5 Most Useful Basic Hand Sewing Stitches – for All Sewing Projects

April 9, 2021

Every sewer needs to know some basic hand sewing stitches, even if they plan on sewing mostly by machine. The stitches detailed here are very basic but very useful. They can be utilized on a variety of projects, from beginner to advanced. See all the detailed images and/or videos below.

This is written for anyone who would like to learn how to sew by hand. Also good for beginner sewers who would like to mend clothes, have professional results when finishing projects and machine sewers for situations when the machine just won’t fit where you need it to go. There are many more hand stitches but these are the most basic hand sewing stitches and the best to learn at the beginning of your sewing journey.

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The 5 Basic Hand Sewing Stitches in this Post:

1 – The Running Stitch
2 – The Backstitch
3 – The Whip Stitch
4 – The Ladder Stitch
5 – The Securing Stitch

Let’s get started:

To learn how to do these stitches you can start by collecting these simple materials:

Each is a link to a favorite product for easy ordering.

Needle – It’s nice to have an assortment of sizes in a handy case.
Thread – Good old Coats & Clark all-purpose thread, good stuff.
Fabric – Some quilters cotton choices that are good for practicing and making little projects.
● Scissors – any kind you have, no need to buy new. You don’t even need scissors, you can always use a boxcutter or blade of some sort.

They can be ANY kind as long as they will work together. For example: thick needle with a large eye goes with thicker thread, in a heavier fabric. Or thinner fabric with basic sewing thread and a smaller eyed needle. When just learning, using a quilters cotton and all-purpose thread would be a good place to start. Learn on woven fabrics before moving onto knit fabrics.

Keep in Mind:

If this is your first time with a needle and thread, the stitches are going to be messy, you’re going to get the needle and thread caught on things, you may even poke yourself and start bleeding. I have been using these stitches for a while and I sometimes will poke myself and start bleeding. As with almost any other hobby that you start, keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself.

Need to save this later because you really want to read it but don’t have the time now? Pop on over to Pinterest!

best hand sewing stitches

Before We Begin:

Now that you have collected up all of your supplies, now what?

You’ll need to thread your needle – see the post “How to Thread Your Needle and Keep it Threaded“. You’ll also need to make a knot at the other end to keep the thread from pulling out of your fabric. See this quick video showing the basics:

The Running Stitch – The Most Basic but Handy Stitch

The most basic stitch, the most useful and probably the most used without people even realizing it. This is the basic stitch where you go up and down, in and out of the fabric in a straight line. I like to think of it as a dolpin swimming along and leaping out of the water then diving down into the water while moving foward the whole time. In and out, in and out, in and out, blah blah blah. Do you have the idea? Plus, it is a super easy hand stitch for sewing and probaly the most important (next to the securing stitch that we’ll learn lower down).

IMPORTANT TIPS:

● To not get tangled up, remember to dive into the fabric on the same side your threaded needle is coming out of, otherwise you will wrap your thread around the edge of the fabric.
● You will find it useful to use the index finger of your non-dominant hand to guide the needle up through the fabric.

How to do the Running Stitch:

1 ● Prepare your thread with a knot, either as a single or double thread. (single means you make a knot on one end of the thread, double means you knot the two ends together.) Big knots are good for learning and on thick fabric or loosely woven fabric. The whole point of the knot is to catch in the fabric and stay put.

2 ● Eyeball where you would like the line of stitching to begin. From the back/wrong side, bring the needle through to the right side of the fabric on that spot you eyeballed. You can always mark it with an air erasable marker, just saves time if you don’t. Approaching from the back means your knot is hidden on the back.

Inserting needle into fabric to start the running stitch

The knot rests against the fabric. If it doesn’t, there will be extra movement in the stitches and your stitching will be loose.

the knot needs to rest next to the fabric so that it holds in place

3 ● Take the needle and dive it back down to the back side of the fabric, making a ‘jump’ equal to how much thread you want to see on the top, also known as the stitch length.

After pulling out the thread,

Pull the needle down until the thread rests gently on the fabric, without pulling too hard.

pull the thread until the stitch lays flat on the fabric

4 ● Your next move will be to come up to the top of the fabric again (think about that dolphin coming up for air). You can come up real close to where you dove down or you can come up the same distance or even further, this is up to you. This is when the thread is on the back side of your project, you will not be able to see it from the front. Decide what look you want to acheive and that will determine how far you dive under the fabric.

