Beginning Hand Sewing

by Robin on August 10, 2010 in Creativity, Industry, Sewing

Embroidery Sampler

When I was a little girl and would visit with my grandmother who lived next door to us, she would have me thread several needles so that she would have them ready for mending. I love those memories of just sitting next to her and talking about sewing and learning stitches and looking at her weathered hands.

My mother also had a love of sewing and creating things, so I was blessed with a wonderful heritage of sewers. I can only imagine what my great-grandmothers and other ancestors must have created with their hands.

There are so many uses for sewing and I believe it is an important skill to have, even if it all you can do is to sew a button back onto a garment.

But to think beyond buttons: you can hand sew clothing, items for your home, treasures that bring beauty, etc. It can also be a time of bonding between the generations as we sit and use our hands and our words to create and encourage.

To learn to sew by hand is really not hard at all, just like everything else that we learn it is just a matter of taking some time to practice doing it. It seems that young girls are more adventurous in learning than to sew than adult women, so if some of you moms are a little hesitant about your abilities – don’t be! Your daughters will be able to learn from you if you give them the tools, encouragement, and a little training. You may be surprised at how much you learn as well.

Hand Sewing Supplies

Let’s start with some simple supplies. I really like teaching young girls how to sew on felt. Felt is very easy to handle due to its thicker weight and how inexpensive and colorful it is. And you don’t have to put felt in an embroidery hoop because of its thickness.

I like to use embroidery floss to start with – again it is inexpensive and comes in a vast array of colors. For needles, a simple pack of embroidery needles is all that is needed. Also a small pair of sharp scissors would be very handy.

Wrapping Thread Around Embroidery Bobbin

To keep your embroidery floss from becoming a tangled mess, it is best to wind it onto a small floss/thread bobbin. Many times they come in plastic or chipboard and are sold next to the embroidery floss. My favorite is the chipboard because it holds the ends of the floss better and you can write the color number of the floss on it easier. The bobbin in the picture is a plastic one.

To wind the floss on the bobbin slide the labeled wrappers off of the floss and spread the floss open into circle. Slide your hand into the circle and then take the end of the floss and put it through one of the slits in the side of the bobbin then wind evenly around bobbin. Make sure that when you are winding that you don’t pull it tight, just an even tension will work best. When you come to the end tuck the end of the floss into a slit to secure. Make sure you label the bobbin with the color number that was on the wrapper so you will be able to keep track of the color.

Separating Embroidery Floss

The floss is actually 6 strands of thread twisted together. It is easiest and most common to just use 2 strands at a time. Cut off a piece of floss about 18 inches long and then separate two strands from the rest. Sometimes I hold the other end of the floss in my mouth to make it easier (it works for me).

Simply thread the floss into the needle, pull through about 6 to 7 inches and smooth down to begin sewing. If you have trouble getting the two strands to stick together to go into the eye of the needle, simply wet them just a little with your mouth (I know, but it works for me) and they should go right in. Make a knot at the end and you are ready to begin.

This is where you get to play, experiment and practice, like in the top picture. When my girls were little I gave them all the supplies, showed them how to get started and let them have fun. I didn’t have them follow any patterns to start with so they could just practice their stitching, threading, and learning how to deal with their thread getting knotted. I was also close by to help them with the knots and to make sure that they kept their needles and scissors in order.

You need to really stress the importance of keeping their needles in a safe place. Have them get into the habit of putting their needle in the corner of their work, a pin cushion or needlebook. This way they won’t get lost and accidentally hurt someone later.

As they progress you can give them some cotton material that is lighter weight. If they are doing embroidery work use an embroidery hoop to help keep the material taut and smooth.  You can use a hoop with the felt as well, but it isn’t so crucial.

Let your daughters practice different stitches and sewing pieces of material together. Little girls love to make little purses, pillows, quilts. There are so many things to make, just let them be creative and encourage their efforts.

Here are some helpful stitching tutorials.

