Sewing Unplugged

I am very tight with my sewing machine. A couple years ago, I decided to upgrade to a fancy computerized machine, and I have never looked back. It has lots of cool features and runs like a dream. I'm pretty convinced it's smarter than me, and when it beeps and flashes at me in annoyance because I've done something to make it mad, I humbly accept that it must be user error. But despite my ongoing love affair with my machine, I still get the urge to handsew. It relaxes me, slows me down, and allows me to really get in touch with the tactile quality of sewing. 


Fizz Table Runner by Lisa Cox, from the Summer 2011 issue of Stitch.

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I love the range of what I can achieve with handsewing from professional finishing to unique hand embellishment. You don't need a fancy machine to make great stuff, but building your skill repertoire of handsewing techniques will elevate the quality of your projects exponentially.

We have a great article in the Stitch Summer issue on handsewing basics by Linda Turner Griepentrog. Here are some of her great tips for quality handsewing.


– Many kinds of handsewing needles are available, and the one you choose will depend on the task. A sharp, however, is the needle most commonly used. Its round eye and medium length make it suitable for most stitching tasks.

– You can use beeswax or other thread conditioners to add strength to handsewing threads; it also helps prevent knotting.

– If you're basting, consider using silk thread because you can press over it without leaving an impression in the fabric.

– Most handsewing is best done with a single thread strand, though you can double the thread for added durability and for use on heavy fabrics. The ideal thread length is less than 24" (61 cm).

– To begin stitching, anchor the knot in the fabric or bury the end between two layers for an invisible start. Alternatively, take a few backstitches to secure the thread ends. It's important to keep hand stitches loose enough to avoid puckering, but tight enough to be secure.

So here are three of my favorite stitches. These are my core go-to stitches for seams and pretty hems.




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One of the strongest stitches, the backstitch is ideal for sewing and/or repairing seams, topstitching, and insert­ing zippers. Backstitching looks much like machine stitching, only the stitches overlap on the underside.

To create a backstitch, bring the needle up at 1 and insert behind the starting point at 2. Bring the needle up at 3. Repeat by inserting at 1 and bringing the needle up at a point that is a stitch length beyond 3.









Blind catchstitch

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A catchstitch is a hemming stitch (visible on the wrong side) that is strong and well-suited to heavier fabrics. The catchstitch is worked from left to right and forms Xs over an edge. It works well for facings, to hem bulky fabrics, and on garments such as suits and coats. Catch only a small amount of the garment fabric to prevent show-through. The blind (or hidden) catchstitch is used between layers, much like blindstitch, to hem stretchable or heavier fabrics; the cross patterning of the stitch builds in flexibility and strength, as is important, for example, in children's clothing.

Catchstitch Working from left to right, insert the needle into the garment at 1 and, picking up only a few threads of the fabric, bring the needle up at 2. Then, take the next stitch 1⁄4" (6 mm) ahead in hem, inserting at 3, picking up only a few threads, and bringing the needle back up at 4. Continue, alternating stitches between the hem and the garment.

Blind catchstitch Fold the hem edge back about 1⁄4" (6 mm). Follow the instruc­tions for Catchstitch above, alternating stitches between the fold and the gar­ment so that the stitches will be hidden between the layers when finished.









Mostly hidden inside a fabric fold, the uneven slip stitch works well for hemming, attaching patch pockets, and securing linings. A small stitch is taken on the outer fabric and the traveling stitches (between the visible ones) are inside the fabric fold.

Uneven slip stitch

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Space stitches 1⁄8" (3 mm) to 1⁄4" (6 mm) apart. After securing the thread in the fold, take a small stitch in the garment or outer fabric, picking up only a few threads of the fabric. Then, take a stitch, about 1⁄4" (6 mm) long, in the fold, across from the stitch in the garment/outer fabric. Con­tinue, alternating between tiny stitches in the garment/outer fabric and longer stitches in the fold.



I hope that gets you fired up to pull out your needle and thread, get comfortable, and do some old-school handsewing. I guarantee you'll love the results and be hooked! Your sewing machine might get jealous.


Happy sewing,


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