Rediscovering hand sewing

I’ve been sitting (hiding) in our clematis covered bench recently. It is perfect for grabbing a quiet moment. I can hear, and catch glimpses of the children as they play in the garden, but they seldom seem to spot me. Even when they walk along the path just 2 metres away. They are so focused on where the path takes them that they don’t look over to the bench. It is the most perfect hidey hole.

This gives me time to read my latest obsession. I’ve recently been revitalizing my dress making skills. I have made lots of garments over the years for the children. Looking back, I can identify which items I like the most. It’s not just the pretty fabric but the construction that I value in them. My sewing knowledge is pretty good. I am more than capable of doing different clothing construction techniques, but I have just become a bit slap dash.

So to breathe some life into my skills, I picked up a book. I love this book. Already made use of it to help make myself the nightie in the photo. The book has reminded me of lots, but also it has opened my eyes to a whole new level. Inspiring in its approach. Its one of those books that I can’t help telling my very patient husband about bits that I have discovered. He now knows a whole lot more about haute couture and design houses than I think he ever wanted to know, but that doesn’t stop me. I’m sure he sighs a little every time I lower the book and start with a “Did you know…”

Limiting myself to list of just 5 things I never knew:

  1. There is a lifetime guarantee from some design houses for the garments they create, even if the client changes their mind about the colour. Of course, the price tag is not inconsiderable. (“But I got home and it does not match my geraniums!”)
  2. They will run thread through beeswax and iron it (!) to prevent it fraying for certain techniques.
  3. Design houses will commission fabric and then reengineer it if they need the stripes in another order or they need it to zig zag rather than run as stripes.
  4. Seams don’t always run straight or gently curve. They can intricately go round predominant features in the fabric print, so that the join is almost invisible. No headless horses or flowerless bouquets at seam edges to potentially traumatize the client.
  5. Instead of sewing darts in wool fabric, it can be shrunk with water and a hot iron, in just the right places. (I fear my journey to dressmaking nerdiness has been reached!)

This is a whole different league, but it doesn’t mean that I can’t pick up some useful hints for my home sewing, without going overboard.

Five things that I had forgotten and I’ll more than likely be posting about over the next few months:

  1. Thread the needle before you cut the length from the reel. The direction of the twist helps to stop thread knotting while you are hand sewing. If you have already cut a length then you can find the right end by threading the end that is not starting to unravel.
  2. Lining doesn’t just hide the horrible seams, it helps strengthen the shape.
  3. I need three lines of gathering when I hand sew, instead of the two lines when machine stitching.
  4. Slip basting would be very handy when lining up stripes and gingham.
  5. Invisible hemming using blind stitching

The book is a cross between a how-to and a coffee table tome. It is not for a beginner sewer, but does talk to the home seamstress. It has the most lovely clear drawings to explain the techniques. Maybe its me, but I find line drawings easier to follow than a photo with patterned cloth. I find the book inspiring and already I have put a few techniques into practise. It has also rekindled my search for a dressmaking dummy. One like this for me:

Lady Valet Dressmakers Dummy (Medium)

A girl can dream. And one for the children. They are none to keen about finding forgotten pins in the clothing when I forget to remove them before I do a fitting!

All this reading about design houses remind me of a book I absolutely loved as a teenager –  Mrs Harris Goes to Paris. If you’ve not discovered this gem of a book then, I can recommend it. It is about a cleaning lady who scrimps and saves to go to a Paris, to fulfill her dream to own a Dior dress. Wonderful characters and I still find myself thinking about the story, even though I’ve not read it for years.

In case you may be concerned that, with all this sewing and reading, that the children may now be well dressed but exceeding hungry, the garden has started producing. We’ve had lots of salad from the garden and the hens are busy laying, so theoretically, I could sit back and read while the children go out in the garden to eat. Tempting, but I’d miss them.

6 thoughts on “Rediscovering hand sewing

  • Thursday 19 May, 2011 at 7:49 am

    I love your clematis. We had that variety at our old house and it just grew and grew, it was beautiful! Your book sounds amazing. I can only dream of getting that good at sewing. I need something a bit more basic to start with I think! The tip about the needle threading is very helpful though. I seem to knot rather a lot here, it makes me so mad! Our garden is on the cusp of producing, I was a bit late with the lettuce here. Nothing beats that first freshly dug spud though, yum!

    • Thursday 19 May, 2011 at 8:30 am

      I love this time of year when it is so satisfying to start harvesting something from the garden. Even if it is only a sprinkling of salad. So exciting to see the seedlings coming up! There are some really good dressmaking books that give step by step instructions for basic techniques. It is worth experimenting with different types of seam finishes. The threading tip really does work. Give it a go! Oh, and I’m with you on the freshly dug potatoes.

  • Thursday 19 May, 2011 at 11:00 pm

    I love the idea of reading, or sewing while the family eats from the garden. but then I picture them all morphing into cattle while grazing and I scare myself! 😉

    I loved the movie Mrs. ‘Arris goes to Paris, with Angela Lansbury. I’ve never read the book.

    Blessings, Debbie

    • Friday 20 May, 2011 at 11:39 am

      My eldest loves it when I thin the salad beds. She eats them as I pick. I can’t trust her with doing it as I think she would be ruthless and thin the rows too much, and benefit her own tummy!

      I haven’t seen the movie. I’ll have to look out for it, athough not sure my image of Mrs Harris would match up with Angela Lansbury!

  • Friday 20 May, 2011 at 6:41 am

    Embrace the sewing nerd! I also have tendencies to get very involved in a topic, nothing wrong wit that- especially when it’s such a useful one.
    Your strawberries are amazing .Mine are just starting to flower, ahh the North/South divide!

    • Friday 20 May, 2011 at 11:35 am

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who gets caught up in it all. My bookcase is testament to all my past obsessions, that are revisited. I’m not sure what I will do if book pubishing disappears! Our garden strawberries are not quite as far ahead. We’re at the green berry stage. The grower we go to has the advantage of fantastic location and polytunnels.

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