Monday, July 05, 2010

Frankenblogging Part 3: Miscellaneous notes on hand sewing and medieval sewing

Author's note: The Frankenblogging feature is a republication of older content from my former personal webpage, with some annotations. It occurs every Monday morning. 
More old stuff! Complete with only slightly repaired poor formatting and a less well-thought-out writing style. My newer notes are in this typeface. Enjoy!

Medieval sewing stitches
From _Textiles and Clothing_:

Running stitch (not recommended for bias seams or any seams that will take stress or wear as the fabric may shift and the thread may break or pull..)

Not really. Make them very small and regular and they are just fine. This was actually the most popularly used seam and hem stitch.

Backstitch (the most solid stitch and most suitable for modern fabrics, takes stress and wear well)

Used for heavy stress areas and embroidery.

Overstitched edges (good for selvedges or fulled edges)

This is also called butted edges.

Felling seams:
French seams are not described at all in _Textiles and Clothing_, but a flat seam finish is: The seam is opened flat and the seaming allowance is sewn flat with a running stitch (which is safe to use as it is not going to be stressed at all). For modern, unfulled fabrics, I would roll the raw edge under as I sewed the seaming allowance flat with the running stitch. Other methods, not found in Textiles and Clothing can be found

Hemming stitches: 

There are three basic techniques shown in _Textiles and Clothing_:

  1. Hem stitch is shown used on both a single and double folded hem. 
  2. Top-stitching done in running stitch is shown on a single-folded hem hemmed with hem stitch. This would give a stronger hem, and reduce stretching on bias edges. 
  3. Running stitch is shown used on single-folded hems.
Rolled hems are shown on fine fabrics such as silks and I suspect they may have been done on fine linen edges, although no examples have survived to prove or disprove this theory... Personally, I would use this edge on fine linen.

Sarcastic note about my own tone here: "I bought a BOOK! I'm an EXPERT!" Sigh. 

Facings and edge finishes: 

Necklines and open armhole edges were often faced with narrow silk bindings or facings on the straight grain. You could use inexpensive Habotai silk for these facings. They are sewn on with a fine running stitch. Lacing edges are finished with the same type of facing, with the lacing holes worked in buttonhole or whipstitch through the outer fabric, lining (if any) and facing strip. I'd use a doubled strip for my lacings, as I know how much stress I always put on them :) Buttonhole edges were finished with a narrow cardwoven band, about 4 cards wide, sewn on as it was woven ( the weft thread was the sewing thread). If you are going to the trouble
of handsewing anything that will have buttonhole edges, you should really do the cardwoven reinforcement. I'm working on a project right now that will have these edges on it. 

Some Handsewing Stitches

This is my own advice and therefore is less directive and "experty." However, that means that I felt that my little illustrations spoke for themselves. I think I need more explanation for these to be really practical. Or just more illustrations. 

And no, I can't really draw a needle. I'm better now, but not by much.

This diagram shows how to measure and knot the doubled thread.
Measure wrist to shoulder, cut your thread.
Thread your needle, then knot the two ends as shown.

Anchoring the knot in your cloth.

Running stitch

A good basting stitch, and a good hem stitch for lightweight fabrics.

Not very sturdy for seams. Unless small and close! Take small, neat stitches forward on both the front and back of your work. Can also be used for gathering up fabric.


A sturdy seam stitch. Take long stitches forward on the back of the work (2x your desired stitch length), then stitch one stitch backward on the front of your work.


Decorative and useful as a seam stitch. On the front of the work, punch the needle through near to the point where it emerged, making a loop. On the back of the work, bring the needle forward one stitch length and back up through the fabric to catch the loop.


A hemming stitch, also useful for finishing seams and sewing down trims. Worked like running stitch, except that it it 'zigs' on the front and 'zags' on the back of the work. The second diagram shows how to trim one side down to ease rolling the seam allowance under for finishing.

whipped hem

Crossed whipstitch

Whipstitch worked double for durability. The second row is worked across the first, forming x's.

Oversewn or whipped edges

Use to join selvedges for a flat smooth finish. Take small, neat whipstitches all along the doubled edges. When finished, open flat and press.

Finishing a gathered edge

A gathered edge can be neatly bound by carefully whipping a binding onto it, being careful to catch the binding on both sides as you work.

Ladder stitch

Makes a strong, decorative join on two hemmed pieces of fabric. Stitches are worked in a figure-eight pattern (second diagram), going in one peice and coming out of the gap, then going in the other.

side view 

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