How to Sew clothes by Hand (Important tips)

how to sew pieces of fabric together by hand & 10 occasions where you would rather hand sew

Today, we have an overabundant choice of sewing machines and if this does not interest you, there are so many ready-made clothing shops that, even if you do not touch a needle and thread you would not go without clothes by a longshot. But that does not make me and my ilk (of die-hard sewists) chuck away needle and thread.

“In the rhythm of the stitches, you can daydream, forget your problems and stay away from the cookies” – This statement from the book Handmade Quilts, by Mimi Dietrich, says it all for me. I am completely into hand sewing. And I definitely want to be out of the cookie jar!

Other than the obvious attractions of hand sewing, like its portability, peace and tranquility and creativity, there are occasions when you need to flex your sewing fingers and get sewing by hand. Yes, your sewing machine will do all that and maybe much more – but where is the fun? And perfection?

Related posts: 14 different hand sewing needles; Here is a post detailing the Types of hand stitches 

What do you need to hand sew

Strong thread,Good sharp needles, Tape measure, Thimble, tailor’s chalk, scissors. All of these are self explanatory.

For the hand sewing thread, you can use sewing machine cotton thread. But if you want a more sturdy thread use linen thread. For a silky sheen, use silk thread.

Sewing needles for hand stitching

There are so many hand sewing needles available in all sizes and shapes – for leather sewing you can use a wing needle with a triangular point which will make bigger holes.

For beading stitches you need small needles which will pass through the eye of the beads. For running stitches you need long lengthy needles which will make multiple stitches at once. For difficult to access areas you will need a circular shaped needle. You will need a thick needle for sewing thick fabrics – too thin ones will break before long.

Which needle is best for hand sewing? Thin hand sewing needles of sizes ranging from 8-12 works easily with hand sewn stitches. Ensure that the needles that you buy for hand sewing are very sharp, strong, and bend resistant.

You can use a long needle for sewing buttons and for making basting stitches. A medium needle for sewing seams. A short needle can be used to sew thick fabrics, you get more control this way.

When you making hand sewing stitches for long, the needles are going to prick and hurt your fingers. So many people swear by a thimble. They are especially useful in pushing needle into thick fabric seams.

If you have difficulty threading thin eyes of the needles you can also use a needle threader. I cannot do without one. 

Basic stitches in hand sewing

The most important stitches used in handsewing are Running stitches, back stitch, whip stitch, slip stitch, pick stitch, and catch stitch. You can read more in detail about the hand stitches here.

The best hand sewing stitch for joining two fabric pieces together by hand is a Backstitch. This is the stitch which closely resembles a machine made straight stitch. Learn Backstitch & variations.

Another very strong and durable stitch is the saddle stitch. Learn how to do a saddle stitch here.

Each back stitch/saddle stitch can be 1/4 to 1/8 inch – just ensure that they are all of the same length.

Running stitch and Pick stitch are also frequently used to join fabric together.

Hand sewing basics – Learn to sew by hand

Take some 18 –20-inch thread on your sewing needle. If you have difficulty threading a needle check out this post on threading your needle for more details.

You can tie a simple knot at the end of the thread as you begin. If you difficulty, make a knot easily on your thread the following way:

Keep the end of the thread facing the needle eye

threading the needle

Make twists along the needle – two or three coils would do

easy way to thread a needle

Bring the coil to the back of the thread easing it gently down

easy way to thread a needle

The coils will form a knot as you tighten it.

Some other ways to anchor your stitching without the knotting is there in this post “4 ways to make thread knots”

Joining fabric pieces together with hand stitches

If joining two pieces of fabric together, keep them right sides together, matching the cut edges and aligning the seam line if you have marked that. Make sure that your stitches are evenly spaced and have an even tension.

As you sew, hold the hold the needle as close to the eye.

Ensure that you are not deviating from the seam line; start and finish exactly on the seam line. At the starting of the seam stitching make one or two back stitches to anchor thread.

Practise, Practise, Practise!

Speed in hand-sewing will come only with a lot of practice.

You will have to practice a lot till you get the speed and accuracy right. You can practice with a checkered fabric so that when you join two fabric pieces both the fabric layers do not move differently (this is a problem when hand-sewing). I can stitch continuously for about 30 to 45 minutes at a stretch and then take a break.

10 occasions where you would rather hand sew than use the sewing machine

1. Hem overlong pants/ trousers/skirts

When it comes to hemming everyone knows that you will do better with a hand sewn hem. With the invisible stitches mentioned in this post, you can sew without anyone being any wiser that there are stitches holding the hem together.

