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This tutorial is part of the Back to Basics series of essential sewing tutorials and techniques for beginners sponsored by Coats Crafts 

Learn hand stitching techniques

Hand Stitching

Guide to the most useful stitches for hand sewing and our tips to improve your hand sewing.

Running Stitch

Running stitch tutorial

Running stitch is the main stitch used for joining two pieces of fabric together - it’s the equivalent to straight stitch on your sewing machine.  You can start with a knot or double stitch (as per our example) to hold the end tight. You also finish with a double stitch to secure your stitching. You bring the needle up through the fabric and then bring it back down through the fabric a few millimetres away.  The length of your stitch will depend on the thickness of your fabric and your proficiency.  Ideally you want to have neat even stitches. Our photograph shows the reverse side too.


Tacking Stitch

 This is a larger version of the running stitch, with big stitches more spaced out.  It is used for temporarily holding fabrics in place whilst you do the proper seam.  Then because it is large and well-spaced out it is easy to remove.  It is normally done in a contrasting thread colour so you can easily see it to remove it.  You can buy tacking thread which breaks easily to make it simpler for you to pull it out.  Normal thread will also work well.



Basic hand stitching 

Backstitch makes a stronger seam than running stitch.  Start like you would for running stitch with either a knot or double stitch, make your first stitch down through the material and up again as for running stitch. Then go back to where the needle went down through the fabric and go down the same hole again and come up a couple of mm in front of your thread, as per the image.  Keep repeating this to the end.

As you can see from the image above, running stitch (top half of the stitching photographed) pulls apart more when under strain than backstitch (bottom half of the photo).


Hem Stitch

Back to basics sewing techniques

This is ideal for hems because you only see a very small amount of thread on the right side of the fabric.  If you match your thread well it is almost invisible.
  Start with a knot or double stitch on the hem only (between the hem and the front of the fabric to conceal the knot).  Bring the needle through the hem towards you then a few mm further on put the needle vertically through your front fabric picking up just a few threads and then through the hem.  Pull the needle through towards you then repeat a few mm over to the end.

Try to keep your needle at the same angle and same stitch spacing throughout to ensure a neat finish on the right side of the fabric.  Regular stitching looks best but takes practice.


Oversew Stitch
 Oversew stitch tutorial

This stitch goes over the edge of the fabric, similar to an overlocking stitch or zigzag stitch on a sewing machine, protecting your raw edges or bringing two edges together.  Start with a knot or a double stitch bring the needle through the fabric from the back to the front.  Then take the needle to the back by pulling it around the edge of the fabric and then poke through from the back to the front again.  Repeat to the end and finish with a double stitch.  The size of your stitches will depend on how visible you want them to be and how much your fabric frays. 

For fabric that frays a lot you want a bigger stitch. If you want the stitch to be almost invisible you want a smaller stitch close to the edges.  Practice makes your stitches more even and neater.


Crossed Over Stitch
 Crossed over stitch instructions

This is a stronger version of the oversew stitch and it is useful for stopping stuffing or fillings from escaping.  You do the oversew stitch as above and then when you get to the end you turn around and stich back again crossing over your original stitches.
 Try to stitch through the fabric using the same holes as your original stitching to ensure a neat finish. Finish with a double stitch at the end.  This is particularly useful for closing gaps in cushions, stuffed toys and pin cushions.


Hand sewing skills 

This stitch is useful for hemming stretch fabrics if done loosely to allow for movement of the fabric.  It can be almost invisible on both the outside and inside.

Start with a concealed knot or double stitch on the hem only. Bring the needle out through the hem towards you.  Take a small stitch of the main fabric level with the top of the hem.  The small and neater your stitch the better as this may show on the front depending on the fabric and thread you are using.

Turn back the top of the hem slightly and hold it back using the hand without the needle. Then take a small running stitch just inside the hem.  Then take another small running stitch on the main fabric, then another small stitch just inside the hem and repeat to the end of your hem, finishing with a double stitch on the hem alone.


Ladder Stitch

Learning to hand sew 
This stitch is used as an invisible way of closing gaps. You start with a knot concealed at the back or a double stitch somewhere concealed.  Bring your needle out from the underneath through one of the edges to the front, right through the fold on the edge.  Take the needle over to the opposite side of the gap and take a small running stitch along the fold of the fabric.  Then take your needle back to the first side and take another small running stitch along the fold. 

After a few stitches you will see your thread looks like a ladder, hence the name of the stitch.  If you gently pull the thread it will bring the two sides together concealing your stitches so it looks like an invisible join.   


Herringbone Stitch

Herringbone stitch tutorial

This stitch is particularly useful for hemming thick or loose weave fabrics where you only want a single layer of fabric on the hem.  For example winter coats, thick sweatshirts, knitted fabrics etc.  It finishes the edge of the fabric whilst hemming it too.

Start with concealed knot or double stitch on the hem only.  You will work from right to left if you are left handed, or left to right if you are right handed.  You will be stitching in the opposite direction to what you are used to.

Bring your needle out through the hem towards you.  Pull your thread just above the hem and make a small running stitch onto your main fabric then bring your thread down onto the hem and make a small running stitch through the hem but not through the main fabric (ie. this stitch will not show on the front, only the small top running stitch will show on the front). 

Then take your needle to the top of the hem and make a small running stitch in the fabric again. Given that these stitches will be visible, unless you’ve matched the thread incredibly well, you want to make sure they are even in spacing and size.  Repeat this until the end of the hem, from the back your stitches will look like a herring bone (double cross).   You can use this as a decorative stitch for attaching ribbons for example.



  • Don’t cut your thread too long, it should be no longer than your forearm or it’s likely to twist and knot.
  • Using a good quality thread will make it less likely to knot or break.
  • Using a thimble takes practice but will save you from many pricks and sore fingers in the long run.   If your thimble falls off your finger blow in it before putting your finger in.  The condensation helps it stick to your finger.  Your thimble should be worn on your middle finger.
  • If your thread starts twisting let the needle hang down and spin around until the thread is straight again.
  • Hold your needle lightly between your thumb and index finger.  Make sure your hands are clean and not sticky or your needle will get sticky.
  • Make sure you are using the right size of needle, ideally you want the smallest eye and thinnest needle that you can handle.  
  • If your needle keeps falling off the end of your thread tie the short end of the thread with the long end once, as if starting to tie a shoe lace and that will hold it on without creating a knot.  Don’t forget when you are finished to unloop it or snip it off to remove your needle.  This is ideal for kids learning to sew.
  • If you press your work after stitching it beds your stitches into the fabric and looks much more professional.
  • Don’t use double thread unless you really need a strong stitch because it looks very chunky and untidy and is more prone to knots and twisting.  It’s much harder for beginners to handle.
  • Always make sure you secure your stitches at the start and end with a double/treble stitch or a knot. 

This series of posts is sponsored by Coats Crafts