Hand Sewing Basics

Hand sewing is the most basic method of attaching fabric to fabric with a needle and thread.

At one time, it was the way all sewing was accomplished. It is still a very viable method for producing clothing, and is often the best way to accomplish certain mending tasks.

Although basic, it still calls for a certain amount of knowledge and skill. I'll share some of my knowledge here, and if you'll practice what I tell you, you'll build your skills very quickly.

Get the Right Supplies

The Types of Needles to Have on Hand

Obviously, you will need a needle and thread, so let's talk about selecting the correct size and types of needle and thread for your project.

Choose your needle based on the weight of the fabric you will be sewing. The type of thread you will be using should be based on the needle you use. For general hand sewing, you will probably use a sharp, a between or a ball-point needle.

A sharp is the most commonly used needle and probably the one you should start with, because it is one of the longer needles. This makes it easier to hold. It also works with a wide array of woven fabrics.

The betweens are often called quilting needles. They are shorter in length, allowing finer stitches to be taken, but making them a bit tougher to hold easily.

Ball-point needles are used on knit fabrics. The rounded point allows the needle to slip between the knit yarns without piercing and splitting the yarns.

The Right Needle and Thread for the Fabric

Please note: these numbers refer to hand sewing needles. If you will notice, the smaller the diameter of the needle, the larger the number by which it is called. Machine needles are numbered quite differently, and we'll discuss those when we talk about machine sewing.

So, for delicate fabrics, such as chiffon, voile or organdy, you will want to use a needle size 9 or 10 with a fine thread. For a needle size 9 or 10, you'll want to use an extra fine thread, such as Coats & Clark Dual Duty Plus(r) Extra Fine.

For lightweight fabrics, such as challis, chambray, gauze or gingham, using a needle size either 8 or 9 will work with an all-purpose thread, such as Coats & Clark Dual Duty Plus (r) All Purpose.

To sew medium weight fabrics like broadcloth, double knit, or fleece, you can use either a size 7 or a size 8 needle with the all purpose thread.

Medium to heavy weight fabrics, including coating, denim, double knit, sweater knits or twill, will call for a size 6 needle. Again, you will use an all purpose thread.

For heavyweight fabrics like canvas, duck, sailcloth or upholstery, you will want to use a needle that is numbered between size 1 and size 5. With these needles, you want to use a heavy duty thread such as Coats & Clark Dual Duty Plus (r) Top stitching & Buttonhole Twist or an upholstery thread.

The Right Thimble for You

A thimble is a protective device that is worn on the middle finger of your sewing hand. It allows you to push the needle through several layers of fabric when necessary, without putting a hole in your finger. It also enables better control of needle-tip placement.

It's a good idea to wear a thimble when you practice sewing, so that you can become used to the sensation of wearing it and using it to guide and push the needle through fabrics as needed. Wear it on the middle finger of your right hand, or whichever hand you use to hold the needle .

Thimbles are available in several sizes (6 being the smallest and 12 the largest size). The thimble should fit snugly, but should not be uncomfortably tight.

You will hold the needle between the forefinger and the thumb, while directing the needle and pushing it with the thimble. The dimples in the thimble are there to give the needle head a place to rest without slipping too much.

How to Thread Your Needle

A cotton-wrapped polyester, all-purpose thread will work well for our stitching practice on lightweight fabric. Draw about 24 inches of thread through your wax, if you have it. This will help keep the thread from kinking and knotting.

Once you start stitching, you may find that your thread will begin to kink and twist. If that happens, hold the end of the thread and slide the needle down the thread all the way to the fabric. Then, releasing the end of the thread, slide the needle back up the thread to sewing position.

This will push the kinks and twists to the end of the thread, allowing you to continue sewing with more ease.

Cut the end of the thread off at an angle to make it easier to thread. Hold the needle in your left hand. Hold the thread end tightly in your right hand, between the forefinger and thumb, with just enough protruding to go through the needle eye.

Push the needle eye gently over the thread end and place a fingertip over the side of the needle eye where the thread entered, in order to hold the thread end in place.

Take the needle into your right hand and, with the left hand, gently pull the needle through about a third of the way along the thread. Tie a knot on the end of the longer side of the thread.

How to Tie a Knot

To knot the end of the thread, hold the thread end against your forefinger and, with the other hand, loop the thread around your forefinger and over the thread end.

Then, holding the longer thread taut, push the thread loop off your forefinger, rolling the thread as you go. Gently pull the loop as close to the end as you can, thus setting the knot.

This may not work for you the first time or two, but persevere -- it is an easy way to secure your thread for hand sewing.

How to Practice Stitching

When I taught myself how to hand stitch, I used a gingham fabric. Gingham is a fabric that is made with checks of one color and white. The checks can be as small as 1/8th of an inch wide or they can be very large, as well as every size in between. I chose gingham because it is usually cotton or cotton/polyester, which is lightweight and easy to stitch through.

I also liked the fact that the checks made it easy to sew a straight line and to gauge the width of zigzag-type stitches. Choose an all-purpose thread that contrasts with the gingham or other fabric you plan to use.

Seat yourself somewhere comfortable, preferably in a chair with some back support, and if you're as blind as I am, make sure you have your reading glasses! Click here to see some useful hand stitches and how to use them. (MAKE LINK HERE)