How to Sew by Hand: Seven Basic Stitches

Hand sewing is seen as a lost art as it is a useful skill that many people lack. However, it is easy to learn how to sew with just a needle and thread. Hand stitches are as useful and pertinent today as they have ever been.

How to Sew

This tutorial provides the photographic step-by-step process to implement a variety of the seven most common basic hand stitches. While hand sewing is not as glamorous as machine sewing, it is a necessary skill.

Further, you’ll learn how to hand sew a basic stitch, and you’ll also learn when and where to use them.

This will help you on many projects and to alter clothes in a simple way.

How to Sew Simple TipsView in gallery

Note: To demonstrate the stitches, this tutorial uses six-strand embroidery floss for each stitch. If you are using regular thread, I recommend doubling up the thread in most instances for maximum strength.

How to Sew: Tools Needed

  • Hand sewing thread or embroidery floss in the appropriate color/type
  • Hand sewing needle
  • Fabric
  • Sharp scissors
  • Needle threader (if you require one)

How to Sew - back stitchView in gallery

The seven common stitches we’ll be learning today are: running baste stitch and running stitch, catch stitch, blanket stitch, whip stitch, slip/ladder stitch, and back stitch.

The Most Common Basic Hand Stitches


How to Sew: Running Baste Stitch

How to Sew- Running Baste StitchView in gallery

STITCH USE: The running baste stitch is useful to temporarily hold two pieces of fabric together and in place. Also, you use running baste stitches or basting stitches for hemming clothes, hand gathering pleats, or to sew basic seams. The running stitch creates a much stronger seam than the running baste stitch but is much faster to sew.

How to Sew - Running Baste StitchView in gallery

First, thread your needle through the loop, and tie a knot at the end of your thread.

How To Sew Place the tip of your needleView in gallery

Place the tip of your needle on the wrong side of your fabric, and press it upward through the fabric at your starting point. Pull the thread until the knot hits the back side of the fabric.

How to Sew Start SewingView in gallery

About 1/2″ to 3/4″ away, press the tip of your needle straight down through the right side of the fabric. Don’t pull the needle all the way through.

How to Sew - Keeping the needle in the fabricView in gallery

Keeping the needle in the fabric, push the needle forward until the tip reaches the same 1/2″ to 3/4″ distance. Press the tip upward through the fabric at that point.

Pull the needle and thread through the fabric.View in gallery

Then, pull the needle and thread through the fabric.

How to Sew - Pull the thread all the way through and taut.View in gallery

Pull the thread all the way through and taut.

How to Sew - Press the tip of the needle downView in gallery

Next, press the tip of the needle down through the fabric another 1/2″ to 3/4” away from the exit point of your last stitch, and repeat the basting stitch.

How to Sew - Continue working in this wideView in gallery

Continue working in this wide, even, and straight basting stitch.

How to Sew - stitch the useView in gallery


How to Sew: Running Stitch

How to Sew- Running StitchView in gallery

STITCH USE: This straight running stitch is the most fundamental of seams. You can adjust the length of each stitch to match your project’s needs. Keep in mind that the shorter each stitch is, the stronger your overall seam will be.

How to Sew Running Stitch TipsView in gallery

First, place the end of the thread through the eye of the needle and knot your thread at the end. Next, press the tip of your needle on the wrong side of your fabric, and bring the needle up through to the top of the fabric until the knot touches the back of the fabric.

Then, in the same method as your running baste stitch, you’re going to maneuver the tip of your needle above and below the fabric to create the stitches.

Because the running stitch is small, you can probably weave two or three stitches onto the needle before pulling the needle and thread through the fabric.

Working in two- or three-stitchView in gallery

Working in two- or three-stitch needle lengths like this is an efficient way to sew this straight line.

Pull the needle and thread through the fabricView in gallery

Pull the needle and thread through the fabric, and pull it taut before moving onto the next set of stitches.

How to Sew - Pull the needle and thread through the fabricView in gallery


How to Sew: Catch Stitch

How to Sew - Catch StitchView in gallery

STITCH USE: The catch stitch is a great stitch choice for a blind hem or invisible seam. The “X” nature of this stitch provides a little give to the hem. Another useful place for this stitch is to attach heavier lining fabrics to the hemline, such as sewing on curtain linings.

Thread the needle and knotView in gallery

FIrst, thread the needle and knot the thread at the end. Press the tip of your needle on the opposite fold of your fabric hem, and bring the needle up through to the top of the fabric until the knot touches the back of the fabric. Your needle and thread should be on the left side of your fabric.

Place the tip of your needle aboutView in gallery

Place the tip of your needle about 1/2″ to 3/4″ above your exit thread (on the other piece of fabric), then move it to the right about 1/8”. Press the needle tip down through your fabric. Aim the tip of the needle about 1/8” to the left.

