I'm always amazed at what can be accomplished with a simple needle and thread, and the new book Sewn by Hand by Susan Wasinger really brings that idea home with two dozen projects you can complete without the hassle of a machine. The projects range from home decor and craft projects to stylish accessories and more. Through beautiful photographs, Susan walks you through mastering several hand stitches that will have you completing the projects with ease in no time. For more on the creative force behind making the book, read on for a Q&A with Susan:
Sew Daily: Who taught you to sew and when?
Susan Wasinger: My Swiss grandmother taught me to sew when I was four years-old. My first project was a pair of elastic-waist pants. I was so thrilled that I could make something I could actually wear!! They were bright red, these pants were, kind of a Hawaiian print. What four-year-old wouldn’t think that was the coolest thing? Oh, and by the way, my grandmother was trained as a couture seamstress, so she knew the “right way” to do things, but she always encouraged me to experiment and learn by trial and error. And yes, there were lots and lots of errors.
SD: How do you feel projects sewn by hand are different from those made by machine?
SW: The portability of hand sewing is so lovely. You can take your sewing anywhere and do it in the midst of something else, like waiting at the doctor’s office, or chatting with your friends, or sitting in the stands of your kids’ soccer game. It doesn’t require a “sewing room”, or that you clear a big space on a table, or that you find a plug, it is quite contained and much can be achieved with little prep and fanfare. You can pick it up any old time, too. I tend to look at machine sewing projects in terms of seams. I would never stop in the middle of a dress’ side seam and come back later. But with a hand sewn project, you can lay down your needle when something else beckons, and pick it up again later. Even five minutes can be productive. And the silence! Did I mention the silence? Something we barely ever get to experience anymore in our cacophonous, modern lives. There is no buzz, or whir, or click, or rattle to sewing by hand. There is a certain happiness when sitting, engulfed in silence, thoroughly engaged in the making of something wonderful. Each of those little stitches sews us into a great patchwork of the makers and the do-ers of an earlier era. It’s just a good feeling to sew by hand.
SD: Where do you find inspiration for your projects?
SW: Ideas often come to me out of need as in, “I need storage bins, can I sew them?” Or I’m inspired by something I find, like a piece of fabric (I love printed linens from Japan) or some vintage piece of trim (I often buy “lots” that are the contents of someone’s old sewing box on ebay). Or I find inspiration in something I want to repurpose, like hot-washed sweaters or an old vintage shirt. Then I start looking at the nature and character of the thing, what I love about it, and try to find a way to highlight that thing and give it another way to be useful.
SD: Could you share a little about how the idea for Sewn by Hand came about?
SW: Well, I think I grew tired of finding myself sequestered in my studio, hunched over my sewing machine, all alone. I wanted to be able to hang out with my family and still work on projects. I found myself lingering over hems, and basting, and any of those things that just required a needle and thread, things I could work on anywhere I chose. The original idea was sort of edgy and radical was called “sewing unplugged”. But after I had done a few projects, and had truly finally really “unplugged”, the projects started becoming softer and sweeter and just the opposite of edgy. I discovered the wonderful quiet of hand sewing. I was so used to the hum and whine of my sewing machine, that I didn’t realize how lovely and full of grace it is to sit quietly and purposefully to let your hands work on something pretty. It was a discovery I just had to share with others.
SD: What's your favorite hand-sewing tip?
SW: If you are willing to thread a needle and tie a knot, you can sew anything anywhere: On vacation, in the car, on a picnic. Hand sewing is completely portable. But you can’t be stingy about threading the needle and tying a knot. Those are the two things that are integral to hand sewing. Once you get over seeing those things as a big, pain-in-the-neck chores, you will find that hand sewing is ultra-efficient. You can pick it up and put if down when ever you like, and hand-sewing is definitely an every-little-bit-helps kind of proposition, so even a few minutes of concentrated activity gets you closer and closer to complete. You don’t have to set aside hours and hours of allotted time, a hand-sewn project can be a randomly assembled collection of minutes.
SD: What are your favorite types of projects to sew and why?
SW: For hand sewing, I love the little precious projects like the slippers, hats, bibs, little evening clutches, small, precious things in which every stitch really counts. One of the many wonderful things about sewing by hand is that complex turns and curves are easy. Its not like when you sew something on a machine and you have a big tangle of pins in front of you and a pumping needle bearing down on you. On a machine, you might sew too fast around a curve and go right off the edge. Or you might miss your turn, or accidentally sew through an extra fold of fabric, or come down hard on a pin and break your needle. It is always like going into battle a little when you try to sew a complex seam on a machine. But with hand-stitching, you are just taking it one stitch at a time. You can pin as you go and you have time to adjust and fix things so the seam comes together gracefully and beautifully without any nagging worries about sewing through your finger. Its very calming and reassuring, even on the hard stuff. Plus, I never need a seam ripper when I’m sewing by hand. Alas, on a machine stitched project, the seam ripper is my constant companion.