My two cents.
I am putting an elastic on my middle finger, similar to the method taught by Jeffereyd in his blog. He used to tie a ribbon around his middle finger, I was luck enough to fine and elastic that fit my size, nice!
I found this to be a good thing, i have the tendency to keep the fingers a bit too "open", and the result is that you don't have control and accuracy on the job.
Another thing, already said but you know, "repetita juvant", is that you have to work on a straight surface, not holding the cloth and stuff suspended in the air. Apart from giving a messy perception of the whole thing, I found that even the stitches suffer a lot! They become less regular and even more difficult to be made themselves. I was hand stitching just five minutes ago, on my scrap cloth, near the table, on my legs. I found that some stitches were regular and some other don't. I found that those who were good were the ones done on the leg and the others were made in some kind of semi suspended, on hand messy way.
Hope it helps
(sorry for my bad english again)
I was taught to hand sew in the same manner. It is not because you need to "weaken" the muscle or whatever, it's purpose is merely to teach the apprentice to sew with his THIMBLE finger rather than use any other finger (which is tempting when you start out)
By securing the thimble you learn how to keep your hand in the proper position in order to hand sew correctly. After a while you can take it off since your muscles will have adapted to holding your hand in the proper way.
to the OP:
When I started out I got some scraps of cloth, first only learning to do the sewing motion. So just a small piece of thread a needle and your thimble and only the movement was important. After doing that for 3 full working days straight (I was not allowed to do anything else) I was told to start with the running stitch. practice practice practice; then on to the backstitch. Again, practice practice practice. then on to another stitch. It was all I was allowed to do for about a month 5 days a week.
Suggestions would be to use a rather thick cloth; fuse it perhaps because it simplifies working as all you will want to focus on now is getting the "muscle memory" to learn exactly how to FORM these stitches rather then apply them to different sitiations.
Also use dark cloths, and a rather thick, white thread; i even used basting thread for a while. This allows you to better SEE what you do and allows you to form the stitches in a better way since it is more apparent if you don't do it correctly.
How to go from there is again just practice practice practice. As sator said, it is imperative that you start applying the skill you just learnt into a real situation, ie put it into practice. It's like with school; you learn all these things and when you come out of school you still don't know sh*t because you haven't applied the knowledge in a real situation.
At some point perhaps you want to make an interlining for a suit; just go at it. Don't expect it to work out but it's good practice nonetheless. Since pad-stitching a cancas includes ALOT of hand sewing it is probably one of the best ways to go from there; it is the most continuous practice you can get with hand sewing and also allows you to develop a feel for how cloth and canvas react to your movement; you learn how to handle the cloth in different situations.
As the months(yes, months.) progress you will gain more confidence and more speed in hand-sewing. If something doesn't work on the machine (ie you cant figure out how to do it properly) hand sewing always works very well. When I started making shirts a lot of the seams (flat-felled seams) were very hard to do with the machine with the little experience I had. After failing miserably many times I finally tried to do it with the hand; not only did that work because my hand sewing skills became very good before I started making garments. Doing it by hand, it also helped me UNDERSTAND the seam, which is really important. Nowadays for customers I still prefer to do it by hand because in my opinion it just makes a much nicer garment both visually and technically, but that's another point entirely.
Also as other people have said this is not learnt in a weekend. or a month, or maybe even half a year. You will keep developing for a very, very long while. That however does NOT mean that you can't start applying the skill you already have.
Sewing by hand is like the foundation of a house. Miss one of the foundations and your house will collapse. It is the most important thing of all in tailoring. Even if you do not use any handwork in making your garments you should always know how to sew by hand because as I said, if something doesn't work out you can fall back on that hand-sewing skill. Then by doing the seam by hand you will start understanding the seam and when you return to do it by machine it will now work out. Also when starting with pattern matching, basting is like the be all and end all of the result. Fail to properly baste it and you will not line up the seams correctly to match the patterns.
So after the initial stage, just go at it. Try stuff. Use the forum as a guideline, try different things out and see where you end up. If you do not have a teacher to learn you the trade pretty much all you can do is try, try try and fail miserably each and every time. But failing will help you to get where you want to be; you fall and you stand up and after a while you won't fall anymore, or well you will fall but you won't fall as hard.
Also what I want to say is that you shouldn't take everything that's written very literally. A lot of the books, guides and whatever explain how you need to do something but in the end you always end up doing it in your own way. You need to grasp the essence of what needs to be done and then do it in the way you feel is best. Following the instruction word by word is good the first time but you will realise that sometimes it is not explained correctly or the description is incomplete.
A hand-stitch or well not really a hand-stitch but more a technique that one forgets alot in the beginning and which is very important going further into your tailoring journey is learning how to full in a larger piece of cloth onto a smaller piece of cloth. I wish I would've learnt that a little earlier but again by falling and standing up you learn.
So there is no pre-determined timeframe in which you will "learn" hand sewing. Just practice!
edit: some answers to your direct questions:
*What kind of thread? Cotton or silk? Should I use beeswax?
As I said try a basting thread or a rather thick thread in the beginning as you will see the stitches better. This will allow you to stop the "weaving" and inconstisency you are describing; the errors you make are more apparent.
*For needles, I assume milliners for basting stitches, betweens and sharps for permanent stitches?
betweens and sharps. As said by others by a pack and after a while you will learn what to use in what situation.
*Recommended brands? What is your preferred method for keeping track of the needles, especially if you have bought the kind that are wrapped in a couple of folds of paper?
Prym in Europe probably. Keeping track of the needles? something I still need to learn and gave up learning. I always lose needles and I just buy a new pack
Do you throw out your needles after a certain number of hours of use? Does that emery strawberry on old-fashioned pin cushions work to sharpen needles?
I throw them out when they bend. And most of the times I lose them before they blunt!
*How long should the ideal practice session last, and how frequently?
As said no pre-determined timeframe. Read my post
*How many kinds of stitches should I try to master? Any particular order?
All stitches, but "master" is the wrong word. You will want to UNDERSTAND first. Basting/Running stitch and the back stitch are probably the first two, then the felling and pad stitch.
After that no particular order. Wait a little bit with buttonholes especially in the beginning since it's a much more advanced type of stitch and you will struggle a lot in the beginning.
*I need to mark a stitching line with chalk; that's not negotiable. But would it be worth it in addition to mark quarter inches along the horizontal line so I can train my brain, eye, and hand better? I've tried using marked tapes, called "Tiger Tape" and tick tape, but they're distracting unless I'm stab stitching. I took a class in which we were shown how to make a sewing gauge out of cardboard that is slid along the fabric as one sews, but I never got the hang of it.
Preferrably use a striped cloth; it will help you when you start out. You will need to learn how to do it without though so don't rely on it too much otherwise your brain might get used to having a guideline and then you end up in a situation where you don't have that guideline... yeah. You know what I mean
forget the sewing gauge btw.
this is what we mean by securing the thimble finger.
Edited by R.m.Bakker, 10 May 2011 - 09:12 PM.