Sewing Basics: Hand Stitches You Need to Know
Welcome back to Stylecamp's #sewingbasics series, created in the spirit of learning new and valuable skills during the global pandemic. The lockdown has thrown up a rare gift of time and reflection for many of us, prompting us to think about the necessities in life and how to nurture ourselves and the things we already have while also providing a great environment for learning new things.
If, like me, you've used the downtime to have a good sort out (check out my #slowfashion article, How to Clear Out your Wardrobe Responsibly), you may have come across some items in your wardrobe that could do with a little TLC or alteration.
Sewing machines are handy and efficient for these purposes, but they can be both expensive and bewildering to first-time users, and if you don't have a dedicated space for sewing, then a real hassle to get set up. Often the job can be done just as easily, if not better, by hand. You can see part 1 of my Sewing Basics series on hand sewing a button if you don't believe me!
Learning basic sewing skills is really useful and also ties in neatly with the concept of #slowfashion, which philosophises careful shopping habits as well as the care and repair of clothing you already own. By learning and applying basic sewing skills, you'll be doing your bit to make your wardrobe longer-lasting, which is great news for the planet.
As with learning anything new, give yourself time and patience to master the basics. For complete beginners, here's some basic hand-stitching techniques to practise on fabric scraps before you get going!
YOU WILL NEED:
General purpose thread
(ALWAYS START + END WITH A) LOCKSTITCH
Call it a lockstitch, anchor or a starting stitch, every piece of hand stitching needs a start and end point. Ever tried to tie a decent knot in a single piece of thread? It almost always pulls straight through the fabric when you come to sew. Here's how to start sewing without a knot.
Begin with an arm's length of thread and thread the needle, extending it a fair amount so you can grasp the tail in your sewing hand. It won't be secured so you'll need to keep a conscious grip on the eye of the needle to make sure the thread doesn't come out while sewing.
Pierce the needle through the fabric downwards and upwards at a short interval, only millimetres apart, and pull the thread through until you have a tail about 1"/2.5cm coming out of the fabric.
Place your thumb over the tail to hold it in place, and then pass the needle back through your initial stitches, following the same direction as you started. Pull the thread through gently and don't let the tail pull through the fabric.
Repeat once or twice more and you should feel that the thread has 'locked' in place. This is the perfect strong starting point for beginning your work and removes the need for tying a fiddly knot. Use the same technique to finish off your sewing.
This is a very, very basic method of sewing, and only really used in crude repairs, to make gathers or to temporarily hold pieces of fabric in place together in professional tailoring (also known as a basting stitch). It's not particularly strong as it leaves gaps in the seam, hence why it's most often used temporarily as the stitches are easy to remove. It's how everyone learns however, so it's good to master it as keeping the right tension can be tricky.
Starting with a lockstitch, you want to pass the thread from underside to overside at regular intervals, being careful not to pull the thread too tight as it can easily pucker the fabric. The closer together your stitches are, the stronger the seam will be.
Sew more efficiently by passing the needle in and out of the fabric at regular spaced intervals before pulling the thread all the way through.
Finish your stitches in the same way you started to lock them in place. If you're looking to hold pieces of fabric together (basting) you can make your stitches longer without having to be neat and don't use a lockstitch before and after.
If you're using this stitch to create gathers, only lockstitch at one end and gather the fabric towards it. You might want to consider adding another row of stitches parallel to the first row to create a more even look.
This is the main stitch to learn, the very backbone of hand-stitching techniques. It's very strong and durable making it ideal for seams and strengthening repairs. Clothes have been handmade using this technique for centuries before the commercialisation of the sewing machine in the 1800s, so you get a real sense of how intricate a process the handmaking of clothes was.
Backstitch is essentially a series of lockstitches joined together. Start with a lockstitch and proceed to your first stitch. In a similar motion, draw the needle back up through the fabric where you left off from your lockstitch, looping back on itself. Pull it tight, before re-inserting the needle where you placed your first stitch.
Then repeat the process forwards, this time placing your stitch from the underside of the fabric and looping back on itself, reinforcing and locking each stitch to make it strong.
Finish with a lockstitch and it's complete. Use backstitch as a strong stitch to repair seams or re-attach things like belt loops to ensure they're kept secure.
This is a very neat tailored finish for hems where you don't want to see an obvious stitch line on the outside of your garment. It works particularly well on lightweight fabrics and is well worth doing as it creates a lightness to the garment and a flawless finish.
Start by pressing your hem up towards the inside of the garment and pinning it in place - this can be done as a double or a single fold, but you will have to neaten the edge first if you are only using a single fold. The hem can be any depth you'd like.
Start in a discreet place by a seam and create a locking stitch. Place the first stitch just above the fold line (or the finished edge of your hem if you're only doing a single turn) and catch just a few threads of the outer facing fabric before pulling the needle back through towards you. This is an intricate step which depends on the weight of your fabric, but 3-4 threads should be sturdy enough to hold up the hem.
Then bring the needle back down to the top edge of your folded back hem, without passing the needle through to the outwards facing fabric, and make a wider stitch to hold the hem in place.
Simply repeat the process which creates a zig-zag effect along the hemline, keeping an even distance between your stitches for a neat finish and a strong hem.
Finish off with a lockstitch and admire your work! You'll see that the inward facing side of the garment hides all the work, while the outer side of the garment can't really be seen - hence the name, blind stitch.