Basic Hand Sewing: Part 1

Basic Hand Sewing: Part 1

You’ll get 2 (sort of 3) hand stitches out of me today, and that’s it.  Deal with it.  😉  I wanted to do a third, but once again, I am crunched for time.  That’s okay though because you’ll still have a few stitches you can practice and get really good at!  We’ll cover the back stitch, a basting stitch/running stitch, and a tack.  I’ll aim for at least 2-3 more stitches next week, but we’ll see what happens.

Basic Hand Sewing: Part 1



Okay, so you’ll potentially need the following:

  • Fabric scraps or squares
  • Hand sewing needle
  • Thread
  • Scissors
  • Pins (optional)
  • Wax (optional)
  • Thimble (optional)
Basic Hand Sewing: Part 1
Some of the supplies you may choose to use. A pair of scissors, a hand needle, thread, and fabric are a must. A thimble can be helpful if you get one that is comfortable for you. The wax is to help with tangled thread. There are two seam rippers, the smaller came with a sewing machine, the larger was purchased.

Waxing The Thread

Waxing the thread is NOT a necessary step.  I am including this for those who are really struggling to keep their thread from tangling up.  The wax makes the thread a little stiffer and helps to keep it from tangling up.  The more you pull your thread through the fabric, the more the thread wants to tangle.  Keeping your thread at lengths like my mom and I discussed in This Post will help keep that problem at a minimum, but sometimes it’s nice to have one of these around.

Basic Hand Sewing: Part 1
Dragging the thread across the wax will help stiffen the thread, preventing it from tangling so easily.

To wax your thread, you will need one of these nifty tools.  The little slits are there as guides for pulling your thread through.  All you need to do is hold onto the threaded needle with one hand and the wax tool and the end of the thread with the other.  Pull the tread across the wax, and you are done!  Your wax will get little lines in it from all of that dragging.  You can just spin the wax in the holder to get a new section if you need it.  The wax can be replaced, but I hardly use mine and have never needed to do so.


Basting: A loose stitch that is intended to temporarily hold fabric in place.  Sometimes it is used to gather fabric (like for the waist of a skirt), and other times it is just meant to hold things in place.  The stitching is easily removed.

Loading: To load your needle is to fill it with fabric for stitches.  You are filling it with stitches before finally pulling it all of the way through.

Right side/ wrong side of fabric: Any printed fabric will have a right side and a wrong side to it.  One side will look crisp and clear, the other side will typically white (or whatever the color the fabric was printed on) with a bit of bleed through.  I will also mention top and bottom.  The top side is whatever side you want to be the top for this lesson.  Just keep it consistent while you sew.  We’ll talk more about right and wrong sides in a future post when it matters more 🙂

A Word on Thimbles and Seam Rippers

Whether or not you use a thimble will be entirely up to you.  I do not use one most of the time, but then again, I do not do a ton of hand-sewing.  My mom will use one much more often than I will.  They are especially useful when you are working with lots of layers of material and it is difficult to pull your thread and needle through.  Find a thimble that works for you.  They are not all created equal!

I will work more with a seam ripper in the future, but a seam ripper is a tool meant to rip out bad stitches or for taking work apart.  There is a sharp pointed end and one with a little ball.  The pointed end is what you hook underneath the stitch you want to remove.  you can either pull gently to remove and it will pull the thread out, or you can rip the thread.  Either is fine, it will just depend on what you are working with any why you are removing stitches.  They have a little blade on the inside of their curve.  Be careful using this tool, because it can stab your or cut you if you are not cautious.  Again, I’ll cover this more in another post…

Basting/Running Stitch

To start, you will need to have your needle threaded (and knotted) as we talked about in this post.  We’ll start with the basting stitch/running stitch.  While technically two different stitches, they are essentially the same stitch, just relying on using different stitch length to create each type.

For the basting stitch, you will start by inserting your needle with the knotted thread into the start of your stitching line (you are just practicing, so make it up as you go… maybe draw a line on your fabric with a pen and a ruler and practice staying on the line), and bringing the tip of the needle back through the fabric.

Basic Hand Sewing: Part 1
Insert your fabric needle through one side of your fabric (whichever side you start your sewing on is the side your knot will show on My knot will show on the right side of the fabric with what I am doing here.

You are now going to proceed to “load the needle” with stitches.  To do that, you will insert the tip of the needle up and down through the fabric at regular lengths.  To make a basting stitch, you will want to keep your stitches at a length of 1/4″ minimum but make them longer according to your needs (practice doing a variety of lengths, but for each row, keep your lengths consistent).

Your needle should have gone up and down through the right side of your fabric with stitches being an equal length on the right side as they are on the wrong side of the fabric.  I have seen people make little marks on one of their fingers that they will use as a guide to keep their stitch spacing consistent.  I just eyeball it.  Do what works for you.  If it would help you for practice sake, you could use a pen or a pencil to mark your fabric at say… 1/2 ” increments.  Your needle goes into one mark and comes back out the next, in one, out the next, over and over.

