In this post I’ll teach you how to sew five basic and handy stitches. There’s also a bit about how many strands of thread to use, and how to knot your thread at the start and end.
If you’re new to sewing it’s worth making a little sampler with each stitch labelled for future reference. They’re handy things if you forget the difference between a backstitch and a running stitch, plus they help improve your hand sewing skills.
Let’s get to it!
Are you thready for this?
When hand sewing a single thread is generally all you need. Using a single thread means your stitches will be less noticeable and there are fewer threads to get tangled up in themselves.
I usually only knot one end of the thread which allows me to make finer (albeit weaker) stitches. It also makes the length of thread last twice as long. If you need more strength in your stitching sew smaller, closer stitches, knot both ends, or add more threads.
Using more than one strand is beneficial for jobs like sewing on a button or hook & eyes because it reduces the amount of stitches you need to make. It can also be very handy if you need a thicker, stronger thread but don’t have one on hand.
There are also occasions where you may need more than two strands. For example, I used three strands of embroidery floss for the sampler you can see in this post. No matter how many threads you’re using do make sure to use a needle with the correct sized eye.
The best length of thread is from your fingertips to your elbow, but it’s worth experimenting to see what length feels right for you. Remember though, the longer the thread, the harder it is to keep knot free.
Waxing your thread by pulling it through some beeswax is another way to add strength and keep it tangle free.
Knotting the thread
You can always knot the thread by doing a run-of-the-mill overhand knot, but I prefer this method. I find you get more consistent results (by that I mean I’m don’t end up tying a knot 5cm away from where I want it), and it’s nice and fast.
Wrap the thread around your finger.
Make sure you have the thread crossed over itself.
Roll the thread off your finger, making sure you hold onto it for the next step!
Still holding on to the end of the loop loosely with your index finger, use your middle finger to hold the other end as you pull the long end to tighten the twisted loop.
You’ll end up just holding the little knot between your middle finger and thumb.
And you’re done!
Look how neat it is!
Basting stitch is basically a giant running stitch (running stitch is up next!). It’s used to hold fabric together and is usually pulled out at the end. Basting is also used in stitching fabrics like horsehair canvas into areas that need a lot of support. The pieces are then often further attached and shaped with pad stitching, which isn’t something you need to worry about right now. This post is just basic stitches!
I’ve sewn a straight basting stitch, but it can be done on the diagonal as well.
Start with the knot on the wrong side of the fabric (although if you're going to take it out later it doesn’t really matter which side it’s on).
Pull the thread up and push the needle through around 1.5cm away from where it came out of the fabric.
Move forward another 1.5cm on the underside and push the needle back up.
Repeat until you get to the end.
Running stitch is very quick and easy thanks to the needle being able to make several stitches at once. The stitches should be even on both sides of the fabric, but you can mix it up a little if you want to.
Start on the wrong side of the fabric.
Make little stitches by pushing the needle in and out of the fabric they’re usually 2mm-6mm long. I did roughly 5mm long stitches.
Pull the thread through and repeat until you reach the end!
Backstitch is an extremely strong stitch thanks to its design forming a lock. Its strength makes it excellent for joining pieces together permanently. Despite the extra thread on one side it’s quite a neat stitch. A small backstitch can also be used as a knot alternative at the start and end.
Start on the wrong side of the fabric half a stitch length (5mm in my case) from where you want the stitching to begin.
Push the needle back through half a stitch length and then up again another half stitch length on the other side of the first stitch.
Repeat until you reach the end of where you need to sew.
Slipstitch (ladder stitch)
Slipstitch is like magic. It practically disappears after you’ve finished it! It's used for items that need to be stitched the whole way around need a gap left in them to turn them out. You can topstitch along the edge, but if you want it to look like it’s all been sewn from the inside slipstitch is the stitch for you! It can also be used for hems and stitching the inside of collars and the like.
Start underneath the fold of the fabric.
Push the needle through a stitch length (the example is the classic 5mm) before poking it back up through the fabric.
Start the next stitch on the opposite side horizontally across from where the needle just came out, and then push it through another stitch length.
It looks vertical in this picture because I'm holding the sampler straight, but when your sewing it will be horizontal.
I’ve shown the threads loose, but once they’re pulled the stitches all but disappear! You can see that a little more in this photo.
I’ve stitched some in a double strand sewing cotton too so you can see how invisible it goes with a double thickness of the thread that would actually be used.
Here it is before pulling it closed.
And here it is after!
You wouldn't actually see this in the finished piece, but here's the underside of the slipstitch.
Whipstitch (overcast stitch)
To sew whipstitch you need to hold the material a little differently to most other stitches. Instead of moving from one side to the other (right to left for right handed people, and left to right for left handed) you stitch towards yourself.
It can be used to join fabric together, hemming, or as an edging stitch.
Start with the needle under a fold just like the slipstitch. I worked this whipstitch backwards by stitching away from myself which you can do, but it's much easier to work towards yourself.
Push the needle through both pieces of fabric. The thread should go diagonally up and across from where it just came out.
The needle should stay straight for each stitch.
Keep stitching until you reach the end.
You guessed it, start on the wrong side of the fabric. Or, if you have a fold start on the inside of the fold.
Take the needle around to the back again, move down a stitch length (5mm in the example) and push the needle back through to the front.
Just like before, the needle needs to go straight through, not on an angle.
Keep stitching until you reach the end!
Front view of all the stitches
Back view of all the stitches
Knotting off is pretty easy, providing you remember to leave enough thread to do it! I’ve been known to be too optimistic (or too lazy if you'd prefer) to tie off and change thread when I should which has meant I needed to take some stitches out so I had enough thread to tie off. Having said that, if you used a double thread you can snip the loop and tie a square knot to secure the stitches.
Make sure you have room for your needle to go underneath your last stitch.
You definitely don’t need to have it this big. I only have it like this as a very exaggerated way to show you what I mean, which is probably more confusing really.
That’s a little better, past me, but still too big.
Anyway, push your needle underneath the stitch forming a new loop.
There you go past me, that’s what the stitch should look like.
Take your needle around and through the new loop.
Pull it so it’s nice and tight.
Repeat at least one more time and you're done!
In this example I made the knot on the right side of the fabric, so I took the thread end to the wrong side.
There you have it! Five basic hand stitches to help in many a sew-y situations. Next up for March Mending is darning.
Until next time! xx
I'm Beth the human behind Little Grassbird. Welcome!