The running stitch is one of the easiest and most common stitches in embroidery and is often used for hand stitching seams. Put simply, it is an evenly spaced up and down hand stitch that anyone can do. Even beginners can do running stitch!
Running Stitch Tutorial
What is Running Stitch?
Running stitch is a basic hand stitch worked in an up and down motion. It is the basis of many other hand stitches and embroidery stitches so it is important to master before moving on to more advanced stitches.
The running stitches and the gaps between them can be even or uneven in length depending on the seam or embroidery effect you are creating.
Common uses of running stitch include:
- Hand sewing seams
- Basting seams by hand before sewing
- Hand gathering
- Making a quilt
- Mending clothes
- Decorative embroidery on clothing and other sewing projects
When is Running Stitch Used?
Seams: When hand stitching seams, the running stitch is fast and easy and the stitch that most beginners use.
Basting: The purpose of basting stitch is to temporarily hold fabric pieces together before your final machine stitching. Sometimes it is easier to hand stitch pieces together first using a running stitch. This enables you to have maximum control over your pattern and carefully fit difficult pieces together. I regularly use this for setting sleeves in dresses or tops.
Decorative: In hand sewing, the running stitch can be used for decorative purposes and creating embroidered flowers, stems, outlines, and intricate swirling patterns.
Quilting: The running stitch can also be used in basting a quilt to sew the layers of fabric and batting together.
Hand gathering: Most of the time you will use a sewing machine to gather but there are times when hand gathering is easier. Heavy canvas or fabrics can be difficult to gather by machine and so a running stitch may be used. In addition, very fine fabrics are better gathered by hand.
Benefits of Using Running Stitch:
The nice thing about running stitch is that the back and front of your project will look attractive with nice evenly spaced stitches. This is why it is often the preferred stitch for quilters.
Why Running Stitch is Easy?
Running stitch takes very little concentration as it is a simple up and down stitch. Even beginners can do this easy stitch to fix seams and do hand sewing for a variety of projects.
Running Stitch Materials Needed
Best Threads to Use for Running Stitch
If you are sewing simple seams, then you can use regular thread or a thicker thread for stronger seams or heavy fabrics.
When used for decorative embroidery and quilting, the running stitch is usually stitched with embroidery floss.
For basting or decorative embroidery, a contrast color thread should be used. Seams should be sewn with a matching color to create an invisible seam.
Further reading: Sewing thread types
Needles to Use for Running Stitch
The needle you use for running stitch will depend on the fabric and the thread you are using. For embroidery, use an embroidery needle that has a larger eye to thread embroidery floss. If you are sewing a seam, then use a universal or all-purpose needle with an eye size suitable for the thickness of your thread.
Further reading: Types of Hand Sewing Needles
Use Bright Light!
Move over to a window or put on a reading lamp. Hand embroidery is the easiest and neatest in bright light. Grab your reading glasses if you wear some.
How to Do Running Stitch Video Tutorial
Here is a video I made on how to do running stitch. It will show you running stitches for embroidery, seams, and gathering. I post weekly sewing and craft videos on the Treasurie YouTube channel so check it out!
How to Do Running Stitch Step by Step
Step 1 - Thread the Needle
Thread your needle with either a double or single thread. Commonly, a single thread is used for embroidery and quilting, and a double thread is used for sewing seams. If you are having trouble getting the thick thread through the eye of the needle, read my article on how to use a needle threader. Make sure you knot the end of the thread.
Further reading: How to Thread a Needle
Step 2 - Insert Needle from Below
Put your needle in the wrong side of the fabric and come up to the top. The knot will be on the underside and hidden from view in the final product. This is position 1 in my photo below.
The direction of stitches: If you are right-handed then you will be working the stitches right to left. If you are left-handed you will be working in the opposite direction of course - left to right.
Step 3 - First Stitch
Now put the needle back down through the fabric a short distance away. If you are just practicing, try a distance of ¼ inch (6mm). The closer your stitches the stronger seam you will create.
See position 2 in the photo below. Congratulations! You have taken your first running stitch.
TIP: If you have trouble sewing in a straight line, or are aiming for perfectly symmetrical and even stitches, grab a ruler and mark ¼ inch (6mm) dots along a line.
Step 4: Repeat
The needle and thread are now underneath the fabric - just where you started. Come up from below again at position 3. This will be the distance of the gap. For your first test, come up at ¼ inch (6mm) which is the same as in step 3.
Now keep going and repeat! DOWN-UP-DOWN-UP- DOWN-UP (see numbers 1 to 10 below)
Faster Running Stitch Instructions
When you are using an embroidery hoop like the one pictured, you will generally need to take one stitch at a time. But when stitching seams you will be able to make several up and down stitches at a time and sew really fast. Remember to make the stitches as small as possible for the strongest seam.
Finishing a Running Stitch
To finish your line of stitching, knot off on the back of the fabric.
Finishing a Hand Stitched Seam for Beginners: If you are a complete beginner, here is how you knot off.
- Step 1: Bring your needle to the back and take a small stitch in the fabric.
- Step 2: Before the loop of thread is pulled right through, put the needle back into the loop. Pull tight.
- Step 3: For extra strength repeat this process. Then cut the thread and you are all done!
Running Stitch Templates
Running stitch can be used to outline and create simple embroideries for clothing and quilting. I did this quick cat embroidery to show you how the running stitch can be used for outlines of animals, flowers, and any other motifs you can think of.
Children's clothing looks especially cute with animal embroidery. You can embroider directly on the clothing or sew on scraps of fabric to make patches.
