How to Sew: 6 basic hand stitches

Hand stitching is sometimes seen as a lost art, and while that may be true, it’s not entirely accurate.

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Hand stitches are as useful and pertinent today as they have ever been. This tutorial provides the step-by-step process to implement a variety of the six most common basic hand stitches. You’ll not only learn how to sew the stitches, but you’ll also learn when and where to use them.

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DIY Level: Beginner to Intermediate


Materials Needed:

  • Thread or embroidery floss in the appropriate color/type
  • Needle
  • Fabric
  • Scissors

The six stitches we’ll be learning today are: running baste stitch and running stitch, catch stitch, blanket stitch, whip stitch, slip/ladder stitch, and back stitch.

Running Baste Stitch

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Thread your needle and tie a knot at the end of your thread.

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Place the tip of your needle on the underside of your fabric, and press it upward through the fabric at your starting point. Pull the thread taut.

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About 1/2″ to 3/4″ away, press the tip of your needle straight down through your fabric. Don’t pull the needle all the way through.

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Keeping the needle in the fabric, push the needle forward until the tip reaches the same 1/2″ to 3/4″ distance. Press the tip upward through the fabric at that point.

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Pull the needle and thread through the fabric.

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Pull the thread all the way through and taut.

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Press the tip of the needle down through the fabric another 1/2″ to 3/4” away from the exit point of your last stitch, and repeat the stitch.

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Continue working in this wide, even, and straight baste stitch.

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STITCH USE: The running baste stitch is useful for temporarily holding two pieces of fabric together and in place. The running baste stitch is not as strong as the running stitch but is much faster to sew.

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Running Stitch

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Thread your needle and knot your thread at the end. Press the tip of your needle on the underside of your fabric, and bring the needle up through to the top of the fabric until the knot touches the back of the fabric. In the same method as your running baste stitch, you’re going to maneuver the tip of your needle above and below the fabric to create the stitches. Because the running stitch is small, you can probably weave two or three stitches onto the needle before pulling the needle and thread through the fabric completely.

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Working in two- or three-stitch needle lengths like this is an efficient way to sew this straight seam.

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Pull the needle and thread through the fabric completely, and pull it taut before moving onto the next set of stitches.

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STITCH USE: This straight running stitch is the most fundamental of seams. You can easily adjust the length of each stitch to match your project’s needs. Keep in mind that the shorter each stitch is, the stronger your overall seam will be.

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Catch Stitch

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Thread the needle and knot the thread at the end. Press the tip of your needle on the underside of your fabric hem (so the knot is hidden), and bring the needle up through to the top of the fabric until the knot touches the back of the fabric. Your needle and thread should be on the left side of your fabric; you’ll be sewing from left to right.

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Place the tip of your needle about 1/2″ to 3/4″ above your exit thread (on the other piece of fabric), then move it to the right about 1/8”. At this point, press just the needle tip down through your fabric to the underside. Aim the tip of the needle about 1/8” to the left. (This part of the catch stitch may feel backward, because it’s running from right to left.)

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Pull the whole needle and thread up to the top of your fabric, and pull the thread taut.

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To create the “X” that is the signature of the catch stitch, press the tip of your needle about 1/2″ to the right of your very first thread exit. Press just the tip of the needle down to the underside of your fabric, then bring it back up to the top of your fabric about 1/8” to the right.

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Pull the whole needle and thread through, and pull the thread taut. You’ve created your first catch stitch.

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Continue these steps to create a length of catch stitches. It’s helpful for this stitch, which feels backwards at times, to remember that the “top” of the stitch is a right-to-left stitch, and the “bottom” of the stitch is left-to-right. I tried to illustrate this with red arrows, although if they’re too confusing, just ignore them.

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Don’t be afraid to pick up your fabric and rotate it around as you get more comfortable with the stitch. This will help you to create more precise and accurate stitch lengths and positions.

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Continue on until you’ve completed the length of your catch stitch seam. It’s like a zigzag stitch I process with Xs as the end result.

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STITCH USE: The catch stitch is a great stitch choice for hems. It’s nearly invisible from the front of your fabric. The “X” nature of this stitch provides a little give to the hem, which is useful. Another useful place for this stitch is to attach thicker/heavier lining fabrics to the hemline, such as sewing on curtain linings.


Blanket Stitch

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Thread your needle and knot the thread at the end. Press the tip of your needle into the underside of your fabric about 1/2″ away from the hem, and bring the needle up to the top of the fabric. This seam will run right to left, so you’ll want to be on the right end of your seam.

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Pull the entire needle and thread through the top of the fabric until the hidden knot touches the underside of the fabric.

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For this first stitch, to get the blanket stitch started, you’ll want to loop the thread around the hemline and press the tip of your needle onto the underside of your fabric at the same spot you just came through. Pull the needle and thread through this same hole.

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Pull the thread but don’t pull it all the way taut. Instead, keep a small loop of thread out.

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Take your needle and run it through the loop, going left to right.

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Pull the thread taut, but not so tightly that it bunches up the end of your fabric. Your free thread should meet up with your stitch at the hemline (shown by a red dot on the photo). If it doesn’t, as was the case for me, work the threads around each other so that the point of separation is at the hemline.

