The Art of Sewing
The art of sewing is the basis for many of the needle crafts, and is a skill that has been practised for at least 30,000 years. We have the benefit of many aids and machines today, some of them very sophisticated, yet the basic technique remains the same. When we sit, needle in hand, working on joining two pieces of cloth together, we are not so very different from our Palaeolithic ancestors, intent on joining animal skins for warmth, using a sliver of bone and some gut.
Today we have the wonders of technology to assist and inspire, but there are still many of us who enjoy the tactile satisfaction of sewing by hand. For many jobs like small repairs, it's the quickest and simplest way. There are some things that just can't be done on a machine. Of course, sewing machines are amazingly versatile and save so much time. There are still mechanical models available, but most people buy electric for the convenience they offer. You can start with quite a basic model, and depending on your needs (and how much you wish to spend) you can go up to the top of the range models that are computer-programmed. The overlocker is a type of machine that cuts and oversews the raw edges as it goes and is particularly suitable for stretchy fabrics. Most home sewers have an overlocker as well as their basic machine, and this covers many of your needlework needs.
If you have a growing family, making their clothes can be a great economiser as well as giving you individual clothing that can be made to match or co-ordinate. There's also all the scope for alterations and repairs, and when it comes to fancy-dress outfits or performance costumes, you will find out how popular sewing can make you! If you are lucky enough to have the space to set up your own needlework room, you can really use every spare minute to go on with whatever project you're working on. Once you get familiar with your machine and have the tools and resources handy, you will find that you can have a finished article in next to no time. For many of us, it's also something of our own; that we love to do and to have some time to spend working on our sewing is a satisfying and restful space in our day.
There is also the art of hand stitching, which can be for simple repairs and alterations, but is also a highly developed decorative art in itself. Think about smocking, shirring, embroidery and quilting for some examples of specialised hand-stitching. Although some of these stitches can be done using a machine, many can only be done by hand, and, more often than not, they retain their unique authenticity when hand-sewn. These are the lovely traditions that create heirlooms and remind us of bygone times, and can serve as a lasting reminder of a departed friend or family member. See our other sections on quilting and embroidery for more. These hand sewing skills may seem redundant to some, but if you remember that many of these techniques underpin the structure of the practical skills, they are clearly vital. Not so very long ago, no woman could afford to be ignorant of the needle skills, whether as a necessity or as a talent to show off.
My grandmother was an amazingly accomplished needlewoman, and taught me many of the stitches that I still use in my everyday life. It's a great skill to teach our children in this age of technology, for its tactile pleasure and its versatility. I made my toys and myself many wonderful outfits, and as I grew older I learned to alter and customise my clothes. I always feel a bit sad when I meet people who say that they are unable to even sew on a button. They don't know what they are missing out on!
Please let us in on your needlework passions, what you love and what you want. If you want to get into it, come back for more soon. Take the time to investigate your local tapestry shop, and be inspired by the huge range of fabrics available in department stores. Sign up for a sewing class, or join a needlework circle. What you'll find is that sewing is by no means the dying art some might think it to be. Sewing is one of our most ancient skills and it is still evolving. Join us for more needlework magic.