Pull the whole needle and thread upView in gallery

Pull the needle and thread up to the top of your fabric, and pull the thread taut.

the signature of the catch stitchView in gallery

To create the “X” over the previous stitch that is the signature of the catch stitch, press the tip of your needle about 1/2″ to the right of your very first thread exit. Press the tip of the needle down to the underside of your fabric, then bring it back to the top of your fabric about 1/8” to the right.

Pull the whole needle and thread throughView in gallery

Next, pull the whole needle and thread through, and pull the thread taut.

Continue these steps to create a length of catch stitchesView in gallery

It’s helpful for this stitch to remember that the “top” of the stitch is a right-to-left stitch, and the “bottom” of the stitch is left-to-right.

zigzag stitchView in gallery

Continue on until you’ve completed the length of your catch stitch seam.

The catch stitch is a great stitch choice for hemsView in gallery


How to Sew: Blanket Stitch

How to Sew- Blanket StitchView in gallery

STITCH USE: Uses of this stitch are finishing the edges of blankets, felt projects or toys, and sewing appliqué. Where other stitches tend to blend in, this one is best served when it’s visible.

How to Sew - Blanket StitchView in gallery

First, thread your needle and knot the thread at the end. Begin sewing by pressing the tip of the needle into the underside of your fabric about 1/2″ away from the folded edge, and bring the needle up to the top of the fabric.

Pull the entire needle and thread throughView in gallery

Next, pull the entire needle and thread through the top of the fabric until the hidden knot touches the underside of the fabric.

How to Sew - get the blanket stitch startedView in gallery

For this first stitch, loop the thread around the hemline and press the tip of your needle onto the underside of your fabric at the same spot you just came through. Pull the needle and thread through this same hole.

keep a small loop of thread outView in gallery

Then, pull the thread but don’t pull it all the way taut. Instead, keep a small loop of thread out.

Take your needle and run it through the loopView in gallery

Take your needle and run it through the loop, going left to right.

Pull the thread tautView in gallery

Pull the thread taut. Your free thread should meet up with your stitch at the hemline (shown by a red dot on the photo).

Press the tip of your needle on the undersideView in gallery

Press the tip of your needle on the underside of your fabric about 1/2″ to the left of your original thread exit and also 1/2″ away from the hemline.

thread until only a small loopView in gallery

Pull the entire needle through to the top of your fabric, and pull your thread until a small loop remains.

needle through this loopView in gallery

Next, thread your needle through this loop, running left to right.

How to Sew Pull the thread tautView in gallery

Pull the thread taut until it creates what looks like a square without a top.

Essentially in the blanket stitchView in gallery

In the blanket stitch, each stitch holds the previous one in position and in place.


How to Sew: Whip Stitch

How to Sew- Whip StitchView in gallery

STITCH USE: The whip stitch is a very simple and satisfying stitch because it’s fast and easy. The short, diagonal stitches are used for hemming things like window treatments because they’re almost invisible when done on a hem.

Thread your needle and knotView in gallery

First, thread your needle and knot the thread at the end. Bring the needle up to the top of the fabric from the underside so the knot is hidden. This stitch is most easily sewn vertically.

Thread your needle and knot - other colorView in gallery

Then, press the tip of your needle into the fabric’s two edges about 1/2″ diagonally above-right your original exit point. Then aim your needle, from the underside of the fabric, about 1/2” above-left (back to the original fabric hem).

Pull the whole needle and thread through TipView in gallery

Next, pull the whole needle and thread through to the top of the original fabric, and pull the thread taut.

How to Sew - diagonal-right - diagonal-leftView in gallery

Continue this method (diagonal-right, diagonal-left) to create a barbershop pole-looking seam.

Due to the diagonal nature of these stitchesView in gallery

Due to the diagonal nature of these stitches, it’s easy for your stitches to become more and more uneven in length and spacing. However, do your best to keep them consistent, referring back to your original stitches as needed to make sure they stay the same further up the seam.

The whip stitch is a very simple and satisfying stitchView in gallery


How to Sew: Slip Stitch/Ladder Stitch

How to Sew- Slip Stitch- Ladder StitchView in gallery

STITCH USE: The slip stitch (or “ladder stitch”) is used for closing up homemade pillows. When you choose a thread that matches your fabric, the stitch becomes invisible.

How to Sew- Slip Stitch- Ladder Stitch KnotView in gallery

First, thread your needle and knot the end of your thread.

Press the tip of your needle onto the undersideView in gallery

Take your threaded needle and press the tip onto the underside of your fabric up in one of the folds. Next, pull the needle and thread all the way through so the knot is invisible.

