In preparation for the upcoming Hand Pieced QAL, Patty and I thought we would share some of our favorite notions for hand piecing. In fact, I’ve put together a little video explaining some of my favorites.
In case you would rather read than watch, let me give you a little overview.
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In reality, all you really need is needles, thread, and fabric. But a few more notions make everything a little bit easier.
Needles, Pins, and Thread
So much of hand sewing is personal preference, so it makes sense to experiment. And for things like needles, thread, and thimbles, the investment is small, so it’s easy to buy a few types and play around.
I like long, thin needles (size 10-12), but the smaller the needle is, the harder it is to thread! I tend toward needles labeled “sharps” and “straw“–which tend to be longer. Lots of people prefer shorter needles called “betweens“. Try a few sizes and see what feels right to you.
The same goes for pins–I like long, thin pins, but others prefer shorter applique pins. Just start with the pins you have! And always have your trusty pincushion by your side.
Aurifil 50 weight thread is the most common thread to use, but I also like this Aurifil 80 weight, which is quite thin. Hand piecing is perfect for using up those last few yards of thread at the end of a spool and even the last bits from a bobbin. Any neutral color will work fine.
I also use a needle threader. I find that I bend the wires out of shape on these quickly, so I buy cheap multi-packs whenever I can.
Optional, but very useful is thread conditioner, which coats the thread with a thin layer of gloss so that it glides through the fabric easily and doesn’t get tangled.
There is no sewing notion as personal as a thimble! Luckily they are inexpensive to buy and try out. I like an old fashioned metal or rubber/metal combo. I wear it on the middle finger of my right hand (I’m right handed). I use it to leverage the needle while stitching and to push the needle through the fabric.
Some people like to wear a thimble on their opposite hand to protect the finger that is under the fabric. I need to feel when that needle comes through the fabric, so I don’t wear one on that hand. But, I do prick that finger a tiny bit every time the needle pokes through, and have built up a bit of a callous there. A small price to pay, in my opinion. I’ve been meaning to try these thimble pads, but haven’t yet.
Cutting and Marking Tools
I use standard, modern rotary cutters and self-healing mats when I cut the fabric for my hand piecing projects. (And I’d like to think that Ma Ingalls would have too, if they had been available back then!)
I like to mark the stitching lines on all of my patches at the beginning of the block. I mark the 1/4″ lines on the wrong side of the fabric with a ruler or Perfect Piecer and a mechanical pencil. Placing a bit of fine sand paper (220 grit) under the fabric helps the pencil line to show up easily.
Snips, Clips, and Lighting
I also like having a variety of small clips on hand to keep my patches organized while I’m sewing.
Not technically in my sewing basket, but I find that task lighting is so helpful when hand sewing. I’ve been using the Daylight D40, which is awesome because the light is so easily adjustable, and I adore my Slimline floor lamp–I drag that light all over house to wherever I’m stitching. I just bought the small yo-yo magnifier as well, which I can just keep in my sewing bag all the time. From threading needles to seeing those stitching lines, there is no substitute for good lighting! (And possibly a good pair of reading glasses as well!)
Lastly, on a purely personal note, I find that an audiobook or podcast and a cup of tea really make the whole experience of hand sewing a pleasure. I’m loving this podcast right now.
I would venture to guess that most of you already have what you need to get started with hand sewing! And if not, now is the perfect time to try some things out and maybe even add a few items to your wish list for the holidays.
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