Woodworkers Should Learn to Sew

Steve Sewing 2-2013I enjoy making things I need, and while I frequently turn to wood as my default medium of pragmatic expression, I have recently found myself making a few necessary objects out of fabric. At first, I assumed that this new craft would be a completely different kind of work.  The materials, tools, and techniques all seemed foreign.  But as my wife was walking me through the basics of sewing, I realized that some of my woodworking skills and habits were transferable.  Between woodwork and fabric work, I found, there are many common threads:

  • Stock quality matters. If you’re lucky, you can get good materials cheaply, but whether you’re buying lumber or fabric, screws or thread, it is always better to spend the extra money for high-quality materials.  Having a screw head snap off is just as frustrating as having your thread break or tangle in the sewing machine.
  • Tool quality matters.  Scissors and hand saws must be sharp if they are to cut well.  Needles and chisels must be sharp, smooth, and shiny with no rust spots that will catch on the workpiece.  A sewing machine and a drill press must both be clean and well-oiled.  A little preventive maintenance goes a long way.
  • Time spent on stock-preparation is never wasted.  Truing up the critical dimensions of  a board–faces, edges, ends, thickness, or length, depending on the project–is essential to the success of the project.  The same is true with sewing.  The more precisely your fabric is cut, the easier the rest of the project will be.
  • Good materials can be salvaged.  Old clothes and old furniture can be great sources of small, useful pieces.  Hardware such as knobs, buttons, hinges, and zippers can be salvaged and re-purposed. Thrift stores and off-but bins can yield some real treasures.
  • Hand tools and power tools.  Some operations are just faster and neater when done on a machine.  Yes, there are die-hard joiners and seamstresses who insist on doing everything by hand, but for the most part, an effective crafts-person knows how to make the best use of both hand tools and machines.  Carving complicated profiles and making short runs of molding is just simpler with hand tools.  When sewing on buttons or doing applique (look it up, guys), the old-fashioned needle-and-thread is still the way to go.

There is one crucial difference, though: fabric stretches–at least a little!  That makes it more forgiving to work with.  And while its flexibility makes fabric a little more awkward to work with sometimes, it also makes it easier to cover or fix little mistakes.

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6 Responses to Woodworkers Should Learn to Sew

  1. Chris Wong says:


    You seem to be a competent uh, what’s the word – it’s not sewer. It eludes me. Have you done any upholstery work, and how difficult do you think it would be to learn? The reason I ask is that I have read about many woodworkers outsourcing their upholstered seats.


    • I’ve done upholstery once. It was on a project that had to get done quickly, and although the design was rather difficult, it came out okay. The basics aren’t hard, and if you don’t mind purchasing a few simple tools, you can learn to do it yourself. It IS another craft in itself, so I can understand why it would get outsourced so frequently. Personally, I love learning new things, so I often jump at the chance to do it myself.

      This episode of Roy Underhill is a good introduction to what’s involved:

  2. I use a treadle singer – is that “hybrid sewing”? Great post.

  3. Kerri says:

    I have often considered the similarities between sewing and woodworking. I haven’t tried any woodworking yet, but have always thought I would find it interesting.

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