Five Useful Stitches to Practice for Hand Sewing

The Running Stitch

To get set up for hand sewing in a comfortable fashion, please read Hand Sewing Basics.

The easiest stitch to learn is the running stitch. In its shorter lengths, it can be used to sew a seam, although it won't be the strongest of seams. We'll learn a better stitch for that later.

If the stitches are made longer, then it is called the basting stitch. This stitch is used to hold pieces of fabric together temporarily.

This allows you to sew the seam with smaller, more even stitches later without worrying about the fabrics slipping around. You can also baste garment pieces together in order to test their fit.

For your first stitches, make the stitches about 1/4 of an inch long. This is long enough to allow you to worry mainly about sewing evenly and not about making the tiniest of stitches.

Cut 2 pieces of fabric about 5 inches by 10 inches. Place one on top of the other, right sides together. Pin securely, inserting the pins along the edge with the points pointing toward the middle of the fabric. This is so the pieces don't slip around as you sew.

You will be working from right to left, so turn the fabric so your starting point is up and to your right. Bring your needle up at the starting point and pull all the thread through, up to the knot in the end of the thread.

This prevents leaving a loop of thread under your fabric which will cause a snarl or loose stitching. You don't want to pull the thread very tight, but you don't want loops of thread dangling underneath either.

Approximately 1/4 inch away from the point where the thread emerges from the fabric is where you will start your stitching. Start weaving the point of the needle up and down through the fabric four or five times, making even stitches about 1/4 inch long. When you have a few stitches on your needle, pull the thread through all the way without pulling the fabric into ripples.

In thicker fabrics, you may want your stitches to be as long as 1/2 inch. In lighter fabrics, you'll usually use 1/8 to 1/4 inch stitches.

If you use too long of a stitch, your fabric may be prone to slipping out of whack. If you use too short of a stitch, it may be unnecessarily difficult to remove the stitches when you need to do so.

When you are close to the end of your thread or the end of your seam, whichever comes first, bring the needle up at the point where you want the end of your stitching to be. Now take a stitch backwards along the last stitch you made. This will temporarily secure the thread, but should be easy to remove when the need comes.

Slip Basting

This is a useful stitch for when you want to match the pattern on your fabric, so that the pattern continues across your seam smoothly. This allows the seam to be less noticeable. It can also be useful to tack together intricately curved seams, if your pattern has them.

To try this out, again cut 2 pieces of gingham fabric about 5 inches by 10 inches in size. On one piece, fold a small part -- maybe 1 inch -- of the fabric to the back of the fabric.

Be sure the fold line is straight along the gingham checks, so you can easily match the checks with the other piece. Press along the fold.

Lay the flat piece on a table or other flat surface. Carefully place the folded fabric on top of the flat piece, with the checks matched so that the gingham pattern continues smoothly across the seam. Carefully insert straight pins at right angles to the seam.

Bring your threaded needle up from the wrong side at the top of the fabric stack, going through all three layers near the folded edge. Pull through completely, but not tightly, so that fabrics are not rippled.

You will continue sewing from the top of the fabric towards yourself.

Take the needle down through the single layer fabric very near to the folded edge, directly opposite the previous stitch. Now, bring the needle back up through all three fabrics, near the folded edge once again.

This stitch should measure between 1/4" and 5/8". The length will depend on the thickness of the fabric you are using and the angle of the seam.

You will have a long stitch on the underside and a shorter stitch visible on top. When you stitch the seam, your seam will run through the center of the short basting stitches.

Backstitching and Its Many Uses

Backstitching is a very useful and versatile stitch. It is excellent for making strong seams or mending seams that have split. It is also useful for topstitching where topstitching by machine would be too obvious and distracting, such as installing a zipper in a delicate fabric or in fine woolens.

To sew with a backstitch, you will work toward yourself or from right to left, whichever is more comfortable for you. You will bring the needle up through the fabric at the starting point (Point B). Then, you will insert the needle a stitch length behind (Point A), or to the right of the point where the thread comes out of the fabric. Push the needle forward and out the same distance beyond the backstitch (Point C). This is sort of a "one step forward, half a step back" type of stitch.

