Friday, September 15, 2006

How To Sew, Part Two.

You've made it to a fabric store, petted the fabrics and found your favorites. Maybe you've gone through a friend's or your own fabric stash and sewing box, reconnecting with memories. Now how about trying to make a stitch!

Like the two different types of fabrics, there are two types of stitching: hand and machine. Each has it's own advantage and disadvantage. Both are useful.

Hand stitching:
With hand stitching, you thread one thread through the eye of a needle, knot both ends together, and stitch. You can seam two fabrics with a running stitch or back stitch; hem with a blind stitch or catch stitch; make a button hole or apply a patch using buttonhole stitch.

The Home Sewing Association has a wonderful page with illustrations on the different main hand sewing stitches, as does Alternative Windows. Visit these pages to learn the hows of each.

Why would anyone want to sew by hand? First it's easily affordable. All you need is a needle, thread, sharp scissors, and maybe a thimble. If you, like me, cannot stand to wear something on your fingers, they make adhesive leather dots that work quite well.

The second reason to sew by hand: it's portable. You can't carry a machine and fabric with you while you sit at your child's game or class. But you can carry a small project and use those hours for something productive and fun. (In the future, I'll write about English Paper Piecing.. the ultimate carry-along hand sewing project).

And third, it's quiet and relaxing yet lets you join in discussions. There is something about just sitting down and stitching a while that can quiet your mind and calm your soul. Hand sewing can be done (and has been done by me) while attending meetings, watching the tv, waiting to see a doctor and at sporting events. Let's not forget last summer's "stitch and pitch" baseball games.

References sources for hand stitching:
eHow explains How To Thread a Needle
Stitcher's Needle has her hint for easier threading.
Sew cheap ('s frugal living) guide to sewing by hand.

Machine Stitching:

I can hear you now: Hand sewing might be calming; it's definately portable; but it's soooooo slooooow!! I agree. Sewing machines make stronger, faster stitches which is why most people think first of a machine when they contemplate sewing something.

While machines that join two items together with a chain stitch still exist, most standard sewing machines use a lock stitch and two threads. Sergers, popular for knits and fast-finishing edges, use multiple threads and needles to lock stitches in multiple steps.

The sewing bug bit you, but you're on a budget. So you thrifted a sewing machine that seems to run really well. Except. You aren't sure where to go to from here. How to thread it, what/if to oil; how to care for it. Debbie Colgrove of has done what I think is the best job of sourcing out those links to help you in her Sewing 101-Resources For Learning To Sew. including Locating a Sewing Machine Manual for almost any machine!

Additionally, Craft and Fabric has an entire e-book on Beginning Sewing.

Other reference links for machine sewing:
How Stuff Works explains how the machine works.
Wikipedia Sewing Pages
How to Machine stitch a Blind Hem.
Making Machine Stitches Work For You's How to Sew Knits.
Sew-What' has a variety of articles available, including The Care and Feeding of your Sewing Machine and Rediscovering Your Machine for those of use who strayed and are returning. Their forums are set up to answer all your questions.

Let's get some practice stitching in, so you can get a feel for hand and machine stitching.

Take that piece of muslin (calico) I suggested you pick up. It should be about 9"x36 maybe a bit longer. Cut it in half to make two pieces 9"x18-22". Put one piece aside for your machine practice.

On the hand sewing practice piece, use a pencil or permanent marker and a straight edge to make a series of straight lines near one end of the fabric. These should be about 8" long , running parallel to the short side of the fabric, and spaced about a half inch apart. Leave about an inch of room near the edges of the fabric.

Take your needle and thread it with about a 24" length of thread. Consulting the links above if you need to, try to do a running stitch along all the lines you've drawn. Stitch back and forth along the lines, making even stitches up to the next line.

At first your stitches might be uneven, and the technique feel awkward. By the time you've worked to the end of the lines, the stitching will feel more comfortable. If it doesn't, turn the work 90 degrees, draw more lines and continue stitching. (the pattern at this point should look like a grid.)

Continue on the practice fabric, learning backstitch (a stronger variation of running stitch), On any remaining blank fabric, draw gentle and tight curving lines and play with stitching along these lines also. Curves will train you to think ahead and adjust the length of your stitch depending on where your needle needs to be next.

When the body of this fabric is filled with practice running stitch and backstitch, fold it in half making a piece about 9"x11". Gently fold the edges of the fabrics in a little and use these folded edges to learn and practice hemming.

For machine stitching, begin with the same exercises, but start by marking on paper (plain white is easiest to see), and stitching with no thread in the machine top or bottom. Just get comfortable with watching the needle move, letting the feed dogs move the paper, and learning how to "drive" your machine. When that's become comfortable, take your second piece of muslin and play with making stitches on that.

Eventually you will find a rhythm all your own. Remember to breathe.

Still to come:
How to Sew, Part Three: Let's Sew a Pillowcase!!
How to Sew, Part Four: Where to go from here.

Debra Roby blogs her art at A Stitch in Time, and writes about all things hobbies, crafty and DIY at where this is cross-posted.

Whatcha Doing Today? Packing up the kitchen, checking out an assisted living facility, and going out to supper.

Whatcha Watching Tonight? The Avengers? Not as good as I remembered. Tonight a movie.. maybe Paint Your Wagon.

Steps? Thursday:10,842. Today already nearly 4000.