Hand Sewing: The 411

Young women sewing, 1899
Photo by Buyenlarge/Getty Images

This photo shows a group of young women sewing by hand and with sewing machines.

Taken in 1899 at the Agricultural and Mechanical College in Greensboro, NC.

Still fascinated with the concept of hand sewing I decided to do more snooping to see what I may discover. There is information galore about hand sewing in cyberspace but for now my interest lies mainly in the what’s and how’s of hand sewing garments. I will not include information about upholstery, embroidery, etc.


For sewing garments the basic needle of choice seems to be “sharps”. “As a guide always remember the general rule of the bigger the number the finer the sewing needle. ” ~ John James

These needles are the most popular needle for general sewing.

Size 2, 3 and 4 suitable for medium to heavy fabrics

Size 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 suitable for light to medium fabrics

Size 11 and 12 suitable for fine fabrics or creating small delicate stitches

According to the Hand Sewing Guide – “Use a needle small enough to stitch through fabric without stretching it, but strong enough to not break or bend. The eye size needs to be large enough to accommodate the thread being used.”

Similar to ordinary “sharps” needles are milliners needles (also called “straw needles”) Clover Gold Eye Milliners, No. 3-9. They are simply longer and some sewists use millinery needles for hand sewing. When sewing entire garments by hand I am thinking this type of needle would be beneficial for faster sewing of seams; especially the long ones like the side of a skirt.

After reading reviews I believe I want to try Clover Black Gold Needles Applique/Sharps No.9/ No.10/ No.12, 2 Ea. for general hand sewing.
Needle Threader


My eyesight being what it is, this little ditty is a lifesaver. I had seen these in numerous sewing kits and had no idea what it was for. Now I can not imagine doing without one. Ahem, now, to find one in my kit. There are other types on the market. But this one is inexpensive and easy to use. Simply “Place the folded wire of the needle threader through the eye of the sewing needle, place the thread into the wire loop, then holding onto the handle of the threader pull the wire part back through the eye of the needle, stopping when you have one thread through the eye of the needle. Remove the thread from the wire part of the needle threader. Knot your thread and sew!” Thanks Katrina at Let It Shine. I could not have said it better myself.


Japanese thimbles; how pretty.

Protect the end of fingers while pushing needles and thread through fabric with a thimble. I confess, I don’t quite have the hang of it. There are metal thimbles, leather thimbles, plastic thimbles to name a few. I suspect leather would be my thimble of choice. Meanwhile until I get one I have the metal type lined with a silicone cushion.


This leather thimble should be fool proof. How could I not get the hang of it? Clover is known for quality. Yes, I think I’ll try this one.

Beeswax is used to make the thread stronger, stabilizing the thread. Who knew? When I read that it reduces tangling I was won over. How many times have you attempted to hand sew something and the length of thread gets all tangled? How frustrating! Beeswax to the rescue. Tip: After threading the needles, pass the thread through the beeswax then press it with a warm iron to melt the beeswax into the threads. Protect your fabric by placing the thread with beeswax applied between a folded piece of paper THEN press with a dry iron (no steam necessary). This eliminates wax spoiling your fabric. If you don’t happen to live on a farm with bees or have your own backyard apiary here are sources to obtain your own beeswax without getting stung:

ORGANIC Hand Poured Decorative Beeswax Cakes – 1.4 oz each Natural Bees Wax Cake 1.6 oz

More thread,


P.S. Click here for more free hand sewing information.

Sobriety from electronic sewing machines since 2012

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