I love my sewing machine – in fact, cannot imagine a life without it. As necessary as my iPhone(?). But however much I love my sewing machine, even I know it cannot do everything in a sewing project -I need my hand sewing needle too to complete my sewing.
I don’t think there is anybody who wears clothes, who has not dealt with a hand sewing needle. Even my hubby who never bothers about sewing has had to touch a sewing needle in despair when a button popped off. I know a lady who sew a whole dress for her granddaughter by hand. Many do quilting lovingly and patiently by hand; even I have done a baby quilt by hand once.
A home sewist ought to know that couture sewing has its base in hand sewing. The professionals believe that a machine cannot achieve the perfection a diligent hand sewing will.
There are a few hand stitches which you should definitely know to complete your knowledge of sewing.
First Steps to Hand stitching
- Choose a thread that is almost the same color as your fabric ( Unless you want that contrast effect). If you did not find the exact colored thread, choose a darker colored thread rather than a lighter one. The lighter color will stand out and look very conspicuous.
- Ensure that the needle you are using is an appropriate one for the fabric. Checkout the 14 different needles available for hand sewing. and the other sewing tools which will come handy in hand sewing or the 40 embroidery tools specifically for hand embroidery
- Thread the needle with just enough length thread like about 30″ or so. More than that and you will find yourself in thread tangles.
- Knot at the end of the thread, catching the two ends of the threads
How to sew by hand
- Do not under any circumstance, while sewing, pull the thread and the fabric too tight. An even tension is necessary for good looking stitches
- At the end of the stitch make sure to make two or three back stitches to strongly anchor the thread.
- If you can, pull thread from the fabric itself for sewing these hand stitches. This will perfectly match the fabric and make the hand stitches invisible.
- How to thread a needle to sew by hand– Threading a needle is a despair for only for those who do not have a needle threader. That thin metal contraption is a saving grace for all those who think that the worst thing about sewing is threading the needle. Get one soon and go about sewing. Checkout this post on 10 quick easy tips to thread your needle
- Choose the appropriate hand sewing needle for your project, according to the fabric you are sewing on. Obviously finer fabrics call for fine needles and Choose thick needles for thick heavy fabrics. But even then smaller is better to sew with, so find the smallest of the biggest ( and strongest), if you get what I mean. I bought a small hand sewing needle kit and it had almost all the hand sewing needles I wanted. But I had to buy an upholstery needle separately. They come handy when sewing with faux leather straps in bags etc. You can check out this post on the 14 different types of hand sewing needles if you want to know more
The most important hand stitches for hand sewing.
1. Back Stitch
This makes a very strong hand stitch. If you do not know anything learn this; you can sew anything. It looks exactly like a sewing machine straight stitch.
Pull the needle through the fabric, Take a stitch downwards, then go forward the same distance beyond the first stitch to bring the needle up again.Bring the needle down to the start of the first stitch. Continue in the same vein to get a long line of strong stitches.Checkout more variations of back stitch here
A half back stitch is used as a decorative stitch. This stitch carries back only half the length of the first stitch.
This is a very simple stitch. It is used to join fabric in the seams. Also used for gathering fabric. It is made up of a straight line of stitches of equal length. Also used in embroidery as an outlining and filling stitch.
3. Basting stitch
This is very much like a running stitch but the difference is that it consists of very long stitches.This stitch is usually used as an alternative to pinning. Also used to gather fabric.
The three types of ways Basting stitches are used are
- Even basting : 1/4 inch long stitches are made throughout on either side of the fabric.
- Uneven basting : Long stitches are taken on one side and short stitches on the other side.
- Diagonal basting : Obviously this basting is done diagonally. Used to hold many layers of fabric together. Especially used to hold interfacing and lining to the main fabric.
A stitch used usually to hem . The thread goes over and over the fabric edge to enclose it.Checkout other stitches used for hemming.
