26 February 2008

Pad-stitching (With Demo)

The stitch at the top of the list of stitches I don't usually use but should has to be the pad-stitch.

If you have been with me for awhile, you'll remember the jerkin I made with the quilted collar and all of the fussing I did with that collar to get it to work. I cannot tell you how much better that garment would have turned out had I used the pad stitch to arrive at the effect I wanted instead of machine stitching the thing... well actually I can tell you, or at least I'm going to try.

What is a Pad Stitch?
The Pad Stitch is a method of bonding several layers together - without applying adhesives - into a single unit so that they move as one piece and are stiffer than they would be individually.

That's a long, technical, way of going about saying that this is the period method we imitate with fusible interfacing. The pad stitch can bond as many layers as you like together in such a way as they will move as if it's one thick piece of cloth. Janet Arnold notes one such application in a period doublet in which the collar bears "striped wool pad-stitched over two layers of linen, and another layer of wool." This is just the stiffening layers for this collar and does not include the outer fabric, interlining or silk lining! Now that's a collar that's not about to flop around in a breeze!

Pad-stitching is a simple zig-zag stitch. Essentially you're making "Z's" with the diagonal on the front and the horizontal arms underneath, connecting them, like you see in the image above or the illustration at the right (click for a larger image).

The pad-stitch can be used anytime there are multiple layers of fabric to be bonded together and can even create a quilted look if applied correctly. Had I pad-stitched the collar of the aforementioned jerkin, there would not have been as much loss of girth and I probably would not have encountered some of the issues that I had to cope with.

Why Bother?
Even if you machine-stitch the whole garment, pad-stitch the collar and belly by hand. The stitch tension is infinitely easier to maintain and the final effect smoother if you're in full control of the thread with every stitch, varying it as the sewing demands. No machine I've ever encountered can do that... not even the Hot Rod.

As you can see in the orange doublet (left) I blogged about awhile back, the straight channeled stitches pull the fabric down into a 'ditch'. This is fine on a flat quilt because quilters know to account for this 'shrink' as each successive line of stitches pulls the fabric across the entirety of the quilt and accounts for a 'loss' of several inches of fabric on a side. Quilted garments made in this fashion did exist (hand-quilted, of course), but the stitches were comparatively loose and the garment oversized to compensate for the rate of shrinkage.

Pad-stitching the same part of the same garment would have drawn in less fabric, thereby creating less shrinkage problems and been appreciably more period in its final effect. These stitches are normally hidden in the inner workings of your doublet, but the 'back' of the stitch can also surface to create the quilted effect, as Janet Arnold noted on the collar of the 'Nils Sture' leather doublet and as you can see on the garment to the right. (click for larger image)

Tudor Tailor, Margot Anderson and many other pattern makers and books on costuming covering the 15th and 16th centuries advise using a natural cotton quilt batting to stiffen collars, peplum, and fill out the bellies of peascod doublets. This is what I tend to do. You can resort to period stiffeners if you want. As I mentioned, Janet Arnold specifically notes the prevalence of multiple layers of wool, linen and buckram in the extent period garments she analyzed for her seminal work Patterns of Fashion. That's all well & good for you, but it sounds a little too hot since I mostly wear these garments in August. One layer of cotton batting breaths a mite better than multiple layers of wool.

Where should you use it?
As I already mentioned, the collar and the belly are the two most common places you will find padding and therefore the pad-stitch. That being said, it can be used just about anywhere that two or more layers of fabric need to be bonded so as to move without hindering one another. Another common area is the back, and I tend to add a stiffening layer in the belly region even if I'm not padding it out peascod-style.

How do you do it?I haven't done a demo in awhile, so I thought this might be a good time and a good subject for me to begin again with...

As I said, and as you can see from the illustration up above, it's pretty much a simple matter of even zig-zags in parallel rows up and down the garment, each penetrating only deep enough to catch the next layer.

For this demo, I used plastic canvas in two different colours to better differentiate the layers, and substituted red yarn for the thread to make certain the images are clear. The only difference between what you see me doing here and what you will be doing on your garment is the regularity of the holes in the plastic. As with any handstitchery you do (outside of embroider on even-weave linen) you won't be able to count holes to keep your stitches nice and even.

Start your first stitch by making a "Z" with the top and foot of the
letter on the back and only the diagonal showing on the front.

Continue down the row as far as the size of your fabric or your
desired design allows or calls for. (Notice how when I hold it up
to the light that you can see the full zigzag? This is what you
want to see.)

End each row with a long horizontal stitch, bringing you in line
with your next row. Some people like to work these so that the
diagonals form chevrons. It doesn't make any difference unless
someone's going to be able to see it.

If you're going to make your stitches visible from the outside of the
garment as on the collar above, you should practice making the
back as even and careful as the front. I confess that when these
stitches will be hidden I don't spend a lot of time sweating such things.

The end result is two pieces of fabric that move as one.
Nice even stitches in parallel rows will bond the fabric together
until it moves as one unit, as you can see above.

NOTE: If you're doing a piece that will have a permanent curve on the final, you can further eliminate wrinkling and shrinkage from 'quilting' by working the piece over a curved surface: your knee, a bolster, a rolling pin or whatever maintains the desired curve as you're working. I've even appropriated a kitchen cannister before to act as a stand-in for my neck. A smooth final product is the desired result, use whatever you need to achieve the best possible result!
Fair warning... This activity is known to attract onlookers!

Good luck!
- Scott


  1. Scott - This is super! I am going to try it and practice doing this so I can put it into a jacket I want to make. Thank you so much for such an excellent explanation.

  2. hi, im currently making my own suit. I have been practicing the pad stitching with both my outer fabric (not a wool) and canvas. Yet, some of the stitches still can be seen at the right side. Would you mind advising me on this?