An Illustrated Guide to Sewing Stitches for Beginners
Everyone should learn these foundational sewing stitches, as they're necessary for everything from making small repairs to crafting full garments—and all of them can be done by hand. You might think that sewing by hand takes much longer than sewing by machine. While that is sometimes true, it's often faster to pick up your needle and thread than it is to set up a tabletop of equipment. Plus, hand sewing makes it easier to be precise with your stitches so you're less likely to need to rip out stitches and redo the work.
Finishing work—such as hemming clothes or closing a hole on a stuffed toy—is best done by hand. It's also a great way to take your sewing with you. For example, you'd never be able to sew a quilt in a waiting room, but English paper piecing is a quilting method that uses all hand sewing in small pieces. Lots of small felt projects also rely on hand sewing with embroidery floss. Even consider it a hobby to pick up with the kids in your family—after all, it's a skill everyone should learn how to do.
For the best results, choose the right stitch, thread, and needle for the task. You can choose thread that matches your fabric to keep the stitches less visible or opt for a contrasting color when you want your finishing stitches to stand out. And be sure that your needle is the right size for your thread and with a point designed for your fabric. In some projects, it's recommended to begin your work with a waste knot to avoid pulling the unknotted thread through the fabric. (This a simple knot that is trimmed away after a few stitches are made or when the seam is completed.)
As with any kind of sewing, practice makes perfect. Work on making even stitches and soon you'll be stitching with finesse.
As a beginner, this is one of the first stitches you will learn. It's ideal for sewing simple seams and hand quilting, and it works great for felt sewing projects. To make the running stitch, hold the layers of material together and bring the needle up through the fabric, then go back down, and repeat this technique at even intervals—it's that simple! Use smaller stitches for more security.
You can also use this stitch for basting pieces together. When basting, use much longer stitches so that they're easy to remove. Another variation on running stitch is called the Holbein stitch. For this stronger stitch, sew a line of running stitch, then sew back over the line, filling in the gaps with another line of running stitch.
Popular in embroidery, the back stitch creates strong, permanent seams. To make the back stitch, bring the needle up through the fabric a stitch's length away from where the seam should begin then down at the beginning point of the seam. (In this way, you're going "back" to the previous stitch.) Come up again a stitch's length away from the last stitch, then go down at the end of the last stitch.
The whip stitch is used to sew together two separate pieces of material with flat edges. It's sometimes called the overcast stitch or edge stitch, which makes sense because you work whip stitch over the edge of the fabric. It's also great for finishing the seam so that it doesn't fray. To make the whip stitch, bring the needle up through the fabric, loop around the edge of the fabric, and come back up again. With this stitch, you always bring the needle from back to front so the thread wraps around the edge of the fabric.
This stitch creates an invisible line that's perfect for closing seams on pillows and sewing down-quilt binding. Also known as the slip stitch, you can work this stitch from the right side where two folded edges come together. To make the ladder stitch, bring the needle up to the right side of the fabric on one of the folded edges. Directly across from this, go through the opposite folded edge, then come back out a stitch length away. Repeat this technique, going back and forth on each side of the seam.
The catch stitch is best used in sewing hems with heavier, bulky fabrics or garments that stretch. The stitches aren't hidden between the layers, so it's best to use this in areas that are covered by lining. On the right side of the material, this creates two lines of small horizontal stitches, while on the reverse it makes longer criss-crosses.
To make the catch stitch, bring the needle up near the edge of the fabric on the lower left. Go down diagonally over the fabric edge and to the right. Come back up just the left. Go down diagonally, crossing below the fabric edge and to the right, then come up just to the left. Repeat this technique along the hem.
Blind Hem Stitch
Give your hems a professional finish with the blind hem stitch. These stitches are all but invisible on the right side of the hem. To make the blind hem stitch, working on the wrong side of the hem, come up near the upper edge of the folded hem. Take a tiny stitch as you dip the needle down and back up through the back fabric. The tinier the stitch, the less it shows. Go through the folded hem, dipping the needle down and back up to make a stitch that's about 1/2 inch long. Repeat these two steps, making tiny stitches through the outside of the item and longer stitches through the inside folded hem.