The Lost Art of Hand Sewing

hand sewingConsidered as one of the oldest kinds of textile arts, hand sewing started during the Paleolithic Age, when Stone Age people made clothes out of fur and skin.  We published an article recently tracing the origins of sewing back over 25,000 years to the very beginning.

I Love You with All My Needles

In another of our recent articles examined the sewing revolution and how sewing has changed since the invention of the sewing machine and the ready-to-wear clothing market to the present day.

The Sewing Revolution

In this article we look at the time in between, when complex and beautiful garments we constructed by hand often over weeks and months of painstaking effort and what of that art still exists today in the form of the Haute Couture fashion industry.

hand sewingHand sewing became a popular art and craft for thousands of years largely until the invention of the sewing machine in the 1900’s.  The late part of the 20th century witnessed the mass production of machine sewn objects and consequently, there was a decline in the production of hand-sewn garments.  Today, hand sewing is mostly done only for high-quality tailoring and Haute Couture fashion. It is also still alive among textile artists and hobbyists who express their art through hand sewing.  And it is Haute Couture that is considered as a truly fine art.

Hand Sewing in Haute Couture

Literally, Haute Couture in French translates to “sewing at a high level”.  Charles Frederick Worth, the Father of Haute Couture lived during the reign of Napoleon III in the 19th Century, and Empress Eugenie was one of his high-end clients.  He used only the finest fabrics like muslin or toile, which are mostly made of natural fiber.  Tailored fit to individual customers, Worth’s garments used fabrics pieced for design and they were mostly sewn by hand.

hand sewing

Everett Historical /
Imagine sewing a 19th Century gown completely by your own hands!  Think of the time and effort it would take.  Hand sewing, however, was the standard then because there was still no sewing machine at that time.  And today, couture artists still prefer hand sewing because of its precision and delicacy as opposed to sewing by machine.  Using historical stitches and fine fabrics, couture artists hand sew and piece together garments to create that special historical or exclusive look.

Because fabrics were prohibitively expensive in the old days, garments were pieced together to economize.  Labor, on the other hand, was cheap, so every bit of fabric was used and practically nothing was wasted.  Collars for gentlemen’s coats were pieced at the corner and sleeves and trims were pieced to the ladies’ gowns.  The construction of garments also involved piecing where stripes were cut, rearranged or re-seamed, and small pieces added to produce a new look.  The result is a unique and pleasing aesthetic that is characteristic of the Old World fashion style.

Although hand sewing garments is nowhere near as popular as ages ago, a select group of fashion designers invites fashion editors, celebrities and members of the super-rich to a week-long fashion show in Paris to showcase their Haute Couture collections.  These clothes cost from $25,000 to a million and can take as long as 700 hours of hand sewing, embellishing, bedecking and embroidering to create.  Characterized by lavish fabrics, historic dressmaking and precise tailoring, the presentation of Haute Couture collections are important events in the fashion industry. And it is the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in Paris that gives permission to label collections as such.

hand sewingHaute Couture, however, suffers from a diminishing clientele largely because of its exorbitant prices.  Over the past century, the number of couture houses has already declined significantly. Does this mean that we are losing the art of hand sewing?  There is a small group of hand sewists who are giving the art a revival of sorts and hopefully, their tribe will increase.  And because of them, we cannot definitely say that hand sewing is a lost art.

Do you still practice hand sewing?  Please share your experiences in the comments below.

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With my experience, i’m finding most adult women would rather go to a store for their outfits…. The young teenage ladies are the ones that wants to learn how to sew and how to operate a sewing machine . Sewing is not a lost art afterall. Keep up the good work. Joanie

Julie Gilbert
Julie Gilbert

I love hand sewing and have just finished a shirt for myself. Usually when I hand see I do the button holes on the sewing machine, this time I did all the button holes by hand all 17 of them.

Angie Partridge

I have hand sewn 2 single quilts from heritage fabrics and am on my 3rd for the last of my 3 daughters. Every stitch is hand sewn.

I also LOVE the work of Alabama Chanin and am also in process of sewing a skirt in this style… will add small beads once I have finished the first layers. I have spent a year so far.

I like the machine for things I have to do, but my hand sewing is a meditation and as previously said, it’s portable


I thought myself to hand sew making my sister’s doll clothes. I’m now 69 and love hand-sewing.

Lenora Sikes
Lenora Sikes

I began handsewing as an 8 year old, wanting a new wardrobe for my Barbie . Unable to convince my mom to spend money on a new wardrobe. I set out to make my own. My mom told my grandmother of my endivor and she took it up on herself to teach me. Under her tooledge I learned to handsewing just about everything. doilies, hankies, baby blankets, dolls and doll clothes, pot holders, couch covers, placemats. Since then I have found hand sewing cloth body dolls so much easier than machine sewing. Those tiny seams, and tight corners come out so much smoother and neater when handsewn. Currently I am hand sewing a queen size quilt top, block by block, as a carry with me project while providing child care for two daughters. I came up with this idea after layering and finishing a quilt top a friend sent me that her great aunt had handsewn together. It was beautiful. I realized I could do the same. I didn’t have to shelve my projects till this season of child care was over.


Yes, I like to sit down & get lost in embroidery. On the other hand, taking up a hem can put me in a mood. I’m short, so whether I buy slacks,skirt or dress – I know the hem will have to be taken up. I have a new plain blouse which just might end up with a peacock on it.


I enjoy hand-sewing because it is a slow and calm process. It is sometimes quicker to make a repair with needle and thread instead of setting up the sewing machine.