine.  But I have done hand sewing that stand up (still) to the washing machine and use.  I tend to use a small backstich on handsewn seams because it is strong and stable.  I also knot the thread (as if tying off) regularly to keep it stable.  This is because I don't trust hand sewing to be as strong as machine, which is silly but it works for me.
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« Reply #3: August 26, 2010, 12:55:52 pm »

Should I just figure out how to use my sewing machine instead?

No, you're not nuts, but I'd suggest learning how to use your sewing machine in addition, not instead.  If you're interested in quilting and intend to machine wash your quilt, then machine sewing the top makes it a lot sturdier.  If you'd rather hand sew everything (I do), then taking a back stitch every four or five stitches helps keep things from falling apart.  If you want your quilt to last longer, whether it's machine-sewn or not, wash it in the bathtub, spin it dry in the dryer, and lay it out in the back yard on a warm, not-so-sunny day to dry.  Machine drying, if you don't have a warm, shady back yard, is easier on the quilt than machine washing.

Quilting advice:

Start small.  Make a wall hanging or a placemat or a mat for your cat.

 Start simple.  There are easy quilt patterns and quilting designs all over the internet;  pick a quilt pattern that lets you sew in straight lines--it's harder to sew curved pieces together accurately. Avoid long triangles  and diamonds to start with--the edges stretch easily.  Half-square triangles are easier.

 Pick a design and colors you really like:  if you're hand sewing, you're going to be looking at it for a LONG time.  Don't choose anything too complex for a quilting design, and mark your quilt LIGHTLY, but not so lightly that you can't see what you're sewing.

 Measure carefully and cut accurately.  It's frustrating beyond words when the pieces you're sewing together are a bit off-size.

 Don't expect to sew a perfect, ten-stitches-to-the-inch seam from day one.  It takes time to learn the right technique (instructions abound on the internet, or you may be able to take lessons at a local quilt shop), and your stitches will vary from day to day.  Don't worry about it;  they get better with time.  All your points and edges may not match perfectly the first few quilts.  You will probably be the only one to notice.  They will get better with experience.

Binding is a boring but necessary last step.  Buy enough material at the beginning to make your own binding from one of the colors in your quilt.  It will look better and last longer than store-bought seam binding.

Good luck!  It doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful.
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« Reply #4: August 26, 2010, 12:56:05 pm »

Ana mentioned in another thread that she hand sews quilts. I haven't hand sewn anything since I was a teen, and I don't remember being particularly adept at it. I've only used a needle and thread a few times over the last decade, and that was mostly tacking up hems. Lately, I've been feeling a big push to start sewing -- and I kind of want to sew by hand. What's a good way to get started? Is there anything I need to know in order to make strong seams? That's my concern with hand sewing, that my seams will be weak and after all the hours and hours of work making stitches, it will fall apart the first time its washed. I know that all clothing and fabric items used to be hand-sewn, and didn't fall apart... but women back then also had to learn to sew from a young age, and they had skills I don't possess and the expertise of their mothers to call on. So I feel trepidated... especially when anyone I've mentioned it to has said I'm nuts.  Grin

Should I just figure out how to use my sewing machine instead?

Hand sewing can be relaxing and meditative. It can also lead to RSI.  Tongue  When the sewing machine showed up on the scene in the mid19thC, people were ecstatic. (Various inventors had been trying for a working model for decades prior, fighting both mechanical problems and fears that it would put thousands out of work.) I've seen a lot of historical and vintage clothing; a lot of Victorian clothing, for instance, often has machine-worked seams and handwork everywhere else. And much of that interior handwork is quick and dirty and utilitarian - and sturdy; those garments are still around. There are things you can simply do better by hand.

Most sewers today oversew by earlier standards; a backstitch creates a sturdy seam, but a running stitch (or double running stitch) works fine on areas of medium to low stress if the stitch per inch ratio is high; imo that's more important than the type of stitch (along with the weave density of the fabric).
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« Reply #5: August 26, 2010, 02:24:10 pm »

but a running stitch (or double running stitch) works fine on areas of medium to low stress if the stitch per inch ratio is high; imo that's more important than the type of stitch (along with the weave density of the fabric).


And decent seam allowance!  I think this is a common mistake among new sewers.  In most situations 1/2 inch is a minimum so the seam doesn't fall apart - particularly on clothing.
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« Reply #6: August 26, 2010, 03:16:28 pm »

And decent seam allowance!  I think this is a common mistake among new sewers.  In most situations 1/2 inch is a minimum so the seam doesn't fall apart - particularly on clothing.

