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In Support of Hand Sewing

People have a lot of complaints about hand sewing. The more common ones include “it’s slow” and “it makes the hurty in my wrists”. There’s actually a really easy thing you can do to help speed up your hand sewing, and take some of the strain off your wrists….

Trying to hand sew fabric that is lying flat, on a flat surface, is about the worst case scenario for your body and your stitching. If you support your stitching from underneath with something slightly rounded, you’ll find it’s much easier to pick up threads and push the needle through the fabric. It also changes the angle of your wrist. With the right height of support, you might find that you sew entirely with your fingers no twisting of the wrist required!

A seam roll (aka, the sleeve roll, sleeve ham, or “sleeve pressy thing”, depending on where you learned about them and how frustrated you are that the darned thing has disappeared again) is a really great support for hand sewing normal sized items. I found out the other day (in a fit of desperation, owing to the disappearance of the sleeve ham) that the narrow base on Vicksie works just as well, if you can get over a doll peeking out from your sewing. (Only try this with a sand-filled base!) If you’re sitting on the couch and sewing, try putting a pillow in your lap under your sewing and your sewing arm. ┬áIt makes a difference. The human knee is another astonishingly great sewing support – and a very traditional one!

Woodcut showing a furrier supporting his sewing on his knee
A woodcut from 1568 shows a furrier using his knee to support his sewing. ("The Furrier", from Standebuch, Jost Amman and Hans Sachs. Sourced from wiki/File:Kuerschner-1568.png)
woodcut showing tailors sitting tailor-style
Another woodcut from Standebuch, this time showing a tailor's shop. The figures in back show how sitting "tailor style" allows the knees and legs to support sewing. ("The Tailor", from Standebuch, Jost Amman and Hans Sachs. Sourced from: commons/e/e5/Schneider-1568.png)

The trick, of course, is to avoid sewing your work to your support. (Believe me, having to choose whether or not to cut the thread from your hand work, or cut a hole in your jeans is quite the dilemma… For me, it usually depends on how long I spent sewing, and how well the jeans fit.) If you have a problem with this, it helps to add something that’s hard to sew through to the equation – a spare piece of leather or a rolled up magazine work well.

If you’re sewing for a doll, you might find that most of the normal supports are all much too large. Dowel rods, small rolling pins, and empty toilet paper tubes have become my friend lately… They aren’t tall enough to take all the strain off my wrist, but I’ve found that combining them with a second support (mostly the curved arm of the sofa) gets the job done!

dowel rod supporting a seam
Since this dress is smaller than my sleeve ham, I'm supporting my sewing with a dowel rod.


  1. sarah Torres
    sarah Torres October 21, 2012

    I have sewn by hand my whole life I could never get the hang of a sewing machine or patterns for that matter.I have even made whole dresses and shirts all by hand and with out any patterns.Everyone thinks I’m crazy until they see my work. This post helps a lot thank you :)

    • missa
      missa October 21, 2012

      H, Sarah,

      You have more patience than I, and I am slightly jealous for that and your ability I to naturally follow an older path. :) Good on you, and your work!

      • sarah Torres
        sarah Torres October 22, 2012

        Thank you :)

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