Teaching Tools – Hand Sewing Basics

It is true that most of the sewing is done at the sewing machine, but there are times when you need to hand stitch. The best thing with hand sewing is that it can be used at all stages of your sewing project. The hand sewing can be used to transfer markings, finish hems or attach buttons. Always have on hand needles in several sizes, as you will need different needles to handle variety of fabrics. For example, a smaller or thinner needle would be suitable for a lightweight or delicate fabric, such as chiffon or lightweight cotton, but would be too flimsy to go through a heavier fabric such as denim, which would need a larger needle. Most needles are sold several sizes to a package, so you will always have a good selection of needle sizes on hand.

Hand Sewing Tips

  • For tangle-free sewing: Cut the thread in lengths no longer than 18″ (45.5cm). Anything longer may twist around itself and form knots. To make the thread slicker and stronger, draw the thread through a piece of beeswax, which can be bought in any notions department. This is helpful, but not necessary.
  • For easy needle threading : Cut the thread diagonally by holding your scissors at a slant. Hold the needle up against a white background so you can see the eye clearly. If you can’t get the thread through the needle’s eye, use a needle threader. Push the wire through the eye of the needle; then insert the thread through the wire (a). Pull the wire back out of the needle, drawing the thread through the eye (b).


It’s best to start small and make small samples of the various stitches that are listed below. Making samples is not only good for practice, but your samples can be kept in a scrapbook for future reference. For each sample you will need one 8” square of muslin or lightweight cotton fabric, preferably in a solid color. You will also need a hand sewing needle and contrasting thread, so you can really see how each stitch is made. For example, if you are using white fabric, black thread would be the best choice. The following stitches can be done with you having a sewing machine.

Hand basting

Hand basting is useful at several stages for your project. At the beginning, it can be used to transfer markings to the right side of the garment, when a marking pen would ruin your fabric. Hand basting can also be used for temporarily holding the garment together, which is especially useful when using slippery or sheer fabrics. As your sewing skills improve, hand basting will also be useful in garment fitting techniques; by basting seams together, you can make adjustments without having to repeatedly take out machine stitching, which can ruin delicate fabrics.

To practice hand basting, take one of your fabric squares and fold it in half with wrong sides together, so you have two layers of fabric. Starting from one end, weave the needle in and out of both layers of fabric so that the stitches and the spaces between them are all the same size—approximately 1/4″ (6mm) long for the firmest holding power. For areas that don’t need to be as secure, make the stitches 1/4″ (6mm) long and the spaces between them 1/2″ to 3/4″ (1.3cm to 2cm) long.



Blindstitch is useful for hemming knits and bulky fabrics. It will help prevent a ridge from forming at the hemline on the outside of the garment. It is, as its name implies, invisible from the outside; using a blindstitch gives a nice smooth hem finish for more tailored or dressy garment.

You can still use your cotton fabric for practice. Start a hem on one of your squares of fabric by measuring 2” from one cut edge and marking a pencil line on the wrong side of the fabric. Fold along this line with wrong sides together. The fold represents the finished hem of a garment.

  • Fold back the garment slightly below the hem edge and hold it with your thumb.
  • Fasten the thread in the hem edge and, working from right to left, take a tiny stitch about 1/4″ (6mm) to the left in the garment.
  • Take the next stitch 1/4″ (6mm) away in the hem edge.
  • Continue, alternating from garment to hem and keeping the stitches evenly spaced.



catch stitchCatchstitch has some built-in stretch which makes it an especially good choice for hemming knits. Hemming knits this way will keep the finished edges smooth and prevent the fabric from stretching, which can occur when hemming softer knits with a machine stitch. The catchstitch is also good for securing edges, such as facings, in place; this keeps these edges from rolling to the outside of your garment , while still being almost completely invisible.

You can still use your cotton fabric for practice. Create a hem in one of your fabric squares as the same way you did for the Blindstitch sample above.

