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Four hand stitches you need to know

Looking back over our sewing patterns so far, we've noticed that we seem to have a bit of a thing for hand stitching. A lot of a thing, in fact. Turns out, we've recommended finishing hems, waistbands and linings by hand in all three of our patterns - which comes as a surprise as we had no idea what perfectionists we really were! Ain't nothing like a flawless finish, so we're going to take you through four of our favourite and most useful hand stitches.

*WARNING - this is a super nerdy post, filled with loadsa close up step-by-step images of sewing samples and long winded explanations. To be digested in small doses...!*

First things first - there are two main ways to thread your hand sewing needle and both are good for different techniques: 

Single thread: thread your needle but knot only one end so that the other is free to come unthreaded - this is especially useful for embroidery techniques where you might need to quickly and easily unpick a few stitches.

Double thread: thread your needle and knot both ends together - the doubled up thread will make for a more secure stitch, but is impossible to unpick without cutting the thread and starting over!

4 hand stitches you need to know - by hand london - sewing tutorial

Running Stitch - what's it good for?

Good for gathering or ruching fabric to make gathered skirts, basting seams and stay stitching a curved edge to prevent it from stretching. A running stitch looks exactly the same on both sides of the fabric.

  • Working from right to left (or left to right for lefties), insert your needle into the fabric and bring it back out again (fig.1)
  • Now weave your needle in and out of the fabric, keeping the stitches as even and straight as possible (figs.2,3&4)

4 hand stitches you need to know - by hand london - sewing tutorial

Back Stitch - what's it good for?

Mending clothes by hand - the back stitch creates a strong seam and can reach awkward, fiddly places that a sewing machine can't. From the right side, the back stitch looks like a straight machine stitch, but the stitches overlap on the wrong side.

  • Working from right to left, insert your needle into the fabric and come back out again, pulling the thread through (fig.1)
  • Re-insert your needle half a centimetre or so to the right of where your needle just came out, and come back out half a centimetre to the left of your first stitch (fig.2)
  • Continue like this, inserting your needle at the end of your last stitch to the right, and coming out one stitch ahead to your left (figs.3&4)

4 hand stitches you need to know - by hand london - sewing tutorial

4 hand stitches you need to know - by hand london - sewing tutorial

Blind Slipstitch - what's it good for?

This is our most favourite. A pretty much completely invisible stitch that is perfect for pretty much anything - from basic hemming to finishing the inside of a waistband, à la Charlotte Skirt, finishing raw edges of a bodice lining as in the Elisalex Dress and finishing the sleeveless armhole of the Victoria Blazer.

  • Press your fabric and pin the fold into place ready to be blind stitched
  • Insert your needle through the folded edge (fig.1) and pull the thread through
  • Pick up a couple of threads from the fabric directly underneath the point where your needle just came out (fig.2) and pull the thread though (fig.3)
  • Reinsert the needle into the pressed edge of the fabric directly above the point at which your needle just came out (fig.4). Using the pressed fold as a guide, slide the needle an centimetre or so along inside the fold and then come out again (fig.5)
  • Keep repeating figs. 2 - 5 along the entire length and securely knot off your stitching at the end

4 hand stitches you need to know - by hand london - sewing tutorial

Blind Catchstitch - what's it good for?

Especially good for hemming, in particular hems that require flexibility or easing in.

  • Press the hem in by 1/4″, and then press in again by 1/2″, or however much or little in order to achieve your desired length
  • Working from left to right, insert your needle inside the fold (fig.1)
  • Make a little stitch in the fabric just below the fold (fig.2)
  • Next make a stitch in the main body of the fabric, moving diagonally down to the right of your first stitch (fig.3) and pull the thread through, keeping it secure but not too tight (fig.4)
  • Moving diagonally up to the right, make another little stitch in the fabric just below the fold (fig.5) followed by another little stitch from the main body of the fabric (fig.6), and so on

4 hand stitches you need to know - by hand london - sewing tutorial

4 hand stitches you need to know - by hand london - sewing tutorial

Finishing off your hand stitches

Just as we back stitch on a sewing machine, securing the end of a line of stitching to prevent it from coming undone, so we have to securely knot the thread when stitching by hand as well.

