Hand Sewing Basics for Beginners

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With the invention of the sewing machine, hand sewing for beginners has almost become a lost art. Many go straight to the machine when learning to sew. Considered long-winded and slow, hand sewing and beginners don’t always go together.

There are times, however, when only traditional methods work.

In this article, we’ll look at the reasons why hand sewing for beginners is an essential skill to learn, the equipment you need to complete your task and the most popular basic hand sewing stitches you need to know.

Why Do You Need to Hand Sew?

Sewing is more than a hobby, it’s also a life skill. Although many of us use sewing machines these days, hand sewing still has an important role in our daily sewing adventures.

One of the main reasons for this, there are some jobs sewing machines cannot do. Another, sometimes it’s easier and quicker to hand stitch than it is to set up a machine, especially if it’s a small task.

Sewing machines can also be daunting and create a learning curve of their own. On top of getting used to sewing techniques, you have to get to grips with a machine with confusing bleeps and buttons. Hand sewing can be a lot less stressful! All you need to start is a needle, thread and the project you’re working on.

For beginners, hand sewing is a great way to learn about the hobby. Understanding the different stitches and techniques will give you all the skills you need to complete projects with an individual flourish.

So let’s look at some areas where hand sewing outshines a sewing machine.

Historical Accuracy

If you’re a sewist who enjoys exploring the fashion of days long passed, sticking with the traditional sewing methods can enhance your experience while you make your vintage garments.

After all, if you truly want to experience how sewists of old used to create their masterpieces, there’s no better way than to grab a needle, some thread and set to work. It may be time consuming, but it’s rewarding.

Precision Sewing

No matter how many positives a sewing machine offers, it’ll always have downsides. While it may create much more precise stitches, it cannot make adjustments as it sews like humans can.

If you need to repair a seam or work on smaller projects, hand sewing offers you the ability to change your stitch to work with the fabric. It also allows you to reach areas a machine can’t.

Easy Basting

When you’ve run out of pins and you don’t have any clips to hold your fabric together, hand sewing is your next best choice.

Hand basting fabric is as simple as knowing how to do a running stitch. It’s quick and efficient. You could hand baste a seam in less time than it takes to set up your sewing machine.

Closing Seams on Stuffed Toys

If you stuff a toy, then machine the seam closed, you’ll see it. There isn’t a way for this to be done invisibly by machine. Using a simple hand stitch though, the stuffing hole will disappear into the seam as if by magic.

This ability to conceal stitching is where hand sewing shines. With little more than your hands and trusty needle, you can get into small areas and create a professional finish on toys, seat pads and cushions.

Hemlines

While you can use a machine to stitch hemlines, they will sometimes show on the right side. Creating a visible seam line that could detract from your garment. Or, perhaps, the particular hem you require needs a special foot for your sewing machine which you don’t have.

If you don’t have the right equipment, machine sewing can create more trouble than it’s worth. Not to mention the time it takes to wrestle your machine around fiddly corners.

Sometimes, it’s easier to hand sew. Especially when tempers are fraying, which brings us neatly to the next point:

To Relax

Time consuming or not, the action of hand sewing is a great way to meditate. Particularly with embroidery or cross-stitch. The process of creating the same stitch over and over again may be monotonous, but it’s a great way to clear your mind. Allowing you to unwind, relax and switch off after a hard day.

Travel

We’ve all been stuck in the car or public transport for hours on end. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to carry our sewing machines with us everywhere. Or, for that matter, the massive quilt we’ve been working on so diligently.

A needle, some thread and a small project on the other hand, hardly take any space at all. As a bonus, you can sit unobtrusively in the passenger seat, sewing away while you listen to your favorite radio station.

Decoration

While embroidery machines make slaving away over designs a thing of the past, many sewists still prefer traditional methods to create decorations for all sorts of crafts.

Cross-stitch in particular, allows you to watch your creation come together, stitch by stitch. It makes the finished product, whether it’s a wall hanging or coaster, that much more rewarding when it’s complete.

Plus, no matter how many times you stitch your favorite design, there will always be slight differences in the work. Making even the most over-used pattern unique every time.

Equipment You Need For Hand Sewing

Unlike with machines and all the bits-and-bobs you have to keep track of, you only need a few key essentials for hand sewing. All of which can fit in a handy, pocket-sized sewing box or bag you can take wherever you go.

Different Types of Needle

There are several types of hand needle, all designed for a specific use. They also come in different sizes to match the various fabrics available. When it comes to hand sewing though, you can use whatever needle suits you and your style of sewing best.

One thing you do need to bear in mind, you can’t hand sew with a sewing machine needle.

Sewing machine needles typically have the eye and the point at the same end and a thick shaft at the top for securing the needle to the machine. They are built to withstand friction and the high speeds machines can reach.

Hand stitching needles have larger eyes, designed for ease of threading, and the pointed tip is at the opposite end of the needle. To help you identify hand-sewing needles, here is a list of the most common:

Sharps

Called sharps because they are incredibly sharp, these are the needles you are most likely to stab your finger with! Great for a range of fabrics from lightweight to heavy, sharps are the go-to needle for general sewing. They come in a range of sizes, to suit most fabric types.

Darning

These needles have long eyes to accommodate thicker thread or yarn. Used mainly for repairing fabric or wool socks, they’re also used for basting stitches due to their length. The larger darning needles are used to make seams in knitted items.

Quilting

Also known as betweens, these are for pushing through layers and creating tiny, even stitches. They are very short needles with a fine, round eye. Designed to change direction in a flash, these are the shortest needles available. Quilters love them due to the speed and accuracy they can achieve.

Leather

Thicker and sturdier than other needles, these have triangular or wedge points. Designed specifically for tougher materials, they are used with vinyl and upholstery fabrics.

