When I first started cosplaying back in 2011, I didn't really think of sewing like I do today. For me, it was just putting a needle and thread through some fabric to fix a tear, or use a sewing machine to quickly put something together. But in recent years, I realized that handstitching is both extremely therapeutic and satisfying when you put together an entire piece of clothing.
Handsewing has been around for thousands of years, and it is how every garment was made before the invention of the sewing machine in the last 200 years. If you're planning on making a historical-based cosplay, or want to simply learn how to handsew garments for your own hobby, then here are five stitches to get you started.
Note: I added video tutorials by Burnley and Trowbridge Co. for each stitch below, which helped me learn when I was getting started!
I started using the whipstitch back in 2015 when I really first started handsewing. Back then, I didn't even know the name of the stitch. I only started stitching with it because I was working on a Morgana cosplay from BBC Merlin and my lace fabric refused to run through my sewing machine. It was only in the last few years that I actually learned the proper name and realized I was using a proper historical stitch all along.
For this stitch, you can use it to put two pieces of fabric together, or for adding a stitch to the edge to keep the fabric from fraying. To get started, run your needle and thread through both pieces of fabric, and then continue wrapping it around the fabric. This can also be used to gather rolls of fabric, which you can see in the video below.
4. Running Stitch
The running stitch is your typical stitch that sewing machines use, but handsewing it can be just as neat. For this stitch, You have the option to choose whether or not you want to make the stitches closer together or farther apart, depending on what you're crafting. This stitch can be especially useful when gathering fabric too, such as gathering the fabric of a skirt.
To start off, put the needle in from your starting point and grab a piece of fabric with the needle. Pull the needle through the fabric, and you'll have a single running stitch. Continue the same stitch until you complete the full running stitch. To see the stitch in action, check out the video by Burnley and Trowbridge below.
The backstitch is certainly a stitch that I am still learning to perfect. This stitch is ideal for putting pieces of fabric together where you want to have a strong hold. The sewing machine uses this one to hold a stitch in place, which is essentially the same for handsewing as well.
To start, make sure to create an anchor in the thread (I usually use a quick double knot but it's up to you how to do this). Once you have this, take the needle and thread and run it through the fabric just behind the knot you just made. The needle should then come out of the fabric just a little in front of the knot. Continue this method by inserting the needle behind the previous stitch, and pressing it out in front of the stitch. You can see the stitch being done in the video below.
2. Hem Stitch
I learned the hem stitch while working on a production of Rent back in 2016, but it was a slightly different version compared to the more historical hem stitch. Hem stitches in modern times are almost always used for hemming the bottom of pants, dresses, skirts, etc. For historical sewing, however, this stitch can also be used for necklines and sleeves.
For this stitch, you will want to roll your fabric twice so that you have a neat edge to work work. I highly suggest basting your fabric first, as it makes this much easier once you start your hem stitch (yes, I know it takes longer to add a baste stitch, but I promise it'll keep you from screaming at your fabric later).
Once the fabric is rolled and basted, take a small amount of fabric in your needle from the back of the fabric. Then, with the small part you have grabbed, run your needle through a small piece of the rolled hem. You do not want to grab too much of the fabric, otherwise you'll be able to see the stitch easily from the other side. Burnley and Trowbridge shows how to use this stitch in action, as well as how it's seen on different pieces of historical clothing.
1. Running Backstitch
I only recently learned about the running backstitch while sewing an 18th century petticoat over a few months and let me tell you it is a GAME CHANGER. This stitch not only keeps your fabric together efficiently, but it also is used in many different historical garments. I've seen it used on both petticoats and shifts/chemises, and can only asssume that it's also used in other articles of clothing as well.
To start this stitch, make sure to anchor your fabric through a knot or a way of your choosing. Then, put your needle through behind your anchor as if you are going to start a backstitch. Once your needle is put in front of the anchor, grab a piece of fabric with your needle as if you're doing a running stitch. Pull your needle and thread through and you now have a running backstitch! Burnley and Trowbridge has an excellent example of showing how to do the stitch in the video below.
I hope this helped you in your handsewing adventures! Go forth and handstitch all the things!