Having a complete sewing kit is great, but for the beginner sewist, that kit is rendered useless until you know how to sew. But don’t worry, it’s not difficult to learn the basic stitches and when to use them.
By the end of this article, you will understand how to do ten basic stitches both by hand and on a machine. Let’s get you sewing!
Beginner Tip: Always remember to tie a knot at the end of your thread before you start stitching
1. The Running Stitch
This stitch is the most basic of all the hand sewing stitches and if you have any experience with sewing at all, you likely already know how to perform this stitch. It’s a great stitch to know for quickly mending clothing.
- Start by taking your threaded needle through the back of the fabric (the wrong side)
- Once the knot at the end of the thread has hit the fabric, make a stitch by putting the needle back down in the fabric about a centimeter away in the direction you want to stitch and pulling all the way through
- Bring the thread back up through the fabric and repeat
2. The Basting Stitch
This stitch is just the running stitch but longer. Instead of making your stitches a centimeter apart, make them ¼ inch to ½ inch apart from each other.
The basting stitch will go even faster than the running stitch once you get into a flow.
3. The Cross Stitch (Catch Stitch)
You’ve probably have heard of cross-stitching before. Cross-stitching is suitable for finishing hems and for designs that are front-facing. This stitch is slightly more nuanced than the running or basting stitches, but it’s simple once you get the hang of it.
All you’re doing with a cross stitch is making X’s in the fabric:
- Pull the thread up through the back of the fabric until the knot catches on the fabric
- Make a diagonal stitch to the left about a centimeter away
- Bring the needle up through the back of the fabric, about a centimeter backward from the where the thread went in last, and a centimeter to the left of where the last stitch began
- Make a stitch diagonally across the last stitch, so it makes an X
- Pull the thread through and repeat.
Make sure you keep these stitches loose and even.
4. The Backstitch
Before the age of sewing machines, this stitch was used to create all clothing. Layer after layer of back stitches created a pattern of threads that people could wear. It’s a strong stitch.
- Start by making a small stitch
- Insert the needle back into the end of that stitch, where you just pulled the thread out
- Make another stitch and repeat.
These stitches should look like they’re overlapping.
5. The Slip Stitch
This stitch is useful when you’re trying to sew hems so that you can’t see stitches. It’s good for patchwork.
- This stitch is meant to be through the fold of fabric. Even if you’re just working with one fabric, you can fold the bottom of the fabric up underneath
- Pin your hem to make sure you sew in a straight line
- Bring the needle through the fold of the hem and then up through the top crease of the fabric
- Pull the needle through just a few threads at the same point, but don’t pull the needle all the way through the fabric like you would with the other stitches
- Pull the needle back into the fold near where you drew it out the first time staying parallel to the fold
- Repeat steps one through five.
You’ll want your stitches to be about a ½ inch apart and loose.
6. The Blanket Stitch (Buttonhole Stitch)
This stitch, as you may have been able to gather from its name, is useful for finishing the edges of blankets or for creating buttonholes.
- Push the needle in from the back of the fabric and pull all the way through
- Rather than bringing the needle right through the front like you would do with the other stitches, bring the needle through the back of the fabric again
- You’ll have created a loop by pulling the needle through the back of the fabric twice. Pull the needle right through the loop
- Repeat steps one through three, keeping stitches about a centimeter apart if you’re working on a blanket.
7. The Standard Forward/Backward Stitch
When you’re ready to move off of the hand stitching and onto sewing machine stitching, this is the first stitch you need to know.
- Start by straight stitching ⅛ to ⅜ inch away from the edge of the fabric
- Backstitch the forward stitch over the pinned seam
- Do step two in reverse
- Repeat steps one through three
8. The Zigzag Stitch
Most sewing machines will have a zigzag stitch option. You won’t need to go over the fabric multiple times with this stitch as it’s solid and will keep seams from fraying. It’s also a great stitch for making buttonholes.
- Set your sewing machine to the zigzag stitch
- Adjust the machine to get the width and length of the stitch you desire
- Press the pedal slightly so the device works slowly and guide the fabric as it works
- Sew to the end of the fabric without stitching over the same place twice
9. Blind Hem Stitch
This stitch is mainly a mix of straight stitches and zigzag stitches. It’s perfect for hemming and mending, especially because it’s nearly invisible. The purpose with this stitch is to either sew two pieces of fabric together or the fold of one fabric together.
- Make two or three straight stitches
- Make one wide zigzag stitch (cross-stitch)
10. The Buttonhole Stitch
While the zigzag stitch is good for stitching buttonholes, most sewing machines have the capability to create buttonholes with a special foot attachment or a pre-programmed buttonhole setting.
- Put the buttonhole foot on the machine (if you have one)
- Measure and mark where your buttonhole will go on the fabric
- Put the presser foot on one end of the buttonhole
- Zigzag stitch up (or down, depending on what side of the buttonhole you started on) to the other end of the buttonhole
- Zigzag stitch down (or up) to the side of the buttonhole where you started your stitching
- Take a seam ripper to open up the area between the stitches, and voila, you have a buttonhole!
While this list doesn’t contain all the stitches out there, it’s certainly a good starting point if you’re just beginning to learn how to sew. These are incredibly useful stitches to know and will get you through most sewing projects.