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Six Hand-Sewing Essentials for Belly Dancers

Every performing dancer should have a sewing kit handy for doing minor repairs, replacing hooks and eyes, and putting in fresh lining pieces to their belt.  Although I’m a professional seamstress, I find myself always reaching for a small box with just my hand-sewing essentials.

Bees Wax

Probably my most essential product is beeswax.  It serves as a conditioner, that prevents the thread from twisting on itself, getting bunched up, or even knotting. It literally will cut my sewing times by significantly reducing the hassle time.  I like to support my local community by purchasing cakes of wax from the honey vendor at my local farmer’s market.  But you can buy wax from the fabric and craft stores or at myriad places online.

Hot Tip:  I like to pre-load a number of needles and run them through the cake of wax and then hit them with a hot iron.  This helps the wax penetrate the thread and the needles are ready to just quickly grab as I work.  Batch prepping saves time.

Needle Puller

Hand sewing through buckram, my favorite supportive inner layer, can be tough.  Add a couple of layers of interfacing, fleece, fashion fabric and embellishments, your hands can get a serious workout!  So enter the silicone needle puller.  These small textured round disks add grip to your fingertips, allowing you to more easily grab and pull stuck needles.

Hot Tip:  For those most intense stuck needles, I keep a jewelry-making plier in my kit. I prefer a smooth needle-nose variety that won’t damage the surface of my needle when I pull.  Most of the time, the silicon circle does the trick, but for those moments when I need it, the pliers are there!

Small Scissors

As many of you know, I’m a historian by education. So I love this nod to the past with a pair of tiny vintage-looking embroidery scissors. Small scissors to cut threads are essential, but I recommend if you sew a lot, pick the tools that make you happy.  I find this pair to be a visual delight!

Hot Tip:  When I’m pressed for time and have a lot of sewing to do, I pick a different tool.  Thread snips don’t require putting a finger into rings and the dual action of opening and closing the hand.  Instead, it’s a quick and easy, grab-and-squeeze action.  While this might not save a lot of time on single cuts, if you’re working on a big or fast project, this is the tool to choose.

Thimbles

I always use a thimble when I sew.  The goal is to have a firm surface on your “pushing” finger, which for me is the middle finger of my right hand. A good thimble protects the surface of your finger and gives you a solid surface to really push you thimble through.  It can take some practice, but once you get the hang of it, it can make hand sewing both more comfortable and less tiring. My favorite is the Dritz “Slip Stop” thimble.

Hot Tip: Assemble a thimble wardrobe to suit a variety of situations and needs.  I personally like a silicone thimble for easy sewing.  For heavy-duty sewing through buckram and grosgrain, I use a metal thimble with a ridged tip.  Some seamstresses prefer leather.  Have long nails?  Get a thimble ring instead. There are many to choose from and they are fairly small and affordable.

Needles

If you are first starting out sewing, or a road warrior who takes their projects to events, keeping a good all-purpose needle kit. Pick a kit with a variety of styles and sizes of needles.  When you’ve been hand sewing for a while, you might have determined you have a favorite style.  For instance, I prefer to sew with milliners needles which tend to be longer, have a slightly bigger eye, and are quite flexible.  I also have learned to buy quality and prefer the rather posh brands, John James and Richard Hemming.

Hot Tip: Play with every needle in the pack.  Ignore the “titles” of the needles and figure out what needle is best for you.  When you’ve determined what style, size, and a needle company you like, you can buy individual kits containing just your favorite and most-used style.  Then refill your big kit and go.

Thread

Last, but by no means least, buy the best quality thread you can afford.  Cheaper and older spools of thread are less supple and break easily.  When I’m hand-sewing belly dance costumes I do the bulk of my sewing with either “upholstery” or “button and carpet” thread for speed, strength, and overall durability.  While you might not want to spend more money on specialty thread, it will save you sewing time and make your costume stronger.

Hot Tip: One of the sewing lessons I learned working in professional theater is to keep a spectrum of grey thread in the styles I prefer in stock.  Match the shade of grey tonally to your costume color.  So pale grey with yellow, charcoal grey with deep blue, etc…

Handy Storage Box

I like to keep my hand sewing kit in a small portable box that I can quickly grab and go.  I do hand-sewing not only at my main worktable, but also at my desk, on the kitchen table, and even at events.  In addition to the items listed above, I also have an assortment of safety pins, stick pins, fabric clips, and a few hooks and eyes.  Customize your box to suit the size of your individual tools and project needs.

And see that wooden handle in the box? That’s actually a custom-made seam ripper made by my brother Joe of Wicked Mojo Designs.  I love it and I’m totally biased!

I hope this rundown of supplies will help you get your own effective hand-sewing kit set up and ready to support your adventures in costuming!

Happy Dance and Costuming!
Dawn Devine ~ Davina

March 16, 2020

 

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