Press the tip of your needle on the oppositeView in gallery

Then, press the tip of your needle on the opposite hem directly across from the original exit point. Push the tip of the needle into the fabric so that the tip of the needle follows the hem inside the fold.

Exit the needle tip from the hem foldView in gallery

Exit the needle tip from the hem fold about 1/2″ to 3/4″ away from the insertion point.

How to Sew - Pull the whole needleView in gallery

Pull the whole needle and thread out from the folded hem, and pull the thread taut. This will close up the first “rung” of your ladder stitch.

press the tip of your needleView in gallery

Now, press the tip of your needle onto the opposite hem (the one with your original exit point), directly across from this most recent exit point.

Thread the tip of the needleView in gallery

Thread the tip of the needle through the folded hem about 1/2″ to 3/4″ away from the insertion point, then exit the needle.

Pull the whole needle and thread outView in gallery

Pull the whole needle and thread out, and pull it taut. It’s looking a little like a ladder, with each stitch serving as a rung between the two vertical hems.

How to Sew - continue stitchView in gallery

Continue in this way until you’ve completed your slip stitch seam.

illustrate what the stitchView in gallery

You can see here that I haven’t pulled the thread tight yet. This is to illustrate what the stitch is meant to look like.

How to Sew HiddenView in gallery

When I give it a quick tug, though, you can see here that the thread all but disappears.

The slip stitchView in gallery


How to Sew: Back Stitch

How to Sew-Back StitchView in gallery

STITCH USE: The back stitch is not only pretty, it’s strong. In fact, its primary purpose is for sewing seams that require heavy duty strength. The back stitch is also used for basic embroidery and forming letters in stitching.

How to Sew-Back Stitch TipsView in gallery

First, thread your needle and knot the thread at the end. Press the tip of your needle onto the underside of your fabric about 1/2″ in front of your actual seam starting point (designated by a red dot in this photo). Pull the whole needle and thread through to the top of your fabric, and pull the thread so the knot touches the underside of the fabric.

How to Sew - How to Sew-Back StitchView in gallery

Next, press the tip of your needle onto the top of your fabric at the location of your actual seam start, which will be about 1/2″ down from your original exit point.

How to Sew - TutorialView in gallery

Pull the whole needle and thread through to the underside of your fabric, and pull the thread taut.

How to Sew-Back Stitch TutorialView in gallery

Press the tip of your needle onto the underside of your fabric about 1/2″ in front of the original exit point.

How to Sew - top of the fabricView in gallery

Then, pull the whole needle and thread through to the top of your fabric, and pull the thread taut.

Press the tip of your needle onto the topView in gallery

Press the tip of your needle onto the top of your fabric at or very near the original exit point.

How to Sew - Pull the whole needle and thread throughView in gallery

Next, pull the whole needle and thread through to the underside of your fabric. Pull the thread taut to create your second back stitch.

How to Sew- two steps forward, one step backView in gallery

Continue in this “two steps forward, one step back” method until you’ve completed your back stitch seam.

How to Sew - top tipsView in gallery

The straight, solid line of the back stitch is a striking stitch for any DIY project or even fashion design.

back stitch is not only prettyView in gallery

There you have it. How to sew seven basic hand stitches.

sew eight basic hand stitchesView in gallery

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)FAQ

How to sew a button on?

With your index finger and thumb, thread the needle through the loop and tie a knot at the end of the thread. Place the button where it should go. From the bottom side of the fabric, bring your needle up through the hole of the button and pull the thread tight. Bring the needle down through the opposite hole of the button and continue this pattern until the button is tight. When you pull the needle through the bottom for the last time. Tie the thread off in a knot.

Can you sew everything by hand?

You can sew many things by hand but not everything. For example, some materials are too thick like leather to sew by hand. However, you can sew many things, including clothes and DIY projects, by hand.

Is hand stitching strong?

Machine sewing is stronger than hand sewing, but you can make very strong stitches by hand.

What is the disadvantage of hand sewing?

Hand sewing can be inconsistent as the stitches are different lengths. Further, hand sewing is not as strong and is much slower than machine sewing.

Which sewing stitch is the strongest?

The backstitch is the most durable and strongest hand stitch.

How do you end a stitch?

Pull the threaded needle through the wrong side of the fabric and slide the needle under the back of the nearest stitch. Tie several knots with the thread and then cut the thread off as close as you can to the back of the stitch.

How To Sew: Conclusion

If you take the time to learn how to hand sew and understand these seven basic stitches, you will be doing yourself a favor for years to come.

Gather a sewing kit so that you can be ready when the occasion calls.

Once you have learned the basics, you can graduate to sewing machines, following patterns, and acting as your own fashion designer. There is no end to all you can accomplish.

Happy stitching!