Hand stitching is an easy method of stitching hems, small sewing projects, and mending garments and other items. There are times when you may not have access to a sewing machine, or the job is simply better done by hand. Couture fashion is almost synonymous with hand stitching as it gives more precision, and sometimes, you can only achieve a particular result by hand. Delicate fabrics don't always agree with the sewing machine and so must be hand-stitched.
Hand Stitching Tutorial
Before we start discussing the types of hand stitches and how to work them, we will go through the supplies you need. Having the appropriate needle and thread for your hand stitching is necessary for great results. You will also need sharp scissors.
Best Needles for Stitching
The best needle for your hand stitching job will depend on the fabric you are stitching and the thickness of the thread. Get an assorted packet of needles in your required type.
If in doubt, just buy yourself a packet of "sharps" in assorted sizes. These are readily available and cheap to buy. Most hand stitching can be done with these versatile needles.
Here are some basic needle types and uses to help you make a decision.
Full Article: Types of Hand Sewing Needles.
|Linen, cotton and open weave fabric. Use for thicker threads
|Sewing beads and sequins
Best Threads for Hand Stitching
Most projects can be hand-stitched with an all-purpose polyester or polyester/cotton blend thread.
For beginners, I always recommend using a matching color to your fabric as it will be forgiving of any crooked stitches and, from a distance, will look great.
Full Article: Thread Types for Sewing.
Here are some more common threads for hand stitching.
- Cotton thread is useful for all kinds of projects but is often not as strong as polyester thread.
- Embroidery thread is also called embroidery floss and typically has 6 strands twisted together. You can use all 6 strands or divide it for finer stitching. (Read How to embroider)
- Tatting Cotton is a specialized thread suited to sewing fine linen.
- Quilting thread is covered with a waxy finish, allowing it to pass through thick quilting and batting.
- Polyester/Cotton is a multi-purpose thread that is suitable for many types of fabric, including Lycra and stretch.
- Heavy-duty thread for soft furnishings is a mixture of cotton and polyester.
- Nylon is a strong thread useful for light to medium-weight fabric.
- Invisible thread is a clear thread similar to a fishing line and is used for an invisible finish.
Threading the Needle
Putting thread through the eye of the needle is sometimes straightforward, and other times, it can make you feel like you are going crazy. I find threading dark colors and black particularly frustrating. A needle threader is a simple device that comes with most packs of assorted needles and can make the job considerably easier.
Put the triangular point of the needle threader through the eye of the needle. Push the end of the thread through the triangle and pull back.
It really is so easy and faster than spending multiple times trying to put a thick thread through a small eye. Beeswax on the end of a thread can also make it easier to get through the eye.
Full Article: How to Use a Needle Threader
Single vs Double Threaded Needles
Once you have the thread pulled through the eye of the needle, what do you do? Well, you need to decide if you are going to leave the thread single or double it over.
Doubling the thread over for seams is most common and will result in stronger sewing. Embroidery is often sewn with the thread single.
Here, you can see the difference between single-threaded and double-threaded needles.
Full Article: How to Thread a Needle
HAND STITCHING - Best Hand Stitches
The best stitches depend on your project and what your purpose is. This designer is hand stitching as part of the creative process. When draping a new design on a mannequin, you don't necessarily want to take the clothing on and off to sew seams with a machine.
There are endless methods you can use to do hand stitching, but here are the most common basic stitches and their purposes.
- Running Stitch - best for simple seams, basting and gathering
- Backstitch - best for strong seams
- Whipstitch - best for felt seams
- Ladder Stitch (Invisible stitch) - best for mending split seams or closing gaps
- Embroidery Stitches - best for decorative stitches
You will actually find that once you can do a basic running stitch and backstitch, you can master most of the other stitches quite easily.
1. Running Stitch
Running stitch is a simple up-and-down stitch and is the fastest and easiest way to baste, gather, and sew a seam with hand stitching. One advantage of this easy stitch is that the right side of the fabric and underside look the same.
For seams, it is best to sew with a double-threaded needle with a knot in the end. Embroidery may be stitched with a single-threaded needle.
If you are sewing large pieces of fabric, you can take several up and down stitches at once to save time. It is common to use running stitches for basting stitches to hold the fabric in place.
Running stitches don't need to be evenly spaced. They can be small, large, or uneven. A smaller stitch length will result in a stronger seam, and larger stitches will hold a seam loosely.
Backstitch or back stitch is the strongest hand stitch for seams and only takes a little longer to do than the running stitch. It can also be used for solid borders for embroidery.
- Backstitch starts in a similar way to the running stitch. Stitch up, down up as shown in steps (1), (2) and (3).
- Next, put the needle back into the last stitch at (2). Come up an equal distance away at 5 and repeat to keep going.
This back-and-forth motion is what makes it so strong. The only disadvantage of the backstitch is that it looks a little messy on the wrong side of the fabric, but this is not of concern for most projects.
