a running stitch.

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Knowing how to sew by hand is not only a valuable way of keeping alive an age-old tradition but it comes in handy when you're not able to access electricity or use a sewing machine. Hand stitching is also important for various stitches that are technically more detailed and exacting than machine stitching, including for craft work.

Essential stitches

There are numerous hand stitches available to the hand sewer and each one has its own special use and is best for specific outcomes. Here is a selection of what are probably the most essential to begin with:

  • Running stitch: Running stitches are used mainly when you don't expect that there will be a lot of tension in the area. This is great for sewing patches on fabric. All you do is stitch in a straight line.
    a running stitch.
  • Oversewing stitch: The oversewing stitch is better for neatening raw edges of fabric or sewing two pieces of fabric together. This is stronger than the running stitch and looks nicer. This stitch is when you sew perpandicular to the edge of the fabric. It gives off a "Nightmare Before Christmas" look.
oversewing stitch.
  • Hem stitch: Perfect for sewing up hems that have been created on a new garment or that are being changed on existing garment. This is a strong stitch but it's not always invisible, depending on the type of hem stitch used.
  • Backstitch: This stitch is used for garments and fabric that require a strong seam. It's great for fabric that has a lot of stretch.
  • Slip stitch: If you don't want the hem stitching to show, this is the ideal stitch to use.
  • Lock stitch: This stitch is used for hems on soft furnishings such as curtains and also on garments.
  • Blanket stitch: Usually used at the edge of blankets, this can also be used on clothing for a unique look or on other items. It gives a very neat edge and is very strong.

Many other stitches exist, including a variety of embroidery stitches. These can be learned as you need them by building on your existing stitching knowledge.

Hand stitching technique

When stitching by hand, there are several key elements that you should master to ensure that the stitching is of good quality:

  1. Ensure that where you're sitting is both comfortable and well lit. If you find it hard to see the stitches, use glasses or a magnifying glass. Some stitchers use a magnifying lamp, which both illuminates and enlarges the work.
  2. Begin hand stitching by keeping together any seams or hems with basting or pins. Always knot the thread to begin with, so that it is secure.
  3. Use a shorter length of thread to avoid tangling.
  4. Use the right type of thread. Some threads are easier to work with by hand than others. Silk is preferred for hand stitching as it slides easily.
  5. As with the thread, choose the right size and type of needle. Larger yarn needs a larger needle, especially for embroidery work.
  6. Keep an eye on your stitching spacing. Hand stitching should aim to stay even and neat. If your stitches are not even, they can be both unsightly and weaker in effect.


  • Leave yourself a bunch of thread when you're stitching so that you don't run out half-way through.
  • Floss is stronger than most threads and leaves your clothes minty fresh.
  • Safety pins are great for holding your fabric in place when sewing.
  • Try using a thimble if the needle is being pushed through thick layers of fabric. This prevents the needle from sticking into your skin. Traditional thimbles can be made from metal or plastic, while leather ones exist for quilting.
  • Always have clean hands before attempting hand stitching.

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