  • On the wrong side of your fabric, and with your needle still threaded, insert the needle close to where the thread is coming out, catching just a tiny thread of the fabric as you go (fig.1)
  • Pull the needle and thread through, stopping when you have a little loop to insert your needle through (fig.2)
  • Bring the needle and thread through the loop, keeping the forming knot close to the fabric (fig.3)
  • Tighten the knot and snip the thread a few millimetres from the knot (fig.4)

4 hand stitches you need to know - by hand london - sewing tutorial

 

Phewzers!! You can be sure we'll be back next time with something a hell of a lot more frivolous than this! Good time to get the old glue gun out methinks...

  • Elisalex de Castro Peake
  • hand sewingsewingtutorial

Comments on this post ( 18 )

  • Sep 17, 2016

    This was great !! My mother in law was wonderful at sewing and I married her daughter she doesn’t see so it is up to me. My mother in law showed me the first 2 but I had forgotten and since I am the one fixing things I am very thankful for your site. Regards Terry.

    — Terry

  • Jun 07, 2016

    Thanks its really helpful just exactly what I was really looking for

    — Floraon

  • May 30, 2016

    Loved this blog! I wish more people loved these days, sometimes I wonder if I apprentices wouldn’t just glue everything if I wasn’t watching them closely ;)
    I also just posted on the technique that works best for hand stitching, which you may like to check out: https://saccaggi.wordpress.com/2016/05/27/the-tailors-hand/

    — Benjamin Saccaggi

  • May 25, 2016

    Hi there!
    Thanks so much for the post – really helpful. Was just wondering if I could check – I’m looking to take in some t-shirts that are too big… do you think a running stitch on the inside would hold ok? Once I’ve stitched it I will cut the excess fabric so want to be sure. Thanks!

    — Ruth

  • Feb 10, 2016

    Thanks for this…just about to venture into the world of sewing!

    — Sally

  • Oct 29, 2015

    I really love your post!, Thank you for these!,. Step by step, I am learning which I must have to learn in sewing.. XOXO :) Looking forward for your next posts.. :)

    https://mysewingmall.com/

    — Amelie Miller

  • Oct 09, 2015

    i need help
    with my hand stitches

    — wynter lockett

  • Sep 29, 2015

    Ahhhh thank you for these easy-to-read/understand instructions! I’d been putting off a sewing project for months because I couldn’t find how to do it with a machine and the very unstretchy cotton I have, when it suddenly occurred to me to try hand sewing =P Do you have any tips/tutorials related to sewing stretch stitches or with stretchy fabric?

    — Brownie

  • Sep 02, 2015

    thanks

    — florence

  • Jul 30, 2015

    Love your post, the pictures are awesome and the list of uses for each stitch is great.

    — Gail

  • Jul 10, 2015

    Hi Kait,

    Sorry to hear you’re having trouble with your blankets! Drop me a line at help@byhandlondon.com and I’ll see how I can help.

    x

    — Elisalex - By Hand London

  • Jul 09, 2015

    I like to stitch fabrics together to make blankets but some have fallen apart. I’m only 12 so I don’t know the stitch and I don’t know what to do to make it stay with a hand stitch so please email me and help me thank you.

    — Kait Tedrow

  • Jan 15, 2015

    Love this post! I teach how to recycle old clothing with easy hand sewing techniques. You have explained these stitches well!

    Check me out at: CinderellaSew.com

    for more hand sewing love. Would love to see what you are making, by hand!

    xoxo

    — Laura

  • Oct 27, 2014

    very helpful :)

    — Bevs

  • Jul 25, 2014

    Thank you so much for this tutorial! I just started sewing recently and only knew the very, very basics, and as a novice to sewing, this was helpful and easy to understand. I’ll definitely be checking out your other posts :)

    — Marissa Parker

  • Jun 21, 2013

    Thank you! Super helpful and nerdy.

    — Cameron

  • Aug 09, 2013

    Thank you so much for this! I haven’t had any formal sewing training and I’m super nerdy so this was great for me!
    Cheers
    Christine

    — Name *

  • Aug 24, 2013

    Welcome to the club, sewing nerds unite!

    — byhandlondon

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