Handsewing Basics . . . Needles and Thread

Sometimes trends in the sewing world sneak up on us–and then, all of a sudden–we see them everywhere. I can't help but notice that handsewing–with all the sewing techniques that accompany it–is everywhere. English paper piecing, smocking, hand embroidery–it's all around me and it's wonderful.


Cheap needles. Just say no.

In a fit of organization, I wrapped all my
embroidery floss on those little bobbins.  
I don't have much silk embroidery floss,
but it is such a pleasure to stitch.

Like many of you, I have done my own share of handwork in the past and love the slower pace of that handstitching provides. I've also learned (mostly the hard way) that some shortcuts and cost savings are definitely not worth it when picking up needle and thread.

To keep it short and simple, today let's just deal with those two things: needles and thread.

Once you've tried exquisite hand sewing needles, it's a bit difficult to go back to anything else. Lovely needles don't often cost that much more and are sold in both specialty and the big box stores. In general, needles that come in cardboard sleeves with folksy art not what you're looking for when you want to do some delicate smocking.

And let's talk about thread. Confession: I, too, have That Box of Cheap Thread. Yes, gigantic spools of cheap, cheap, cheap thread used to lure me at the checkout counter. No more. (I'm using these unfortunate purchases to zigzag the cut edges of fabric so they don't fray when I prewash them. I figure I'll use the last spool sometime in the next 45 years or so.)

Handsewing is a slow sport. Invest in the better threads–whether for embroidery, appliqué, or piecing.  Quality thread doesn't fray, twist, or fade like bargain thread. It's a pleasure to use and it honors your craftsmanship.

Check out the wonderful handsmocking projects in Perfect Party Dresses–now available for pre-order.

I recently did some embroidery on flour sack towels. What are you up to in the handwork department? Let me know!

Happy stitching,

 

Other sewing topics you may enjoy:

Categories

Hand Embroidery, Hand Sewing

20 thoughts on “Handsewing Basics . . . Needles and Thread

  1. Looking for ideas, and, making samples for very useful small projects to to teach at a Retirement Village. Love the Gone to The Dogs, I think I’ll save up and buy it. I’ve had a few ideas of my own but the more projects I come up with, the more the residents love doing the crafting.

  2. I am a cross stitch addict! Just love to watch the picture appear out of nothing. Over the years I also have done embroidery, candlewicking and crewel work. All are very relaxing and an extra benefit is that it keeps my blood pressure down :)

  3. I just finished a name tag for my spinning guild that I started 15 years ago (only worked on it in spurts, primarily because I kept misplacing it).

    18 stitches per inch and all handspun embroidery threads of different sorts. Cotton, wool and silk. Some natural colored fleece, some dyed. I’m really pleased with the finished piece.

  4. (I’m using these unfortunate purchases to zigzag the cut edges of fabric so they don’t fray when I prewash them. I figure I’ll use the last spool sometime in the next 45 years or so.)

    Thank you so much for your post and for the wonderful idea for using up bad thread. I never thought to zigzag the edges of fabric before washing them.

  5. I recently took a workshop from Sue Spargo. We started with a fun wool applique piece, then started adding embroidery and embellishments. She had great suggestions for all different types of threads, and the best needles to use for different threads and stitches. Her new book that is a companion to the workshop is “Creative Stitches” – an endless supply of inspiration. I learned about using a #1 millner’s needle for french knots and bullion stitches. It not only helps to use good quality threads and needles, but to know which one to use for different stitches. It’s addictive!

  6. I just purchased all the fiber and cloth to do three more Christmas stockings. I bought all the goodies in Ogden at Shepherds Bush. These last three will finish everyone in our family. I have stitched stockings for both sons and wives, all three grandchildren. The last three are for the last grandchild due next month and for Myself and my husband. They are counted cross stitch but done in pearl cotton #5 so goes pretty fast. Takes about a month a piece.

  7. I am currently using Oliver Twists spun silk thread for a biscornu and stumpwork project. I also love using Caron Wildflowers. I too have that bumper pack of cheap threads but I only use them for card making and gift tags.