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Press the tip of your needle on the underside of your fabric about 1/2″ to the left of your original thread exit and also 1/2″ away from the hemline.

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Pull the entire needle through to the top of your fabric, and pull your thread until only a small loop remains.

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Thread your needle through this loop, running left to right.

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Pull the thread taut until it creates what looks like a square without a top.

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Essentially in the blanket stitch, each stitch holds the previous one in position and in place.

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Continue to lengthen your blanket stitch as far as you need it to go.

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I actually find this stitch fascinating, because it feels like you’re working in diagonals, but the end result is a bunch of right angles.

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The blanket stitch is known for its visibility along the very edge of the fabric.

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It’s a pretty decorative stitch, as far as basic hand stitches goes.

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STITCH USE: The blanket stitch is actually used for decorative fabric joints. Common uses include finishing the edges of blankets, finishing felt projects or toys, and sewing appliqué. Where other stitches tend to blend in, this one is best served when it’s visible. Choose your thread accordingly.


Whip Stitch

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Thread your needle and knot the thread at the end. Bring the needle up to the top of the fabric from the underside so the knot is hidden. This stitch is most easily sewn vertically.

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Press the tip of your needle into the other fabric’s top about 1/2″ diagonally above-right your original exit point. Then aim your needle, from the underside of the fabric, about 1/2” above-left (back to the original fabric hem).

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Pull the whole needle and thread through to the top of the original fabric, and pull the thread taut.

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Continue this method (diagonal-right, diagonal-left) to create a barbershop pole-looking seam.

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Due to the diagonal nature of these stitches, it’s easy for your stitches to become more and more uneven in length and spacing. Do your best to keep them consistent, referring back to your original stitches frequently to make sure they stay the same further up the seam.

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STITCH USE: The whip stitch is a very simple and satisfying stitch because it’s fast and easy. The short, diagonal stitches are used for hemming things like window treatments because they’re practically invisible when done on a hem.


Slip Stitch/Ladder Stitch

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Thread your needle and knot the end of your thread.

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Press the tip of your needle onto the underside of your fabric up in one of the folds. Pull the needle and thread all the way through so the knot is invisible.

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Press the tip of your needle on the opposite hem directly across from the original exit point. Push the tip of the needle into the fabric so that the tip of the needle follows the hem inside the fold.

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Exit the needle tip from the hem fold about 1/2″ to 3/4″ away from the insertion point.

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Pull the whole needle and thread out from the folded hem, and pull the thread taut. This will close up the first “rung” of your ladder stitch.

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Now, press the tip of your needle onto the opposite hem (the one with your original exit point), directly across from this most recent exit point.

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Thread the tip of the needle through the folded hem about 1/2″ to 3/4″ away from the insertion point, then exit the needle.

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Pull the whole needle and thread out, and pull it taut. It’s looking a little like a ladder, with each stitch serving as a rung between the two vertical hems.

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Continue in this way until you’ve completed your slip stitch seam.

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You can see here that I haven’t pulled the thread all the way tight yet. This is to illustrate what the stitch is meant to look like.

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When I give it a quick tug, though, you can see here that the thread all but disappears.

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STITCH USE: The slip stitch (aka “ladder stitch”) is most commonly and effectively used for closing up homemade pillows. When you choose a thread that matches your fabric, the stitch becomes pretty much invisible.


Back Stitch

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Thread your needle and knot the thread at the end. Press the tip of your needle onto the underside of your fabric about 1/2″ in front of your actual seam starting point (designated by a red dot on this photo). Pull the whole needle and thread through to the top of your fabric, and pull the thread so the knot touches the underside of the fabric.

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Press the tip of your needle onto the top of your fabric at the location of your actual seam start, which will be about 1/2″ down from your original exit point. This stitch feels backward because, well, half of the stitches are sewn backward from the overall direction of the seam.

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Pull the whole needle and thread through to the underside of your fabric, and pull the thread taut. It looks just like a regular running stitch, but it was sewn backward for a reason.

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Press the tip of your needle onto the underside of your fabric about 1/2″ in front of the original exit point, which is the top point of the visible stitch shown here.

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Pull the whole needle and thread through to the top of your fabric, and pull the thread taut.

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Press the tip of your needle onto the top of your fabric at or very near the original exit point, aka the “top” of your last stitch.

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Pull the whole needle and thread through to the underside of your fabric. Pull the thread taut to create your second back stitch.

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Continue in this “two steps forward, one step back” method until you’ve completed your back stitch seam.

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Isn’t it pretty? The straight, solid line of the back stitch is a beauty, I think.

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STITCH USE: The back stitch is not only pretty, it’s strong. Super strong. In fact, it’s primary purpose is for sewing seams that require heavy duty strength. The back stitch is also used for basic embroidery and forming letters in stitching.

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The stitches are all unique and serve similar but distinct purposes. Knowing how to do these stitches and when to use them will hopefully serve you well. This information can also make it possible to accomplish a variety of DIY projects without purchasing a sewing machine, if that’s your goal.

Source: www.homedit.com

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