Related Graphic Coming Soon! Please click here to see when this graphic is updated! -----------------------*-*-*, where * equals Points C, B, A.

If the "half a step back" (Point B to Point A) is equal to the other side (Point C to Point B), this is called Even Backstitching. This will look like machine stitching when it is done, because the stitches will look like a solid line.


Slipstitching is used when sewing the turned under edge of fabric, such as when forming a hem or sewing on bias binding. When done carefully, the stitching is almost invisible.

Note that if the gingham has the checks woven in, rather than printed, it can be difficult to tell which side is wrong or right. In that case, simply choose one and use that side consistently as the right side.

If the checks are printed, however, use the side where the color appears brighter as the right side.

To practice this stitch, use a rectangle of gingham fabric. Fold 1/4th inch of one edge toward the wrong side of the fabric. Press along the fold with an iron, or, if you don't have one handy, you can rub it over the top of a lit incandescent light bulb -- make sure it's not dusty first! -- then finger press along the fold.

Now turn the folded edge another 1/2 inch toward the center of the fabric and pin with straight pins. Press lightly along the new fold.

Pick up the fabric with the folded edge in your left (or non-sewing) hand, holding the pinned fold between your thumb and forefinger. Starting at the top, take a tiny stitch at the top of the fold. Pull the thread through.

Insert the needle into the fabric opposite the fold and take a tiny stitch there.

Now insert the needle into the folded edge and run it along the inside of the fold for one stitch length (usually 3/8 inch to 1/4 inch). Emerge and start again by taking a tiny stitch into the fabric opposite the folded edge as above, and continue through the process until done.

There -- that wasn't hard, was it?

Blind Hemming

When you've worked hard at sewing a skirt, a dress, or even a blouse, one of the last things you will do is to finish the bottom so that it hangs straight and evenly. This is called hemming.

The nicest hems don't announce themselves -- in other words, you can't really see the stitching there. That is why this stitch is called blind hemming.

To begin, mark your project at the length you want it to be when finished. Turn and press 1/4th of an inch all the way around, then turn up and press at the finished length. Using running stitch with long stitches (about 1/2 inch works for me), baste the hem in place.

To make the finished hem, you will hold the folded edge in your non-needleholding hand, between the thumb and forefinger. I like to start at a side seam, where the extra layers of fabric helps hide my knot at the end of my thread.

Bring the needle up through the fold, right at the edge. Pull the thread through, making sure you don't leave a loop of thread on the underside.

Just outside and below the fold, take a small stitch, barely catching the fabric, in the single ply of fabric opposite where you brought the needle up through the fold. Angle your needle diagonally up through the hem edge, 1/4th to 3/8th of an inch away from the previous stitch.

Repeat as above to the end of the hem. Be careful not to pull the thread too tightly. If you do, the hem will crumple and show more than it should.

Securing the Thread at the End of Your Stitching

When you've reached the end of your stitching, here's an easy knot to tie to secure the thread. Push your threaded needle under the last stitch you took. Place your finger over the stitch, so that the thread leaves a loop around your finger when the thread is pulled through the stitch. Take your finger out of the loop, but grasp the loop between your thumb and forefinger.

Go around the loop with your thread and push the needle through from the back of the loop. Carefully tighten the loop before pulling the thread all the way through.

Now grab the thread in such a way as to make another loop as you pull the thread through. Carefully pull the loop closed and tight. This should result in a very neat, small knot, and you should be able to cut your thread and not worry about it pulling out.

Handsewing Stitches -- Ingredients in a Recipe

Using these five stitches and the equipment we've talked about, you can sew many different things. Once you know what each stitch accomplishes -- blind hemming, for example -- you can decide when to use it in making a project.

For a very simple example, if you take 2 pieces of fabric, cut them to about 6 inches by 8 inches, and place them right sides together, you can then sew the short sides securely together using an even backstitch. This makes a little pouch.

To finish the top, turn it down 1/4th of an inch and press it. You can then use the blind hemming stitch to finish the top of the pouch.

Thus, each stitch has specific uses and each project has specific needs. Knowing how to form the stitches and when to use them makes it much easier to make your projects.