Absolutely!  though, check the pattern you're using too.  They should say what the seam allowances are.  For most quilts, the seam allowance is a scant quarter inch, and most standard pattern companies for clothing (McCalls, Butterick, Simplicity, Vogue) tend to use 5/8 inch seam allowance for garments, and 3/8 inch for crafts (dolls, stuffed animals, doll clothes)

I make quilts, but I also make dolls, doll clothes, and stuffed animals as gifts for my sons and nieces.  (and other gifts)
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« Reply #7: August 26, 2010, 04:18:15 pm »

Absolutely!  though, check the pattern you're using too.  They should say what the seam allowances are.  For most quilts, the seam allowance is a scant quarter inch, and most standard pattern companies for clothing (McCalls, Butterick, Simplicity, Vogue) tend to use 5/8 inch seam allowance for garments, and 3/8 inch for crafts (dolls, stuffed animals, doll clothes)

I make quilts, but I also make dolls, doll clothes, and stuffed animals as gifts for my sons and nieces.  (and other gifts)

Exactly - but quilts usually don't get a lot of pull on the seams of the piecing.  Clothing seams do.  And I do a lot of flat felled (or as my grandmother calls the 'french seams') on clothing so that it lasts longer.  But I have seen new sewers think they can do a 1/8 inch seam and it's ok - not considering that it can be pulled apart with little effort.  And when I piece a quilt by machine I tend to use an overlock stitch anyway.....
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« Reply #8: August 26, 2010, 05:01:36 pm »

Exactly - but quilts usually don't get a lot of pull on the seams of the piecing.  Clothing seams do.  And I do a lot of flat felled (or as my grandmother calls the 'french seams') on clothing so that it lasts longer.  But I have seen new sewers think they can do a 1/8 inch seam and it's ok - not considering that it can be pulled apart with little effort.  And when I piece a quilt by machine I tend to use an overlock stitch anyway.....

Yep, I agree about the 1/8"  the fabric itself ends up falling apart there before the stitches do.  I don't do the overlock stitch on my quilts, and I don't tie my quilts often because they aren't as sturdy as machine or hand quilting
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« Reply #9: August 26, 2010, 05:41:36 pm »

Yep, I agree about the 1/8"  the fabric itself ends up falling apart there before the stitches do.  I don't do the overlock stitch on my quilts, and I don't tie my quilts often because they aren't as sturdy as machine or hand quilting


I should think a tied quilt would be best when instead of batting you have a blanket or 2 inside.
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« Reply #10: August 26, 2010, 07:46:38 pm »

I would try hand sewing and using the machine... and see which better floats your boat! Tongue The only thing I ever sewed by hand was a smallish drawstring bag for my ren faire garb. I used a blanket stitch (I think). I was working at the faire as an actor, so that thing was attached to my belt with a bunch of junk in it every. single. weekend. for months on end. And I'll tell you what, it withstood my swinging and jumping around dancing, getting pulled on, sat on, etc. I love it!
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« Reply #11: August 26, 2010, 08:58:41 pm »

Should I just figure out how to use my sewing machine instead?

Fine quilting is traditionally 10-12 stitches per inch or more.  Clothing doesn't have to be; 7-8 would be fine, but for a clothing seam that would take pressure and stress, like a sleeve, or the crotch of a pair of pants, I would do the running stitch back, using the same holes.

Quilters traditionally cut to a 1/4-inch seam allowance.  Clothing, again, because the seam allowances are stressed more, are usually cut to 1/3-1/2 inch.

10-12 stitches per inch is not difficult.  Just don't pay any attention to any quilting instructions that tell you to load your needle with more than one stitch.  I've seem them insist that one could load a sharp that's less than an inch long with 6 stitches and pull them all through.  That is, in my experience, only possible with the use of a pair of pliers, and you are risking puckering or tearing the fabric.

I quilt using big quilting hoops and one stitch at a time, up and down, and 10 stitches per inch is not difficult if you have good vision, good light, and good hand-eye coordination.  You get nice straight seams with no puckering or tearing of the fabric.

Start with a pillow top; it's less expensive and less intimidating.  <G>

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« Reply #12: August 26, 2010, 11:03:30 pm »

I've actually taught many people to sew, and it sort of depends on why you want to sew.  Is it that you want to sew because you want to be able to wear a new garment, or do you like the feel of sitting quietly and piecing something together?  There is a benefit to both the machine and sewing by hand, though I will tell you that sewing by hand... probably sewing in general, is ruining my eyesight (along with all of the other things that I do that involve miniscule detail work....) but, sewing brings me peace and sanity, and pride in my creations.  For a while I decided that I was going to learn how to make Civil War era gowns and I was going to sew them by hand.  Well... I didn't get very far.  Most of the projects that I work on entirely by hand simply just don't get very far.  As I said, when I make my quilts I piece them with the machine, and some of them I even quilt by machine, but the large more intricate ones I quilt by hand. 

