There are approximately a bazillion reasons to get together with sewing people whenever possible and a few weeks ago I discovered a new one: crowdsourcing hand-sewing techniques! Carmen & Deepika from Pattern Review were in town recently, and while we sat around chit chatting on a sunny terrace in a big gang, talk turned to the little tricks people use when they’re handling a needle and thread. I thought it would be fun to share some of that community wisdom.
I ended up doing a lot of hand-sewing on my By Hand London Sophia dress, and most of these little hacks came in very handy. It’s not a comprehensive list by any means, but hopefully there may be a technique in here that will be new to you.
HOW TO TIE A KNOT
Apparently I’ve been tying knots wrong for years. When I started sewing as a kid, I taught myself to make knots in thread by doubling the end of the thread in a loop and then tying it in a knot. It was cumbersome and not very elegant but I had been doing it that way for so long it never even occurred to me that there was another way. So when one of the ladies showed me this method my head basically exploded since it takes 3 seconds and feels a little bit like magic.
- Loop the end of the thread around your finger 1 or 2 times (lick your finger first if you want).
- Gently push the looped thread off your finger using the pad of your thumb.
- Pull the looped section off your finger and pull it into a knot at the end of the thread.
Just in case you’re not still not sure, I made this video as well.
HOW TO THREAD A NEEDLE WITHOUT TRIMMING THE THREAD
If you’ve ever tried to hand-sew without a pair of scissors handy (while you’re on a plane, for example) you know how frustrating it can be to thread a needle when you can’t get a nice clean edge on your thread. Monserratt showed us this old tailoring trick and I can see it being super handy; you basically fold the thread in half over the needle, create a sharp point and use that to thread your needle. I’m not sure if it would work with a very tiny needle eye, but I’ve used this a few times on regular needles with good results.
CUTTING THREAD THE RIGHT WAY
If you do have a pair of scissors, try cutting your thread on an angle; it will make it easier to poke into the needle’s eye (thanks to Deepika for this tip!)
WAX YOUR THREAD FOR LESS TANGLES
One of the most frustrating things about hand-sewing is dealing with thread tangles. However, waxing your thread basically eliminates that tangling, as it smooths down the fluff and essentially lubricates the twist of the thread, making it much easier to pull through your fabric. One of my favourite notion purchases last year was a beeswax disk for just this purpose; it will likely last a lifetime. To use, simply pull the thread through the wax a few times to evenly coat, and then press on high heat in between paper towels or scrap fabric to soak the thread and melt the excess wax. When I have a lot of hand sewing to do I prepare 5 or 6 lengths of thread at a time. It really makes a world of difference!
OTHER HAND-SEWING TIPS
- Choose the right needle! Fine needles designed for hand-sewing create a much smoother stitch. Try these plated Clover quilting needles, or these Japanese needles, a favourite of couture goddess Susan Khalje.
- Every time you go to make a stitch, give the needle a quarter turn to help prevent tangling.
- Use a thimble to save the pad of your finger (and prevent blood from getting on your fabric!)
- Use the right thread! Good quality thread like Gutterman (the finer the better) will twist less and last longer. If you can afford it, silk thread is smooth and strong and glides through fabric.
Any hand-sewing tips/hacks/techniques you’d like to share? Spill!