There are many types of stitches used for hand sewing and machine sewing. This handy guide with photographs will help you identify exactly which stitch you need for your latest project. If you are looking for the simplest sewing machine stitch, skip to the straight stitch and if you need a simple hand stitch then the easiest is the running stitch.
Types of Stitches
I have broken this article into machine stitches and hand sewing stitches as people usually have a preference for one or the other. Of course machine types of stitches are quicker but there are many decorative effects that you can only get with hand stitching. Hand stitching can still give you great results even if you don't have a sewing machine.
Types of Stitches
- Machine stitches
- Hand stitches
Types of Stitches by Machine
While modern sewing machines may have many or even dozens of fancy stitches available, the most common types of stitches are straight stitch, zig-zag, buttonhole stitch and an overcast stitch.
Here is an overview of the stitches we will cover.
We all know straight stitch. Lovely little stitches all in a row. You can vary the stitch length to suit different fabrics or decorative looks. This will be the most used types of stitches on your sewing machine. Use it to sew seams, hems, topstitch and even finish edges.
Here are some straight stitches in varying lengths. For most projects in light to medium weight cotton fabric, start with a test on a scrap of fabric at 2.5 lengths. See how it looks and adjust it accordingly. Like all sewing machine stitches, you will need to make sure you check your sewing machine tension. This means that the stitches should look nice and even and not loopy on both the back and front of the fabric.
Further Reading: How to Use a Sewing Machine
Zig Zag Stitch
Zigzag stitch goes from side to side in varying widths and lengths. It can be used for seam finishes, applique and stretch seams. If you are sewing leotards or swimwear, then zig-zag is essential for sewing elastic in the legs and neck.
Further Reading: Zig-zag stitch
Overcast or overlock stitch is used primarily for finishing seams. Unlike a serger, it does not cut the raw edge of the fabric. For this reason, it is important that your edge is pre-cut nice and neat. Most machines will come with a special presser foot to sew this stitch which prevents the edge from rolling and gives your fabric a guide.
Further Reading: Overcast Stitch
A buttonhole stitch is very similar to a zig-zag stitch but many modern machines have a special function for this. It is an extremely close stitch with very few gaps.
Further Reading: How to Sew a Buttonhole
Blind Hem Stitch
Blind hem stitch is used for invisible wide hems on skirts and pants. It uses a varying width zig-zag stitch and is a preset on most machines.
Further Reading: How to Sew a Blind Hem
These are not used for everyday sewing but rather for decorating your sewing projects. They are a bit of fun that can individualize anything you make. The number of decorative stitches will vary wildly between machines and brands.
As a general rule, the more expensive the machine the more decorative stitches you will have to choose from. Don't feel bad if your machine hardly has any. My main machine only has about 8 of them and I only use them once in a blue moon. Probably less!
Types of Stitches by Hand
I put this stitch first even though the rest of the list is alphabetical because out of all the hand stitches, this is the one that gets used the most. It is quick, super easy and even beginners can do this stitch.
Running stitch is a simple up and down stitch that can be used for decorative embroidery and simple seams. The stitches can be large or small but the closer the stitches the stronger any seams will be. If you are using the running stitch for embroidery, keep in mind that longer stitches can be prone to catching.
Most of the time the running stitches are kept fairly even, but interesting effects can be achieved by varying the stitch and gap lengths.
Full Article: Running Stitch
Backstitch is another widely used stitch that can be sewn for seams or embroidery. For seams, it creates a stronger stitch than a backstitch that is less likely to split. While it does take a little longer, it is not that much more difficult. For embroidery, it can be used to create embroidery letters or to outline shapes that will be filled in by other stitches.
Full Article: How to Backstitch
Blanket stitch can be used on the edges of blankets (no surprise there!) and to join pieces of fabric or felt together. It can create pretty embroidery flowers and is a popular stitch for applique.
Full Article: How to do Blanket Stitch (INCLUDES VIDEO)
While it is similar to blanket stitch, it has a corded edge that is suitable for buttonholes and decorative stitching for flowers. It is sewn right to left which is in the opposite direction to blanket stitch.
Full Article: How to do Buttonhole Stitch
Catch stitch is used to hand stitch hems and is especially suited to thicker fabrics such as wool. The inside of the hem looks like a series of small cross stitches while the outside has almost no stitching visible.
Further Reading: Catch Stitch
Chain stitch is a useful stitch for outlining as it creates a thick border. Use it for the outside of letters and shapes including flowers and stems.
Full Article: How to do Chain Stitch
Chevron stitch one of the great types of stitches for borders and filling larger areas. It is worked from left to right along straight rows that can be separated or joined together.
Full Article: How to do Chevron Stitch
Couching stitch is a way of stitching over the thicker threads and even yards to create endless shapes and lines. To create this stitch you lay down the thicker thread on the surface of the fabric in your desired pattern, and then use a thinner thread to stitch over it.
Full Article: How to do Couching
Cross stitch is a popular hobby where whole designs can be created from this simple stitch. The stitches can vary from really small to large and are normally done on open weave fabrics where you can count the threads to make them even.