Print block letters on your computer printer and use them as a template to create running stitch monograms.
Running Stitch vs Backstitch
Another common hand stitch used on seams is the backstitch. This is a hand stitch based on the running stitch which is used to create stronger seams.
You can see the backstitch at the top of the photo compared to the running stitch. The stitches look more continuous and the gaps have been removed. I have a full tutorial on how to do backstitch.
Variations of Running Stitch
The running stitches don't necessarily need to be evenly spaced. Look at the different looks you can create by varying the stitch lengths. If you are sewing longer stitches, keep in mind that the longer threads can catch on jewelry and are more likely to catch in the washing machine.
Whipped Running Stitch
Whipped running stitch uses a different color of thread weaving in and out of the running stitches. The change of color creates a pattern of over and under the running stitch. The thread weaves and does not penetrate the fabric. The whipped thread enters the material only at the beginning and end of the row.
Threaded Running Stitch
Threaded running stitch weaves a pattern as it goes under the running stitches, with the needle and thread traveling up and down along the way of the running stitch. The loops of the threaded stitches are kept even to make the pattern look neat and controlled.
Inter-Laced Running Stitch
Work a line of running stitches with one row of threaded stitches in a contrasting color. When one row is completed, lace a second row coming back in the opposite direction from the original lacing line.
Running Stitch Step Threaded
The step thread variation requires two lines of running stitch running parallel to each other. The loops in contrasting colors are threaded through both rows.
Looped Running Stitch
Two rows of parallel lines of running stitch are needed for the baseline of this stitch. In contrasting color, start the second thread from the top running stitch down to the first running stitch below. Loop the thread under the stitch and return to the top line of the running stitches. Pass the thread under the running stitch directly above the looped stitch. Then take the contrast thread to the top of the next stitch in the top row of running stitches. Repeat this pattern, moving down to a bottom row running stitch, making a loop under the stitch, and returning to the top row threading under the running stitch before moving to the next stitch on the top row. Repeating these loops between the rows of running stitches is sometimes known as a fairy light stitch.
Meandering Running Stitch
This variation is aptly named. It is a meandering of a contrast thread through the parallel lines of the running stitch. It is wavy and loops along through the rows of stitches.
Eskimo Lace Ending Running Stitch Variation
A running stitch and lacing are combined here, and the effect is excellent for borders. There is only one row of running stitches to complete this pattern. Here are the steps to follow for this variation.
- Draw two parallel lines to mark the line for the running stitch and the line for the short stitch used in the lacing.
- Work one row of running stitches on the top line of the two lines you have drawn.
- Start the lacing on the line below with a contrast or matching thread and bring the needle and thread from the back up to the space directly below the line of running stitch on the line drawn below the running stitch.
- Take the needle and thread up to the running stitch above and lace the thread into the running stitch and across the gap to stitch down into the stitch below. The thread will form two slanted lines between the two rows.
- Take the needle and thread behind the line down below the top row of stitching and stitch at the back with one straight stitch. Then lace this stitch up with the stitches running across the full line of running stitches. The lacing travels between the running stitches and is caught under the top row with a small stitch at the bottom. The pattern formed looks like the edging of an Eskimo jacket.
Japanese Darning Stitch
This interesting stitch belongs with the running stitch variations family but is worked in a grid formation, and this design gives it the unique name of Japanese darning.
- Draw a grid of squares to plot your design and have a guide for the size of the stitches.
- The size of each square will depend on the overall pattern or space you wish to fill with the darning stitch. It creates a beautiful geometrical pattern.
- Thread your needle and cotton ready to sew running stitches across the grid lines, alternating the stitches as you sew row by row to the top of the grid. The pattern is best worked from the bottom up to the top.
- Continue in the same color thread to get the actual geometric effect. You will connect the running stitches row by row starting at the top left side with a diagonal stitch from the side of one stitch at the top to connect diagonally to the stitch below. These stitches form one row of the pattern.
- At the end of the row, take your needle to the next row as you start from the other side, the right side, and continue the pattern in the same way back to the left side. The pattern looks like an hourglass design as you work row by row from left to right and right to left.
This pattern is a beautiful filler for hand embroidery or can be used in quilting and mending. Japanese darning stitch will amaze you at the intricate effect there is formed just with simple running stitches.
The seed stitch is one variation of the simple running stitch. Instead of hand stitching in a straight row, seed stitches use the same up and down motion in a random pattern. The purpose of this is to create a fill stitch to cover larger parts of a design.
Sashiko Running Stitch
Traditional Japanese Sashiko embroidery uses small running stitches to create intricate repeating patterns.
Running Stitch - In Conclusion
The running stitch really is the easiest embroidery stitch you can ever do. Once you can master this simple stitch, you can build upon it to create many more beautiful stitches.
MORE EMBROIDERY STITCHES
- 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
- Whipped Backstitch
How to Do Running Stitch
- Hand Sewing Needle
- Small Sharp Scissors
- Thread (regular or embroidery floss)
- Thread the hand sewing needle either single or double and knot the end.
- Insert the needle from the wrong side of the fabric up to the top (right side). The knot will be hidden underneath.
- The direction of stitching is right to left for right handers. If you are left handed then it is easier to stitch left to right.
- Put the needle down through the fabric a short way from where it started. For a sample, try a distance of ¼ inch (6mmm). This is your first stitch!
- Repeat in an up-down motion. You can choose to keep the gap and stitch distances equal or vary them.
- TIP: The smaller the stitches the stronger your seam will be.
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