Recently on one of the message lists I follow there was a bit of discussion regarding hand sewing. We were talking about its benefits, which are many. You can take it with you anywhere (dentist office, car ride, child's sports game). You generally have more control over your stitches, which is very helpful if you are new to sewing. It is more authentic. The sewing machine did not come into being until the early 1800s, so although it is a quick alternative, nothing at the time we are reenacting would have been sewn by machine. Now, even though this is true, there are times when it is still acceptable enough to use a machine, so don't think I am telling you to never use one, we were just having a discussion about the benefits of hand sewing and that is one of the benefits!
I personally have used a combination of hand sewing and machine sewing in making my garments. Usually if the seam cannot be seen, I will use the machine, but anything that can be seen will be hand sewn. I am not wholly opposed to hand sewing a garment inside and out, I have done this with one of my husband’s shirts, but it is more time efficient to use the machine where it won’t be seen anyway.
In the midst of this lovely conversation, one of the members of the list shared some great information about stitching a hem. Her name is Steph and she is a member of The Hive Online and The Ladies of Refined Taste. I got permission from her to share the information here with you. I hope you find it as interesting and useful as I did!
In our recent discussions on hand sewing, I'd like to offer up a few period examples of hemstitching. Notice how these are not rolled hems as you might think, rather (1/4" approximately) folded hems. Here's some inspiration for your fine hand sewing...
1. Pretty Girl with her Apron before the Candle
This one is such a gem -- there are soooo many details here. If you zoom in you can see the stitches on the hem of her handkerchief. Notice the straight pin holding it shut -- love that!
2. Portrait of Thaddeus Burr by Copley
Look at how the sleeve ruffles are hemmed -- see how they are depicted by a band of shading.
3. Portrait of Samuel Quincy
Take a gander at the work on this minister's collar -- you can see how it is folded and the corner's finished. Thank you Mr. Copley!
4. Portrait of John Hancock
Check out those sleeve ruffles -- how fine the linen is and how they are finished with a folded hem
And there are many, many more examples -- on bosom ruffles, shift ruffles, aprons, etc. Zoom in on the details and they tell you sooooo much – And important enough for the artist to show them!!
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