Sewing is a fundamental skill for life. In almost every household, the girl learnt from the mother and grandmother how to stitch. In the more affluent homes, girls were taught by the governess the more decorative arts of embroidery, tapestry and lace making for example, as a way to occupy their time. In poorer homes, villages and amongst indigenous peoples, sewing was and still is, how they made their clothes, the very fabric being made from the fleece of their animals and the fibres from plants. Dressmakers and seamstresses were from the so called lower classes. It was their life’s blood, their income and therefore a skill for life.
Hand sewing is considered as one of the oldest of the textile arts. Stone age people sewed together furs and skins using bone, antler and ivory as needles with sinews and veins as threads to create clothing and more. It has been traced back some 25,000 years and could be more. The weaving of cloth from natural fibres originated in the Middle East around 4000BC and the sewing of cloth accompanied this development. Thousands of years and many centuries passed before the sewing machine made its way into homes. The first was patented in 1790 by Thomas Saint and by the early 19th century, other machines began to follow. The textile industry was born during the Industrial Revolution and Issac Singer introduced his first machine in the 1850’s. I wonder what he would have to say about his legacy now.
Hand sewing is still practised around the world and is associated with couture fashion, high quality tailoring and custom dressmaking. Think Saville Row in London, haute couture houses like Christian Dior, Iris Van Herpen, Jean Paul Gaultier, Elie Saab, Karl Largerfeld, Coco Chanel, Armani, Givenchy, Alexander McQueen and Louis Vuitton and you will note that many are men.
During the middle ages,clothing was so expensive that women had the task of extending the lifespan of clothes by mending, reusing, repurposing and by whatever means they could come up with. Lace was added to cuffs, collars and hems for example. The profession of tailoring dates back to the middle ages too where men were fitted with skillfully made undergarment to protect the body from armour and chain mail. These would have been men and traditionally tailoring is the work of men.
“Quality for comfort, hemmed in bondage, seaming for profit, embroidered for enjoyment: hand sewing has stitched together humanity.”
As a community we need to reconnect to the past through needle and thread. History shows us what feats our hands are capable of with practice, patience and care. Dressmakers who recreate historical costumes, do so entirely by hand. Milliners create gorgeous headpieces entirely by hand. Embroidery is all done by hand. There are many crafts that employ hand sewing as the main method of working.
Couture is any fashion piece that is handmade and one of a kind.
Haute Couture is the creation of exclusive custom fitted high end fashion that is constructed by hand from start to finish.
Whilst the sewing machine should have its place in every home, first it is essential to learn the craft of hand sewing as it is the backbone of every item you will make.