If history teaches us anything, it is apparent that hand sewing can be every bit as durable as machine sewing. Garments from many centuries ago have been discovered still intact.
Historically speaking, the sewing machine is a relatively recent, 19th-century invention. And even after its invention, it was not a common household item for some time after that. Everyday garments were still made by hand, either at home or by a local seamstress.
If you think that many of those skills have been lost to time, I’m afraid you may be right to some point. However, the ability to sew strong seams invisible to the eye remains for many dedicated sewers in countries like the U.S. And the skill is still a necessity in many less developed countries.
Given the choice, hand and machine sewing each have advantages and disadvantages. The questions may be one of convenience rather than durability. Here is a comparison of the two methods.
Hand Sewing vs Sewing Machine: Which is Better?
- For beginners, hand sewing requires little financial investment. Needle, thread, scissors, and a thimble are about all that’s necessary to begin simple projects. Hand sewing also requires no electricity beyond the lamp you use to light your work.
- It’s portable. Small hand-sewn projects can travel anywhere for a relaxing distraction on a plane or in a waiting room.
- Hand sewing requires less physical space. For those whose living space leaves little extra to work with, hand sewing can usually be contained in a small basket or sewing box. A sewing machine with all the associated accessories requires dedicated space. Even if the machine is stowed away between projects, it still requires room during projects that take more than a day to complete.
- Precision stitching. As a professional seamstress, I have found the need to partially machine stitch some seams, then finish by hand, as that’s the only way to bring some complicated seams together with the required look or so that the garment will fall as it should. Certain projects simply require careful control of each stitch.
- Hand sewing may be less damaging to delicate or lightweight fabrics. Sewing machines can handle most fabrics, but it may be more likely to snag or pull some delicate materials with a machine than by hand.
- Some historical costumes, for authenticity’s sake, are traditionally hand-sewn.
- Leather is often sewn by hand, both at home and by small leather-goods businesses. A hand-sewn running stitch is stronger for leather than a machine locking stitch.
- Hand sewing can be more therapeutic than machine sewing. Setting a quiet, relaxed pace for any craft project can be beneficial for overall mental and emotional health. Studies have shown that handcrafts such as crocheting, knitting, hand sewing, or embroidery offer physical and mental perks.
- Even the most experienced sewers can and expect some inconsistency when hand sewing. It is nearly impossible for the human hand to create perfectly even stitches. Some will say this is part of the charm of hand sewing.
- Hand sewing is much more time-consuming than machine sewing. It requires more patience and is not ideal when there’s a close deadline to complete a project. But the very slowness of it is part of the health benefits mentioned above.
- Machine sewing is a great time saver. A machine sews a variety of stitches much faster and without the need for quality control.
- Convenience is another reason for machine sewing. Once the machine is set up, all you have to do is guide the fabric through. Projects come together quickly and efficiently. Longer seams can be sewn without the need to periodically knot off thread.
- Machine sewing will often produce a more professional looking product. If you plan to sew for personal income, machine sewing will be more impressive to potential customers in most cases.
- Sewing machines produce consistent stitching. Every stitch will be the same size so long as your machine is operating correctly. This means there will be no potential gapping along the seams of the finished product.
- Sewing machines can handle almost any type of fabric. Heavy fabric may be tough on the hands after a while, but a properly set up machine will take the extra weight and toughness without issues.
- The most obvious disadvantage to machine sewing is the cost. Purchasing a reliable sewing machine can impact your budget, and adding accessories is an ongoing consideration. Also, if you sew a lot, your electric bill could be at least slightly affected.
- Machine sewing also requires a bit of education. Most machines come with a guidebook to teach how to set up and what is needed for various settings. There are also online classes available. It generally takes some weeks or even months to become comfortable with the technical side of machine sewing
- In some instances, the control you may have over the direction of seams may be limited when machine sewing. It may be necessary to hand sew in tight corners for the best outcome.
Hand Sewing or Sewing Machine: The Best Choice for Your Sewing Projects
Some projects may produce the best result with hand sewing, others with machine sewing.
Hand sewing may be the way to go for minor repairs in clothing or home decors such as pillows or bed coverings. It is also much simpler to attach buttons by hand than to set up a machine with special attachments.
I have found that a hand-sewn running stitch is far superior for temporary basting than a machine stitch. Once the final stitching is complete, the basting can easily be removed by snipping the knotted end and pulling the thread out in one piece. A machine-sewn seam cannot be removed so easily.
Hand quilting is becoming more and more rare. As a young girl, I watched my grandmother and her quilting-bee friends working together to create beautiful pieces that would become cherished heirlooms for generations to come. Although it may be more difficult to accomplish today, hand quilting smaller pieces can be just as precious to the recipient of such a gift.
Creative patches with a flourish of hand-embroidered embellishments will often garner comments from envious observers.
However, sewing entire garments is probably best accomplished with a sewing machine. Buttonholes are also tricky and time consuming. But they’re made quick and painless by modern machine methods.
Sewing quilt pieces together is also a lot easier by machine. Geometric shapes can be aligned with corners that are crisp and secure. Again, there is a specific look to hand sewing. But most quilters prefer to save the traditional hand stitching for the final topstitching.
Hand stitching is preferred for creative embellishments. More expensive machines can embroider intricate patterns, but a machine cannot produce some types of stitches. On more crafty items, handstitched embroidery is preferable, and the difference is evident in the depth of artistry.
Yes, hand sewing can be as strong as machine sewing and add charm to craftsy projects. But except for historical reproductions, machine stitching is preferred for a more professional, consistent look along seams of garments or other large projects.