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Handstitching Basics by Kass

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Check here to learn different hand stitiching techniques.

Class scheduled to begin January 8th. Really.

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Parte The First (the background):

Have you ever had the desire to sew something by hand, but didn't know how to go about it? Have you wanted to try handsewing a garment with authentic threads but didn't know where to get them? Have you ever tried to sew with wool or linen and been frustrated by the thread breaking or snagging?

Then this is the class for you! Sewing with authentic materials is quite simple if you use medieval techniques too. In this class, you will learn documentable period stitches from the Coppergate, York, and London digs as well as a few Irish examples. You'll get a chance to try them all with wool and linen thread on swatches of wool, linen and silk. Swatches and threads will be provided. On display will be a number of hand-sewn garments of wool, linen, and silk.

It Started in the Middle Ages...

In the London and York excavations and Great Wardrobe accounts (14th century), the thread most commonly used was linen. Interestingly enough, wool thread is found in abundance in York and London in the 10th and 11th century digs, but drops off in 14th century London. Presumably, silk and linen replaced it as a favourite. The Herjolfsnes finds in Greenland (14th c) show nothing but wool thread. Irish textiles from both that century and later are uniformly wool sewn with wool thread. The wool thread found in the digs appears to have been simply unraveled from the cloth. In the Great Wardrobe accounts, wool thread is only specified for embroidery motifs.

Clothing preserved by royalty shows silk thread for seams and hems of silk garments and for decorative work, topstitching, buttons, buttonholes, etc. Silk thread was also used on woolen cloth, but more typically for decorative and highly visible stitching.

In the MoL and Coopergate books, they show stitches from the Coppergate, York, and London digs (among others). Some of these are attached to this handout.

Flat felled seams are found. So are back stitches. So are a number of seam treatments we don't have names for anymore. Hems were usually unfinished, but our modern hem stitch, rolled hems, and blind stitch are also found. The most popular stitch in all the textiles was a plain running stitch. This doesn't sound like a very strong stitch, but I assure you, the stitches are only 1/4" to 1/2" apart and yet they haven't broken in 400 years of being in a bog! (2-4mm stitches are recorded in London) I have also seen whipstitches in the garments I examined. These are the two most popular stitches in the garments I've personally seen.

Later today... 17th and 18th century stitches

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Parte The Seconde (how to):

Okay, that was just a tease to put you guys in the right frame of mind for learning some period stitches. Strangely enough, the stitches used in constructing the oldest garments in existence are the same stitches used most often in the 17th and 18th century -- and we still use those hand stitches today in modern sewing. Matter of fact, haute couture houses swear by them, and anyone charging that much money for clothing can't be wrong! ;)

Anyway, before we start sewing, we have to learn to thread a needle. If I'm being pedantic, forgive me. There are those who never have threaded a needle before.

Cut yourself a length of thread about 24"-30" long. Don't cut too much longer than that or it will just tangle.

Select a needle from the packet you bought last night at JoAnn's... ;) For right now, don't worry about which needle is for which job. Just grab the one with the biggest eye (that's what we call the hole at the top) so it's easy to thread.

Now put the end of your thread in your mouth (...yes... just do it...) and get it slightly wet. Now thread it through the needle's eye. Some people bring the needle to the thread. Other people push the thread through the needle. I never realized that until my apprentice asked me which I do. As it turns out, I hold the thread steady and put the needle on it. But you do whatever works for you.

Needle threaded? Good!

If it's not and you're having trouble seeing the needle's eye, get a needle threader. You can get them online or at any place that sells needles and thread (JoAnn's, Walmart, the utilities aisle of your supermarket...). Here's a how-to on how to use one:

Using a Needle Threader

Okay, needle threaded? Good!

Now we need to tie a knot at the other end so we don't pull the thread all the way through before we make a stitch. To do this, lick the other end of your thread (yes... I mean it...) and wrap it around your index finger like in this picture:

WRAP.JPG

Wrap the thread a few times around (no less than three times).

Now lick your finger and the thread (there's a whole lot of lickin' goin' on here!). Using your thumb, roll the thread off your finger and pull that tangle into a knot by using your thumb and index finger to push it towards the end of the thread. Picture:

KNOT.JPG

Got a big tangle? Perfect! If not, keep trying until you do. It doesn't have to be pretty. Matter of fact, it shouldn't be pretty at all! It just has to be a tangle at the end of your thread.

[For those of you asking yourselves "Is this period?!" the answer is "YES!" When I examined the Shinrone Gown, a 16th century gown found in Ireland, the bottom of the hem was full of these kinds of knots!]

Next time... "Making a Stitch"

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Parte The Thyrd (stitches):

Okay kids, here's where we actually put needle to fabric and sew!

You have your needles threaded, correct?

You have your thread knotted, correct?

Okay then! Let's go!

You can perform these stitches on any fabric scraps you have lying around the house. But if you want to have a useful tool when you're finished, cut two 4" x 6" squares of linen and follow these directions!

First a word on the use of thimbles -- I HIGHLY recommend them. If you're going to be doing any amount of handwork, learning to sew with a thimble will save you much bruising, callouses and puncture wounds on your thumb and index finger. It takes more finesse to learn to sew with a thimble than without, however, so you might want to try this first without the thimble and then practice with one later.

