Sunday, December 13, 2009

Hand sewing basics: securing thread

There are many ways to tie knots & secure your thread. Here are a few.

Cut a length of thread (15-25"), usually one arm length is comfortable.
If you are using a double thread, cut twice this length.
For hand sewing cloth, I prefer cotton hand quilting thread.
For leather I like waxed linen.
For silk I prefer silk floss, though cotton will do.

Tying a knot:

Hold the thread between thumb & forefinger.
Wrap the thread around your forefinger
Take the loop off your forefinger & push the tail of the thread through the loop.
Pull the knot 1/4" - 1" from the end.
Double knot if necessary.

-This takes a bit of practice, but it's really easy once you know how.
-Don't over-think, it becomes reflex after a while.
-Use whichever hand you are comfortable with.

Alternatively, you can wrap & roll the thread then pull the knot tight.
I've never mastered this method, so no pictures.

Pull the thread through the layers of fabric so the knot is tight to the fabric & start sewing. Do not clip the end too close to the knot.
This should be used for hidden seams, inside seams, or quilting.
It only works with tight-weave fabrics where the knot will not pull through.

Hidden knot for quilting

This is a good way to secure your thread when quilting without having little tails hanging out all over the place.

Tie knot as above.
Enter the quilt from below & 1"-2" from where you want to start quilting.
When the knot meets the bottom fabric, gently tug it into the batting layer without letting it come through the top layer. It will make a popping sound.
Start sewing as normal, or back stitch once to further secure it.

Lost Thread Knot
I use this method in just about all my hand-sewing projects.
Used for top stitching, securing the ends of thread, loose weave fabric, etc.

1. Insert needle with unknotted thread 1"-2” from your stitching line between layers of fabric.
1 & 2. Bring the point of the needle out at your stitching line and pull till the end of the
thread is just inside the entry point. Make sure your thread is hidden between layers.
3a. Insert the needle just behind exit point to make a back stitch (leave needle in fabric).
3b. Wrap the thread around the needle twice, moving the loops close to the fabric.
Not pictured: Gently hold the loops with your finger nail & pull the needle through, creating a loop & knot at the base of the thread.
Pull so the knot lays flat.
You may have to make a second knot in the same place if the thread is slipping.
Begin stitching.
Secure your thread the same way before you run out.
Repeat until seam is finished.
Note: make this knot on the back side of fabric. It's nearly invisible, but when repeated many times it becomes obvious.

Photos of Lost Thread Knot.

1. Insert 1" from stitching line, between layers.

2. Pull through so thread is hidden
(this shows a little for illustration only. If yours shows, you can pull the cloth up and ease the thread inside the layers after the knot is secure).

3. Insert needle in back-stitch

4. Wrap the thread around the needle twice.

5 & 6. Push thread close to fabric with thumbnail & pull the needle through.
Go slow or the thread will tangle rather than making a neat knot.

7. Pull the loop/knot so it lays flat against the fabric & make one back stitch before continuing with your seam.
The back stitch should follow the natural direction of the thread so it doesn't bunch up.

This knot through the fabric can be used to secure the thread after a seam is finished. Repeat the steps 3-7, then lose the thread as in step 1 & cut.
Repeat with your next thread to continue the seam.

Historic Uses of These Knots
The first knot shown here has been used for centuries. Some of the earliest surviving cloth garments are sewn together using this knot technique. (Look up the Moy Bog dress & other early clothing). This knot hardly appears to be sturdy enough, but hand washing is much kinder than modern washing machines.

The second knot, or Hidden Knot, was used from about the mid 1400's on (it may have been used earlier, but not to my knowledge... which is, of course, incomplete). Most commonly we see it in quilted garments from the 1700's, like petticoats, breeches, waistcoats & jackets.
It is not used when the lining is separate from the batting & outer fabric, but is used when all three layers are quilted together. This is not the most secure method, but when combined with a back-stitch & or not on a stressed seam, it will hold up for several centuries.

The Lost Thread Knot is something I've used for years, and I honestly don't know where I learned it. It may be something I taught myself, or I could have picked it up from a book. My mother does not use this securing technique. I have no evidence of this being used historically, but it works for me & I'm sure I'm not the only one to have ever thought of it.
If any of my dear readers have evidence of this being used pre-1900 I'd love to see the examples.

All of these knots will hold up to regular use. But one must remember that our ancestors repaired their clothing. This was not a throw-away society until very recently. Clothes were cut down, re-used, worn into rags, threads were pulled & re-sewn... nothing went to waste. There was too much labor invested in each garment to simply cast something aside.
"A stitch in time saves nine" was not just a cute rhyme. It literally meant that if you saw a seam coming out, stop & repair it now or you'd have a bigger rip later. Nearly every woman had a full sewing kit on hand (or in her pocket) at all times. I'm not saying that every woman was a master seamstress, but this was a basic skill taught to all girls, and many boys.

1 comment:

Gail Kellogg Hope said...

Not sure I did a very good job on the hidden knot diagrams.
The thread should go between the layers of fabric, not through the threads of one layer.
This way it's actually hidden.