Whipstitch is an over-the-edge type of hand stitching that is great to use on felt and other fabrics that are thicker and don't fray.
It will join pieces of fabric together and seal the edges and can be used for felt applique. As you can see from the photo, you are basically going over and over about ⅛ inch (3mm) or less from the edge.
4. Ladder Stitch (Invisible Stitch or Slip Stitch)
Ladder stitch is popular for mending holes in seams and closing gaps in your sewing projects where you have turned the item right way out.
When done in matching color thread the final result will disguise your stitching and look invisible from a distance. You can see from the photo that the stitching is done in the crease of the seam.
5. Embroidery Stitches
The list of embroidery stitches is quite a long one. Some of the most common ones are cross stitch, chain stitch, blanket stitch, and fern stitch. Backstitch and running stitch are also useful for embroidery, but I have covered those in the sections above.
If you are new to embroidery and want to know the best tools, supplies, and easiest stitches, have a read of the following articles.
6. Chain Stitch
Chain stitch is useful for outlining larger shapes and for creating flowers, stems, and leaves. It is created in a series of loops. Bring the needle up from underneath and reinsert it right next to the original hole.
Come up a short distance away at (3) and loop the thread underneath the needle. Repeat to form a line of chain stitches.
7. Blanket Stitch
Everybody loves blanket stitch. As the name suggests, it can be used on the edges of blankets but it is also great for applique and embroidery.
You will quickly get the hang of the stitch if you just remember to always point the needle towards the edge of the item.
8. More Embroidery Stitches
Here are more embroidery stitches and articles -
- Buttonhole Stitch
- Chevron Stitch
- Couching Stitch
- Cross Stitch
- Double Herringbone Stitch
- Faggoting Embroidery
- Feather Stitch
- Fern Stitch
- Fishbone Stitch
- Fly Stitch
- French Knots
- Herringbone Stitch
- Lazy Daisy
- Sashiko Embroidery
- Satin Stitch
- Seed Stitch Embroidery (Rice Stitch)
- Stem Stitch
- Straight Stitch
- Web Stitch | Embroidery Tutorial
- Embroidery Leaves
- Embroidery Flowers
Starting and Ending Hand Stitching
STARTING - For most projects, it is easiest to knot the end of the thread. This will prevent the end from pulling through and undoing your stitches. The alternative to knotting the end is to leave it and then do a small backstitch in your project at the beginning. Most of you reading this article will be beginners and should take the easiest method, which is the humble knot.
ENDING - The easiest way to end your hand stitching is to take a small backstitch and then put the needle through the loop before it is pulled tight. This creates a small knot that won't come undone. For a really secure ending, you can do this twice.
Full Article: How to Sew a Seam
Hand Stitching - Buttons
A common reason you might be researching hand stitching is that you need to sew a button back on. This simple mending task needs to be done many times, even by non-sewers.
Slightly different methods are needed for shank buttons (red example), 4 hole buttons (brass example), and 2 hole buttons (white example)
Full Article: How to Sew a Button
Hand Stitching - Sequins
Sequins often need to be hand-sewn to hold them in place. You will use a method similar to backstitch to secure either side of the sequin. You can use this method to sew individual sequins or a sparkling row.
Full Article: How to Sew Sequins
Hand Stitching - Gathering
Hand stitching can be used to create fine and controlled gathers in difficult fabrics for projects that you don't want to machine sew.
Use a small up-and-down running stitch and pull the ends to gently gather. The best control can be achieved by using 2 or 3 rows of small stitches. See in the photo below the difference between the gathers with the running stitch ¼ inch (6mm) apart vs ⅛ inch (3mm) apart.
Full Article: Gathering by Hand
Hand Stitching - Unpicking
Every now and again, we all make mistakes and need to remove the hand stitching we have just painstakingly sewed. Don't tear your hair out or shed a tear. Just grab your seam ripper. Use the sharp blade in the U shape to cut through a few stitches, and the rest should pull out easily. Take your time and be careful not to pull or rip the fabric.
Full Article: How to Use a Seam Ripper
Hand Stitching - Projects
Virtually anything that can be sewn with a machine can be done with hand stitching; however, due to our modern busy lives, smaller projects are generally best.
You can make pretty fabric flowers, bows, small purses, and scrunchies. For the majority of these projects, seams are best sewn with running or backstitch.
If you would like to try hand-stitching felt, I have a free tutorial and pattern for you. This felt pin cushion uses running stitch, backstitch, and whip stitch and makes a beautiful present for yourself or someone who loves to sew.
Further Reading: Felt Pin Cushion Pattern
Hand Stitching Hems
There are instances when you will want to hand stitch hems. Read my hemming stitches article for basic hand stitches for hems, including catch stitch, overcast stitch, and blind hem stitch.
Hand Stitching - In Conclusion
So there you have a basic hand stitching tutorial. Good luck learning to sew and have fun with your new skills.