Sunday, 13 January 2013

Left-handed sewing

Some months ago at a vintage fair I came across a book from the 1950s or 1960s. I can't remember the title, but it was something to do with left-handed sewing. As I'm left-handed, I had to have a look.

It turned out to be a guide for home economics teachers, on how to teach left-handed children to sew. The introduction began with the words,
"With the correct tuition, there is no reason why the left-handed child cannot learn to sew as well as her right-handed classmates."

Humph! The cheek of it. I didn't buy the book.

Most of my sewing tuition came from my (right-handed) mum, and I don't remember having any problems swapping over what she taught me to the other hand. In fact, the only things which I can really recall as troubling me were certain embroidery stitches, especially French knots and bullion knots, which just came out as flat stitches (more on this later).

It's just as well that I was able to manage, as most sewing books give very little thought to left-handers, beyond the 'hold a mirror next to page' approach. Really? By the time I've got the book in one hand and a mirror in the other how, exactly, am I going to hold fabric and a needle?

Some years ago Mr Tulip spotted Sally Cowan's Left-Handed Sewing in a bookshop, and bought it for me. Although only a slim volume, it contains instructions and diagrams for a number of hand sewing stitches, plus other useful information. For example, I had never noticed that the cutting layout diagrams on commercial patterns are laid out with the assumption that you will be pinning from right to left, so the pieces tend to have the wider end to the right and the narrower end to the left.

There seems to be some debate over whether sewing machines are left or right-handed. One theory is that as both Elias Howe and Isaac Singer  (the inventors of the sewing machine) were left-handed, they designed their machines to use their less dominant right hand to crank the machine while the left hand did the fine dexterous work. Other people claim that machines were designed so that the stronger, right hand did the hard work of cranking. I've no idea which is correct, but I can't imagine using a machine with the balance wheel on the left and the needle on the right. A few early machines for specialist work such as glove-making were made this way, and to me they just look so, so wrong.

'Left-handed' sewing machine.Scary!

The one thing which left-handers really do need for anything which involves cutting cloth is a proper pair of scissors. Most left-handed scissors have the blades arranged the same way or ordinary scissors, but with the handles moulded to be held in the left hand.

Left-handed scissors (bottom) with blades aligned the same way as ordinary household scissors, and snips

Most people will find these scissors to be perfectly effective, and they have the advantage that they can be sharpened using a normal scissor sharpener. However the pressure of your hand means that the blades will be at a very slight angle to one another. True left-handed scissors have the blades transposed, like these ones from Morplan.

True left-handed scissors (bottom)

In the long run these are more comfortable to use. However you do have to learn how to use them, as the transposed blades mean that the cutting edge is several millimetres away from where you expect it to be. Practise first on some scrap fabric before you use them to cut out anything important.

After scissors, this is my best left-handed find ever!

Left-handed measuring tape

A left-handed tape measure really is one of those things which you didn't realise you needed but once you've got one, you can't imagine how you coped without it. It's natural for me to hold the end of a tape measure in my right hand and pull it out with my left; getting this little wonder from Anything Left-Handed put an end to having to read the numbers upside down!

Finally though, back to the embroidery stitches. While checking out the links for this post I came across "The Left-Handed Embroiderer's Companion" by Yvette Stanton. This may finally be the answer to my problems with bullion knots, so I'm going to order a copy.

Left-handed knitting, though. Now that is a different matter altogether.

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