Stitch diagram

Pocket Stitch pdf

A series of very clear video tutorials on hand-sewing. This link also has videos on sewing on buttons!

I have a few posts on my blog about embroidering that you might find helpful.

Embroidery and Embroidered Ornaments

Here are few posts from my daughters’ blogs on some different hand sewing projects they have done.

Little Dolls, Little Pillow, Adventure Pouch, and for the tireless sewers Yo-Yo Coverlet .

*Don’t be afraid of letting your daughters sew with a needle and using scissors, just stay close by and teach them the importance of using these things in a safe manner!


Married to Rob for 32 years and mother to Breezy and Emily Rose. A sinner saved by Grace, loves making her home a warm and inviting place to live and create in. Maker, gluten-free baker, and manager of several home businesses - Noble Rose Press, Clementine Pattern Co., and The Breezy Tulip Studio. You can find her at her brand new blog

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LaughingLady August 10, 2010

Thank you! This is awesome!! Just recently, my oldest daughter (8-1/2) announced she’d sewn up the rip in her younger sister’s pillow and the stitches were huge and there was no knot and I KNEW it wouldn’t hold for more than 42 seconds, but I loved that she’d tried and done it herself. More than that, I wanted to show her how to properly do it, but I was at a loss for how to start. This post comes at the perfect time for me!! Thank you!

Narelle August 10, 2010

This is excellent! Thanks for the tips…. this makes so much more sense than where I was to be headed 🙂

Susan August 10, 2010

Thank you, Robin, for your encouragement. I have been thinking of this for a while and had never thought of using felt. Will be heading out to pick up some to get started!

Jennifer August 10, 2010

Oh thank you so much for this post!!! When I was young, I had sewers all around me, but I just wasn’t interested in learning. I can remember my great aunt having a group of ladies out in her front yard under the HUGE oak trees, sitting around some kind of quilting table working on quilts, sipping sweet tea out of mason jars. No, I’m not kidding…they really used mason jars. 🙂 I just love that memory!
Now that I’m older I long to know how to sew, and the ladies that could have taught me have now passed. My husband bought me a sewing machine for Christmas, and I have managed to learn to thread it, and made one apron with UGLY stitches. I have no idea what I’m doing, but you’ve given my inspiration. DD (8), and I learned how to crochet last year, and I’m determined for us to learn how to sew.
Thanks for sharing the links!

Renata August 10, 2010

Thanks for sharing this! I hadn’t thought to start my daughter on handsewing, but what a great idea – I think I will. Thanks for the lesson on what to use also – I have very limited experience myself – those links will be very useful
God bless

Lea Ann Garfias August 10, 2010

Great post, Robin, and beautiful pictures. My 9 year old daughter loves doing her handiwork each day. She enjoys following patterns and making things to give to others. I will share your article and links with her later!

Rhonda Devine August 10, 2010

Your sewing tutorials have been wonderful, Robin. Thanks for putting them together to share with everyone.
Love that reminder of putting needles in a safe place–we found more than one needle lodged in the carpet or stuck in the chair from sewing projects~yikes!

CarolHS August 10, 2010

Thanks for sharing! This post reminded me of the times I sat with my mom and embroidered pillow cases. Good memories! I’ve taught my daughter to sew, but right now we are both knitting.

Kalee August 10, 2010

My grandmama spent lots of time teaching me to hand embroider and cross stitch when I was younger. When my other grandmother died (when I was 20), my grandmama hauled out an old dresser scarf that had belonged to my great grandmother but had never been worked on, and had me start follwing the pattern to cross stitch it. She knew that by keeping my hands busy, I could reflect in my own quiet way. I didn’t finish it then, instead this past year when my husband and I would go for coffee I would take it with and work on it next to a fireplace at the restaurant. It’s now a piece that I use for cheese and wine parties.

I think it’s so important to teach girls how to hand stitch (and boys too for that matter, at least buttons and seams). It comes in handy and can be done no matter where you are. A machine is great, but it doesn’t go everywhere with you! Currently I’m trying to handpiece and stitch a quilt, the way my great grandmother did!

