Learn hand stitching and how to hand sew a seam the easiest way with this tutorial. The two most common ways to hand sew a seam are using either a running stitch or a backstitch. They are not always as strong as using a sewing machine but sometimes you can’t beat the convenience of sewing by hand.
How to Hand Sew
If you have a quick alteration or something to mend then hand stitching is a great way to quickly get the job done with a minimum of tools and without getting your sewing machine out from the cupboard.
This article goes though numerous different methods of hand sewing depending on what you are tying to achieve.
Hand sewing can be done for
- Sewing or fixing seams
- Decorative embroidery
- Sewing hems
What You Need
- FABRIC: Scrap fabric or your project to be sewn. For beginners, the easiest fabric to sew is a light to medium weight cotton called quilting cotton.
- NEEDLES: Hand sewing needles. These come in assorted sizes. Choose one that suits your thread and fabric. If you are sewing woven fabric, then choose a sharps needle in an appropriate size for your thread. Most fabric stores have packets of needles in assorted sizes so you always have an appropriate size handy.
- THREAD: A strong thread in a matching color. I have used a contrast thread for my sample photos but you will find using a matching color will be more forgiving and the stitches will be invisible. If possible try and avoid the threads that come in little sewing kits. They tend to be of poor quality and tangle easily. This will make you think that learning how to hand sew is harder than it really is. Instead, choose an all-purpose polyester thread of good quality. When you are learning, avoid dark colors of thread. The reason for this is that they are hard to see. Black in particular can be hard to sew neatly.
- LIGHTS: You will need good lighting! Sit near a window or a bright lamp. You will be amazed at the great results you will get with decent light. If you wear glasses, go and find them now.
Threading the Needle
- THREAD - Start by threading a needle either double or single and knotting the end. Just hold the needle up to the light and put the cotton through the eye. A sharp pair of scissors to trim the end will be your best friend. Don't even try to put a ragged end through the eye of the needle. It won't work. If your cotton is thin then double it over then knot the ends together. Thicker threads such as embroidery floss can be threaded singularly.
- LENGTH - Overly long threads tend to tangle so try starting with a maximum length of 12 inches (30cm). So if you are threading the needle with a double thread, cut 24 inches.
- THREADING HACKS - Needles are easily threaded by learning how to use a needle threader. This little silver device will thread the needle for you so you don't need to squint and get frustrated.
- EXTRA READING - For completely new sewers, I have an article on how to thread a needle that will help you.
How to Hand Sew - Starting
Regardless of the stitch you use, starting is easy. Thread the needle either double or single and knot the end.
Put the needle in the wrong side of the fabric up to the top. The knot will catch underneath and stop the thread from pulling through. Always try and start somewhere your knot will be hidden. Look for a fold of fabric or start somewhere the knot won' t be visible from the outside finished item.
You've started! On you go.
How to Hand Sew - Finishing
Once you have finished your hand stitching, you will need to knot off the thread so it doesn't come undone.
To finish your stitches take a very small stitch backward and before you pull the loop tight, put the needle through it to form a knot.
Do this a couple of times and then cut off the tail thread.
How to Hand Sew a Seam
There are 2 main ways how to hand sew a seam.
- Running Stitch
How to Hand Sew with Running Stitch
Running stitch is one of the easiest and fastest hand stitching methods. Use this method if this is your first time sewing or if you have a seam that will only be under a small amount of stress.
Running stitch is not quite as strong as backstitch but considering how easy it is to do, it is certainly a great option.
Running Stitch Instructions
- Put your fabric with the right sides together.
- We will be stitching on the wrong side of the items so that when your seam is the right way out, the stitches will be hidden on the inside.
- Insert the needle into the fabric and make small up and down stitches of even length.
For right-handed sewers, you will find it easiest to work from right to left. Left-handed sewers will work the opposite way from left to right.
For seams, I recommend evenly spaced gaps and stitches. As you gain the confidence you will be able to sew several stitches at once in an up and down motion.
The smaller your stitches, the stronger your seam will be. Start with small stitches that are ⅛ inch (3mm) or ¼ inch (6mm0 for thicker fabrics. Click here for how to sew a running stitch step by step.
How to Hand Sew with Backstitch
Backstitch Sewing Instructions
- Put your fabric pieces with right sides together, ready to sew the seam.
