Handstitching Basics — Getting Started

Parte The Seconde (how to):

Okay, that was just a tease to put you guys in the right frame of mind for learning some period stitches. Strangely enough, the stitches used in constructing the oldest garments in existence are the same stitches used most often in the 17th and 18th century — and we still use those hand stitches today in modern sewing. Matter of fact, haute couture houses swear by them, and anyone charging that much money for clothing can’t be wrong!

Anyway, before we start sewing, we have to learn to thread a needle. If I’m being pedantic, forgive me. There are those who never have threaded a needle before.

Cut yourself a length of thread about 24″-30″ long. Don’t cut too much longer than that or it will just tangle.

Select a needle from the packet you bought last night at JoAnn’s… For right now, don’t worry about which needle is for which job. Just grab the one with the biggest eye (that’s what we call the hole at the top) so it’s easy to thread.

Now put the end of your thread in your mouth (…yes… just do it…) and get it slightly wet. Now thread it through the needle’s eye. Some people bring the needle to the thread. Other people push the thread through the needle. I never realized that until my apprentice asked me which I do. As it turns out, I hold the thread steady and put the needle on it. But you do whatever works for you.

Needle threaded? Good!

If it’s not and you’re having trouble seeing the needle’s eye, get a needle threader. You can get them online or at any place that sells needles and thread (JoAnn’s, Walmart, the utilities aisle of your supermarket…). Here’s a how-to on how to use one: Using a Needle Threader

Okay, needle threaded? Good!

Now we need to tie a knot at the other end so we don’t pull the thread all the way through before we make a stitch. To do this, lick the other end of your thread (yes… I mean it…) and wrap it around your index finger like in this picture:

Wrap the thread a few times around (no less than three times).

Now lick your finger and the thread (there’s a whole lot of lickin’ goin’ on here!). Using your thumb, roll the thread off your finger and pull that tangle into a knot by using your thumb and index finger to push it towards the end of the thread. Picture:

Got a big tangle? Perfect! If not, keep trying until you do. It doesn’t have to be pretty. Matter of fact, it shouldn’t be pretty at all! It just has to be a tangle at the end of your thread.

[For those of you asking yourselves "Is this period?!" the answer is "YES!" When I examined the Shinrone Gown, a 16th century gown found in Ireland, the bottom of the hem was full of these kinds of knots!]

Next time… “Making a Stitch”


© 2006 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.