Hand sewing upholstery
April 4, 2011
One of the main reasons I got into upholstery was to take a break from sewing. I thought that it was all mashing tacks with mallets and tack hammers. I knew it would be a good way to vent frustration. And it is 90% tack mashing but thankfully there is that 10% of sewing. The small bit of sewing is like closure. You spend weeks pounding and yanking on a piece and if that was just the end of it, it would be like a Hollywood Blockbuster ending with a huge fight scene and explosion. The small bits of hand sewing wrap up your project and give me a chance to focus on the details instead of the big picture of pattern matching and yardages. This focus on detail is really gives the finished piece its polish.
One of the secrets to successful upholstery is carefully placed tucks and folds, but tacks alone do not always hold these in place or hold them flat to give a polished look. Often you need some hand sewing to blend these tucks or folds. Or you might need some scrolls, or add a section highlighted by piping, there are many reasons to need hand sewing on your upholstery work. Hand sewing upholstery can be tricky but for the most part it is easy. I prefer to do all of my work with curved upholstery needles. Curved needles are excellent at getting into tight spaces: deep corners, crevices between cushions and awkward lines. Curved needles are pretty slippery, so I often wear a leather thimble to help with grip or you can try a pair of cotton garden gloves (the pattern in Weekend Sewing makes a good fit). Wearing something with a little friction can help your grip on the curved needle. Matching thread is also important, but an exact match is not that big of a deal; most of your stitch will be hidden (Note- I used bright white thread for pictures purposes only).
I hide my knot with my first stitch by coming in backwards. My needle enters about ½ in from the end I am starting at and exits right where I want to start my seam. I recommend using a doubled strand when hand sewing to make your seams strong. If your tuck, fold or fabric pieces are not 100% secured with tacks, you can use T-pins to hold your piece in place while you focus on sewing. I like to take bigger stitches than for clothing or toys, about ¼ in. to ½ in. from one stitch to the next. Applying your stitches is much like adding a blind hem, you just want to catch the edge of your fabric so your tucks or fold lay flat and your stitches stay hidden. Line up your stitches and pull your thread tight after each stitch to make sure your path looks good. You don't need to hold your stitches tight after each but pulling them tight to check each one will help you make tiny adjustments as you go so you don't have to rip out at the end. I also like to hide my end knot in between cushions or behind piping if I can. Always double secure your knots so they won't pull out.Man, that looks so much better!
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