Hand Sewing Stitches

Kate Miller-Wilson
Hand sewing

Hand sewing is a great way to add a homemade touch to an heirloom piece or quickly make a repair without hauling out your machine. Sewing by hand is also wonderful for beginners who might not yet want to invest in a sewing machine. There are a number of excellent hand sewing stitches, each suited to a specific use or type of fabric. If you learn the following major stitches, you'll be prepared for almost any hand sewing project.

Running Stitch

The most basic of hand stitches, the running stitch is ideal for sewing two light layers of fabric together. While it isn't as durable as many other hand and machine sewing stitches, it's quick and easy. This is a great first stitch for a child or a beginning seamstress. You can also use a larger running stitch to temporarily baste two or more layers of fabric together.

1. Start Sewing

running stitch 1

Begin by threading the needle and securely knotting the thread. Depending on the length of your seam, you may want to use pins to keep everything in place.

Start by inserting the needle in the back side of the fabric and pulling it through to the front.

2. Stitch from the Front

running stitch 2

Next, take a small stitch forward, and send the needle through to the back of the fabric. Pull the thread snug.

Remember, the smaller your stitches, the stronger your finished seam will be. Small stitches may take some practice, but you'll get them in time.

3. Stitch from the Back

running stitch 3

Bring the needle back up through the fabric from the back, making a stitch that is the same size as the one on the front. Then send the needle through to the back again.

Continue sewing until you've completed a seam in your desired length. You seam will resemble a dotted line.

Backstitch

The backstitch, also known as the prickstitch, is one of the strongest, most secure hand stitches you can produce. This is a great stitch to use if you're making a repair on a garment or if you need to emulate the strength and uniformity of machine sewing. This is also the stitch to use if you're sewing a zipper into a garment by hand.

1. Start Sewing

backstitch 1

Begin by knotting the thread securely and trimming any loose thread ends. Then secure the thread to the back side of the fabric or between multiple layers of fabric.

From the back side, bring the needle through to the front side.

2. Stitch Backwards

backstitch 2

Send the needle back through the fabric a short distance behind its current location. This distance will depend on your fabric and project, but 1/8 inch is a good place to start.

Now the needle is back on the back side of the fabric. Pull the thread all the way through until it is snug. Tight stitches are important for this type of seam.

3. Stitch Forward

backstitch 3

Bring the needle forward twice the distance you went back. If you stitched back 1/8 inch, you'll be moving forward 1/4 inch on the wrong side of the fabric. Bring the needle up through the layers of fabric, pulling the thread taut.

Continue this process until you have completed the seam.

Hemming Stitch

The hemming stitch is a simple way to hand sew a hem on a garment. This type of stitch is ideal for knit fabrics, as well as delicate fabrics like chiffon that might not stand up well to machine sewing. When you use the appropriate color of thread, this stitch creates a rolled hem that is very difficult to see on the right side of the fabric.

hem 1

1. Start Sewing

Begin by threading your needle and knotting your thread securely. Hide your knot in the rolled portion of the hem.

Then bring the needle through to the back side of the fabric. Pull the thread tight but not too tight.

hem 2

2. Take a Diagonal Stitch

Take a small 1/8- to 1/4-inch stitch diagonally, inserting your needle into the single layer of fabric just above the rolled hem.

Pull the stitch snug, but make sure you don't allow the fabric to pucker at all.

hem 3

3. Bring the Needle to the Back

The needle is now on the back side, which in this case is also the right side, of the fabric. Take a tiny stitch straight up, bringing the needle through all the layers of fabric and back to the back side.

Continue this stitch until you have completely hemmed your garment or project. Then simply tie off the thread and trim the ends.

Slip Stitch

Most seamstresses consider the slip stitch to be identical to the blind stitch, and the slip stitch is useful for neatly securing the folded edge of a piece of fabric. You might use this stitch to attach a patch pocket to a jacket or vest, apply a lining to a neckline, or fold over a waistband on a skirt.

slipstitch 1

1. Start Sewing

Start by threading your needle and securely knotting the end of the thread. Hide your knot between layers of the fabric.

Then bring the needle through from the back right next to the folded edge. Pull it tight.

slipstitch 2

2. Slip the Needle

Slip your needle a short distance through the folded edge of the fabric. Allow it to move through the pocket of fabric and emerge right from the fold in your desired location.

It's a good idea to keep this slip small, usually around 1/8 inch.

slipstitch 3

3. Secure the Stitch

From there, bring your needle back through to the back of the fabric, pulling the thread until it's secure but not tight. From the back, bring it up toward the front again, guiding it into the pocket of the folded fabric.

Continue taking stitches until you've completed this part of your project. As you stitch, be careful to smooth the fabric and keep it from gathering or puckering.

Whipstitch

A whipstitch is another useful stitch for joining two pieces of fabric. You can also use it for hemming. These stitches have a slanted appearance, and they are perfect for attaching seam binding.

whipstitch 1

1. Start Sewing

Begin by threading your needle and knotting the thread.

Bring the needle up from the back side of the fabric, pulling the thread tight.

whipstitch 2

2. Finish the Stitch

Bring the needle around to the back of the fabric, and take a tiny stitch in the edge of the back side. Pull the thread tight.

Continue stitching until you've finished your seam or hem. Smooth any wrinkles and adjust the stitches as needed. Then tie off the thread and trim the ends.

Blanket Stitch

Some fabrics, like fleece, are not prone to unraveling, but they still need a finished edge. For these projects, the blanket stitch is ideal. Typically, you use embroidery floss or another thicker thread material when performing this stitch.

blanket 1

1. Start Sewing

Begin by threading your needle and knotting your thread. Secure the knot on the back side of the fabric, about ¼ inch from the raw edge.

Bring the needle all the way through to the front. Pull the thread all the way through and tug to be sure it's secure.

blanket 2

2. Anchor the Blanket Stitch

Next, take a stitch straight up, inserting the needle right near the raw edge. Bring the needle through from the back to the front.

This step anchors your blanket stitch, but you won't be repeating this part of the stitch.

blanket 3

3. Create a Loop

Insert the needle from the front of the fabric, about 1/4 inch to the left of where you initially started sewing. Pull the needle through all of the way, but don't pull the thread tight. You'll need a loop of thread.

Insert the needle into the loop of thread from the right. Your loop should not be too large, because if it twists, that can be very confusing.

blanket 4

4. Sew a Stitch

After you've pulled the needle through the loop, pull the thread tight, creating a knot.

Continue stitching in this way. Be careful knot to pull the thread too tight and cause the fabric to pucker. Also watch for loose threads that could snag on objects. When you're done, knot off the thread.

Buttonhole Stitch

The buttonhole stitch is another useful hand stitch to understand. Read up on sewing buttonholes to learn how to perform this stitch by hand.

Opening Up Possibilities

Understanding how to perform a number of basic hand sewing stitches opens up lots of possibilities for your sewing projects. Practice your technique on a regular basis so you can feel confident and in control during your next project.

Hand Sewing Stitches