Bringing the needle back up the right side of the project.

5 ● Bring the needle back through the fabric to the right side/top for another stitch.

6 ● Repeat this up and down, diving and surfacing motion until you reach the end of your planned line of stitching.

Basic Hand Sewing Stitches

7 ● Make a securing stitch at the end. See the instructions for the securing stitch below.

To sew more stitches at a time, here is a handy trick: Load your needle with more than one stitch before pulling it out of the fabric. You can go much faster and it is easier to see if you are keeping your stitches the same size and distance apart.

make more stitches at a time by loading up the needle with multiple stitches at once.

I like to use this stitch when a hem has fallen from my tank top and I want a quick fix, using a matching color thread so it will not show. Or even using the thread that is hanging off the shirt and is just waiting to be used, you know it will match, you don’t have to dig through your sewing kit to find it and you can’t lose it.

This is a sturdy stitch but not the most sturdy in our list. That honor belongs to the next stitch.

The Backstitch – Useful Hand Stitch for Strong Seams

The backstitch is named this way because for every stitch forward, you go a stitch backward. Seems like you wouldn’t get anywhere, but you can actually create a very strong line of stitching rather quickly.

While the running stitch has a bit of fabric showing between each stitch, the goal of the backstitch is to have no fabric showing and this stitch most resembles the stitching done on a machine, both in look and strength. Great way to get super strong hand sewing stitches without a machine.

How to do the Backstitch:

1● Enter the fabric from the back/wrong side of your work with a threaded needle. Do this so the knot does not show on the front side of your project.

The back stitch starts with a stitch moving forward like the running stitch with a stitch length that is as long as you want your stitches to appear. Bring the needle down into the fabric towards the back/wrong side. Then pop up again on the front . It is as though you were a dolphin and have completed a dive down under the water and back up to the surface.

starting the backstitch looks just like starting the running stitch

With the needle on the front side again, go backwards towards that first stitch. Enter the needle right in front of the end of the first stitch. You want a tiny bit of fabric between the first and second stitches but not much.

the needle going into the fabric to form the backstitch

Pull the thread taut so the thread lays flat on the fabric.

finished backstitch showing how close the stitches are together and how similar it looks to a machine stitch.

4 ● Repeat the process. On the wrong side, move the needle two stitch lengths worth forward…

moving two stitch lengths away on the back of the fabric

… and come up on the right side of the fabric. Then take your needle down into the fabric right next to where the last stitch ended.

5 ● Repeat this motion until you get to the end of your line of sewing.

This is what the back side should look like. This extra thread coverage helps make it a more sturdy stitch

6 ● Make a securing stitch at the end. See the securing stitch section below for the instructions.

Trick: to speed up the process, you can take the two stitch lengths on the back at one time so you don’t have to look at or turn to the back of the fabric.

Note: the backstitch takes up more thread than the running stitch. You may need to rethread your needle more often.

You are essentially making little loops forward then back, forward then back, forward then back, blah blah blah. Do you see a pattern happening?

The Whip Stitch – Whip it Real Good!

Whip stitches go on the very edge of fabric, very different from what we’ve done so far. I’m guessing the name comes from being the general motion of whipping the thread over the edge. But that’s just a guess, I don’t know the origin. The stitch is useful because it can be used on the edge of fabric to either be just a decorative accent or a very sturdy stitch that can hold two layers together extremely well.

IMPORTANT TIP

● Marking a line in from the edge of the fabric with an air soluble marker helps keep stitches the same length . Using a small card with evenly spaced marks is helpful as a guide to keep your stitches the same distance apart. That is, if you would like them to look tidy and even. If you are working on something that calls for whimsy, feel free to make the stitches any length or space apart as you wish!

How to do the Whip Stitch:

1 ● Prepare to sew with a threaded needle, choose single or double thread. Whip stitch is usually done with a thicker, more decorative thread such as embroidery floss.