Nancy August 10, 2010

Thanks for sharing! I teach a sewing class to 11-12 year olds. There are a few younger sisters that are ready to start. Just last evening another mother and I were discussing what I could do with the beginners. Now I have some ideas!

kelly cooper August 10, 2010

Thank you so much for this. I can sew just a little and would love to teach my daughter. It does seem a little daunting, but we can do it together. =0)

Erin August 10, 2010

I started hand sewing as a young girl. I remember working on projects while watching Anne of Green Gables on television. My daughter started at a young age, too, and it’s such a valuable and FUN skill to have.

I was so excited to see your post today. It is so important that our girls learn these skills at an early age. I have started a group called “The Whatever Girlz” based on Philippians 4:8 and I will be looking to this post as an idea for a group activity, as many of the girls do not know how to sew.

Thank you so much,


Darcy August 10, 2010

Thanks for the great starter tips Robin! Do you think my almost six year old and four 1/2 year old could do this? I’m not familiar with embroidery needles. Are they duller than regular needles?

Robin August 10, 2010

Yes, I think they are old enough. Just be sure to be close by to help.
I think embroidery needles are a little duller than regular sewing needles. Needles used for cross-stitch are even duller, since they are usually used with aida cloth which has tiny holes in it. A good embroidery needle will have a good size eye for threading several strands of floss and will have a sharp tip, but not so sharp that it catches and pokes the skin a lot. Hope that makes sense.

Robin August 10, 2010

Read my post that I linked to above about “when my girls were little” and it may give you some more ideas as well.

Darcy August 10, 2010

Thank you Robin! That was such a sweet, encouraging and helpful article! I have been wanting to learn to sew, but with five little ones under the age of 7 1/2, one being just one month old, and homeschooling I realize it may be a while before I get to it. But I can start my girls with this and one day we hopefully all will be avid sewers!! I appreciate you and so many others taking your time to mentor us mothers with young children. Thank you so much!

Elizabeth August 10, 2010

Thank you so very much for this helpful post of tips and ideas for beginning hand sewing! I found them very helpful and creative. I really enjoy working with embroidery floss–so smooth and easy to work with if it isn’t tangled!
I just love those embroidered ornaments you made last year–truly delightful!

So…thanks for sharing!
Joyfully in Jesus,

Jenn August 10, 2010

I am SO thankful you shared this! Next Thursday we begin homeschoooling our oldest (6yrs) and I had planned to incorporate some handwork. I did not learn on felt and that would have made things much easier. I can’t wait to check out the links listed at the bottom of the post! Thank you for sharing!

Mama Mirage August 10, 2010

Hmmm… I had started my 3 1/2 year old with a regular needle & thread and a piece of paper. Felt would have been lots easier for her to poke than paper. Great idea! I will have to get some. 🙂 Thanks!

Tracey August 10, 2010

This is SO helpful!! I’m not much of a seamstress myself so hopefully my daughters and I can try this together.

Abby August 10, 2010

What a great post! My 4 year old daughter is very interested in sewing right now. We spent the afternoon making little pigs (a la Jillian Jiggs) with her sitting on my lap and helping to make the stitches. Maybe I’ll give her some felt to work with tomorrow…

Amy August 10, 2010

Oh I remember learning how to embroider and sew! Wonderful memories!

his.talmidat August 11, 2010

This is great! I learned things here and there growing up, but now that I have 2 (almost 3) of my own, I’m really eager to learn. This will be fun, I love tutorials, thank you!

Mrs. June Fuentes August 11, 2010

What a great post! My daughters and I so loved the embroidery on the walls on your home when we visited, I think that we will plan an embroidery project for our school this year to make sure we get time to indulge in this beautiful domestic art. We will be sure to use this post as a helpful tutorial. Hope to see you and your wonderful family again soon….:)

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