To do the running stitch, you are going to do exactly what you did with the basting stitch, only your stitches will be much smaller.  The length of your stitches will be entirely up to you.  This is the stitch that would probably be most commonly used for the inside seam on clothing if you were to do it by hand, or it would be used as a seam on quilts in the same manner that the sewing machine could be used to create the same type of seam.  This is your basic, straight stitch.  Of course, it doesn’t have to be straight, but you should practice for that to get accustomed to it.

Here you can see a side by side of the two different stitch lengths.

Basic Hand Sewing: Part 1
Basting stitch on left, running stitch on right.

Back Stitch

Your back stitch begins like any other stitch.  I started with my knot coming through on the top side of the fabric, but you could do it on the bottom side.  I always begin by pulling my thread all of the way through so that my knot is secure against the fabric before beginning.  You are essentially doing a repeating pattern of a short stitch followed by a long stitch.  The back stitch is a  way to create a stronger seam than just with a simple running stitch. A running stitch could probably be pulled loose with a pull of the thread, but a back stitch will not.

With your knot in place, start by making a single stitch forward like you would for a running stitch (down through the fabric and back up).  The length of that stitch will determine the length your stitches look on the top side of your fabric.  Pull the needle and thread all of the way through, bringing the thread back towards your original thread.  Insert your needle back into the fabric where you put the needle down to begin with.

Your needle will be going back through the fabric, exiting on the bottom side of the fabric where it will look like there is already a complete stitch.  Pull your thread all of the way through.  You are now going to make a long stitch on the back side of your fabric, skipping over the first stitch on the back side.  Put your needle through and pull.  There will be a long stitch and a short stitch overlapping.  From the top side, you will repeat what you already did.  your needle will exit the fabric half way through the long stitch on the back.

Once you have your initial stitches in and you understand how the back side of your fabric and stitching will work, you can simply focus on the front.  You are going to continue making stitches, but now you will make a back stitch and what will look like a single running stitch as you progress forward.  Pull through and repeat until completed.

To finish your row of stitching off, do a stitch backward, but come back up through the same spot you did before.  As you pull your thread through, this will create a small loop.  Put your needle through the loop and pull gently.  When the thread is all of the way through, hold the thread near where it exits the fabric, wrap your needle around the thread, and pull the need through the loop (because of the way you are holding it, it will look like you are pulling the needle over the loop).  If you miss the loop, you’ll know.  It should be like tying any other knot (reference this post for more help).  As you are pulling your thread through, you should be gently pinching your fabric and loop where the thread leaves the fabric, right where you want the knot to form.  Pull until tight.  Clip your thread.  You can make another knot if you wish.


A tack can serve a similar purpose to a basting stitch.  It is typically meant as a temporary way to hold something together.  If you have ever ripped a tag off of a pair of pants or other clothing, you might have been left with some thread that was used to tack the tag in place.  Tiny bows on little girls clothing are often tacked in place.  Those are tacks that are a bit stronger, but other ones are lighter and can be more easily removed.  Sometimes in my work, I need to connect something small and delicate to my fabric, and I will opt for a tack because I can keep it tiny and avoid using bulky knots.  this is not ideal for something you want help permanently in place.

To make a tack, you will begin much as you would for a running stitch (down and up), pulling your unknotted thread nearly all of the way through the fabric, leaving just a short tail.  You can leave a longer tail to start with if you are not comfortable with this and go back and trim it later.  A sturdy tack should be small.  The smaller the tack, the tighter it will be.  If you are using too delicate a fabric, you will need to catch more threads than you would for something as thick as a cotton.  Make a back stitch, but come back up through in the same place you did before.  Repeat this loop of stitching 2 or 3 times for a gentle tack, a few more times if you need something a bit more durable.  On the final stitch, bring your thread back through the top and clip close to where the thread exits the fabric.

If you are feeling confused about any of this, take the time to study the pictures.  Get on your desktop or lap top, and click on the individual pictures if you need to.  The words make it sound more complicated than it is 🙂 If you still have questions, let me know, and we will do what we can to clarify!  Please, let us know in the comments how you are doing with everything so far.  Don’t out today’s other post on setting up your sewing machine, and don’t forget to share these posts with others!

Love~ Danielle and Trudy


Sewing Saturday Posts You May Have Missed:

Some of you may know enough about sewing already that you might not need to read all of our posts, but here is a list of all of our Sewing Saturday Posts thus far.  I’ll break them down into categories for you so that it is easier to find what you are looking for.  I will try to add this list to all of the other posts at some time so it is easier to navigate your way through all of them.

The Basics

Introduction to Sewing: Part 1

Introduction to Sewing: Part 2

Your Sewing Machine

Acquiring a Sewing Machine

Getting To Know Your Sewing Machine

Setting Up Your Sewing Machine

Hand Sewing

Sew, A Needle Pulling Thread

Basic Hand Sewing: Part 1



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