Twig + Tale Storytellers: A Hand-Sewing Experiment

We're so pleased to welcome Storyteller Carolyn Osorio back to the Twig + Tale blog.  This month, Carolyn shares an experiment in incorporating hand sewing into a Driftwood Dress - what her process looked like, how the experience felt, and what it's like to wear a finished garment that has had so much time and attention put into it.  We love her experimental, flexible approach, mixing machine and hand stitching to create a memorable and meaningful garment.  

A few months ago, I was fortunate to write about my experience of moving internationally for the T+T Storytellers' Sustainability theme and now, roughly six months after the boxes were first packed, the move is still not quite finished.  As with all moves, you're never exactly sure where you last saw something, and even if you swear you remember what box something was in, it never seems to be there anymore.  It's been quite a process and in the midst of all of this, I made the decision to live bicoastally for the forseeable future to ensure I don't miss out on any more precious time with my mom.

This decision presented new challenges as I attempted to outfit a secondary sewing room on the West Coast of the US.  When I first discussed the theme Experiment with the folks at Twig + Tale (back in March) I had no clear idea or timeline for when I might have my sewing things again.  Plus, at the time, I was pretty sure I would move to the East Coast full-time.  In this way, my whole life is currently a bit of an experiment and the timing of this month's theme feels more meaningful than I could have predicted.

The process

Since I couldn't guarantee my sewing machine's availability, my original concept for the Experiment theme was to entirely hand sew a T+T garment.  With that being said, moving changes, a new job, and, well, life, had other ideas for me.  

I utilized the Driftwood Blouse and Dress pattern for this project but made some adjustments to the pattern.  Instead of using the gathered skirt piece in the existing pattern, I elongated the hemline of my blouse.  I then slash-and-spread the bodice of a more A-line silhouette.  (Since my (far more official) tracing paper was in a box on the East Coast while I worked on this project from the West Coast, I ended up repurposing packing paper to keep my Frankenstein's monster of a pattern together for this step.  Forgive me.).  It was fun to tinker with the pattern in this way, and I love the looser, more smock-like silhouette I ended up with.

I also shifted gears on my physical sewing technique plan by allowing myself to machine sew and overlock key seams of the garment (namely the side seams and sleeve/shoulder seams) before hand sewing all of the finishes (including the bias neckline, sleeve cuff band, neckline facing, and hem).  Being in the Northern Hemisphere for this June/July project, I went with pale pink eyelet gauze fabric for optimum breathability in the summer heat.  

I wanted a nod back to my Sustainability post from a few months ago, so I found a secondhand deadstock Italian embroidery thread in ombre shades of pink (rightfully dubbed Flamingo) to ensure my hand-sewing stitches would not only be visible, but memorable.  I also decided that I wanted a more oversized and obvious stitch.  I didn't go with anything particularly fancy, a simple whip stitch, but I did keep the scale on the larger side so it would be more visible.  The oversized stitches add to the kind of folksy look of the garment and I was really pleased with how the ombre nature of the thread added some extra dimension.

I ended up loving this blend of easier and faster machine sewing with the dutiful, and decidedly slower, hand-sewing finishing stitches.  It not only made this project a unique blend of different kinds of sewing but also different parts of myself.  Over a decade ago, I worked in the fashion industry and one of my favorite things to do back then was sit with a garment and hand-sew it for hours (and hours).  However, as I've gotten older I've increasingly felt less willing to sit down and give the time to hand sewing that I used to.  Even though I still enjoy it, it always feels like there is something else I should be doing or some more efficient way to spend my time.  It oftentimes feels easier to enjoy the expediency of a machine-sewn garment and the immediate joy it brings over the slower burn of a hand-sewn garment.  This project helped me realize how much I want to get out of this mode of thinking.

Final thoughts

There is something truly special about hand-sewing a garment and the special care you have to bring to the process.  Yes, it takes longer, but there is also a different sense of accomplishment at the end of your hard work.  Your relationship to the garment (or blanket, bag, accessory, etc.) is altered by the sheer amount of time it spent in your hands.  This experiment helped me not only get back to my hand-sewing roots but also opened up a new world to me about how I can combine these two sewing styles within a project.  Creating an experimental fusion of these two parts of my sewing practice feels like a realization I'm ashamed I didn't make sooner, but am excited to continue to explore.  

That my current life circumstances should also be a kind of experiment, still determining its new boundaries and possibilities, brought more to this project than I had intended, and for that I'm grateful.  Despite the accidental nature of the overlap, I'm proud to say that this dress reflects the Experiment theme in more than one way and I'm excited to share it with all of you here. 

You can see more of Carolyn's work here.  


Read more articles from the Twig + Tale Storytellers here.