Hand Sewing Basics: Part 2

Hand Sewing Basics: Part 2 – Sewing Saturday

I know that you are all sweet, understanding people, but still.  I apologize for not getting this post up last week.  I just really needed another week off.  I find it humorous that as a homeschooler, I still need to “wrap-up” my summer like just about everybody else.  Playdates, sleepovers, last-time visits to special places… all of these things need to be squeezed in before everybody else packs up for day one of school.  But I shared some about all of that earlier in the week, and you are here to learn more about sewing, so let’s get to it, shall we?Hand Sewing Basics: Part 2

Today we will cover the ladder stitch (also known as a slip stitch), the blanket stitch, and I will show you how to sew on a hook and eye.  Between these stitches and the stitches in Part 1, you should be pretty well able to tackle most any hand sewing project that comes your way.  At some point, I am going to show you how to do clothing alterations, and when I do, I will share some more hand sewing techniques with you.  But those will be best taught in practice rather than as a stitch unto themselves.

Ladder Stitch/ Slip Stitch

This stitch is probably the stitch I use most often (aside from the stitches I use in alterations) in hand sewing.  I use this to finish off pillows and sew down the binding on quilts.  It is my favorite because it gives you the best-hidden stitch for closing your work.  In essence, it is the same as a running stitch, but it is done a little differently.  As I said, the ladder stitch is used to sew a seam shut, particularly when you need to shut it from the outside of the object/garment.  You typically use it because you cannot do a traditional seam from the inside of your project.

To do the ladder stitch, you need two pieces or edges of fabric.  You also need to create a seam/seam allowance.  To practice, I want you to take two pieces of fabric (if you have left-over squares from the post where we taught you about threading your needle, you can use those), and fold over an edge on each piece about 5/8″.  No, it doesn’t have to be 5/8″, but I think that will make it easiest on a beginner.  I like to use a ruler that is meant for measuring seams, though I don’t have one at the moment since my children mutilated mine.  (Side note on rulers: Read my other post from today where I walk you through a little more about how to use one.)

With your seam allowance created, pin your two pieces of fabric together, seam allowances facing each other.

If I am sewing up a pillow, I am much more likely to thread my needle with the doubled thread (and loop) that I talked about in our first-hand sewing post because it will give you a nice, strong seam.  You can most certainly use a single thread, but I’ll leave that up to you.  Maybe practice with both so you can get comfortable with each.  And I’d like to point out that for the sake of visibility in this post, I used red thread to make it easier for you to see what is happening.  In reality, I would typically use a thread that is white or light blue to make sure my seam is as invisible as possible.

If you are using the loop method of threading your needle, you will start with your needle threaded, and pull your needle through both layers of fabric, just catching the threads of the fabric with your needle, until you have a small loop at the end.  When you have the thread pulled most of the way through, you will stick your needle back through the loop and tighten.  You will want to only just catch a little bit of each side of the seam for knotting for visibility sake.  If you are using a knotted piece of thread, I always stick my needle inside the open seam, and pull the needle up through one of the seam allowances (that little fold you created), and then go through the top of the fold of the opposite side.  That will allow you to hide your knot completely.

With your edges aligned nicely, you will go through one side of your seam, choosing your stitch length and then directly perpendicular to where your needle exits that side, you will enter the other side of your seam.  Continue this pattern of “weaving” to complete your seam.  Please note the captions on the pictures (by hovering or clicking) for more information.  For the purposes of this tutorial, your seam is between your beginning and ending pins.  When you get to the end, knot off your thread, as tightly against your fabric as possible.  As you are doing this seam, your needle is always passing through the top of the fold of your seam allowance.  Notice that the only place you see the thread coming through is where it exits one point and enters the next.  If you pull your thread just snug enough, you should not be able to see the thread as it travels from one side to the next.  It may take some practice to get really good at this, so don’t give up if you aren’t perfect the first time!

To finish the seam, you will need to knot off your thread at the end of your seam.  To do that, I exit the fabric with the needle right next to the pin that marks the end, removing the pin.  Then, just like when I started, I will just barely snag the fabric of both layers of the seam with my needle, pulling the thread through until it creates a small loop.  Hook your needle through the loop, and pull.  This won’t create a full knot, but it creates a half knot.  Finish by knotting off the thread.  If the fabric is not too delicate, I will pull my knot through the fabric by passing my needle through the fabric right next to the knot and pulling tight.  When I do this, the knot pops through the fabric and becomes unseen. If your knot is too big, you won’t be able to pull it through.  I like pulling my knots through so that there isn’t a little tail sticking off of my work.

The ladder stitch or slip stitch will look ever so slightly wavy, or you may notice with time that you can see the thread popping through the seam, which is the reason choosing the right thread is so important.  The seam on the pillow above looked less pronounced when I first made it 3 years ago.  The ladder stitch gets it’s name from the idea that if you pull the two sides of the fabric taught (like in the picture above) you will see your thread jumping from side to side, creating rungs.  The sides become the sides of a ladder.  If your stitching is neat, the rungs will be pretty straight, and if it is tight enough, you probably won’t be able to see much gapping.  Most of the time, the stitch length that I use is somewhere right around 1/4″, though you can go shorter or longer depending on what you are working on and why.

Blanket Stitch/Buttonhole Stitch

The blanket stitch is not a stitch that I use frequently, but it is one that I do enjoy a lot for some reason.  Couldn’t tell you why!  Actually, I use a variation of it for some alterations that I do, but we’ll cover that at another point in time. Sometimes this stitch is used to finish a buttonhole so it is sometimes called a buttonhole stitch, and it is also sometimes used in hand applique.  It is often called the blanket stitch for the purpose it serves in finishing off blankets.

