Basic stitches for handsewing

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This is the stitch I use when sewing two pieces of fabric together, like side seams on a bodice or stripes or anything that I later fold and finish the seam. Run the needle 2-3 times, with about 5 mm spacing, go back one stitch, and then run the needle 2-3 times.

The back stitch ensure that you don’t accidently start to pull the fabric into pleats, and makes it easier to keep the seem firm, if you look closely on the picture, you can see the little back stitch next to the base of the needle.

The seam allowance depends on the material: I usually use a 1 cm for a thin linen or wool that I don’t finish the seam on, or 1.5 or thicker linen and wool that needs to have a finished seam.

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The front and back of the seam

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Then cut half of the seam allowance on one piece of the fabric, double fold the other piece over the cut part and hem stitch it down as fine as you can to finish the seam.

When hem stitching, I usually pick up around 2 threads on the fabric, that is enough to make it last, and will make the stitches in the front almost invisible; the right picture shows the front of the seam, and you can see the stitches as little dots on the top of the seam.

I rarely finish the seam when sewing in wool. Why? Because it’s felted (not all wool are felted, you will notice the different when you cut it) and will not start to fray as linen does and because I don’t wash it. Well… you see, wool is a natural fiber, the natural oil prevents most of the dirt from getting inside it, and the underdress you wear prevents your dirty body from soiling it …An old trick to washing a wool dress is to lay it outside on the grass in the dew, the moisture in the grass will draw the dirt out of the wool …or just hang it in the bathroom when you take a shower. And don’t forget to hang it outside, preferably over night, directly after an event. IF your dress is really really dirty (like when I was pouring beer for six hours at KapitelhusgÃ¥rden in Visby the front of my dress was completely soked in beer), then you might want to dry clean it. …but washing wool in a machine kind of removes the natural water/dirt repellant of the wool fabric.

For shorter seams that are visible on both front and back, I usally use a simple running stitch (for example the opening in the front or the cuffs of a shirt), because it’s easier to make it look even and it is faster…
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Front and back

Sometimes you need to line the inside of a cuff or a collar. A simple way to make sure that the points don’t fray is to fold it like this:
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…and then stich it to the inside by using running stitches
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-If you decide to hand sew, try to make it as simple as possible, the time you put into making garb makes you want to see progress, so don’t over work the stitches, try to find somethings that works for you. The only wrong thing you can do is if the dress falls apart, then you need to maybe work a bit more on the details. There is many different techniques you can use to assemble a dress, it depends on the type of fabric, what you prefer and where on the dress you use a specific stitch. Start with something small and easy to finish (like a hat), and start finding the stitch you prefer at your leisure)

-Try to always maintain a straight line, use the needle as a guide, always keeping an eye on the edge of the fabric. Don’t use too much seam allowance, since it will be harder to get a straight seam. 1.5 cm seam allowance is always a good start, and if it might be a bit tricky to keep the seam straight, then draw some guidance lines every 10-15 cm.

-Don’t pull the fabric to hard when sewing the bodice; the fabric has been cut on the bias and will be strechy, always pin the fabric at the beginning, until you get a right firm grip on the fabric.

-Whenever you are cutting a straight line (as making stripes for the skirt for example, or cutting out the pieces for a shirt/chemise), remember this:
Linen; use the pull-a-thread technique: cut a small cut in the end of the fabric, carefully pull out a string of thread until it breaks. Cut at the visible line until you reach the end of it, then pull out another string …and so on. This will get you a precise and straight cut.
Wool/silk/velvet: cut about 2-5 cm, grab both sides and pull. The fabric will easily rip in a straight line. (You might want to test it on a small piece first if you’re not sure), You can rip linen, but don’t. It’s not going to look pretty and you will end up losing a couple of centimeters of fabric and will need to cut away the frizz anyway…

– Last but not least: Hand sewing is easiest to do with wool or linen and with a sharp needle and a linen thread (okey, I know it’s very hard to find a good linen thread, then at least use a thicker cotton thread (look in the embroidery section for example), NOT standard machine sewing thread! It is so thin that when you put any stress on the seam, the thread will cut right through the fabric.) …the thread is not suppose to be unbreakable! Because if your seam has a lot of stress, you actually want the thread to break; you can always re-sew the seam, but it is very tricky to fix ripped fabric.

For tips about what tools you might need for handsewing, visit my previous blog “5 Simple steps to start handsewing”

The finished shirt took about 35 hours to make, (including the smocking, which is kind of 80 % of the total hours)

How to do a basic honeycomb smocking (pleatwork embroidery): How to do smocking[1]
How to make an easy 16th century shirt/chemise: 16th century shirt-Constance[1]

There is a number of other kind of stitches that you eventually would want to use in the future, these stitches will get you started at least, and if you are interested in other period stitches, then I recommend you to google “archaeological stitches”.