Help Me Stitch!
August 8, 2010 7:15 AM   Subscribe

I suck at sewing. I'd like to be able to mend my own clothes, but this isn't enough of an issue for me to buy / support a sewing machine. How can I get better?

As I understand it, my basic sewing issue is I can't get my knots to stay firm, and they just fall apart under the least amount of pressure. I'm been using a pretty basic, unsophisticated back and forth stitching technique, to no success. I'm not above using some sort of machine, but it would have to be small and under $30 for it to make any sense. I'm also not above actually learning to do it by hand (I actually advocate) this, but what do I need to do to learn it better - is there a lifehack-y, never-come-apart stitch method, a short class I can take, a special needle I don't know about? Bonus points for help with when / how I can patch things. Thanks.
posted by l33tpolicywonk to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (10 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: As far as your knots coming undone, what you want is a surgeon's knot. Your knots will stay better. Also, after you have tied the knot, before you trim the thread, "bury" one or two inches of the loos end back into the seam or seam allowance and then cut it. This way, even if your knot starts to loosen a bit or becomes compromised, you won't automatically lose the stitching.

Claire Schaeffer has a good book on couture sewing that you may enjoy - not for the Chanel jackets and Dior skirts, but because she goes into a number of hand stitches that are used in real couture.

You want to master the running stitch, backstich, and hemstitch. These are really all you need for most general hand sewing. If you want to up your game a bit, then a buttonhole stitch and catchstitch should be on your list as well.

If $30 is your limit, try finding an old metal machine at a local thrift store. But you don't really need the machine if you genuinely like hand sewing.
posted by Tchad at 7:31 AM on August 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

loos = loose
posted by Tchad at 7:32 AM on August 8, 2010

Best answer: Also, if you are doing a lot of hand stitching, make sure you are using either cotton, rayon, or silk thread. Cotton-covered polyester is good, too. The point is: no cheap thread generally or polyester specifically. Both tend to kink a lot (bind and knot up when you pull them through the fabric layers). For heavier fabrics and patching, you may want to run your thread through beeswax or paraffin and then run it under a hot iron to help lubricate and strengthen it. You can also use silicone-based lubricant for this, but skip the running under an iron step.
posted by Tchad at 7:39 AM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you are rolling the thread between your finger and thumb to make a knot. Don't do that. Make an overhand knot or knot referenced above. Take a stitch and then do a back stitch or two to take the tension off the knot before proceeding with sewing your seam. Using good quality thread and waxing it will keep it from tangling.

on preview Tchad's already there.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 7:41 AM on August 8, 2010

There are also plenty of classes you can take, often at local craft/sewing stores, and I'm sure you have friends who are competent sewers with small clothing repairs who would be delighted to show you the ropes. Invite them over for a glass of wine and food of some sort and get them to show you how to fix things. Hand-sewing is pleasant activity for doing with friends anyway, you can talk while you work.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:54 AM on August 8, 2010

You can bypass knots entirely; just make a tack at the start and at the end. (Sorry I can't find a better link or picture -- sew a number of small stitches in roughly the same place to secure the thread)
posted by kmennie at 8:37 AM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Here's my favorite sewing knot. Easy as anything. For inside seams or anything that's not going to be visible, I also double the thread (cut it twice as long as needed - when threaded the needle will hang from the center of the thread) for extra strength. Sometimes doubling the thread works okay for mending visible seams or hems on heavierweight fabrics.

You can a variation of the linked knot at the end of a row of stitches, as well - tie off the row by hooking your needle through the last stitch, pulling it partway through, and twisting the needle through the resulting loop of thread a few times before pulling it tight. (I'm sure there are tutorials for this on the web, but my internet connection is acting up, so I can't load any of them right now.)

My hand stitching is well short of fantastic, but I've never had a problem with it not being secure.
posted by EvaDestruction at 8:41 AM on August 8, 2010

In my area, there are meetings at the local library for stitchers of all kinds. I haven't gone to a meeting yet, but I suspect that would be a great resource for you to "pick" a few brains. ( haha couldn't resist the pun)

Also, search for local sewing clubs in your area. I am sure you could find some lovely people to help you develop your sewing skills.
posted by annsunny at 10:00 AM on August 8, 2010

Hand sewing is perfectly sufficient for mending clothing; you don't have a need I can see for a machine, and you will just have to learn to thread bobbins. Learning to tie a proper knot is vastly easier.

I am a self-taught sewer; for the first 10 years I sewed by hand and then when I wanted to make slip covers, I got a machine. I used an overhand knot for 15 years before I had even heard of a surgeon's knot; I still use an overhand knot.

You understand that with the overhand knot, you grasp both ends of the thread together side by side and tie them in a knot as if they were one piece of thread, yes? You can also practice with string; it really is easy to get the hang of with a heavier material.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:13 AM on August 8, 2010

You Tube can be really helpful for various sewing details. Even when I think I know what I'm doing, I can usually get a better sense of it by reading and watching "lessons" on line. Recently I was making a curtain with a black-out lining. The different sets of directions varied and some made better sense to me than others did. So I put together my own series of instructions based on what I'd seen. The same for hemming pants: there are a few "right ways."

Also, there are inexpensive sewing notions that can make a job easier. Glass-head pins are easy to handle and easy to see. Sewing gauges are great for hemming. A seam ripper saves a lot of time, even if you have to remove just a few stitches. Go to a sewing store or just look at notions on line.
posted by wryly at 3:35 PM on August 8, 2010

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