How to Sew by Hand

Posted by Julia Garza

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Many garments will require a bit of hand stitching, usually when securing a facing. Hand sewing also adds couture elements to handmade garments. Some sewists really enjoy hand sewing and find it be to be a calming activity. Even if you find you prefer sewing by machine, you'll want to have a grasp of how to sew by hand and the basic hand sewing stitches. There are 7 stitches you'll encounter most frequently:

Basting Stitch

hand sewing

Basting fabric together is helpful when you have slippery fabric or need to temporarily attach two pieces of fabric together (like when you are installing a zipper). You can use your machine to baste (just use a longer stitch length and don't backtack at the beginning or end), but in some instances, like when you are working with a delicate fabric, you might prefer to baste by hand. To do this, use a contrasting color thread, so you can easily remove the thread later. Weave the needle in and out of the fabric, creating the look of a dashed line, at about 1/4th-inch intervals. You might want to knot your thread when you are done to keep the stitches from sliding out, but this isn't necessary.

Running Stitch

running stitch

This is the basic stitch that you can use in many situations. It is very similar to a basting stitch, but you'll want to use a coordinating color thread and much smaller stitches, 1/16th-inch to 1/8th-inch and evenly spaced apart. Even if you think you never learned how to sew by hand, you're probably familiar with this stitch.


backstitch hand sewing backstitch

This stitch creates a strong seam; use it on heavier fabrics. Beginning on the right side of your seam, bring your needle up through the fabric at point 1. Moving toward the right, insert your needle down at point 2. Moving to the left of your first stitch, bring the needle up at point 3. Again moving to the right, insert the needle down at point 4. Point 4 will be just to the left of point 1. Repeat until you reach the end of your seam.

Overcast Stitch

overcast stitch

This stitch is useful on fabrics that are prone to fraying. Beginning on one side of the edge you want to finish, make a series of evenly spaced, diagonal stitches that loop around the edge of the fabric.

Slip Stitch

slip stitch

Press the seam open. Insert your needle on the wrong side of the fabric. You'll be stitching right along the creased edge of your seam. Pull the needle through, hiding the knot on the wrong side of the fabric, and insert the needle directly across on the other seam. Slip the needle through the fold of the seam about 1/8th-inch away. Pull the needle up through the crease. Repeat until you reach the edge of the seam.

Blind Hem Stitch

blind hem stitch hand sewing blind hem stitch

Prep your hem. Pull your needle through the pressed crease. Use the tip of the needle to pick up a few threads on the right side of your garment. Push the needle back into the fold of the hem. Repeat for the length of the hem.

Securing Hand Stitching

Make sure to secure your hand stitching by knotting your thread. There are a handful of ways to do this; my preference is just to make a loop with the thread and push one end through to create a nice knot.

Learning how to sew by hand is pretty simple and a fun way to spend an afternoon. Do you add hand sewing to your projects?

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