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Hand stitches: sometimes a sewing machine just isn't the right tool for the job. Hand stitching is very strong, versatile and nearly invisible on the outside of a garment. Read on to learn six basic hand stitches that every sewist should know..

When hand sewing, work the stitches from the inside or wrong side of the garment. Don't pull the stitches too tight, as doing so often causes the fabric to pucker. Check the outer side of the garment every few stitches to ensure the fabric is lying smooth.



Basting is a long running stitch that's used to temporarily hold two or more layers together while a permanent seam is sewn.

Use basting to sew seams in fine fabrics, such as silks or satins, before machine stitching to prevent the fabric layers from slipping out of alignment. Baste woven interfacing or an applique to the base fabric before permanently sewing. Thread marking is a type of basting used to temporarily show alignment points and finished edges instead of a removable fabric marker. Basting can also replace pins in fine sewing since pins can fall out, leave marks on fabric or catch hand-sewing threads while stitching.

Begin basting with the needle on the fabric working side. Stitch down through all layers, take up about 1/2" of fabric on the needle and pull the thread through. Move forward the same amount and take the next stitch.

Continue to weave the needle up and down through the fabric, making evenly spaced stitches (1). The stitches will look the same on both sides of the fabric. For basted seams under tension, take a single backstitch, instead of a knot, to secure the beginning and end.



The backstitch is a strong and flexible stitch for seams. It's sewn through all layers with evenly spaced stitches on the working side and overlapping stitches on the reverse side.

Use the backstitch to hand-sew zippers and finish the welt seam in tailored pockets and bound button-holes. Tailor's tacks are large back-stitches used to thread mark or trace alignment points onto fine fabrics; they won't mar the fabric surface when removed. The Italian easestitch, a variation on the backstitch, is used in traditional hand tailoring to shape and reinforce armholes.

Begin the backstitch 3/4" from the edge on the fabric right side with the needle coming up from the reverse side. Take one small stitch to the right and travel the needle under it to the left. Pull the thread through to the right side one full stitch length beyond the thread.

Take the next stitch to the right, one half stitch in length, and travel a full stitch forward to the left (2). Work the stitch to the right, or backwards, creating overlapping stitches on theunderside.



A fast stitch for a variety of finishing techniques, the whipstitch features slanted stitches on the right side with smalt stitches showing through on the reverse side.

Use the whipstitch for hems, closing collars, cuffs, waistbands and linings. Or use it to attach motifs to a base fabric for a decorative effect. The whipstitch is visible on one side and can be used instead of a slipstitch for faster sewing.

To begin the whipstitch, hide the knot in the fold and pull the thread through to the working side.

Stitch diagonally across the folded edge and pick up a few threads of fabric. Swivel the needle under the folded edge and pull the needle up through the fold.

Work evenly spaced stitches diagonally across the folded edge, keeping the stitches small on the underside (3).



The slipstitch is a nearly invisible hand stitch that closes two finished edges; it can also be used to secure a finished edge to another layer.

Use the slipstitch to close linings, collars, cuffs, lapels, waistbands, plackets, openings from turned items, unlined hems and hand-rolled hems on fine silks and sheer fabrics. In millinery techniques, the slipstitch is used to finish fabric-covered hats.

Begin the slipstitch with the knot hidden in the fold. Pull the thread through the fold.

Take up one thread of the fabric on the needle, directly across from the thread coming out of the fold.

Swivel the needle back into the folded edge and tunnel through. travelling one stitch length (4). The stitches should be directly across from one another so they'll disappear when the thread is pulled tight.




The catchstitch is a strong, flexible, nearly invisible stitch worked from left to right like a cross-stitch. This stitch picks up one or two threads of fabric on the single-layer side and three to four threads from the folded edge.

Use the catchstitch for lined circular hems, sewing woven interfacing or underlining to fabric pieces, and sewing in hair canvas. Use the catchstitch to secure the upper edges of pleats.

Begin the catchstitch on the left side of the sample, hiding the knot in the fold and bringing the needle up through the folded edge.

Take the first stitch to the right with the needle pointing to the left across the folded edge, taking up one or two threads from the single fabric layer (5).


Take the second stitch on the folded edge, going only through the folded edge layer. Take up three to four threads and pull the thread through (6). Repeat the stitches, working toward the right, advancing 1/4" per stitch for a 1/2" overall spacing.



The buttonhole stitch is an overcast hand stitch that finishes a raw edge or adds decorative stitching to a finished edge, especially when both sides are visible. The stitch makes a decorative shape on the right side with a perpendicular stitch on the reverse side. It's also known as the blanket stitch because it's commonly used to finish the raw edges on wool or fleece blankets.

Use the buttonhole stitch for hand-worked buttonholes, heirloom decorative edges and applique. The buttonhole stitch is both decorative and functional.

Turn the fabric so the folded edge is the upper edge.

Beginning on the left side, bring the needle up from the reverse side. Take the first stitch from the underside, wrapping the thread over the edge to form a loop.

Gently pull the thread through with the needle, catching the loop (7).


Take the next stitch from the underside, catching the thread on the right side (8). Repeat the stitch sequence, working toward the right from the underside, catching the loop that forms over the edge. Hold your non-dominant thumb down on the previous stitch to help control thread tension.


To end the stitch sequence, take a small stitch in place to hold down the last loop and knot the thread on the wrong side.


The best way to perfect hand stitches is to make samples. Practice different stitches and keep the samples for future reference.


* 1/4 yard of cotton broadcloth

* Hand-sewing needle, size 8, 9, or 10

* All-purpose thread

From the broadcloth, cut six 6"x9" rectangles. With the fabric right side down, fold one long edge 1/4" toward the wrong side; press. Fold the edge again 1"; press. Pin along the folded edge.

Cut an 18" length of thread. Thread a hand-sewing needle and knot one end.

Practice the following stitches along the first fold.

Put your hand-sewing skills to use! Look for our Couture Sewing Masterclass in the Dec 2017/Jan 2018 issue of Sew News.
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Title Annotation:BASIC SKILLS
Publication:Sew News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2017
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