Sew slip stitch on the edge making invisible hem stitches

Related post – How to sew an invisible hem : 3 methods ; 17 easy hand hemming stitches to sew a hem.

2. Repair small tears in clothes

Small holes are darned to repair

Hand stitches, if meticulously made, can make small tears in clothes disappear. Invisible mending done by professionals can make it seem like there never was a tear. You and I may not be able to replicate this – but for trying out this kind of mending, check out this post on Darning and  clothing repairs.

3. Make tucks in loose clothing

Imagine that you are in a hotel getting ready to go to a party. And your new dress is all over and beyond you –  it is loose. In this emergency situation, knowing this hand stitch -ladder stitch – can save you a sloppy look.

invisible stitching by hand

Take out the hotel’s emergency sewing kit and make parallel stitches to sew a dart and tighten your clothes easily.

small darts are made by making paralle stitches on the dart marking and pulling it tight

Just pull the stitches tight and the dart automatically closes.

the dart is sewn entirely by hand

Make any kind of darts in the positions described in this post on sewing darts “Dart positions”  to make alterations in your clothes

If you want to, add machine stitching at a later date. 

4. Mend unexpected rips in seams

If you find a small rip in your seam and only the emergency sewing kit is near you, you can sew a variation of the ladder stitch and save your dignity pronto. Learn more details of the ladder stitch here

small rips in the seams can be invisibly stitched with hand stitches

stitches are made through the fold
In ladder stitching stitches are made along the fold on either sides

The seam looks like there was never a rip there

A back stitch neatly and evenly made is as strong as any machine made stitch. Learn how to sew a back stitch here.

5. Hand embroidery & applique

Embroidery is the epitome of hand sewing and what a beauty at it. The therapeutic qualities of embroidery have been well documented. Know more about the good effects of embroidery on mental well being here.

In short, if you learn embroidery you will never think about wasting time on Netflix. Or Maybe not. Let me just say Embroidery is as habit forming as Netflix.

Related posts : Learn Hand embroidery; Hand embroidery stitches; Ribbon embroidery stitches

Applique involves stitching cut fabric pieces on a background fabric creating designs on it. Floral designs are usually made with patterned, printed fabric and stitched onto solid background fabrics for maximum effect. You can see all the techniques used in Hand applique here

6. Tacking stitches & baste stitches

Sometimes pins are inadequate, when you want to temporarily keep fabric pieces together – basting stitches are the answer to this.

These long stitches make temporary stitches that keep your folds, pleats, ruching etc in place till you are ready to sew them down.They are also great for gathering fabrics. Just make long running stitches

Learn more about gathering fabric, basting stitches and tacking stitches.

7. Sew fasteners

Buttons and button loops & buttonholes are the first thing that comes to my mind. Though most other fasteners used in sewing can be hand stitched by hand and they are done so mostly by professionals, read haute couturiers.

hook and eye closures

Even the zippers can easily be hand sewn. You just have to ensure that you are making even small stitches which will not come apart with the strain of opening and closing the openings.

Related posts: How to sew Buttons; How to hand sew beautiful buttonholes; How to sew Button Loops 

8.  Bias binding

Bias Binding can be sewn by machine but if you want an invisible look you can use a slip stitch to sew the final fold in place.

bias binding tape maker tutorial

This Invisible binding makes your sewing project look amazing when compared to a machine sewn one. Read more about bias tapes and cutting bias tapes here.

9. Patchwork & Quilting

Hand Quilting a whole quilt sounds daunting – but Quilting was only hand sewn once upon a time – It was very popular among American housewives and many a quilt made thus still hang in museums that have been patiently pieced and hand quilted.

Hand sewn quilts can be seen here – Quilts in Australian museums and galleries ; American Quilt collection

Even today women take their quilt fabric pieces with them anywhere they go and join them at their leisure -without caring for sitting only where the sewing machine is. All hand pieced carefully and lovingly. Quilting stitches can also be hand stitched. An entire quilt can be hand tied

Related posts : 55 popular quilt blocks ; 30 Main types of quilts ; 13 main types of Quilting stitchesQuilting terms.

10. Dress Lining

Lining and the outer garment are made separately and then joined together to each other carefully with tiny hand sewn stitches

Related post : What is lining in sewing?


Handsewing is special – there is this connection between you and the fabric. There is a care and joy in each and every hand made stitch. Your creativity and expertise are broadened double fold every time you hand sew. You enjoy the process of sewing. You savor the feel of the fabric and revel in the color and experience patience and stillness in you that you never knew existed. Just ask about this to the person who has hand stitched a king sized quilt -all by hand. If not love and joy, what drives this?

Related posts : How to hand sew leather (with the best stitches) 

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Author: Sarina Tariq

Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.

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