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Back to Basics: Hand-Stitched Garments

­Hand stitching. Argh! Many garment makers will do anything to avoid the dreaded “H-word.” Stitching by hand, for some of us, is reserved for reluctantly basting something together or sewing on buttons. So the idea of making hand-stitched garments may have only been a passing thought.

Hand sewing alternative

Our beloved machines give us myriad options to create garments without ever picking up a needle and thread. We can thank Elias Howe for helping us avoid hand stitching since 1846. Mr. Howe is credited with receiving the first U.S. patent for a sewing machine in 1846. Although there were other similar inventions before that, notably Thomas Saint in 1790, Howe’s “lockstitch” version is the Grandma of what we use today.

It is difficult to imagine a time when all clothing was made by hand. Today, we rarely encounter entirely hand-stitched garments. Now, there is a mystique around any hand-stitched couture dress or hand-tailored jacket. The special care, attention, and time it takes to make such masterpieces is awe-inspiring to those of us tethered to our sewing machines and sergers. It is a scary proposition to make a garment entirely by hand, with a just a needle and thread in your hand.


Hand stitching isn’t just for quilters

Hand stitching is still a thing, though. Many avid quilters see it as a right of passage to hand-quilt a bedspread. Natalie “Alabama” Chanin has inspired us with her slow-sewn jersey creations. Kantha cloth, boro, sashiko, embroidery, smocking, and beading can be seen everywhere from boho market stalls to high-end fashion runways. While we might admire these lovely creations, we shy away from projects that would seem to require a longer commitment than a lot of marriages. But fear not. If you are ready, take a deep breath and let’s consider some projects…

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  1. [email protected] | | #1

    Excellent article, with great inspiration for mixing textiles. Sheer knits really lend themselves to some of these ideas.

    1. User avater
      beckyf | | #3

      Oh yeah! Layering sheers gives so much texture and interest without the weight and knits don't have the fraying issues of woven sheers. Can't wait to see your creations.

  2. CathV | | #2

    I really like the cut of the dress pattern you used for the "Alabama" Chanin look. Could you share the pattern please? I've read her books but hadn't taken the leap to create a piece yet. I appreciate your article. thanks

    1. User avater
      beckyf | | #4

      The pattern for this dress is in one of the AC books. I am not a standard AC size so there was a bit of hacking involved to get to this version, but the starting point was from the book. On the website there is a pattern called the "Factory Dress" that looks to be very similar. I remember taking quite a bit of fullness out of the skirt so my dress looks a bit straighter from the waist to the hem. Hope this helps. B

      1. CathV | | #5

        Thank you. In looking for that I see they also used to have a "fitted tank dress". I'm going to check her books again and see what I can find. Thanks again for your help! C

  3. osewviolet | | #6

    I had the privilege of visiting the Alabama Chanin shop in person just this month. I love her creativity. I have two of her books and checked others out from the library. Last summer, I made a tank top all by hand using her pattern . It is one of my favorites. I like the idea of combining machine and hand sewing. I'm very impatient to finish the project. I think I will copy your suggestion and put together a project to take on trips and contain my desire to finish it fast.

    1. User avater
      beckyf | | #7

      I am so jealous! I visited the AC workshop several years ago and have wanted to go again. It is such a lovely experience. Sitting and sewing together is so comforting. Enjoy your 'slow sewing.'

  4. RWoven | | #8

    Sewing is so inspiring, let alone therapeutic. You, along with Threads, continue to inspire and stimulate joy, excitement and hope! I am so excited about all the hand-sewing I can do while on public transit and waiting in medical appointments with the seniors in my life now.

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