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Design & Style

Hand Sewing vs. Machine Sewing: Pros and Cons

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 6 min read

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Marc Jacobs Teaches Fashion Design

You can achieve many of the same results whether stitching by hand or machine, but each technique also has some pros and cons. Most sewing patterns are designed to be sewn by machine, while most embroidery patterns are designed to be done by hand. Here are some sewing tips for when and why to tackle your sewing projects by hand or with a machine.

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Marc Jacobs Teaches Fashion DesignMarc Jacobs Teaches Fashion Design

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What Are the Benefits of Sewing by Hand?

Hand stitching is a great option for precise and decorative stitches. Learn how to sew by hand in our guide here.

  • Great for beginners: All you need to sew by hand is a needle and single thread. It doesn’t take any advanced technology, expensive machinery, or fancy skills. It’s a great introduction to sewing for beginners to learn about stitch construction. While there are more complicated by-hand stitches, all you need to know how to do a basic running stitch is thread the needle and tie a knot on the end.
  • Portable: For many hand-sewing projects, you can bring your sewing with you, whether you’re travelling or just want to get a few extra stitches in on your morning commute. While it’s pretty impossible to lug a sewing machine wherever you go, many hand sewing projects, particularly embroidery, can be carried around.
  • Meditative: Part of the joys of sewing by hand is the act of sewing itself. (This can be true of machine sewing as well.) There is something calming and meditative about taking up a needle and thread and sewing by hand.
  • Precision: Hand sewing gives you the most control, hence why it is great for smaller projects, decoration, and repairs. You can choose exactly where the stitches go, the length of the stitches, and exactly how you want to attach fabric. There are also many different types of hand stitches you can use from diagonal stitches with whipstitch to the decorative edge stitch blanket stitch.

What Are the Disadvantages of Hand Sewing?

  • Inconsistency: There is no way to make all hand stitches the same length and distance apart, and while sewing by hand can often offer more precision, the exactness of the stitches will never be the same as a machine-sewn item.
  • Time-consuming: There’s no doubt about it -- sewing by hand takes a lot of time. What can take only a matter of seconds on a sewing machine can often take hours when done by hand.
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What Types of Projects Are Best-Suited to Hand Sewing?

  • Repairs: Sewing by hand allows you a lot of control so if you’re looking to repair a small rip or reattach a button, sewing by hand is the way to go.
  • Embroidery and cross-stitch: Decorative stitches like chain stitch, backstitch, and whipstitch are only achievable by hand. While many sewing machines have embroidery functions, many sewing hobbyists find doing embroidery fun and appreciate the imprections often inherent in a hand-embroidered piece. Curl up with a cup of tea and enjoy a hand-sewn embroidery project.
  • Attaching patches or appliqués: Whether you want a new patch on your backpack or jeans or you’re applying a decorative appliqué, hand sewing is the best option here, as you have the most control to attach the item in the way you want.
  • Invisible stitching: If you’re looking to attach a lining, sew on a quilt binding, or just do some hemming, sewing by hand can help you achieve the most seamless and invisible stitches.
  • Buttons and zippers: While buttonholes need to be sewn by machine, buttons are usually attached by hand, as it is much easier. Zippers can be attached by machine with a special presser foot, but hand-sewing is also a great option for making sure the zipper placement is exact and the seam is less visible.
  • Baste fabric: Basting is the process of temporarily attaching to pieces of fabric. This helps when the fabric is slippery, like silk and rayon, and might slide under the presser foot and potentially warp the seams. While a basting stitch can be done on the machine by increasing the stitch length, a simple straight running stitch done by hand can easily baste pieces of fabric together.

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What Are the Benefits of Using a Sewing Machine?

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While the basics of sewing by machine and sewing by hand remain consistent—it requires a needle and thread—there are many differences to machine sewing. For one, in machine sewing, there are separate threads used, a top thread from a spool and a bottom thread from the bobbin. Some machines have a needle threader, while others require the sewing to thread by hand. Machine needles are different than hand sewing needles, and some machines require different needles to attach to the mechanism.

  • Faster: There’s no doubt that sewing by machine takes far less time than sewing by hand. You can finish machine sewn seams in a matter of seconds.
  • Convenient: Once you get a hang of how to use your sewing machine—threading the bobbin, using the presser foot, etc.—machine sewing is extremely convenient and a great way to complete projects of all sizes. You just need to learn the set up first.
  • Professional: Sewing machines afford a level of professionalism with stitch length and stitch width that is hard to achieve when sewing by hand. A straight lockstitch, the most common mechanical stitch, can only be achieved on a machine, for example. While hand sewing might be better for small precise projects like buttons, machine sewing with get you the most exact straight line possible. Many sewing machines also offer several different stitch patterns.

What Are the Disadvantages of Machine Sewing?

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  • Cost: New home sewing machines can be quite expensive, though some cheaper, lower-quality versions exist on the market For more advanced and professional sewers, a serger, a machine that creates locking stitches to finish seams and fabric edges, can add to the cost.
  • Learning curve: It can take a while to learn how to use your sewing machine. From experimenting with different stitches to threading the machine, and learning to manage both the spool to the bobbin thread, it takes some practice to master machine sewing techniques. It’s a good idea to take a class or have a friend or family member show you the ropes. Also, make sure to read the instruction manual so you know the ins and outs of your machine to avoid mistakes or potential injury.
  • Less control: Yes you can get professional level stitches, but it can be slightly more difficult to control your stitch placement with a machine. Advanced sewers that have been working with their machine for years definitely have more control than beginners, but it often takes a lot of practice to achieve perfection on a sewing machine.

Which Types of Projects Are Best-Suited to a Sewing Machine?

  • Garment sewing: You can definitely sew a garment by hand, but it will take a while and the seams won’t look as professional and clean as they would on a machine. Sewing machines allow you the zigzag stitch for finishing off seams, which keeps them from fraying, and a clean straight stitch to give your item the best look.
  • Quilting: Seam allowances, the distance between the seam and the raw edge of the fabric, are crucial in quilting, as a consistent seam allowance will make sure all of your patchwork squares and triangles line up perfectly. Machine sewing allows you to calculate the seam allowance.
  • Buttonholes: Sewing a buttonhole by hand is an unnecessarily difficult undertaking, because of the precision, tiny size, and exactness of the stitches required. Sewing machines, on the other hand, deliver neat, exact buttonholes (when calibrated properly).

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