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Hand vs Machine - An Open Seam

One of our values at The Dressmaker's Apprentice is 'For All'. We are passionate about sewing, believing sewing is indeed for everyone and that there should be no barriers to anyone wanting to learn and start sewing. Having a sewing machine is a wonderful thing, however, it is not necessary to have one to start your sewing journey, it is also possible to achieve fabulous sewing results with a simple needle and thread. Far better to be sewing by hand, than not be sewing at all due to a lack of machine.


To help illustrate this, I am working through a series of 'hand versus machine' sewing samples, hoping to share with others how easy it is to start sewing with just a needle and thread and how little difference there can be in the end result. In this post we cover one of the most basic and frequently used seams, a simple straight open seam used to join two pieces of fabric together.


In the hand sewn sample, the seam has been stitched with a simple back stitch and a single thread. As this is a permanent stitch it has been finished at each end with a small backstitch and the thread woven into a couple of adjacent stitches to hide the loose ends. Historically, garments were hand sewn together with a backstitch, it gives a strong finish similar to a machine stitch, given it loops back over itself. If sewing a long seam by hand, you should still only use a piece of thread the length of your wrist to elbow. This prevents the thread from twisting and knotting but also means the long seam with be sewn with several pieces of thread, so should a stitch pop, only a section of seam would open rather than the entire seam. The seam can be sewn with a single or double piece of thread.


In the machine sewn sample, the seam has been stitched with a medium length, straight stitch. The ends of the threads have been knotted off rather than backstitched, so as not to stiffen the ends of the seam and keep softness in the fabric. In comparing the two stitched samples, superficially the stitches may look different, but at a practical level, both seams are straight and strong and perfect for any number of sewing projects.


The 'open' part of this seam's name, comes from how it is pressed - the seam allowances are 'open', pressed flat and away from each other. This distributes the fabric bulk equally at each side of the seam. These pressing steps are an essential part of your sewing and known as under pressing. It is important to press each seam as it is constructed, to shape and mould the fabric as needed, as when fully sewn it is not always possible to go back to press and shape your seams. Even if your end seam finish is that of a closed seam, it should be pressed open first to prevent any ridges or rolls along the seam edge when it is then pressed closed, pressing open first gives a sharper finish to a closed seam.


Hand and machine sewing are both wonderful skills to have, it is not that one is right and the other wrong, or that either is better than the other, both have their place. The important thing is the sewing itself, the joy this brings alongside all the practical and creative applications it has. It is far better to be sewing with a needle and thread, than to be waiting for perfect a machine. Pick up that needle and thread and make something wonderful, enjoy the process, have fun!

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