Basic Hand Sewing Stitches

While sewing machines do much of the work for sewing projects, hand stitches are useful for finishing work like enclosing the fabric edges to prevent fraying, and for temporarily holding fabrics together. Hand sewing stitches are also decorative or permanent depending on where they are placed or used.

Temporary Hand Sewing Stitches

Temporary stitches are not meant to be left in after the sewing has been completed. Use a contrasting thread or a basting thread when working a temporary stitch so it is easy to find and remove it when no longer needed.

Basting Stitch

The basting stitch holds two or more pieces of fabric together temporarily, is used for marking, and is helpful when truing up a pattern on a fabric before it is fed into the sewing machine. Basting is a basic hand stitch. After piecing the fabrics together, begin the stitch at the end of the sewing area, and work back and forth stitches through the fabric layers. Uneven basting is quicker to do, but is less stable, with the stitches running irregularly every 1/2 inch to 1 inch apart. Even basting stitches are stronger, evenly spaced at about 1/4 inch apart.

Running Stitch

A running stitch is used in gathering ruffles or shirring a fabric, and is quickly done on single layers or multiple layers of fabric. A long sharp needle is used to save time. The needle is inserted going from the backside of the fabric with very small stitches sewn onto the needle in a back and forth manner before it is pulled through. This is quickly repeated to the end of the sewing area.

Tailor's Tacks

These are marking stitches used to transfer important details and sewing symbols from the pattern onto the fabric without using chalk or transfer paper. After the fabric is cut with the pattern paper still on top, insert the needle at the marking point leaving about an inch of thread behind. Make another stitch at the same spot, this time leaving a 2 inch loop, and snip the end leaving an inch behind. Make sure the thread has gone through all the layers, and snip the loop in half. Carefully lift off the pattern paper, and gently separate the fabric layers. Snip the threads, leaving behind tufts of thread on both fabrics for identification.

Decorative or Permanent Stitches

These stitches are left in the fabric after the sewing has been completed, and depending on the project can be hidden or left in view.

Blanket Stitch

A blanket stitch is worked on the edge of the fabric with the thread showing through and left on the edge. This is done by inserting the needle from the front side heading to the edge. As the next stitch is being worked, pass the needle over the loop edge before pulling all the way through. The result is the thread being caught at the edge by the thread loop. Blanket stitches are very decorative when worked evenly, and in either matching or contrasting threads.

Hemming and Hemstitch

There are many different versions of the hemstich, and all are used to join different pieces of the fabric together to either enclose a folded open seam or securing a turned in edge of the garment. The needle is inserted in the wrong side of the fabric, and before being pulled through it catches a piece of the fold. Depending on how much fabric was taken in onto the needle, the hemstich can be blind, or nearly invisible on the right side of the fabric.

Helpful Tools and Notions

When sewing by hand, a few things in the sewing basket will assist in your projects. A thimble is worn on the middle finger, comes in different sizes, and is used to help push the needle through fabric. Have different needle lengths handy, as long needles will make easy work for running stitches and short ones can be used for tight places. A quick swipe through beeswax helps to keep long threads from tangling.

No matter if the hand stitches are used as a preliminary stitch before machine sewing, or for decorative work, knowing the basic hand sewing stitches helps save time or complete projects easier, or create decorative elements on a finished sewing project.
Images courtesy Morguefile.

Renee Shelton.