I think part of it may also depend on how you intend on doing what you're doing.  Is it a solitary project or a group project?  Remember that yes, women used to sew by hand, but they also weren't doing it alone.  To make a quilt entirely by hand is a huge undertaking.  The quilt that is on my bed right now took me 3 weeks to piece together- and that was with a sewing machine.  Then I put it aside for a while, and when I finally got around to the undertaking of quilting it, it was 3 months of working on it every single night while watching TV with my husband.  The quilt I'm currently working on has been an off and on project for a good part of three years.  They wouldn't take nearly so long if I wasn't working on them alone.  Quilting bees or quilting circles were social occaisions, but also women would get together and would sit around the quilt and work on quilting it together, so it would get done in a MUCH shorter time.  Also, if a family of five women are all working on a quilt together and each one of them does four of the quilt squares instead of one person having to do all twenty herself... you see the difference.

If you don't care how long it takes, and simply want something to work with your hands, then just pick up some fabric squares and start sewing.  (though remember to wash your fabrics first before you even cut them to pre-shrink them)

My favorite I think is the hybrid.  I sew the top of the quilt together, then sandwich it (backing, batting, top) and pin it with safety pins.  then I can sit comfortably with my quilt hoop and the not-quite-finished quilt and snuggle under it while I sew my designs into it.


Additionally, I did once have an elderly woman tell me that for hand sewing clothing, there should be 7 stitches per inch, and for quilts there should be 10 stitches per inch.  I think she might have had it backwards personally, but those two numbers have stuck in my head even from our very brief meeting once.  If you sew clothing, you can reinforce your seams by taking the inside part of the seams and cutting along one of the two sides so that it is a scant 1/4 inch, then fold over the longer side and sew it down again.  These are called "flat felled seams." 

I've been sewing now for about 23 years.  If you have any questions or need help with either sewing by hand or by machine, please feel free to ask and I'll do what I can to help!  My mother and grandmother taught me the basics starting when I was 6, and I just never stopped. 

Wow... thanks everyone for the great replies! To answer the first question, I want to sew because I think it will be a fun creative outlet, more about the process than the finished product - I do however, want to end up with a useful, nice completed object of some kind. I also want to teach my children how to do it - they may never have an interest but I think it's a useful skill to have. I don't feel a strong need to be able to whip up a sundress in a few sessions at this time.

Hand sewing, while a longer and far more tedious approach, seems in some ways to be more convenient and easy to work into my life. For one thing, my friends do "knitting nights" and I could easily take along a small sewing project to work on. I could take it to the park and work on it while the kiddos play on the playground. It seems like it would be easier to start and stop, to put it aside and pick it up again. I don't have to take over my dining room table for it, like I would with the machine.

I'm thinking of saving machine work for when my youngest is at least three -- I've not had much luck doing things with toddlers. LOL
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« Reply #13: August 26, 2010, 11:06:16 pm »



Thanks so much to everyone... lots of great practical tips. I think I'm going to try to see if I can find any local sewing classes to get me started with either hand sewing or feeling comfortable with the machine. I've had it for a couple years and have never even plugged it in.  Embarrassed
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« Reply #14: August 29, 2010, 03:27:21 am »

Ana mentioned in another thread that she hand sews quilts. I haven't hand sewn anything since I was a teen, and I don't remember being particularly adept at it. I've only used a needle and thread a few times over the last decade, and that was mostly tacking up hems. Lately, I've been feeling a big push to start sewing -- and I kind of want to sew by hand. What's a good way to get started? Is there anything I need to know in order to make strong seams? That's my concern with hand sewing, that my seams will be weak and after all the hours and hours of work making stitches, it will fall apart the first time its washed. I know that all clothing and fabric items used to be hand-sewn, and didn't fall apart... but women back then also had to learn to sew from a young age, and they had skills I don't possess and the expertise of their mothers to call on. So I feel trepidated... especially when anyone I've mentioned it to has said I'm nuts.  Grin

Should I just figure out how to use my sewing machine instead?

I have been hand sewing things now for over a year on and off, because I do not have and cannot afford a sewing machine.   I don't think that the time it takes is a very big issue, but I can sew pretty quickly.  My first project was a skirt I copied from Hot Topic (I had no pattern, I just measured the skirt I owned, and cut the pieces to duplicate it as best I could).  After about a week of working on it, it turned out lovely.  I even made a Lord of the Rings dress by hand in three days (three days of working on it almost constantly).  My stitches seem to be holding up very well, but in my dress, I would go over an areas that receive more tension two times, just in case.  I do enjoy hand sewing, for the same reason I like spinning, it just makes the things I make feel much more personal to me.
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