  • Fasten the thread to the wrong side of the hem.
  • Work from left to right, with the needle pointing to the left. Take a tiny stitch in the garment 1/4″ (6mm) to the right, close to the hem or facing edge.
  • Take the next stitch 1/4″ (6mm) to the right in the hem or facing, so that the stitches form an X.
  • Continue, alternating from garment to hem or facing, keeping the stitches fairly loose.


Hemming Stitch

Hemming Stitch is used if the hem allowance is finished with seam binding or hem tape. Seam binding and hem tape can be purchased by the package in the notions department of your local sewing-supplies store, and come in a wide variety of colors. The seam binding or hem tape helps “blend” the double thickness of the hem with the single thickness of the garment, so there are no ridges or bumps visible from the outside of the garment. This is a neater way to finish a garment, and is especially suitable for suits, tailored skirts, pants and dresses and evening wear. As with the Blindstitch and the Catchstitch, the Hemming Stitch is virtually invisible from the outside.

For this sample you will need to machine-stitch an 8” length of seam binding or hem tape along the raw edge of the hem.

  • Begin at a seam (or at one end of your square, if you are making a sample), fastening the thread in the seam allowance.
  • Take a tiny stitch through the garment, picking up a single thread.
  • Insert the needle between the seam binding and the garment, and bring it out through the seam binding, about 1/4″(6mm) to the left of the first stitch.
  • Take another stitch in the garment, 1/4″(6mm) to the left of the second stitch. Continue, alternating from seam binding to garment, and taking several stitches on the needle before drawing the thread through the fabric.



Slipstitch is is a good choice for securing turned-under edges because the stitches are invisible on both the inside and outside of the garment. This is especially useful on sheer and delicate fabrics.

or your sample, create a 2” hem in a square of fabric as you did for other hem stitches. Fold the hem allowance under,s the cut edge meets the folded edge on the inside. The resulting fold will be the starting point for the Slipstitching.

Fasten the thread in the fold of the fabric. Working from right to left, pick up a single fabric thread just below the folded edge.

Insert the needle into the fold directly above the first stitch and bring it out 1/4″(6mm) away.

Pick up another single thread in the garment directly below the point where the needle emerged. Continue, alternating between garment and fold.

Tacking stitch


The tacking stitch is useful for permanently attaching snaps or hooks and eyes.

Tacking stitches serve several purposes. They can help keep facings in place at the seams, to keep them from rolling to the outside of your garment. When tacking on a finished garment, be sure not to sew through the garment fabric. Tacking should never be seen from the outside of your garment

For your sample, take two fabric squares and overlap one over the other by 1” or 2”.

Holding the edge of the facing (or upper layer of fabric, if you are making a sample) and the seam allowance (or lower layer of fabric of your sample) together, take three or four short stitches in one place through both layers.


Sewing on the Button

Buttons come in two styles: Sew-through and Shank.

The shank is designed to compensate for the thickness of the garment layers.

On sew-through buttons, you’ll need to use thread to create a shank. You do this at the same time as you sew on the button.

The shank, whether part of the button itself or created on a sew-through button with thread, is especially important for garments of heavier fabrics, such as wools and denims. Any heavy coat in your closet is a good example of how the shank works.


To attach a button by hand:

Thread the needle with a double thread. Take a few small backstitches to lock the thread at the point of the marking.

Bring the needle through the button and back into the fabric. Repeat several times. To create a thread shank on a sew-through button, place a toothpick or wooden match on top of the button and sew over it. Sew back and forth several times; then remove the toothpick and wind the thread round and round the extra thread under the button. Stitch back into the fabric.


Instead of making an ugly knot on the underside of your garment, do this:

  1. Draw the needle to the underside of the garment and fasten the thread with several small, tight backstitches.
  2. Insert the needle into the fabric and tunnel it between the garment layers for about 1″ (2.5cm).
  3. Bring the needle out and clip the thread close to the fabric. If your garment is only one layer thick or if your fabric is sheer, clip the thread close to the backstitches instead of tunneling

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