Step by step guide to common hand-sewing stitches

Sewing is the means of joining and decorating pieces of fabric by drawing a threaded needle in and out of the fabric in a variety of ways. By practising and perfecting a few essential stitches, it's possible to create clothes and furnishings, and make repairs and alterations. Even if you use a sewing machine, hand stitching is essential to many sewing tasks.

 

Step by step guide to common hand-sewing stitches

Needle types

Needles are sized in numbers one to 28 (the higher the number, the thinner the needle) and are described according to their type of point.

  • For most jobs, "sharps" in sizes seven and eight are the best choice but have small eyes.
  • "Crewel" needles in these sizes have larger eyes and are easier to thread. Larger crewels have blunter points and are used for jobs such as wool work, darning and needlepoint.
  • Tapestry needles have blunt ends.
  • Short "betweens" are good for fine fabric.

 

Starting and finishing

  • For all hand stitching and quilting, the thread needs to be secured on the wrong (reverse) side of the fabric with a small knot at the thread end, or with a few stitches worked over each other on the wrong side.
  • Except for herringbone stitches, always work from right to left.
  • Finish off with a few stitches worked over each other, then cut the thread close to the fabric.

Types of stitches

Running stitch

Used for tacking, quilting and making gathers.

  1. Weave the point of the needle in and out of the fabric several times, then pull the whole needle through.
  2. Weave the needle so that both the stitches and the spaces between them are small and even for quilting and gathering, longer for tacking.

Backstitch

Used for seams and embroidery.

  1. Pull the thread through from the wrong to the right side.
  2. Insert the needle 1.5 to three millimetres (or half a stitch length) behind the point where the thread emerges.
  3. Bring it out again at the same distance in front of that point and repeat.

Herringbone

Firm and flat for hems.

  1. Working left to right, insert the needle diagonally across and above the hem edge and bring it through just to the left of that point.
  2. Take the needle back diagonally over the hem edge and insert it, bringing it up just to the left of that point.
  3. Repeat as necessary.

Hemstitch (vertical)

Used for a nearly invisible finish on hems.

  1. Start by bringing the needle through the hem edge.
  2. Directly opposite this point, catch a single thread of the fabric.
  3. Direct the needle diagonally to go through the hem edge six to 10 millimetres (1/4 to 3/8 inch) to the left.
  4. Continue along the hem in this way.

Blind hemstitch

  1. For an invisible finish, fold back the hem edge and secure the thread inside it.
  2. Take very small stitches six millimetres (1/4 inch) apart, catching a single thread of first the garment fabric, then the hem fabric.
  3. Continue to alternate stitches in this way.
  4. Be careful not to pull the stitches too tightly as you go or the material will become gathered.

Slipstitch

For joining two folded edges or a folded edge to a flat surface.

  1. Fasten thread and bring the needle through the folded edge.
  2. Make a very small stitch into the flat surface, then take the needle back through the folded edge, bringing it out about six millimetres (1/4 inch) away.
  3. Continue to make stitches in this way so that most of the thread is hidden.

By learning a variety of stitches, you'll be able to alter and repair your clothing as needed. Make sure to practice on old fabrics first and then take your perfected stitch to your wardrobe favourites.

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