The sewing term stitch in the ditch may have you scratching your head but it is a really easy way to finish quilts, bindings and occasionally waistbands, collars and even cuffs. Ditch stitch looks so good because the needle of the machine goes through the seam on the right side of the fabric. It secures the fabric on the wrong side and leaves a neat finish with no visible stitch on the right side.
Why do you stitch in the ditch?
Why? Invisibility! A stitch in the ditch in simple terms is stitching right in a seam line in order to create an invisible line of stitching. It is commonly done in a matching color thread so the stitches meld into the fabric and are not noticeable from a distance.
Stitch in the Ditch - Supplies
Stitch in the Ditch Foot
ALL- PURPOSE FOOT - For general sewing, you can get good results stitching in the ditch with your regular sewing foot.
STITCH IN THE DITCH FOOT - If you are going to be quilting regularly, it would be an advantage to have one of the specialty stitch in the ditch or edge stitch sewing machine feet on the market. They generally have a guide attached to keep your sewing exactly in the ditch.
WALKING FOOT - A walking foot can also be used to stitch in the ditch. This is used for thicker layers of fabric like quilts as it stops the fabric from bunching up and twisting as you sew. The beauty of sewing in the ditch with a walking foot is you have more control over the fabric when sewing thicker fabrics.
Stitch in the Ditch Thread
When sewing stitch in the ditch, use a strong matching color thread.
You can use clear thread that looks a bit like a fishing line but generally, a matching color will be enough to make your stitches disappear into the background.
How to Stitch in the Ditch
There are 3 main uses of the stitch in the ditch.
- Finishing quilts. This sewing technique uses a walking foot if you have one and is especially useful for finishing off quilts. The stitch in the ditch finishes the quilt as it stitches together the lining and batting. The ditch refers to the indent made between the joined fabrics.
- Finishing binding on necklines, cuffs, waistbands and anywhere you want an invisible finish. A stitch in the ditch finish is a great way to neaten off a facing with a bound edge.
- Waistbands - Waistbands on gathered skirts commonly are joined on using the stitch in the ditch method.
Stitch in the Ditch for Quilting
While you can't really see the stitching when the stitch in the ditch is done for quilting, it will create indents in the quilt and you will see the stitching on the back of the quilt where the fabric is normally all one fabric with no patches.
Step One - Join the Patchwork
Prepare the quilt by stitching all the pieces together and press the stitched seams open to reveal the ‘ditch’ clearly.
Step Two - Batting
Cut and trim the chosen batting and lining for the quilt and pin or tack to the underside of the quilt.
Note to the Perfectionists - I used my regular foot to sew this patchwork. If I had of changed to a walking foot, the center seams would have matched much better. A walking foot prevents the fabric from shifting as you sew. I pinned and was really careful but the fabric still moved slightly under the regular foot.
Step Three - Change Foot and Stitch
Use your walking foot or stitch in the ditch foot to stitch carefully into center of the quilt seams.
Extra Tips - When sewing batting you will get the best results with a quilting sewing needle. My batting was quite thick and sewing with a universal needle resulted in a few skipped stitches.
Remember to backstitch the beginning and ends of each row of stitching carefully to prevent unraveling.
Step Four - Finishing
Complete the quilt with binding around the edge.
Stitch in the Ditch for Bias Tape
Stitch in the ditch can be used to finish necklines and armholes with bias tape as well as many other sewing projects.
You can use store-bought bias tape or make your own. The most common bias tape to use is ½ inch (12mm) double-fold bias.
Step One - Prepare Bias
Look at your double fold bias. You will notice that one side is shorter than the other.
If you are sewing a curved area - Place your bias on your ironing board with the short side up and gently iron the bias in a curve. This will give a smoother result especially when you are sewing necklines and armholes.
Step Two - Stitch and Clip
Open up the bias tape and pin the shorter side with right sides together to the front neckline raw edge
>>right sides together on the front of the neck.
Stitch ¼ inch (6mm) from the edge in the first crease.
For curves clip into the edge to ease the seam. There is no need to clip if you are sewing a straight edge.
Step Three - Press Bias to Back
Fold the bias back up and bring it to the back.
On the wrong side, press the bias over the stitched line so it will be caught in the stitching later.
Pin the binding down.
Transfer the pins to the right side because you will sew on the right side. You want to avoid running over a pin.
Step Four - Stitching
Gently stitch in the ditch on the right side. This means you will be sewing in the seam of the bias tape.
I have used contrast thread so you can see the stitching but if you use matching it will be invisible. In this example, you would use blue thread for the top spool and cream thread for the bobbin. That way the stitching would not show on either side.
Make sure that the machine catches the bias edge on the wrong side. As I sewed along I kept running my fingernail over the edge underneath just to double-check it had not moved.
Step Six - Press
Press the finished bias tape and see how neatly it sits around the neckline.
Stitch in the Ditch Waistband
Sewing stitch in the ditch for a waistband or cuff is similar to the method for bias tape.
Step 1 - Stitch the Waistband
With right sides together, stitch the waistband to the skirt with the seam allowance specified in the sewing pattern.
Step 2 - Press
On the wrong side, press the seam allowance up towards the top of the waistband.
Press the top of the waistband over by ¼ to ½ inch (6-12mm).
Step 3 - Fold and Press
Still, on the wrong side, fold the waistband down so it just covers the stitching line.
Pin in place and then transfer the pins to the front for stitching.
Step 4 - Stitching
On the right side of the skirt, stitch in the seam of the waistband. This will catch in the small overlap at the back.
For skirts, I find it just as easy to use my regular presser foot.
Decorative Stitch in the Ditch
If you don't want your stitching to be completely invisible you can use a decorative stitch to sew the seams.
Look at your sewing machine panel and experiment with some looks that you like. A decorative stitch will still provide the function of holding quilts or bias in place while adding a touch of whimsy to your creation.
Tips to make ditch stitching a ‘walk in the park! ’
- Focus your eyes on the place where the needle enters the fabric – in the ditch.
- Secure your stitches firmly at the beginning and end of the stitching.
- Gently open the seam as you sew to be able to stitch into the crease.
- Try using a smaller size needle to get into small spaces accurately.
- Take it slow, just an amble along that ditch will get the best results. Lower the speed of your machine if you tend to drive too fast!
- Avoid turning a big bulky quilt under the needle to get around corners. The extra wad of material could bunch up and break the needle.
Stitch in the Ditch - By Hand
When a quilt is too thick, it may be necessary to stitch in the ditch by hand. Really thick batting may be too spongy and thick to fit under a regular presser foot or machine.
For this quilt that my mother made, she painstakingly handstitched along each seam with an up and down running stitch. She said it was a good job to do in the evenings in front of the TV. It still took a week or so to finish though. Quiltmaking, however, is not about speed.
Running stitch is done with a simple up and down stabbing motion. For thick quilts, you will need a longer quilting needle. (hand sewing needle types)
Stitch in the Ditch - In Conclusion
Ditch stitching can give a really professional finish to your creation. It is always a good idea to try out a new technique on a scrap and to fiddle with any new gadgets before setting out on your finished article.