This week marks the publication of a book that we have been anticipating since we first got wind of it.
It’s not a book about knitting, but it’s useful to knitters when they have to sew (as when seaming the pieces of a sweater together), or when they want to sew (to embellish a knitted piece with embroidery). This book is for anyone who sews stitches by hand.
The Geometry of Hand-Sewing: A Romance in Stitches and Embroidery from Alabama Chanin and The School of Making is a groundbreaking classic.
Natalie Chanin and her colleagues at The School of Making have been practicing and teaching hand-sewing and embroidery stitches for many years. They are good at it.
Along the way, they had an epiphany: all stitches, whether simple or complex, are based on a grid. When you break a stitch down into a grid, everything is simple. Anyone can learn.
The Geometry of Hand-Sewing is a covered-spiral bound book that lies flat, the better to stare at it, threaded needle in hand, until you get a stitch absolutely down in your mind. It contains detailed—simple, clear, and visual—instructions on over 100 stitches.
Bound into the back of the book are plastic grids with holes that you can use to practice stitches (like we used to in kindergarten with lacing cards), or you can transfer the grid directly onto the fabric you are sewing, to use as a guide.
The Geometry of Hand-Sewing shows you how to work each stitch from left to right and also from right to left, and it shows you how the stitch looks on the wrong side as well as the right side. I have never seen a book do this before.
Like all the Alabama Chanin books, The Geometry of Hand-Sewing is stunning in the elegance of its design and photography. It does the heart good to see so much editorial talent and care applied to elevate the craft of sewing.
I’m an avid School of Making maker. For years, I’ve done just fine when the stitch is running stitch or backstitch, but had to resort to many methods for remembering how to do more rarely used, but necessary stitches, like Cretan Stitch. (Cretan Stitch is used at Alabama Chanin to sew binding onto necklines and armholes; it’s a finishing touch of such haute couture perfection that I long to emulate it on my DIY garments.) I’ve also struggled to do stitches that I know how to do, like Satin Stitch, but that I can’t seem to get quite right because my technique is too scattershot.
That’s all over now. No more searching in my Alabama Chanin books and trying to remember where I saw a particular stitch, and no more YouTube tutorial roulette.
I’ve got the book.
Showing Is Better Than Telling
After spending a beautiful afternoon with the book, and stitching a little from it, I realized that it would be hard to explain why it’s a breakthrough.
But very easy to show. All it takes is to see how the book teaches a few stitches, and the light goes on: you get it.
So I asked the publisher if we could give our readers an excerpt. They said yes! (They are sweet that way.)
With thanks to Natalie and her publisher, Abrams, we are delighted to present instructions from The Geometry of Hand-Sewing for three stitches:
Parallel Satin Stitch.
(It’s pure coincidence that the first two are personally challenging to me.)