Now is the Perfect Time for Hand Sewing

26 Dec 2012

As you read this I am on vacation, happily snuggled in on a chair by the fire with my pug, Elvis, peacefully hand stitching. At least, I hope this is what I am doing--I'm writing this a week ahead!

Winter is the perfect time for handwork, I think. There's nothing like a piece of linen, cotton, or silk, and a basket of pastel and jewel-colored fibers to play with. The art of needlework soothes me.

In case, you, too, long to spend time by the fire (or on a porch with some lemonade if this time of year finds you in warmer climes) hand stitching French knots and stem stitches, here are some of my favorite tips for hand embroidery.

Detail of some cross stitches, French knots, and straight stitches on one of my Prayer Flags.

My tips for hand embroidery:

  • Handwork takes a long time, and it should be done with the best quality of supplies that you can afford. There is a difference in quality in threads and fabrics, and you should use what works best for your project.
  • Learn how to use a thimbleit will save your fingers!
  • Threading the needle with multi-stranded thread can be tricky. Try folding it over the eye of the needle and pinching the fold between your finger and thumb nail. Sometimes it is easier to get a folded strand through the eye of the needle rather than a raw edge of cut thread.
  • Keep your supplies for your current project (threads, scissors, and instructions) together and store them in an inexpensive pencil case (available for $1 in the school supply aisles of discount stores.)
  • Use a fishing tackle box or a kid's matchbox car holder to organize your stash of needles and threads. These boxes are much less expensive than embroidery-specific cases, and often can be stacked more easily in tight studio spaces.
  • Hand-dyed thread is wonderful to work with and does much of the design work for you!
  • Learn a new stitch, try a new technique, and challenge yourself to move beyond your comfort zone.


You'll find a wealth of techniques and tips for how to hand sew in the beautiful new book Handsewn:The Essential Techniques for Tailoring and Embellishment by Margaret Rowan. Lots of detailed images and advice on how to combine stitches and techniques.

P.S. What is your favorite hand sewing project? Tell me about it in the comments section below.


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Handsewn offers step-by-step instructions for a comprehensive collection of hand-finishing and embellishing techniques. This resource will help you take your handsewing to the next level!

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Comments

Annasueg wrote
on 27 Dec 2012 6:55 AM

In 1976 my son's school had a bit bicentennial celebration. He was in 2nd grade and very excited about it.  I found appropriate fabric and hand stitched a complete 'Daniel Boone' costume for him so it would be very authentic looking.

Hornsby wrote
on 27 Dec 2012 9:24 AM

I've been hand quilting for many decades and prefer Victorian crazy quilts. I decided to make an heirloom quilt - king size. I took photos of my oldest ancestor that we had photos of on all branches of my family - one ancestor per square and worked my way down through the family - with more photos of my parents, my family, children and grandchildren as we have more photos - some 42 squares worth . I ironed these on a white material. On each square I took the various materials I had chose in the many shapes required of a crazy quilt and embroidered each piece of material into place, including one set of photos. Once all were finished, I added a connecting piece and stitched tiny flowers along the edges to hold it in place. With two more grandchildren (twins) added to the family and two more great-grandchildren, I'm going to do pillow shams to match to include them. This project took me a year - sitting in my great-grandmother's rocking chair that she sat in to quilt. It's the most relaxing way I know to pass on a bit of history to my children. Each year I make a quilt for a member of the family but this quilt was made for me.

cfairbanks wrote
on 27 Dec 2012 10:16 AM

I have always enjoyed embroidery, but now do mostly wool applique which uses mostly the blanket stitch, with other stitches for embellishment and detail.  This year I took first place and sweepstakes awards in the county fair for a winter scene piece.  The one hand work I have never enjoyed is cross stitch, which I understand many people, including my daughter, really enjoy.  With cross stitch I feel that I work and work and never get anywhere.  I knit and do needlepoint, also.  I find most handwork very relaxing.

on 27 Dec 2012 10:19 AM

Regarding your suggestion to keep all of your sewing supplies together; you suggest  "pencil box"  Come on, lets be more creative than that:  an attractive tin that had candy or some other gift in it is a much more attractive storage case for scissors, needles, threads than a boring plastic pencil box from the dollar store.  And it is a way to recycle that box that held chocolates or peppermint bark.  OR you can collage over a cigar box with old fabric snips and cut up photos from decorating magazines where they have glorious fabric shots of expensive fabrics you could never afford.

Jeanieblue wrote
on 27 Dec 2012 12:26 PM

I love cross stitch as well as patchwork and quilting and a year or so ago, I treated myself to the Heirloom Nativity Sampler , only to have a fit when I realised the cost of the fabric and threads required to make this beautiful piece of needlework.  I have been tempted to try and recreate it using cheaper fabric and regular embroidery thread but then read your  tip about using the best possible materials when doing hand embroidery. A voucher from my friend in Utah will go towards buying the first installment of threads and next time I'm paid I'll invest in the evenweave linen recommended by the designer, Thea Dueck.  Over the year I'll ask family for cash rather than toiletries and flowers for Mother's Day and birthday so that I can  get the rest of the threads and hopefully complete the project in time for next Christmas. So thanks again for the timely advice and watch this space!   Jean , UK

Vinette wrote
on 27 Dec 2012 1:42 PM

My favorite handsewn project has been working on a cathedral window quilt.  Gathering pieces of fabric from friends projects that remind me of them is very special for this.

I also have handsewn a Dear Jane Quilt and am almost finished with it.  We had a DearJane group that met at my home and grew to love one another like sisters.

soipaint wrote
on 27 Dec 2012 2:27 PM

i have to  giggle as i read Judith's post as  DO have a  fabric collaged covered cigar box filled with  Prayer flag blanks, threads and  a dedicated sewing kit. some torn selvages and painted chopstickes also live there,  ready to sit and stitch when i am!

AnnePicardy wrote
on 29 Dec 2012 11:13 AM

Many, many years ago (although it seems like yesterday), because of my love of embroidery, I made a crazy quilt.  Wanting it to be different, it is pastel with as many embroidery and lace stitches as I could use.  This was made for my middle child.  Many, many years later, I started to finish it.  Being a bit rusty, I could not miter the binding corners.  Many, many years later, it sits in its protective bag, waiting to be finished. I cut the corners off and have come up with no idea what to do with those corners.  I am 71 and still thinking.

kittycat1940 wrote
on 29 Dec 2012 12:30 PM

Dear Anne

go over the corners with embrodery thread or chrochet (if you know how) some corners. Not seeing your project it is difficult to suggest a creative fix! I do know that it CAN be done and time to set that quilt free!

Happy Sewing

Kit