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Tea break - tips and tricks
Some customers are surprised to hear that many aspects of soft furnishings are hand sewn — here are some top tips to help the process go smoothly.
- If you ever find you have to hand sew Velcro in place, run it through an unthreaded machine first so that the needle punches holes through the tape for you. Then you can pass the needle through much more easily when you stitch.
- Don’t forget some of the stitches you may have learned for dressmaking. Tacking stitches can be great for marking a straight fold line across the grain of a voile, and long tailor tacks are perfect for marking the corner point when folding mitres on curtains or borders.
- There are lots of different hand sewing needles available — leather ones can be helpful for thick or heavy fabrics; short sharp quilters needles are good for small jobs. Many soft furnishers swear by John James long darners for stitching hems, laying in linings and all sorts of other tasks. If you have buttons to attach through scatter cushions or small box cushions then consider a doll making needle. They are thinner than upholstery buttoning needles and have a sharp point - but still have quite a large eye and are available in a choice of longer lengths.
- Investigate different threads for different jobs — 36s is great for strong hand sewing, silk thread can be used for stitching silk fabric, while 120s is good for an overlocker and tacking. There are also ‘invisible’ (but soft) threads and monofilament for blind hemmers which can also be used for sewing by hand — nothing like the stiff nylon thread often promoted as ‘invisible’. Beaders use silamide thread which is made from waxed fine nylon and is available in various colours, it is strong and resists tangling as you sew.
- If you find your thread tangles and knots as you hand sew there are a couple of tips that should help. Firstly, check you are not inadvertently rolling the needle between your fingers as you stitch. If you think you might be, then try slightly turning the needle against the direction of twist every stitch or so to counteract the movement. Using a thread conditioner also helps prevent tangles — this can be beeswax or a product like Thread Magic which you draw the thread through before you use it. There is also a liquid called Sewers Aid which you can apply to the reel or thread. Some people also use silicone spray to mist over the reel before use. (There are also special thread conditioning boxes that you can use with sewing machines which do the same).
- If you find you get sore fingers, or even puncture them with the eye end of the needle, consider using a thimble. There are all sorts available including traditional metal, metal with an open side, leather, coin thimbles and a variety of plastic and silicone versions which grip well and also have metal areas to help push the needle through. If you check at a good haberdashery they will have various different options in different sizes to make sure you get a good fit. If you are doing a lot of hand sewing and find the finger of your ‘under’ hand gets sore, you can also buy self-adhesive pads to protect your fingertip from the needle as it exits the fabric.
- There are a range of needle threaders to buy — some are hand-held and others will sit on the table. The most basic have a fine sprung steel loop which you push through the eye and use to draw the thread back through. Some have a back plate to help you see the wire and thread clearly. Desktop models allow you to lay the thread over them in a set position, then push a button to thread the needle. You can also get a device designed to help thread your sewing machine needle.
- Finally, there are also devices called needle pullers. Some of these fit on your fingers in the same way as a thimble, but they are designed to add grip to assist pulling the needle through the fabric. Others are discs of silicone to wrap around the needle and pull it through the layers of material. For really heavy work you can get little grabbers with teeth that clamp on to the needle and help pull, or a tool a little like scissors but designed to grip the needle for you. Check online sewing supply shops for examples — quilting specialists are often a good place to look.
Next tip: Holding without pins