Needlework

Needlework covers a multitude of crafts. From crewelwork, chenille, petit point, tapestry, embroidery, and cross-stitch, to name a few. There is a craft needle to suit each discipline. Large eyes allow the thicker threads of embroidery floss or wool more space. Both to avoid the risk of the yarn unraveling and to make it easier for the sewist to use.

Thread

Like needles, there are various types of threads perfect for particular sewing projects. These are some of the more popular ones for hand sewing.

Cotton


The most common thread comes in three kinds. Soft cotton is the most popular and often the cause of minor shrinking in clothes. Mercerized cotton offers greater strength and brighter colors. Finally, glaced cotton threads have an extra surface coating and are great for when ordinary soft cotton is an issue.

Silk

Expensive but strong. Silk is naturally elastic and allows movement in seams. An ideal thread for use with wool and silk fabrics. Those following historical practices use this thread for accuracy in history-inspired costumes.

Linen


These days, linen threads are less common. Originally the go-to thread for garments, they became less popular following the introduction of mercerized cotton. History bounders still use this thread for historical accuracy.

Polyester


Strong and durable, polyester threads won’t shrink like cotton. They’re also cheaper than silk. For a hardy alternative, these are a good choice.

Embroidery


Embroidery thread comes in thick strands known as floss. Designed for various decorative purposes from friendship bracelets to cross-stitch, they come in a range of bright colors. Made up of six strands, they allow you to variate the size of the threads used in your stitches.

Scissors

Budding or veteran sewist, a pair of decent scissors is a must-have for all your sewing projects. There’s nothing worse than needing a pair of snips and not being able to find any. Keep these safe in your sewing box.

Thimbles

An optional choice but one to keep in mind for the hardier fabrics you might use in your sewing projects. Thimbles offer protection for your delicate fingers when you push the needle through the fabric.

Thimbles need to be fitted to the finger you use to push the needle through the fabric. For this reason, you need to hand sew a few items to get to know how you sew. Keep an eye on which finger pushes the needle. Some people use the index finger, some the middle finger. It’s a personal preference.

Once your finger is identified, the thimble should fit it snugly. It needs to stay on however much you move your hand around.

Types of Hand Sewing Stitches

To complete your first, hand-sewn, project, you need at least a basic knowledge of stitches. There are many different types depending on the sort of hand sewing you do. For now, we’ll focus on the two most common hand stitches you can’t live without.

They are: the Running stitch, and the Backstitch.

I recommend practicing with a scrap piece of fabric until you feel comfortable with the stitches before moving on to your project.

So grab your needle and let’s get going.

Threading Your Needle

Hand sewing should be done with lengths of thread no longer than 16 inches. Any longer and they tend to spin round and get caught up in knots.

To thread your needle, start with a clean cut tip on your length of thread. Using your scissors, chop off the tip of the thread at about a 45 degree angle. This will make it easier to fit through the eye of the needle.

Then, hold the needle towards the light and push the thread through the eye.

Running Stitch

We’ll start with the easiest, and most common. Running stitch is a row of dashed and evenly spaced stitches forming a straight line.

It’s used for seams, gathering stitches, or basting. While machines offer greater stability, with tighter, more secure stitches, the running stitch allows you to work on areas a machine can’t get to.

Depending on your fabric, and the work you’re doing, the size of the stitch can vary.

Tie a knot at the end of your thread by looping it over itself and pulling it through the loop. Bring your needle through the fabric from the back to the front. The knot will stop the thread from coming all the way through.

With your needle at the front of the fabric, start to weave it using just the tip. Push the tip to the back, straighten the needle then push it to the front. As you do this, you’ll form tiny little folds or pleats. Hold the pleated fabric on the needle. Continue to weave through the fabric until you have 5 or 6 pleats resting on your needle.

Pull the needle through the fabric until all the pleats lie flat. You will notice you have a dotted line of stitches in your fabric.

Try to keep your stitches small and even. Using a small needle will help you control the size of the pleats or folds.

When you have finished stitching, push your needle to the back of the fabric. Staying on the back of the fabric, loop your thread through the last stitch. Then push your needle through the loop and pull the thread tight. This will form a knot at the back.

Basting stitch is a longer, looser form of running stitch designed for holding fabric together temporarily. Normally stitched with contrasting thread to be visible and easily removed, it is not tied off at either end.

Gathering stitch is also loosely worked. Usually in two rows of running stitch. Pulling on the threads creates gathers of fabric, or small pleats. This stitch is used for decoration or fitting purposes.

Backstitch

While similar to the running stitch, backstitch forms a much stronger seam. Historically, backstitch was used for seams under pressure, like bodice side seams.

This stitch makes you double back on yourself as you work. It forms a solid line, rather than a dashed one.

Tie a knot at the end of your thread as we did for the running stitch above. Making sure your thread is secured the back of the fabric. Bring your needle toward you, through the material. This is stitch one.

From stitch one, move a small distance back towards the edge of the fabric. Return your needle to the back of your work. You’ll see a single stitch on the front.

Bring your needle from the back to the front of the fabric a small distance in front of stitch one. There will be a gap. Double back on yourself and take the needle to the back of the fabric. By going through your original starting point at stitch one.

Repeat these steps until your seam is complete. Remember to tie off your thread at the end! To do this, on the back of the fabric, thread your needle through your last stitch. Push the needle through the loop that forms and pull the thread tight.

Conclusion

Whether you’re a complete newbie or a veteran sewing machine user wanting to try something new, you’ll find that learning the basics of hand sewing as a beginner is easy, though mastering it takes time and patience. It’s well worth the effort though!

Grab your fabric, a needle, and thread, and have a go at creating your own hand-sewn masterpiece. With a bit of practice, you’ll be a hand-sewing champ in no time.

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