Understanding basic hand sewing fundamentals is really a life skill. Every adult should know how to make simple repairs and adjustments for day to day clothing needs. Like learning reading, math, or balancing your checkbook, sewing takes a bit of time and practice, but it can soon become as simple as two plus two.
Basic Sewing Skills Everyone Should Know
This is a universally applicable list of basic sewing know-how. It doesn’t require a sewing machine, just a few basic sewing tools and instructions on how to use them. I’m going to cover five necessary skills that will help you get through the most basic sewing crisis situations.
The basic sewing skills that everyone should know are:
1. Building a sewing kit
Being prepared can be half the battle. A basic sewing kit can be purchased at many general retail outlets, from grocery to department stores and even convenience stores. I always recommend each person builds their own personal sewing kit, but if you are only interested in learning basic sewing skills, a medium-sized kit will probably be sufficient for your needs. Keep in mind that a prepackaged kit often contains lower-quality thread and other items.
You can always supplement a store-bought kit if you find you need more tools. A basic kit should include the following:
- Several different sized needles.
- A variety of thread colors.
- Small scissors.
- A thimble
- A measuring tape or guage
You may want to add a small pack of buttons and other fasteners to the kit. Most kits come with standard-sized to light thread. You may want to add some heavier thread for repairing fabrics such as denim. You may also want to add some type of fusible backing for making repairs to torn fabric easier.
2. Needle and thread sizes
Choosing the right needle can make more difference than you might think. It’s true, you may find one needle that just seems to fit your hand better and will work for most needs. But no one needle can sew everything equally well. Lighter fabrics need a slimmer needle size, and heavier fabrics a more substantial size to avoid breakage.
The same can be said of thread. A rule of thumb would be to try to match the type and color of thread used throughout the piece you’re sewing. Questions to ask would include what type of fabric you’re dealing with, such as cotton, polyester, or wool, and how heavy the fabric is.
Again, a prepackaged sewing kit will generally contain inferior quality thread. Although it may be adequate for emergency needs, you’ll want to supplement it with quality thread for added endurance and overall appearance for your nicer pieces, such as business suits or dresses.
Most sewing repairs are done with a single thread, though heavier fabrics may hold together better if you use a double thread. After threading your needle, pull one side of the thread longer and knot the longer side for single-thread repairs. Pull both threads even and knot them together for double-thread repairs.
3. Knotting the thread
Obviously, if you want your hand sewing to hold, you will need to have dependable knots at both ends. There are a number of ways to create knots that will not slip loose or pull through your fabric. It may take a bit of practice to be able to make an end knot in your thread that’s big enough to not pull through but small enough to not be unsightly.
If the fabric you’re sewing has a very loose weave, it’s a good idea to choose a knot that is integral to the fabric at both the beginning and end of your sewing. Knots can be hidden under seams or any other place where the fabric overlaps.
4. Basic hand-sewing stitches
The three most important stitches for hand sewing are the straight stitch for seams, the blanket stitch for edges, and the invisible hemstitch.
Straight stitch: A straight stitch is made by simply weaving the needle in and out as evenly as possible. Be careful not to either pull the thread too tight or leave it too loose. Continuously check to ensure the fabric lays flat all along the seam.
Blanket stitch: A blanket stitch is a great way to lessen the chance of fraying edges. It can also be a decorative stitch for simple hand-sewn projects.
Invisible hem: One of the most frequent sewing needs is to repair or adjust a hem. Unless you’re hemming jeans, this will involve using an invisible hemstitch.
The most important hemstitch tips I can give you are, first of all, never just turn up and sew a raw edge. This will often lead to the stitching being lost to fraying edges. If you are unable to finish the edge, turn under 1/4 to 1/2 inch of fabric to avoid this issue.
The second tip is to pick up as little of the fabric opposite the hem fold as possible. Usually, just a few threads are sufficient, so that the stitch will truly be invisible instead of appearing as a small stitch on the outside of the garment.
The overall rule for replacing a button is to look at the other buttons on the garment and sew in the same manner with the same type of thread. Most buttons will have either two or four buttons drilled straight through a flat surface. However, there are also buttons, especially on kids’ clothes that have no visible hole on top, but rather have a small knob underneath with a hole through it. These are called shank buttons.
Replacing most buttons is a fairly straightforward process using a double thread. I will, however, emphasize the importance of making sure you knot your thread well so that the button does not work its way loose again. And if a button has been ripped off, leaving a hole, you will need a patch of some type under the hole, even if it’s an iron-on patch, before replacing the button.