Another day, another hem.

I was lamenting to a friend that a steady diet of plain sewing was not the most exciting blog fodder in the world, but that’s what we’re up to around here atm, so that’s what I’m going to natter about for a little while.

I hand sew most of my garb. This is not a statement designed to brag, I know quite a few people who do the same, it’s mostly an acknowledgement of the strained and temperamental relationship I have with sewing machines. (The serger and I aren’t speaking again.) My usual commentary on machine sewing is ‘oh goodie, now I get to screw it up faster!’ I sat down and considered getting more Pennsic garb quickly by machine sewing and realized I’d be a happier human hand sewing slowly. Which probably meant nothing new for Pennsic, but a happier human in old garb rather than stressing myself out at the machine. Which of course meant I went and worked on hand sewing an early period tunic for the late period spouse. Tunics, as in more than one. Two early period tunics for the late period spouse. (He wears early period at two events in a year. Pennsic, and Althing.) As a bonus, they were in the UFO pile, double duty!

There’s a few options for basic handsewing of garments, and there’s ferverent devotees to them all. This is how I put basic things together (think tunic, chemise, smock, petticoat etc etc.) This is not how everyone puts their garments together. Let me be the first to assure you that if your garment has edges that aren’t going to fray and holds together, you’ve done it correctly. The sewing police are not going to appear on your doorstep to give you a citation for using hem and whip stitch tactic versus a french seam. Try a few, see what makes you happy, go with that.

My preference is to hem all my pieces first. Not a rolled hem, nothing that exciting (yes, I know they are easy once you get going, but they are not easy in a moving vehicle, or in the dark.). Just take your raw edge, fold twice to hide the raw edge, running stitch to keep it there. Done. Do that around all the edges of everything. (I leave off the bottom hem, cause you’ll want to cut that off to length at the end.)


Yep, a hem.

Why do I prefer to hem all my pieces as pieces? Because I do almost all of my plain sewing somewhere else. In the car, at events, over lunch hour at work, in waiting rooms. I can pack a tiny sewing kit and a couple of pieces of a whole dress in a zippie bag and not have heaps of fabric trailing about with me when I inevitably get called 4 stitches in. I also get those edges that are wholly too fond of fraying tidied up right quick, before they’ve gained a few hundred km of travel time and been dropped in the car a dozen times and frayed even more. This makes for a moderately large seam allowance (rolled hem would be less, but I find it a bazillion times more of a pain), but basic running stitch is pretty meditative, and I can even still watch the scenery. It goes pretty quick, all things considered. Running stitch is not terribly strong, but this seam is just a hem. It is not structural, so that’s alright.

Once all of my tunic pieces are hemmed, I put them together using a whip stitch. Hold both sides together, and zip zip zip along. Once finished, this will open completely flat, if you don’t take giant chunks of hem in your whip. I literally take about a mm or so, and it lays quite nicely. This is a visible seam. There is no escaping that you can go ‘yep, there’s stitches’, but that’s an aesthetic that I appreciate, so this isn’t a draw back for me. If you want it to look like it all holds together with magic and starshine, this is not a tactic for you.

Finally, finish off the neckline, cuff and bottom hem as makes you happy. (I cut them to size, and do that same boring fold, fold, running stitch again.) Ta dah! Tunic!

Some drawbacks.. this requires 3 passes for every seam. (Both sides to be hemmed, and then a pass of whip stitch). Sewing the seam and then finishing that raw edge is only 2 passes, but I find my finishing isn’t as neat. If you mismeasure a piece, it’s a pain to take it out. It is, to be fair, less of a pain, as the whole thing is pretty modular, but it’s a pain. Possibly just the pain of yanking out a bazillion tiny stitches that you just put in by hand. Grrrr. Fortunately, you spend so much time up close with it, that the realization of ‘heeeey.. wait a minute’ has plenty of time to form before you’ve done too much, so you screw up somewhat more slowly.

So that’s today’s plain sewing, and all the tunics and underdresses for Pennsic. What’s your favourite garment assembly handsewing techniques?

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