This stitch is similar to the whip stitch in some ways.  You need to keep your stitch depth and spacing consistent to get a nice looking stitch.  The difference lies in the fact that you are “catching” your stitches with your needle as you go.

Hand Sewing Basics: Part 2
Embroidery thread pictured left, traditional thread on the right. Embroidery thread is often used with a blanket stitch as a way to finish off a fleece blanket.

To begin, I start with a single strand of thread or embroidery thread (you could use a doubled thread as well, but I typically use a single strand for this  In this tutorial, I am using a doubled thread.  With your thread knotted, start at one corner of your fabric, choosing the depth and spacing you want to use, and inserting the needle and thread through the fabric at the right depth.

If you feel you lack the confidence to keep your stitch length consistent, you can mark a line of depth for your stitches using a marking pen and ruler.  Here I’ve marked a line at 1/2″ depth.

Start your stitch by picking your entry point.  Pull your thread all of the way through until your knot catches on the back side of your fabric.  Bring your needle around to the back side of the fabric, beginning at your initial entry point, and pull the thread through again.  I hook my thread and needle around the little line that I have created, then bring the needle back to the underside of my fabric at the point where I want my next stitch to start.  Begin pulling your thread through, and as you start to form a smaller loop, put your thread through the loop and pull until snug, but without causing the fabric to pucker.  Repeat with each step until you are finished.  You will likely notice that your first stitch does not look quite as clean.  That’s normal, and if you will be ending where you started, you can catch that angled thread as you are finishing and pull it so it makes the turn instead of cutting across.

This stitch does not turn sharp corners well as you can see in the picture above, which is why when you see this on a blanket, the corners are rounded to some degree.  Play around with your stitch length and spacing before you begin to do a whole project with this stitch.  The initial 1/2″ is much larger than I’d normally use, but the 1/4″ pictured above is much more likely a length and spacing I would use.  This stitch is much more uniform front to back, but you will notice that the bars that run across will tend to pull to one side of your work over the other, and the side you work from will look more neat and uniform, so make sure you are sewing from the correct side.

Hand Sewing Basics: Part 2
To use this stitch as a buttonhole stitch, you follow the same process, only you keep your stitches tight together, and choose a depth that is appropriate for the edge you are finishing. In this case, the stitch length is much longer than the spacing.

To finish off an actual buttonhole, you will do the stitch in the same manner as above, but with much smaller spacing and depth than with a blanket stitch.  If you are finishing off an actual buttonhole, consistency will be really important for creating a nice, neat edge!

Hook and Eye

Knowing how to sew on a hook and eye is helpful for those times when you find that the ones on your clothing have fallen off. (Often times, they are used to hold a dress shut above the zipper, and you ladies are probably extra familiar with these little guys as they are typically what holds a bra shut.)

Line your hook up with the edge of the piece of fabric you want to attach it to.  Begin by making stitches through the loops on the hook.  Space them evenly for a more secure hook.

You can do fewer stitches and still have a sturdy attachment, or you can do more stitches for a stronger attachment.  If the hook will be carrying weight, go for the stronger attachment.  Then stitch down the top of the hook.  This will keep the hook from pulling away from the fabric, and again, make for a stronger hold.

For the sake of this tutorial, I used two different stitching “strengths” to hold down the different sides of the hook.  On the first side, I use fewer stitches to hold the loop down, something like 5 stitches.  That will be a nice firm hold for your hook.  But sometimes you will need your hook to be held on to the fabric much more tightly, or the hook will be visible and you want to hide those loops as much as possible.  That’s when you really load the loop up with stitches.  I always sew the top of the hook down to keep it from flopping around on your finished work.  Three stitches seems to be my go-to number of stitches when I want something to be secure (that’s how many times I often go through a set of holes on a button and how many times I go through my work to create a study tack…).

Attach the eye in the same way you attached the hook.  Tack down the eye right above the small loops.  This will keep the eye in place for longer.

The example above is not my neatest work.  The kids came in the room about this time and started asking lots of questions… Also, my loop ended up sticking up off of the edge of my fabric more than I really would have liked.

Now hook the hook and eye together!  In the example below, there is a gap between the sides, you could adjust that based on where you attach the hook and eye.  I attached my hook and eye to the seam I sewed back at the beginning.  In any work you do, that is the most likely scenario for attaching a hook and eye.  You will want your thread to only go through the underside of your work, not the side that will be visible (the outside).  Note that my thread is not visible on the finished and hooked hook and eye.

Hopefully that explains it all well!  Sometimes writing these things out is much more difficult than I anticipate!  Reference the pictures as much as needed to better your understanding of what is happening.  Please, let us know if you have any questions or comments.  We’re always happy to hear tips, comments, or other info you’d like to share.  And remember to pass this along to others.  The word needs more people sewing 🙂




Want the whole series?  Here’s what we’ve written so far:

The Basics

Introduction to Sewing: Part 1

Introduction to Sewing: Part 2

Sewing Tools

Your Sewing Machine

Acquiring a Sewing Machine

Getting To Know Your Sewing Machine

Setting Up Your Sewing Machine

Sewing Machine Maintenance and Troubleshooting

Hand Sewing

Sew, A Needle Pulling Thread

Basic Hand Sewing: Part 1

Basic Hand Sewing: Part 2



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