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!
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 is important to master before moving on to more advanced stitches.
The running stitches and 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
- 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 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 embroidery, the running stitch can be used for decorative purposes and creating flower stems, outlines and intricate swirling patterns.
Quilting: The running stitch can also be used in quilting 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.
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 which 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
Move over to a window or put on a reading lamp. Hand embroidery is easiest and neatest in bright light. Grab your reading glasses if you wear some.
How to Do Running Stitch
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 1/4 inch (6mm). The closer your stitches the stronger seam you will create.
TIP: If you have trouble sewing in a straight line, or are aiming for perfectly symmetrical and even stitches, grab a ruler and mark 1/4 inch (6mm) dots along a line.
See position 2 in the photo below.
Congratulations! You have taken your first running stitch.
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 1/4 inch (6mm) which is the same as in step 3.
Now keep going and reapeat!
DOWN-UP-DOWN-UP- DOWN-UP (see numbers 1 to 10 below)
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.
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.
Faster Running Stitches
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.
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.