2 ●These photos show the stitch on a single layer of fabric. (If you have two layers, start by holding the two edges together, lined up how you want them to stay sewn. Bring the thread between the layers and come out with the needle either through the front or back layer of fabric where you want to place your first stitch. Doing this will hide the knot between the layers)

Starting at the back of the fabric, bring the needle forward where you would like the bottonm of the first stitch to land. Pull thread through until knot is up against fabric. Keep the direction you went for the first stitch in mind, this stitch needs to be done the same way every time.

3 ● Bring the needle over the edge of the fabric to enter the fabric opposite of where the thread came out the first time. The needle needs to enter the fabric the same way it did for the first time. Pull gently until the wrapped stitch sits on the edge of the fabric. This will make the first stitch.

entering the fabric from the back again for the whipstitch

4 ● Move over on the edge how far you want your stitches to be spaced. Insert the needle into the fabric for your next stitch, staying in line with the bottom of the first stitch (a line of air soluble marker is a genius move at this point). Keep inserting the needle in the same direction for each stitch.

Pull gently after each ‘whip’ of the thread over the edge. Keep the tension even for each stitch. You can go back and gently redo the tension if something looks wonky, but better to keep an eye on it as you go. Like everything else in life, right??

If you started going from back to front like this tutorial, keep going from back to front. If you started going from front to back, keep going from front to back. Doesn’t matter which way you go as long as you are consistent! Pull thread tight until the thread is taut up to the fabric. Here is a view of the back side.

Do not pull too tight, it will distort the stitch and the fabric LIKE THIS. BLAHHHHH.

Yeah, it’s gross.

5 ● Following in the direction you started (front to back or back to front), repeat the whole process again. Place the needle away the same distance as before and push through the fabric, pulling the thread taut.

In this example, I have the stitches perpendicular to the edge on the front of the fabric and the stitches diagonal on the back. You can keep it this way or you can divvy up the angle and split it between the front and the back so they are evenly slanted. There needs to be some angles involved so you can reach the next needle hole. Your choice, this is a place where design comes into play.

This is a great way to decoratively secure two pieces of fabric or to help an edge resist fraying, in a decorative way!

The Ladder Stitch – Hide those stitches

This is a stitch I use often, simply because of its purpose. This is the hand sewing stitch you need when doing surgery on stuffed animals or a seam opened on something that you can’t easily access from the back/wrong side. Picture the rear end of a stuffed bear. You can’t go inside the bear to make a repair, that’d just be impossible, not to mention WEIRD. The ladder stitch is an invisible join, or at least it is supposed to be invisible. You could always use a running or backstitch to seal up the bear’s butt, but don’t you want it to be invisible?

This stitch requires holding the project very carefully. The seam that you are going to repair or the fabrics you are going to bring together need to be lined up and held carefully and look how you want the final result.

How to do the Ladder Stitch

IMPORTANT TIP ● This is supposed to be an ‘invisible’ stitch. Take small stitches and keep an eye on your work to make sure it is staying invisible.

This is an example of the right place to use the ladder stitch. On the left, the top of the seam is still intact, but the bottom half needs to be sewn again.

Placing a straight pin at the end to hold the edges together will make it much easier. This is just an example. This stitch is usually used when sewing up something without access to the inside/interior. Stuffed animals, jacket linings etc.

Seam prepared for the ladder stitch

1 ● Thread your needle, using either single or double thread. Take a clue from your fabric, if it is delicate or thin, use a single thread. If it is a thicker fabric, especially something like fake fur, double the thread. Hold your project so that the area that needs to be sewn is sitting between your pinched fingers on your non-dominant hand.

2 ● It is very important to keep both sides of the fabric lined up. That will prevent any gaps from happening. Take your threaded needle and go the open seam and back up so the needle comes out on the folded edge on one side of the seam. Move a little over from the edge of the hole so the first stitch lands in the original stitching. This also buries the knot in the fold so it is not visible from the outside.

In the photo below, I should have approached the seam from the hole I am holding together in my left hand which is what would be done IRL. (IRL means In Real Life. My nine year old taught me that… she kept saying it and I had no idea what she was talking about)

3 ● Staying in line with the original stitching and right where the fabric folds, pull the thread all the way out.