This is similar to whip stitch and is usually used on the raw edge of the fabric. It is used to finish edges to neaten them and to prevent unraveling of threads in the raw edge.
The stitch involves short diagonal stitches made over the raw edge of the fabric. They are of the same length and regular spacing is maintained throughout. If this stitch crosses to form an x it is called double overcasting.
How to make an overcast stitch
- Bring out the needle 1/4 inches from the edge of the fabric from the back to the front.
- Now place the needle point in the back. Bring out the needle 1/4 inch to the left from the back to the front again. This will create a stitch which will enclose the edge.
- Repeat until finished. Make sure that all the stitches are the same distance apart.
Checkout more details on this stitch in the article on How to stitch an overcast stitch
A double overcast stitch is done by finishing the single overcasting stitch as earlier and then without breaking the thread another line is one crossing each of the overcast stitches done. Refer to the picture below. This stitch gives a very smooth finish to the edges.
It is similar to a herringbone stitch. The needle catches a thread or two from the first fabric and then the thread crosses and needle goes to catch a thread or two from the second fabric. This is a very stretchy stitch and very suitable for sewing the hem where you need some stretch.
A blanket stitch is usually spaced out about 1/4″ to 1/2″ apart .
How to sew a blanket stitch ?
- Bring out the needle 1/4 inches from the edge of the fabric from the back to the front.
- Place the needle a small distance from the first point and bring it out from the front to the back.
- Now place the thread under the needle point and pull the needle.
- Repeat until finished.
Checkout the 11 variations of Blanket stitch you can use to embellish your clothes.
A buttonhole stitch is a blanket stitch with a knot. It is made slightly differently.
Check out the post on Buttonhole stitch for more details on how to do it.
8.Blind hem or Slip stitch
This is an invisible stitch used to hem. The needle is pulled through the fold of the hem, then comes out to catch one or two threads, then back into the folded hem . Then on to the next stitch ensuring that not much of the thread is shown outside.
Steps to make a Slip Stitch
- To make this stitch on a hem, insert the needle into the fold of the hem (between the two layers of the fabric). Now the knot will be enclosed in the fold.
- Bring out the needle and take one or two thread from the main fabric
- Now come back to the hem and insert the needle into the fold , just left to the place where you have drawn a thread. Pass the needle 1/4 inch through the fold. Bring the needle out.
- Repeat the above steps again
The slip stitch doesnot show the thread outside. Check out this more detailed post on slip stitch.
Checkout the post on making a perfect blind hem by hand and by sewing machine
9.Vertical hem stitch or Couch stitch
This stitch is very good option to sew a hem as it is almost invisible from the outside.
How to do it – Bring out the needle from behind the folded hem. Then needle comes out vertically and catches two threads in the garment, then emerge to the front for the next stitch.
Only tiny dots where you catch the two threads will be seen in the face of the garment.
A Pick stitch is another variation of the back stitch. In this the needle goes back only one or two threads of the fabric.Check out the post on Pick stitch for more details. This one is used a lot in bespoke tailoring.
A tailor’s tack stitch is very handy to know when marking patterns accurately. They transfer pattern markings from tissue patterns to your fabric. For more details on this stitch checkout the post Tailor Tacks : The best stitch for marking fabrics
- How to knot thread before hand stitching – Before you start the hand stitching you need to anchor the thread on the fabric. For that a knot is needed. I make a ring on my forefinger with the end of the thread and twist it with my thumb and then pull. A knot is magically formed at the end of the thread. This is anchored at the wrong side of the fabric before beginning stitching.An alternative way is to make a slip knot at the end of the thread.After running the needle through the fabric once, pull the needle through the knot to tighten the thread.
Another way is to slip the needle into the fabric to create a loop, and then slip the needle through the loop. Pull the loop tight, and repeat to make a second knot to strongly anchor the thread. You can find more details on this in the post “4 ways to secure thread and knot in hand sewing“.