When to Handstitch or When Not to Handstitch, That is the Question

I’ve been making a ton of skirts lately–with waistbands, with facings, with lined yokes.  They’re in quilting cottons, in wools, in linen.  Lots and lots of skirts.  As I get to the finishing stage with each one, I get to decide whether I’ll put in the hem and finish out the waistline by machine or by hand.

Now, historically, I fully admit that I have avoided hand-sewing like Hollywood avoids carbs.  If I could do it by machine, I did.  But as I started pushing myself to work with more apparel fabrics and better quality supplies, a higher-end finish seemed in order.  And I’ve just never quite fallen in love with the blind hem stitch on any of my machines.  I love the look, though, of an invisible hem on a nice linen, and so it has become time to start asking that tough question: when is it worth it to hand sew versus doing it on the machine?

For me, it really is about two things: the overall look of the garment, and the type of fabric I’m using.  I don’t think there can ever be a hard-and-fast rule, like I ALWAYS hand sew hems or I NEVER hand sew facings to zipper tape, but I’m realizing I have some instincts over and over again:

  • I really like a hand-stitched hem on linen and wool.  The illusion that there is no hem there, and the fact that the line of the skirt flows straight to the hem from the hip, is very appealing to me.  So I have been doing a double-turned hem by hand on these skirts.
  • I vastly prefer to machine stitch the opening edges of my facings to an invisible zipper.  Colette has a great technique, similar to the way I do mine.  I like how tidy it is, and that I don’t have to worry that my hand stitches will come loose so close to the zipper teeth.
  • I really only like the look of a topstitched seam on a lined yoke if it’s a quilting cotton.  On the finer fabrics, it seems to distract from the “expensiveness” of the garment, and it’s worth it to use hand stitches there.

What about you guys?  When you’re making clothing for yourself, where are the deal-breaker places that you don’t want to do by machine?

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  • Camille
    August 30, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    My hand stitching both looks bad and doesn’t hold up. So I use the machine unless it’s just not humanly possible.

    • Deborah
      August 30, 2012 at 4:08 pm

      Oh, no! I find that so hard to believe–but I’ve heard the same thing from others. I don’t understand how they let us get out of high school and never taught us basic hand stitches…

  • Rachel at Stitched in Color
    August 30, 2012 at 7:52 pm

    Oh, you are light-years ahead of me in garment construction. I just do as I’m told!

  • Sewing Princess
    September 3, 2012 at 5:07 am

    I am happy to hear I am not the only one who doesn’t like machine blind hem. I did try it a couple of times but I hate to realize that it’s much more visible than doing it by hand! Since I learned how to attach a facing to the zipper with my machine I do it too…much more sturdy.