Hand Sewing: Tension Taming Tips

Whether it’s sewing on a button or attaching an appliqué shape to a quilt, most of us have experience with hand sewing. In addition to that, chances are we’ve all experienced difficulty while hand stitching. More often than not, the frustration I feel when sewing by hand is directly tied to the tension of my thread. Too tight and I have to try to gently smooth out my puckers; too loose and I have to make an artful attempt at tacking down the threads that have gone astray.

Hand sewing examples by Kelly Nagel.

Finding the perfect tension for hand sewing stitches is much like the story of Goldilocks—it takes time and experience on both ends of the spectrum to find tension that’s just right. In the online course presented by Sulky, Kelly Nagel shares tips to help us tame our tension as she demonstrates a variety of common hand sewing stitches. Here are a couple I thought were particularly helpful:

Under My Thumb

Thumbs are a key ingredient in regulating tension while sewing by hand. Working a line of running stitch? Use your thumb to keep the thread perpendicular to your stitched line for even stitches. Creating curves and swirled lines out of stem stitch? Use your thumb to hold the thread to the outside of your curved guideline; not only does this provide the tension you need to keep your stitches consistent, it also allows you to follow the guidelines with accuracy. When we use our thumb as a tension regulator, it’s important to remember not to lift it off of the fabric. Instead, keep the thread under your thumb with some pressure (no death grips here) until the action of pulling the thread through the fabric gently releases it from under the thumb. I’ve decided the Rolling Stones song “Under My Thumb” may have to become my anthem for hand stitching so I can keep this helpful hint in mind with every stitch I take.

Slashes, Not Dashes

Seed stitch is one of my favorite ways to fill in wide open spaces of fabric with texture. With both double- and single-seed stitch, it can be difficult to find a tension somewhere in between loose stitches and puckered fabric. Luckily, Kelly has a solution to help us solve this common problem. In double-seed stitch, where stitches look like an equal sign, rather than crossing the space between the stitches in the shortest distance, creating a dash, take a longer stitch in the back to create a slash. Using the short stitches that I call dashes in between the seed stitches make it easy to pull the thread a little too tightly to create a gather in the fabric. When using the slightly longer stitches that I call dashes, the avoidance of perpendicular threads from the front and back of the fabric makes it easier to create a secure stitch without the pleats and pulls. Therefore, our mantra when seed stitching can be “slashes, not dashes.”

There are more helpful hints where those came from! Kelly shares tips and tricks to try as she demonstrates various hand sewing techniques. Explore them all when you register for your seat in her online course Sulky Presents: Hand Stitching Made Modern.

Happy stitching,

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