  8. Could you recommend some good needle and thread brands? I loved the article, but would like your opinions on good brands. I don’t have the time and can’t spend the $$$ to try a number of brands just to find out that many are inferior. I used to use John James English beading needles, but they are no longer made in England and the quality is now quite inferior. And the last sewing thread I bought (don’t remember the brand but it was one I always used to use years ago) broke and shredded. Some recommendations would be greatly appreciated!

  9. Thanks for the writing on hand sewing, Needles and Thread. BUT, how do you tell a good needle or embroidery thread from a not so good one??? I’m relatively new to hand sewing and don’t really know a good one from a bad one. Jody K.

  10. a great topic but more detail is needed – certainly the fact that a needle comes in folksy cardboard isn’t sufficient, by itself, to make it a bad needle. Remember: you can’t judge a book by its cover! (although the cover can be one factor in the judgment) So, should we be looking for a particular strength of steel or other metal?

    As for thread, we often don’t know if it will fray until we’ve bought it and just buying expensive thread alone won’t solve that problem because some manufacturers charge more than their product is worth.

    There wasn’t enough room for Rose to go into this topic as much as necessary so this isn’t meant to criticise her, but more info is needed on objective things a shopper should look for when buying needles and thread.

  11. Like others have mentioned, it would be helpful for you to list some name brands of quality thread and needles. I haven’t sewn for many years but am getting back into now that my husband has retired, and would appreciate this information before I make any purchases.

  12. I have enjoyed handwork of all kinds for any years. I do embroider but also enjoy the simple pleasures of mending, pieceing by hand and even some garment construction. Looking forward to what I hope will be many more inspiring articles on this subject.

  13. Dear Rose,
    I think you would greatly benefit from a serger. Using your sewing machine to overcast the edges of fabrics before you wash them takes way too much time. You are probably even more busy than I am!
    I am falling in love with hand stitching, which surprises me. Thank you for the info.

  14. I tried a package of fancy needles that promised to pull smoothly through all fabrics. While the fancy coating and size did make a small difference, every single needle cracked in half in less that 4 hours of sewing. I’m still using the discount needle pack from college twelve years ago. They are not the smallest or most delicate but I use a thimble and I’ve never had a problem. Often work-horse items aren’t pretty or pricey, so don’t be afraid.
    I also use old cheap thread for machine basting.

  15. I’ve found that quality has diminished especially with Coats and Clark. Vintage C&C embroidery thread and DMC stitch up the same and their sewing thread feels like it came from the discount bin.

    Right now I’m stitching the binding down on a quilt using some vintage Lily 100% poly and it does a fine job with a vintage needle from one of those folksy art packs. They are on par with the Milward English that are also garage sale finds.

    I read somewhere that thread has a 40 year shelf life but I think it’s much longer if stored away from light. The 12,000 yard cotton cones bought from a thrift store 20 years ago are still going strong as are the vintage cotton spools gleaned from ebay. In all my years of sewing I’ve only had to toss one spool from being too brittle.

    I think Gutermann is better than Coats but in my experience vintage poly or cotton trumps the retail offerings at big box stores.

    As a side note, I collect vintage embroidery transfers and offer them freely on my site. Enjoy!

    http://french-knots.com

  16. Hi Rose
    I am a lover of hand sewing too. I have to force myself to go to the machine. I am doing some wool applique and some embroidery on 32 count linen at the moment. It is winter in New Zealand the perfect time for hand quilting and stitching. Enjoy your stitching. Jan

  17. Hi Rose
    I am a lover of hand sewing too. I have to force myself to go to the machine. I am doing some wool applique and some embroidery on 32 count linen at the moment. It is winter in New Zealand the perfect time for hand quilting and stitching. Enjoy your stitching. Jan

  18. Hi Rose
    I am a lover of hand sewing too. I have to force myself to go to the machine. I am doing some wool applique and some embroidery on 32 count linen at the moment. It is winter in New Zealand the perfect time for hand quilting and stitching. Enjoy your stitching. Jan

  19. My husband loves to go to estate sales, and now when I go along I am thrilled to find vintage wooden spools of threads, packets of needles,, and all kinds of trims. I have a group of friends working on Sue Spargo projects. Inspired by them, I am back to work on an applique and embroidery quilt I started six years ago – all hand stitched!

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