hand sewing tips

As chill and relaxing as hand sewing can be, something not turning out right or completely falling apart after hours and hours of work sure is frustrating. I asked the somewhat weekly newsletter subscribers a question last week – are you a beginner and if so what sorts of questions do you have? The most common answer was about basic stitching. From non beginners too. In fact most people who responded were not beginners. It has also been a question at every single workshop I’ve ever taught.

I have a strong opinion on hand sewing: small is the way to go. Really small, between 1/16th and 1/8th inch stitch length. Definitely no bigger than 1/8th. The gaps between the stitches too – smaller than 1/8th. I hope we’re still friends…

A few other tips to set yourself up for success:

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Don’t be in a hurry – take a meditative approach. And practice helps a lot.

Have adequate light.

Mark your seam line – lightly in pencil or with a disappearing marker.

Use a good needle. I like size 9 -11 for basic sewing. *John James is a good brand and easy to find.

Thread – historically I’ve been kind of a slob about it – whatever’s around.  I think cotton is best and recently I tried  *Aurifil and it is fantastic.  And don’t use a super long length of thread – it’s tempting to avoid having to stop and rethread but it will tangle and slow you down.

Secure knots are important – more on that below.

Let’s practice on a simple shape

I’m using the heart from the free needle book pattern.  Use any simple shape you like. We will also turn and stuff the heart to demonstrate a couple more tips.

fabric heart with seam line drawn on

Before you start sewing mark the seam line clearly on your fabric, It helps immensely. Especially when you are sewing small items – the margin of error is small. Also besides large and loose stitches wandering away from the seam line is the biggest reason for hand stitching failing explosively and who wants an explosive failure?

making the knot

Solid knots are key to success! So is the thread length. Cut a length of about 16 inches. Longer thread will tangle.

1. Thread your needle and double the end of the thread.

2. Tie a knot in the doubled end.

3. Pull the ends down and clip  most of the ends – leaving just a little.

4. Bring the needle up through the fabric.  To make extra sure your stitches don’t pull out knot the first stitch – make a very tiny stitch and put your needle through the loop before you tighten it.

5. Tighten the knot. Put the needle in about 1/16th inch away to begin the next stitch.

6. Notice that I’m bringing the needle through the fabric from the top.

7. And then back up from the bottom.

multiple stitches at the same time on the needle

8. As opposed to weaving the needle through to take multiple stitches at once. This is a controversial point. The multiple stitches method goes faster. A lot faster. But the result is, in my opinion, looser and less consistent. I use it for decorative stitching but never when I’m joining layers of fabric.

Ending with 3 knots

9. To end make the same sort of tiny knot as you did for the first stitch. I repeat that tiny knot 3 times on the same spot. Entirely because that’s what my Mother did. It get’s the job done.

notches clipped in seam allowance around curves

10. Before turning and stuffing curved seams and sharp points should be clipped and notched as shown, being careful not to cut the seam.

a tiny stitch inside the fold on one side of the opening

11. Turn your shape right side out and stuff.  Fold the edges of the opening in along the seam line. Make a small stitch just under the fold on the inside on one side. Slose with the ladder stitch.

a tiny stitch on the opposite side, just under the fold

12. Make another small stitch on the opposite side – just under the fold line.

pulling thread to close opening

13. Repeat until  the opening is stitched and then pull to tighten.

14. Make a single knot and bring your needle back in very close to it.

15. Bring the needle out away from the seam, pull the thread tight and clip close to the fabric. The thread tail should pop inside.

 Do you have a hand sewing tip to share? Please leave it in the comments.

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