For those using a thimble, it goes on the ring (fourth) finger of your working hand. You literally push the needle with this finger as you sew.

If you're buying a thimble, try them on first (even the local fabric store has packaging that will let you try on the thimble before buying). You want the thimble to fit the tip of your ring finger perfectly and not be at all loose. Long-nailed seamstresses: DO NOT ATTEMPT B)

Okay, now onto the sewing!

Lay one piece of linen on top of the other and align the edges. If you're right handed, hold the fabric in your left hand and the needle between your right thumb and index finger. If a lefty, reverse this. If using a thimble, put it on the ring (4th) finger of your working hand and touch the top of the thimble to the back of the needle (where the eye is).

Put your working hand under the fabric and from underneath touch the needle to a point 1/4" away from the bottom right corner (bottom left corner if your left hand is your working hand). Insert the needle into the fabric and push with the thimble until it pokes through the top.

Bring your working hand above the fabric and pull the needle and thread all the way through until the knot is the only thing left on the underside.

Congratualtions! You've just made a stitch! B)

Earlier in the class, we talked about "running stitch" and how it was the most popular stitch used throughout history. It's also the easiest to do. So now...

The Running Stitch

Running Stitch is a small, even, in-and-out stitch used for seams that require little strength.

On the top side of the fabric, touch your needle to a point approximately 1/8" above where you came through with the thread, staying 1/4" away from the vertical edge of the fabric.

Stitches can be any size, but 1/8” is good to start with. Doesn't matter how big or small they are, as long as they're as close to the same size as each other as possible.

Now push your needle through both layers of fabric, move your hand to underneath the fabric and pull the needle through.

Okay... this seems very time consuming, doesn't it? It's really not once you get the hang of things! And there's a short cut.

Once you are comfortable with taking a stitch slowly, you can make several at all time. Weave the needle in and out of the two layers of fabric, point down, point up, point down, point up, ~1/8” away from each other, putting steady pressure on the needle with your thimble finger. After taking about three or four stitches on the needle, push it through with your thimble finger (or pull it through with your thumb and index finger). Repeat until you reach a point 1/4" from the top of the fabric.

That's The Running Stitch!

Here's a graphic for the visual learners:

runningstitch.gif

Next time... "More Stitches"

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Kass~

What a wonderful idea! And you are so kind to offer an on-line class for nothing! I was wondering if you would mind questions from those that would be taking advantage of your hard work here? More like an interactive class... How many of you out there, indulging yourself here, would like to have the opportunity to ask if you get stuck on something?

And could people post their finished shirts for your constructive critiquing? OI! where is the spell check on this site??? :lol:

How many are taking this great class? Anyone interested in taking the shirt class as well? Or, would, perhaps this be something best slated for a later date?

Pickin yer brains,

Hector :lol:

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Hector,

I would be glad to entertain any and all questions (and to know who is currently following the class).

Kass

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Parte The Fourth (more stitches):

Okay, now what do you do. To finish the line of stitching, you could tie a knot. But the best thing to do is to go back where you came from. In other words, turn the fabric 180 degrees and insert the needle where the last stitch began so you're effectively sewing in the "spaces" between the stitches you made. Make three or four stitches this way, opposite the stitches coming the other direction. Now cut your thread. It won't pull out.

Tie a knot in the end of your thread again (or thread your needle again if you have too little left) and let's do another stitch.

Turn your fabric 90 degrees and insert your needle from underneath your fabric and come up where your stitches ended on the adjacent side.

The Back Stitch

The Back Stitch is a small, even stitch used for seams that require strength. It's the second most popular stitch in historical sewing. It's very common on underarm seams, sleeve attachments and crotch seams.

Insert the needle 1/8” behind where you came up and push the needle all the way through the fabric. From underneath the fabric, bring the needle forward and touch the point 1/8” in front where you came up in the first place. Repeat until you reach the end. Your stitches should look the same as running stitch but they should be one next to each other without any space between them.

Here's a graphic for the visual learners:

backstitch.gif

Practice this stitch until you get your stitches even and all the same size. This is the single most useful stitch you will ever need to know.

Next time... Even More Stitches

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Well I am in and am fascinated already! Got my needle and thread and am following along.

Here is a question....

In your new line of GAoP clothing that is coming out soon, does the instructions/pattern tell you what kind of stictch goes where?

I know some of it is common sense (as in back stitch for strength areas) but I was wondering if certain stitches might be used in certain places that might not "make sense" and would that information be included in any pattern instructions....

What say you?

Thanks again for the class by the way!

GoF

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Absolutely, Greg. All my patterns include the real stitches that were used (and where) so that you can build as accurate a replica as possible. So the Sleeve instructions will say, "Sew this seam to that seam. A back stitch works well here" or "Turn the raw edges of the lining under and prick stitch to the outer material of the coat.

There are also instructions for those who prefer to sew with a machine.

B)

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There are also instructions for those who prefer to sew with a machine.

:ph34r:

Thank you, from those of us who like our modern machinery (and have very little time to sew because of those pesky rug-rats). :ph34r:

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Kass I'm Interested but will re-follow the instructions when I get my first patern from you latter when you offer "pirate/seafairer on your new website. Thankyou for sharing the basics..Wife does not sew ! :huh:

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Class is now complete.

Locking thread.

Thank you for your time and efforts, Kass. B)

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