Hand Sewing

n the days before sewing machines, every garment, curtain or soft furnishing item was sewn by hand. It seems miraculous now that so much was achieved, often in poor light. Sewing machines have, without doubt, taken the drudgery out of sewing, but they cannot entirely replace hand sewing. This process should not be hurried as the quality of your stitches will affect the finished appearance.


Running stitch: this basic stitch is used for gathering, smocking and quilting. Make several small even stitches at a time, weaving the needle in and out of the fabric at regular intervals. The spaces should be the same size as the stitches. Use longer stitches for gathering and leave the thread end loose for pulling up.

Backstitch: use this strong stitch for repairing or sewing lengths of seam that are difficult to reach by machine. Bring the needle up through the fabric on the seam line. Take a small stitch back along the seam line and bring the needle out an equal distance in front of where the thread last emerged. Continue along the seam line, inserting the needle in front of the last stitch and bringing it out one stitch length ahead.

Half backstitch: suitable for stitching seams or inserting sleeves by hand. The small stitches are more attractive and stronger than ordinary backstitch. The stitch is also used on facings to prevent the edge from showing on the right side of the garment. Work this stitch in the same way as backstitch but take only a half stitch back and a whole stitch forward. This forms small even stitches on the topside and long overlapping stitches on the under side.

Hem stitch: this is a diagonal stitch worked to hold down a fold of fabric such as a binding. Despite its name, it is not suitable for hemming a garment or curtains because it shows on the right side. Hem stitch can be worked into a row of machine stitching to finish cuffs or waistbands on the inside. Take a tiny stitch through the fabric and diagonally up through the edge of the fold at the same time. Continue in this way, keeping the stitches 3-6 mm apart depending on the thickness of the fabric.

Blanket stitch: this is traditionally used to neaten the raw edges of wool blankets. It is quick to work and ideal for preventing fabric from fraying while working embroidery. It can be used as a decorative stitch and also for applique. Secure your first stitch at the edge of the fabric and then work from left to right with the edge towards you. Insert the needle through the right side about 6 mm from the edge. Bring the needle back and over the thread loop and pull taut. Continue working evenly spaced stitches in this way, adding a neat finishing edge to the fabric.

Prick stitch: this is an almost invisible stitch. It is used to insert zips in fine or sheer fabrics and to sew layers of fabrics together from the right side where a row of machine stitching would he too stiff or unsightly. Work in the same way as for half backstitch but take the needle back over only one or two threads each time to form a row of tiny surface stitches with longer reinforcing stitches on the wrong side.

Slip stitch: this is used to close gaps, attach pockets and insert linings. A variation of it, known as slip hemming, is used to sew hems. When worked neatly, it is an almost invisible stitch.

Closed blanket stitch: this is worked in the same way as blanket stitch but with the stitches close together. It is often confused with buttonhole stitch which has a knot at the top of each stitch. Closed blanket stitch is used to neaten raw edges in drawn thread, cut work and for hand embroidered scallop edges. It is also worked over a group of threads to make thread bars for belt carriers (loops), hooks or buttons. Work this stitch in the same way as blanket stitch but sew the stitches side-by-side.

Over Sewing: this is used to hold two folded edges together. It is more visible, but also much stronger, than slip stitching. Work with the two folds held together in your hand. Take a tiny stitch straight through both folds, if possible catching only one thread. Continue along the folds, making a row of very small slanting stitches on the right side. In traditional patchwork the over sewing which holds patches together is worked from the wrong side.

Take a small stitch through the fold and then another through the fabric underneath. Make the stitches the same length and keep the threads straight. Pull the thread taut without causing the fabric to pucker. Slip hemming is worked in the same way but only a tiny stitch is taken through the fabric underneath


Hand sewing stitches are normally worked using thread that closely matches the fabric. Work in good light either close to a window or with an angled lamp. Use a short length of thread, and a short, fine needle to suit the fabric you are using. Use a length of thread no longer than the distance between your elbow and wrist. Cut the thread at an angle to make it easier to feed through the eye of the needle. Pull the cur end through to about three-quarters of its length.

Wind the end of the thread around your forefinger about: 13 mm from the tip and hold it in place with your thumb. Rub your finger down your thumb until the threads form a twisted loop. Slide your finger and thumb down the thread to tighten the loop and form a small knot. Take the first stitch on the wrong side of the fabric. Use a small double back stitch on fine or see through fabric where a knot would show


Finish hand sewing with a knot or several backstitches, one on top of the other, on the wrong side, ideally hidden in a seam or fold. The finishing knot is flatter than a beginning knot. Make a loop by taking a tiny backstitch on the wrong side of the fabric. Take the needle through the loop and pull through until a second loop forms. Finally take the needle back through the second loop and pull the thread tight.