Full Article: How to do Cross Stitch (includes single and double cross stitch)
Faggoting is one of the types of stitches that are used to join two pieces of fabric. It can be used as an open border on napkins, lingerie and tablecloths. Faggoting is usually very fine and can look like lace inserted between the fabrics.
Full Article: How to do Faggoting Embroidery
Feather stitch is a free-flowing stitch that is popular for small stems and leaves and coral. It is sewn between 4 parallel lines and is best for embroiders of an intermediate level.
Full Article: How to do Feather Stitch
Fern stitch is another stitch like feather stitch that is used for stems and leaves. It is much easier to do even without drawing guidelines. It can be straight or gently curving making it great for sewing flower gardens.
Full Article: How to do Fern Stitch
Fishbone stitch is not usually used to sew fish but rather to create padded leaves with an interesting cross over effect in the center. The leaves can be pointed or rounded at the ends, making it versatile in sewing leaves.
Full Article: How to do Fishbone Stitch
Fly stitch can be used individually to sew interesting little v shapes or joined for embroidering leaves. This is an easy stitch for beginners.
Full Article: How to do Fly Stitch
French knots involve twisting the thread around the needle before it is inserted into the fabric. The knots can be used to create fireworks, small flowers such as lavender and are great as the centers of flowers sewn with other stitches. They may be small, but French knots are very useful. The size of French knots can be varied by the number of times the thread is twisted around the needle.
Full Article: How to do French Knots
Herringbone stitch is mostly used for borders of if joined together, a filling stitch. It is worked from right to left between 2 parallel lines and is relatively easy.
Full Article: How to do a Herringbone Stitch
Invisible Stitch (ladder Stitch)
Invisible stitch is also called ladder stitch or slip stitch and is used to close open seams on toys, beanbags and clothing. It is stitched into the crease of the opened seam in a zig-zagging pattern before it is pulled closed. As the name suggests, it gives an invisible closure when sewn in a matching color thread.
Further Reading: Invisible Stitch
The lazy daisy stitch is a type of chain stitch used to create flowers and daisies. You can vary the number of petals and the size of the center to create different looks. It is often used in conjunction with the French knot in the center.
Full Article: How to do a Lazy Daisy
Long and Short Stitch
Long and short stitch is also known as brick stitch and consists of straight interlocking stitches that form a solid block. It is often used to delicately shade shapes and using variegated threads looks very artistic.
Further Reading: Long and Short Stitch
Sashiko stitch is a variation of the running stitch done in intricate repeating patterns. A traditional Japanese stitch, it is a traditional art form which is easy to do but extremely effective for filling large pieces of fabric.
Full Article: Sashiko Stitch
Satin stitch is a filling stitch used for any shape you can imagine. It is best for smaller shapes as long threads may catch in larger ones. A satin stitch may be used by itself or with a backstitch to create a cleaner border.
Full Article: How to do Satin Stitch
Seed stitch (which is also called rice stitch) is used as a filling stitch or as a method of padding underneath satin stitch. It is essentially small random running stitches done in a simple up and down motion. The stitches can be all different colors or the one color.
Full Article: How to do Seed Stitch
Slip stitch can be used for seams and more importantly, invisible hand hems. Stitches are placed in the crease of the hem so that when done with a matching thread, it is almost invisible.
Slip stitch can also be called ladder stitch or invisible stitch when it is used for the repair of seams.
Full Article: Slip Stitch
Smocking refers not to a single stitch but rather a group of stitches used to gather fabric without elastic. It is both decorative and functional.
Full Article: Smocking
Split stitch is used for outlining and creating simple designs. It is considered a straight stitch and if formed by splitting the thread in half. The outline from this stitch is thick and rope-like making it more of a statement stitch.
Full Article: Split Stitch
Stem stitch is used for stems and borders and produces a thick rope looking line of stitches placed at a diagonal. It is thicker than a running stitch or backstitch and gives more of a three dimensional look to stems. Fitting name isn't it?
Full Article: How to do Stem Stitch
The straight stitch when used as an embroidery term refers to a group of hand embroidery stitches rather than a single stitch. These are all stitches done in a straight line and can be used for unlimited purposes. Examples include the running stitch, backstitch, fly stitch and fern stitch.
Full Article: How to do Straight Stitch
Come into my web said the spider to the fly. Do you remember that old saying? Web stitch is a round woven stitch that can be used for webs and makes lovely roses. Use a contrasting or matching thread for the weaving and spokes for different looks.
Full Article: How to do Web Stitch
Whip stitch can be used for applique and for sewing the seams of felt and other fabrics that don't fray. It is also a popular stitch for stitching together the pieces of knitting and crotchet.
Further Reading: How to do Whip Stitch
Types of Stitches - In Conclusion
So there you have 35 types of stitches you can use for handstitching or machine stitching. You are sure to find something to suit your latest sewing project. Don't forget to check out my free sewing projects!