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How To Sew by Hand: 6 Basic Stitches

Step-by-step photo tutorials.

Apartment Therapy

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Photos by Ashley Poskin

There are many amazing DIY projects that require a bit of sewing, but that doesn’t mean you have to run right out and purchase a sewing machine! Much can be done by hand, so we’ve rounded up six common stitches that can be used on a myriad of projects for home decor, complete with step-by-step photo tutorials.

What You Need

  • Needle
  • Thread
  • Scissors

Slip Stitch or Ladder Stitch

This stitch is perfect for closing up a handmade pillow. It’s invisible, which makes it great for finishing hems. Use a thread that matches your fabric and all you’ll see is a tiny amount of ticking.

1. Thread your needle and tie a knot in the end of the thread. Bring the needle out through the fabric from the inside of the fold of the hem so that your end knot stays hidden.

2. Position the needle directly across from the exit point of the first stitch so that it goes back through to the inside of the opposite fold. The point is to bring the two sides of fabric together at exactly the same points on each side to hide the stitch.

3. To progress, move your needle an 1/8 of an inch or so forward, and bring it back up along that same side.

4. Pull the thread through that stitch and move the needle across to the other side of fabric, entering at the exact same point you did on the other side.

5. Pull the thread through and repeat step 4, moving to the opposite side of fabric.

6. Once you’ve closed the gap, the thread closing your seam will resemble rungs of a ladder.

7. To make the stitch invisible, pull the tail of your thread taut, while smoothing out your seam.

Remember to always use a matching thread to make your stitch truly invisible!

Running Stitch

Straight stitches like the ones above in green thread are normally what you’ll use to sew a basic seam. When sewn in longer lengths, this stitch can be used as a basting stitch to temporarily hold two pieces of fabric in place. If you need a stronger seam, stitch shorter stitches.

1. Thread the needle and tie a knot in the end of the thread. Bring the needle out through the fabric from the backside, so the end knot stays hidden.

2. Move ahead a 1/2 inch or so, and push the needle back down through to the backside of the fabric.

3. Continuing in a straight line, move the needle ahead another 1/2 inch and bring it back up through the back to the top of the fabric.

4. Continue steps 1-3, keeping the stitches equally spaced until your fabrics are joined along the seam. When finished, the stitch will look like a long line of dashes.


Small, short stitches like the ones pictured above in blue are semi-invisible on front-facing fabric and are great for hems. This stitch allows the hem a bit of give and is a great option when working on circular items like tablecloths. This technique is also great for keeping thick facing attached to the hemline, like on a sofa cover. This stitch is also great for sewing a lining into your curtains.

1. If possible, press your fabric before you start, it will be much easier to work with. Thread your needle and tie a knot in the end of the thread. Working from the left side of the fabric, send your needle through to the top from the underside of your hem to hide the end knot.

2. Pull the thread through and bring it just up over your hem to the top section, and to the right about 1/8 of an inch.

3. Place the needle in the fabric, pointing back towards the left. Send it under the fabric about an 1/8 of an inch, and bring it back out through the top layer.

4. Direct the needle back down towards the bottom section, crossing over the last stitch in a downward diagonal.

5. Point the needle towards the right side of the fabric and send it through 1/8 of an inch of fabric on the lower section. Pull the thread taut to reveal your first stitch.

6. Continue the steps until your seam has been completely stitched, following the zig zag motion, working from the left side of your fabric to the right.

Blanket Stitch

The blanket stitch (pictured above in pink) is a decorative way of joining fabrics together. You’ve most likely seen this stitch before, as it’s commonly used to sew appliqué and to finish the edges of blankets and felted toys. This stitch is meant to be seen, so use whatever thread color looks best with your project.

1. Thread the needle and tie a knot in the end of the thread. Send the needle up by starting it in a middle layer of fabric. This will hide your end knot.

2. Pull the thread taut, and circle back around to make the first loop around the edge by sending the needle under the bottom layer and bring it out on top in the exact place you started. Do not pull the loop shut.

3. Bring the needle through the loop and pull taut.

4. Move down the seam about a 1/4 of an inch and send the needle through the bottom layer, up to the top.

5. Pull on the thread, but leave a small loop.

6. Bring the needle through the loop and pull taut.

7. Repeat until your project is complete.


This simple technique is made up of short, diagonal stitches and is great for hemming window treatments. When used on a hem, whipstitches (seen in yellow above) are usually invisible, fast, and easy to execute.

1. Thread your needle and tie a knot in the end of the thread. Start your needle on the inside of the hem so the end knot is invisible. Bring the thread up to the top layer of fabric.

2. Move your needle forward about a half inch (shorter or longer depending on your project), loop it around the edge, and bring the needle up through the bottom side of the fabric.

3. Repeat as desired.


This stitch (made with pink thread in the photo above) is a small, very strong stitch that is great for sewing together seams that need lots of strength. You can also use this stitch for basic embroidery- it’s useful when embroidering typography or other illustrations for home decor.

1. Thread the needle and tie a knot in the end of the thread. Send the needle up to the top from the backside of the fabric to hide the end knot.

2. Send the needle back down into the fabric (following in a straight line) about a half inch from the first stitch. You’re essentially making a running stitch at this point.

3. Pull the thread taut from the underside of the fabric.

4. Bring the needle back up through to the top of the fabric, equidistant from the first stitch.

5. Instead of moving forward another half inch (as you would in a running stitch), bring your needle back to the left, and tag up with the end of the previous stitch.

6. Push the needle back down towards the underside of the fabric and pull taut.

7. Repeat!

Ashley Poskin traded the quiet life of a small town in a big house for the hustle and bustle of the Windy City. On any given day you might find her working on a freelance photo or blogging gig, wrangling her little darling, or walking Chuck the boxer.

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This post originally appeared on Apartment Therapy and was published May 4, 2019. This article is republished here with permission.

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