While your sewing machine may have all the bells and whistles imaginable, sometimes the only stitch that will do is one made by hand. Some sewists are reluctant to abandon their machines in favour of a needle and thread, worried about the strength or quality of the sewing, but remember that haute couture garments, some of the finest in the world, are made almost entirely by hand. Of course, the key to high quality hand sewing is known what type of stitch to use in every situation. Check out these 9 stitches every sewist should know.
1. Running Stitch
This is probably the most basic stitch in hand sewing, and it has many uses. To form running stitches, hold the needle in your dominant hand with the point facing in the direction you intend to stitch. Dip the needle through the fabric to form even stitches that are short to medium in length. Use running stitches to gather fabric, when quilting by hand, or as decorative stitching. An excellent example of decorative running stitch is Japanese sashiko embroidery, which uses thick thread and simple straight lines to create complex patterns.
2. Back Stitch
Back stitch is another very common stitch in hand sewing, and is used in everything from embroidery to garment construction. Because each stitch loops back on itself (hence the name), back stitch can be used to create sturdy seams that won’t slide or pucker as running stitches might. To back stitch a seam, knot the end of your thread and draw your needle through your fabric from the wrong side to the right side, just ahead of where your seam will start. If you’re working from right to left, this point is the leftmost end of your first stitch. Now take your needle and push it through the fabric at the point where you want the right end of your stitch, bringing the needle up again one stitch length further to the left of your starting point. As you draw your thread through, you’ll see that the first stitch has formed on the right side of your fabric, and there’s a stitch-length gap between that stitch and your thread. Repeat the process, pushing your needle in at the left end of your first stitch, and bringing it up one stitch-length further down your seam. On the right side, this seam resembles one stitched on a machine, while on the wrong side you can see that the stitches double over themselves for strength.
3. Catch Stitch
Catch stitching is frequently used in high-end garment work, such as bridal wear, to keep seam allowances neat inside multi-layered garments. It’s also commonly used in professional costume shops, where costumes are frequently altered to fit a wide range of performers, and therefore need to retain large seam allowances. The tricky thing about catch stitch is that each stitch is made “backward,” with the needle pointing in the opposite direction that your seam is travelling. Check out this tutorial to learn how to do it for yourself!
4. Blind Slip Stitch
This is the perfect tool for creating hems that are invisible on both the inside and the outside of a garment. Bring your needle up through the folded hem, so the knot is hidden inside the folds. Catch just a few threads of the garment fabric, then stitch back into the hem right where your thread emerges. Your needle then travels inside the folded hem for one stitch length (⅛ to ¼ inch) before reemerging. Repeat this process, creating tiny, invisible anchoring stitches to hold your hem, while hiding the travelling stitches inside the hem itself.
5. Blanket Stitch
Perfect for providing a finished look, the blanket stitch can be used for decorative stitching, or more practical purposes like hand stitched eyelets. It’s always worked at the edge of a fabric, as the overlocked, knotted nature of this stitch works perfectly to prevent ravelling. To create blanket stitches, draw your needle through your fabric from wrong side to right side, making sure your thread is securely knotted. Loop the thread over the edge of the fabric and again bring the needle through from wrong side to right side, catching the trailing loop of thread with your needle as you go. This will form vertical stitches linked at the top. Stitch close together for eyelets; decorative blanket stitches can be further apart.
6. Basting Stitch
Basting is the process of using easily removable stitching instead of pins to hold layers or seams together until final stitching is placed. The easiest method is to use basting stitches, which are essentially extra long running stitches. Some sewists prefer to knot their thread before basting, while others leave long tails so the whole line of stitching can easily be drawn out of the fabric when it’s time to remove it.
7. Blind Catch Stitch
Blind catch stitch is technically worked in exactly the same way as regular catch stitch, but its placement is slightly different. Like blind slip stitching, it creates hems with invisible seams, and works particularly well on curved hems or those that need easing. To blind catch stitch a hem, instead of working back and forth over the top edge of the hem, fold it back about ½ in. Catch stitch along this new fold, and when the hem is pressed back into place, the seam line will be invisible.
8. Whip Stitch
Another stitch worked over the edge of a fabric, whip stitch is great for hems, collars, cuffs, and other finishing touches. From the right side, it shows as tiny vertical stitches, while on the wrong side, diagonal travelling stitches link them together. To whip stitch a hem, hide your knot in the fold of the hem, then make a tiny stitch through the main fabric, bringing your needle back up to catch the top of the folded hem. Move down the hem ⅛ to ¼ inch, and repeat. You’ll see the diagonal stitches forming on the wrong side as you work. Check the right side to make sure your vertical stitches stay small and even.
9. Slip Stitch or Ladder Stitch
This stitch is widely used across many types of sewing, from finishing pillows and stuffed toys to invisibly seaming the lining of a garment. It’s much like blind slip stitch, except that both sides of the seam have travelling stitches. To finish, say, the gap left in a pillow after it’s been sewn, turned, and stuffed, bring your needle up through the fabric on one side of the seam, starting as close to the existing stitching as you can. Make a small running stitch in the other side of the seam directly opposite where your needle emerged. Repeat this in the opposite side. As you work from right to left, you should see vertical stitches forming across the gap. Don’t pull these taut right away, as this makes it difficult to make your next stitches. Rather, gradually increase the tension as you work until the whole seam can be tightened and disappear without a trace!