- First, put the needle down through the fabric and bring it up a short distance away.
- Pull the thread through.
- For right-handed sewers, it is easiest to sew from right to left like you see in my photos.
If you are a beginner, test sewing your backstitch seam with stitches that are at most ¼ inch (6mm) in length. The smaller stitches are, the better. See if you can get it down to ⅛ inch (3mm) once you have the hang of this stitch.
- Then take a small backstitch in the fabric inserting it in the same place you started. Position 3 below is exactly the same as position 1 above. See how the needle is being inserted in the same place as the knot.
- Bring the needle up in front of the first stitch at an equal distance at position 4.
- Now just keep repeating. Your needle will go in at position 2 next.
- To finish your row of stitching, use the same method I showed you in the running stitch section above.
Want more photos? Read how to sew a backstitch
How to Hand Sew a Seam - More Options
Running stitch and backstitch are certainly the easiest but they are not the only way to hand stitch a seam.
There are 2 more options you can use -
Whipstitch uses an over the edge motion and is great for sewing felt seams and for mending holes in seams. It has the advantage of sealing the edges and is very easy for beginners. Read my article on how to sew whip stitch
Ladder Stitch gives an invisible finish and is great for closing gaps in seams and mending holes. It is created by sewing in the fold of the seam from the outside and passing the needle from side to side. Read my article on ladder stitch.
Below shows you what the finished ladder stitch looks like. I used a contrast thread so you could see my stitching but this stitch is almost invisible when you use a matching thread and take small stitches.
Now you know how to hand sew a seam, what will you be using these easy hand stitches for?
How to Hand Sew with Embroidery
As well as sewing seams, hand sewing is used extensively to embroider and decorate items.
Embroidery is a relatively cheap hobby and is really relaxing. All you need is some fabric, an embroidery hoop and some embroidery floss.
The best needles to embroider with are crewel needles which have a longer eye to pass thicker threads through. Read my article on embroidery tools.
If you want to start learning how to embroider, here are some articles that will help you get on your way.
- Blanket Stitch
- Buttonhole Stitch
- Chain Stitch
- Chevron Stitch
- Couching Stitch
- Cross Stitch
- Double Herringbone Stitch
- How to Embroider
- Faggoting Embroidery
- Feather Stitch
- Fern Stitch
- Fishbone Stitch
- Fly Stitch
- French Knots
- Hand Embroidery Stitches
- Herringbone Stitch
- Lazy Daisy
- Running Stitch
- Sashiko Embroidery
- Satin Stitch
- Seed Stitch Embroidery (Rice Stitch)
- Stem Stitch
- Straight Stitch
- Web Stitch | Embroidery Tutorial
- Whip Stitch
How to Hand Sew Hems
Hems can be hand-stitched with a variety of stitches. You can make your hems almost invisible using many of these hemming stitch techniques.
Stitches that can be used to hand stitch a hem include:
- Slip Stitch (great for invisible results)
- Catch Stitch (great for thicker fabrics)
- Running Stitch (easiest method)
- Blanket Stitch (use for a decorative edge)
Slip stitch is one of the most commonly used hand stitches and is barely seen on the right side of the garment.
- Start by pressing your up the hem twice so the raw edge is encased in the fold.
- Thread a needle with either double or single thread. I like to use double but for very fine fabrics like silk, a single is suitable.
- Bring the needle up in the fold of the fabric so the knot is hidden.
- Working right to left, put the needle into the fold of the hem.
- Bring the needle up to the top of the fabric and take a really small stitch that is just a few threads wide. This is what will show on the outside so make it small.
Read more about how to hand sew a hem in my hemming stitch article.
Hems and hand stitches in general don't need to be invisible. They can be decorative and done in beautiful contrasting and complimentary colors. Blanket stitch is a great option for hems on blankets, linens and baby clothing.
- Press the hem up twice so the raw edge is encased.
- Knot your thread and put the needle through the fold to hide the knot.
- Put the needle down through the fold and out at the bottom edge.
- Make sure the thread is behind the needle and pull through.
- Read the full article on blanket stitch.
How to Hand Sew - In Conclusion
Now you can hand sew it is time to go and make something! Hand sewing can enhance and compliment machine sewing as well as be a relaxing hobby.