French Sewing or Heirloom Sewing — What is the difference?

Heirloom sewing is very similar to what is referred to as French sewing, except that it’s the type of sewing we can now do using a machine — utilizing ready-made laces and trims, fine fabrics and special sewing techniques similar to those used in French sewing.  Heirloom sewing recreates time-honored French sewing, which was done completely by hand.

Tucks, pleats, and gathers were originally stitched by hand in French sewing.  All the seams and Madeira applique were also stitched by hand.  The cutwork laces and monograms on linen napkins and pillowcases were created by hand, as were many of the beautiful laces and trims.

Today, our sewing and embroidery machines offer a wide variety of options to duplicate these special French hand-sewing techniques.  Your sewing machine doesn’t have to be a fancy or expensive machine in order to create heirloom items.  A sewing machine that sews a straight stitch and a zigzag stitch can create some very elegant heirloom style items.  You can also use a serger to attach lace-to-lace, lace-to-fabric, or lace-to-entredeux* and create many beautiful heirloom items.

* For more information on ‘entredeux’ go to

The new sewing/embroidery machines allow you to create monograms and other embroidery designs on your items in a fraction of the time of the hand embroidery you learned as a child, with very elegant results.

I learned to hand embroider, do needle point, crochet, and knit when I was a pre-teen.  In the cold weather of Minnesota, I even made my own mittens using multiple knitting needles.  My first venture with a sewing machine was to hem flour sack dish towels, that I then hand embroidered for my mother and made into gifts for others.  Next came sewing doll clothes with Mom’s left-over fabric that she had from her various projects, followed by clothes for me.  By my teens, I was making most of my clothing and really aiming for professional results that didn’t scream “made by loving hands” or homemade.

In our fast-paced society, it is almost impossible to find the time to sew all our garments, let alone create the elements that make up the garments.  When you make an item with your machine and use fine fabrics, and fine laces or trim, it is can still be a beautiful heirloom item to be shared with generations to come.

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