Saturday, June 11, 2011

Simple Hand-Sewing Techniques for the Girl Who's All Thumbs

Author: Alison Wood

Hand-sewing is not a skill that's commonly taught anymore. To this day, my mom can't sew a stitch (not even a button!). I learned the basics in home economics, although these days they rely more heavily on machines to get a straight line and neat, even stitches. However, unless you want to become a very good customer at your local alterations shop (or toss your favorite shirt when it loses a button), you should at least learn the basics of sewing by hand. Here are a few simple techniques to get you on your way (who knows, you could become a quilting master!).

1. Running stitch. This is about as basic as it gets and it involves sewing in and out of the fabric in a straight line (to produce a sort of dotted line effect upon completion). Now, it may sound easy, but women of generations past prided themselves on their ability to sew these stitches so small and neat that they were practically invisible. If you're just starting, focus instead on keeping your line from wobbling. This stitch is good for seams.

2. Backstitch. This is just a more complicated running stitch. To accomplish it, you will start with one regular stitch (stitch up, then down) and when you come back up for the second stitch, instead of continuing forward, you'll go back through the previous down-stitch hole. Then you'll come up forward of the previous stitch, and go back again so that the effect (on the top side) is an unbroken line. It is like a reinforced version of the running stitch, but it's doubly important to get it straight.

3. Over-sewing. This stitch is really useful for fraying ends, but can also be used on a seam in a pinch. All you do is sew up (near the edge of the fabric) loop the thread over the top, and sew up again. The end result will be loop after loop of thread going around the outside edge of the fabric to hold everything in.

4. Whip stitch. If, like me, you constantly find yourself in need of a different hem length, you are going to love this stitch. It's sort of like a combination of the running stitch and over-sewing. To begin, you'll fold your hem to the length you desire (probably after you have torn out the previous stitching). Then sew into the edge of the hem and through the outside layer of fabric, and back in, making as small of a stitch on the outside as you can (the goal is to make it nearly invisible). Although the outside stitches will be very small, the ones on the inside of the hem will be fairly far apart (it might also be called tacking). This is sort of a quick and dirty stitch, but since it is unseen, you don't have to take too many labors to make it pretty.

5. Quilter's knot. You may be wondering, when you reach the end of a line of stitches, how to stop your thread from going right back the way it came. To this end, a quilter's knot is extremely useful as it is a sturdy, simple, nearly invisible finishing technique. You just wrap your thread around the shaft of the needle three times, pull it tight, and then push the needle through the fabric (and the loops of thread). Pull it tight, or if the fabric is loose, pop it through to the other side. I've never entirely understood how this works, but I swear it does (although it might take a little practice to accomplish). Just mentally thank whatever sewing genius came up with it and use it often!

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