Hand and Machine Stitches & Why They Are Important

Despite the existence of sewing machines, there are tasks for which hand stitching is advised. Hand stitches can look very decorative. They are quicker and easier to do in tricky places. Generally speaking, sewing by machine saves time.

The Different Type of Hand Stitches

Knowing the most common types of hand stitches is always beneficial. It allows you to expand your creativity during your sewing to create stunning, decorative projects. Below are all the hand stitches that you need to know. We recommend you have a good idea about all the types of fabrics as well, for a brief overview, please see our beginners guide to fabrics.


Basting or Running Stitch

This stitch is used for joining pieces of fabric together temporarily before stitching, but can also be used for rows of gathering. The thread is pulled out later. It is worked from right to left. The stitch length and distance between the stitches are about 6 mm. Put the needle in and out several times before pulling the thread through in one go.


This can be used to sew permanent seams. Start with a knot and a short backstitch. Sew from right to left and work stitches about 3 mm long, inserting the needle first from the front and then from the back of the work. Pull the thread through and then take the needle back to the insertion point at the end of the first stitch, which lies on top of the work, insert the needle and bring it back up about 6 mm to the

left, forming a double-length stitch at the back. Repeat this stitch over the entire length of the seam.


This stitch is used for sewing hems in place with stitches that are almost invisible on the right side of the garment. It is worked from right to left.

Fold up the edge of the hem, which you have previously neatened by machine with a zigzag stitch to the inside and fasten your thread on the inside with a few small stitches. Make a very small stitch over a few threads of the fabric about 6 mm to the left, just above the turned-in edge, on the wrong side of the material. The stitch must not go right through the fabric.

Then make the next stitch about 6 mm to the left in the turned-in edge, inserting the needle upwards through the neatened edge. Repeat the same stitches over the entire length of the hem.

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Fell stitch

Fell stitch is ideal for hems with edges that have not been neatened and are turned over twice. Once again it is worked from right to left. Pull the needle upwards through the fold of the turned-up edge of the hem. Insert the needle about 2 mm to the left, over the fold in the fabric. Pick up a few threads of the material, taking care that the needle does not go all the way through the fabric, so that the sewing thread will not be visible from the outside. Then bring the needle back up and insert it downwards into the folded edge, 2 mm to the left. Run the needle about 6 mm to the left inside the fold, bring it out again and pull the thread through. Keep repeating these steps.

Blanket stitch

This stitch is primarily used for reinforcement on the edge of thick materials such as blankets. Most commonly referred to as the blanket stitch, it is also referred to as the “Crochet Stitch” or “Cable Stitch”.

Stitching around edges

This stitch may be used to sew decorative edgings around such things as wool or fleece blankets. It may also be used to make bars of thread for fastening hooks into. It is worked from right to left. Fasten the thread to the fabric and bring it out above the edge of the material. Make a loop of thread on the left.

Insert the needle downwards about 5 mm from the edge of the fabric and bring it out with the point of the needle lying on top of the loop of thread to the left. Pull the needle and thread upwards and to the left, so the threads link together at the edge of the fabric. Make the next stitch in exactly the same way.

Decide how far it should be from the previous stitch; all the stitches should be the same size.

Making bars of thread

To make a bar of thread, sew several long parallel stitches with double thread. Take the needle under the threads to the opposite side, with the working thread below the point of the needle. Pull firmly and cover the whole bar with blanket stitches pulled tightly together. Fasten off the thread at the end.

The Different Types of Machine Stitches

Knowing the most common types of machine stitches will benefit you a lot. Machine stitches speed up the stitching process, essentially, reducing the time it takes to complete projects considerably. Machine stitches also assist with neater stitches, creating a highly professional look. Below are the most common types of machine stitches that you need to know.

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Straight stitch

This stitch is used to sew all permanent seams. The length can be set from 0 to 5 mm. The usual stitch length for seams is between 2 and 3 mm.

Basting stitch

On this setting, the machine makes a long stitch on top and a short stitch on the underside. The thread can be easily pulled out again, so it is suitable for basting or marking. Not every machine has this setting. If yours doesn’t, baste by hand. Basting stitch should always be sewn in the seam allowance very close to the stitching line.

Zigzag stitch

This is used to neaten the cut edges of the fabric to prevent them from fraying. Zigzag stitch can be set to variable lengths and widths. With a wide stitch setting, it can be used for sewing on elastic. If your machine does not have an elastic or stretch stitch, you can use zigzag stitch with a narrow setting (stitch width 0.3–0.5

mm), but always try this substitute stitching out on a sample to see what it looks like. To work a buttonhole, set the stitch length to 0.25 mm and the width to 1.5–2 mm.


With this, you can sew hems almost invisibly by machine. On the front, you can only see tiny vertical stitches. However, not all sewing machines have blind hemming. If necessary, sew hems by hand

Embroidery stitches

Embroidery stitches are mostly based on zigzag stitch, though there are a few that start from straight stitch or a combination of the two. Embroidery is often used on children’s wear or ethnic-style clothing.

Depending on the type of machine you have, you may be able to enter and embroider entire names. However, extravagant embroidery stitches are not standard equipment on sewing machines and make a difference to the price.

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