Then cross over with our needle/thread from the bottom edge to the top edge. Insert the needle point at a spot directly across from the thread coming out the bottom edge but run the needle parallel to the seam, just under the fold and away from the knot. Come out a very short distance away and pull the thread taut. The thread goes straight across like the rung of a ladder.

4 ● We are going to again cross over the opening to insert the needle into the opposite fold and turn it so the needle is going parallel to the seam, away from the knot. The needle should go perpendiular to create another rung on the ‘ladder’. Bring the needle up a short distance from where you inserted it and pull the thread taut.

5 ● Keep repeating these steps, creating a ladder all the way up the hole that needs to be closed.

ladder stitch

Pulling taut after each stitch but not too tight.

If you pull too tight, it will create a wavy seam, which you want to avoid.

6 ● After you are happy with the seam, take some securing stitches, trying to hide the final stitches the best you can in the end of the opening.

There is a way to speed things up, do multiple stitches at a time as shown below. By guiding the needle in and out of each edge, you can do more than one stitch at a time. It does require some practice so you are not grabbing the wrong fabric or poking yourself.

Something interesting to keep in mind. Since I worked on fabric that was not an actual garment or stuffed animal, the stitches are visible to inspect from all sides. Notice how similar the running stitch and ladder stitch look? They are in reality creating the same result, just using different methods. Because not all situations allow the running stitch, so here is an alternative! Cool huh?

I also like this stitch because it is just fun to do! There is something to be said about making an invisible repair on a favorite item. It’s like magic, stitch it up and voila, all better. Plus, it keeps the kids happy when I can magically fix their stuffed friends.

The Securing Stitch – To lock in all that hard work

The securing stitch does exactly what it sounds like. It secures the second end of the thread, keeping all of our freshly created hand sewing stitches safe.

We start with a knot in the thread to hold the thread in place to start and we secure it at the end so both ends are secure. Hence the name Securing Stitch. The thread should not move if done properly!

How to do the Securing Stitch

When is the securing stitch used? It is used at the end a line of sewing/stitches to secure them so the sewing stays put. No point sewing if you’re not going to secure it! There are two basic types of securing stitches. Here are both:

1 ● Finish sewing whatever it is you were working on. With a few inches left of thread, take a very small stitch at the very end of your line of sewing. Pull almost all the way taut, but leave a small loop loose.

a tiny stitch to start securing the thread

2 ● Dive your needle through the loop and pull thread taut, making sure that the knot you are creating is going down to rest on the fabric surface, not in the thread above the surface.

dive the needle through the loop to secure it

3 ● For this variety of securing stitch: do this knot at least twice.

To make a double securing knot:

1 ● Finish sewing whatever it is you were working on. With a few inches left of thread, take a very small stitch at the very end of your line of sewing. Pull almost all the way taut, but leave a small loop loose.

Securing stitch first step, take a little tiny stitch

2 ● Dive the needle through the loop and pull one side of the thread to tighten the first loop down while keeping the second loop open. This is a 50/50 chance, grab one side and tug, if it works great, if not, try again.

inserting needle through loop to secure stitching

3 ● Again, dive the needle through the second loop.

Pull down gently. Make sure that the knot you are creating is going down to rest on the fabric surface, not in the thread or fuzzies above the surface.

You can do the securing stitches as many times as you want.

DONE!!


Sewing machines are great, don’t get me wrong. But there are often situations where a sewing machine is not practical or even possible to use to fix or create something. These techniques are useful for mending and constructing projects.

These stitches can help out the very beginner sewist to the most veteran sewist. Just a little practice goes a long way. Keep this post bookmarked if you need to be reminded of how to make these stitches work for you.

Do you have a new/new to you sewing machine and you don’t know how to thread it…? Here is an in depth ‘how to thread almost any sewing machine’ post.

If you have a sewing machine but are stuck becuase it is giving you trouble and that is why you landed on hand stitches, here is another post to help you diagnose your machine issues.

There are more hand stitches, quite a few more actually. These are stitches that are meant to repair or for constructing projects. They are stronger and more utilitarian. A lot of other stitches, especially embroidery stitches are decorative, not meant to hold things together securely.

As always, make sure you are using the right tools for any job. In this case, make sure your tool is the right stitch!

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