Have you ever lost a button and need to sew one to replace it? Or, need to mend a ripped seam, fallen hem, patch a hole? Or, simply want to sew something simple for your loved ones, like some of the free sewing patterns we are having here? Here are the essential tips you need to know on how to hand sew.
Since childhood, I have been imbued with sewing from my mom, aunts, and grandma. Seeing them sewing all kinds of clothes, blankets and turning fabrics into something usable is such magic. Yes, sewing is magic to me, and I promised myself to make magic when I am a little older.
So, when I am a little older, my mum started to teach me how to hand sew at the age of nine. And, my first hand-sewing project was the English Paper Piecing hexagon Quilt Block.
My stitching wasn’t perfect initially, and I have to keep on redoing until my mom accepted my work. Together we made several hexagon quilts for the family which my mom still keeps till today. Through the soreness of the fingers, the time, and patience we sew a stitch after another, I learned that handmade is really a product of blood, sweat, love, and happiness.
How To Hand Sew – The Beginner Sewing Tips
If you are new to sewing, it is never too late to start sewing. To ease your sewing journey, we have listed down the basic knowledge to learn how to hand sew. We have included the essential tools & equipment; How to thread & knot the thread to begin and end the sewing; Numbers of thread to use for sewing; Some basic hand stitches you need to know; the basic fabric materials to sew; and, what other basic sewing notion you should have. Though this post is supposed to mean for beginners on how to hand sew, the extra information could be a good reference as you advance in your sewing skill.
Tools & Equipment
Hand needles come in a range of types and sizes to suit different tasks. They are mainly categorized according to the sewing task, and they are differentiated by the size and length of the tip, body, and eye. As a beginner, you may buy assorted sizes of needles that come in a pack, then slowly add on the expert range later as you progress.
How to choose which needle to use for your sewing project from the assorted sizes? Generally, beginners usually sew with cotton fabric since it is the easiest fabric to handle. All you need is a universal needle for basic stitches with normal sewing thread. Nonetheless, if you need to embellish your project with thicker thread or yarn, choose a needle with big eyes, such as a Tapestry needle or Embroidery needle.
Here are some types of needles that you can find in the market and their usage:
- Universal/all-purpose sewing needles – These universal sewing needles feature a sharp tip, a round eye and are of medium length. The round eye is just big enough for the thread. They are perfect for all household sewing work and on practically every fabric.
- Embroidery needles – These needles are identical in thickness and length to the universal needles but have sharper eyes for convenient threading of multiple threads, pearls, floss, or ribbon. They can be used for cutwork, smocking, heirloom sewing, and more.
- Quilting needles – These needles are very short and, like the Universal needles, have a short, round needle eye. In tailoring, this small, agile needle is often used to sew small stitches.
- Tapestry needles – These needles are useful for different needlework techniques like embroidery, sewing, cross-stitch, knitting, crochet, and more. These tapestry needles have large eyes that can accommodate multi-strand embroidery floss, crochet threads, tapestry wool, and fibers that are thicker than ordinary sewing thread. They also have blunt tips, which can pass through loosely-woven fabrics without snagging or piercing them.
- Darning needles – Darning needles are thicker and longer than universal sewing needles. They have a sharp point, a long eye and are used for basting stitches and darning work with wool or cotton.
- Beading needles – These needles are very thin and long. They have a tiny eye to let the small beads pass through. You would need long needles to string many beads.
- Doll needles – These extra strong needles come with long eyes that add versatility to sewing beautiful dolls since you can pass various threads through them. They are used to sew stuffed and upholstered areas their length effortlessly.
- Ballpoint needles – these needles are perfect for use on knit and stretch fabrics. As opposed to a sharp point that may pierce the fabric, the rounded ends of these ballpoint needles push the knit loops apart, making it easy for you to sew.
- Leather needles – These needles feature sharp triangular points that can easily pierce through leather, vinyl, plastic, and other tough materials. You can use them to sew leather coats, pants, hats, or give finishing touches to heavyweight craft projects.
- Self-threading needles – Also known as calyx-eyes, they come with a slotted top for easy threading and piercing. Simply pull down the thread from the top of the needle to the thread.
- THREAD & WAX
Threads come in several materials, thicknesses, and colors. There are cotton thread, polyester thread, nylon thread, waxed thread, invisible thread, etc., for normal sewing projects (Learn more about types of normal sewing thread.). There are also floss and yarn for decorative sewings, such as embroidery and other needle-works.
For beginners, you need some basic colors of thread to match the thread color to the color of the fabrics. Cotton or polyester threads in white, black, red, blue, green, yellow are great for emergency usage. If the needle-work shows on the right side of the project, you might need to make a trip to the craft shop to get the appropriate color.
Using beeswax in your hand sewing project will make your life so much easier. Why? When you run your thread over the beeswax, it gives the thread a nice coating that will make it smoother, keep it from tangling, and make it stronger. Hence, to avoid any frustration in sewing, wax your thread! (How to wax the sewing thread)
- CUTTING TOOLS
Scissors are the basic tools you will need in sewing. There are several types of shears and cutters in the market for different specialties. For beginners, depending on what you plan to sew, you may choose the appropriate cutting tools to buy. I showed some samples in my picture, which I am currently using for my sewing and quilting projects. From right to left:
- Sharp Tip Scissor – useful to snip the thread, detail cutting, and snipping.
- Thread Snippers – Like Sharp Tip Scissors, it is for cutting thread and some precious snipping on fabrics. If you would like to choose between one to use, go for the sharp tip scissors.
- Sharp General Purpose Scissors – For cutting paper, felt, leather, and other materials that are not fabric.
- Fabric Shears – As its name implies, it is for cutting fabric, only fabric and nothing else. Don’t get me wrong, these shears can cut more than fabric. However, once you use them to cut paper or other materials, the fabric shears will become blunt for cutting fabric again. This will make the whole process of cutting fabric slow and can ultimately damage the fabric.
- Pinking Shears – these shears have sawtooth blades; hence they leave a zigzag cutting edge to your fabric. It is for trimming your raw seam allowance when you are not using any serger to overlock the edge to prevent the fabric from fraying. It is also helpful to snip the curves’ seam allowance instead of clipping it with scissors for smoother and flatter finishing.
- Roller Cutters – Roller cutters are great for cutting fabric quickly. They need a cutting mat underneath to protect the blade and your working table. For a straight line cut, you need a quilter’s ruler too. Big blade or the small blade? Generally, the big blade is for straight-line cutting, while the small blade is for more detailed curvy cutting.
- SEWING PINS
These tiny little pins are handy in sewing projects as they hold patterns to fabric and temporarily hold seams before stitching. Sewing pins baste layers together when making quilts; hence quilting pins are longer. For garment sewing, pins also help with seam adjustment, making darts, adding trims, and setting hem at the right length.
There are different types of sewing pins in the market, depending on what you are sewing – get the right tools for the job and find out which pins are best for you to use in your sewing, quilting, and craft projects. If you used the wrong pins, it could leave a mark on your fabric and/or damage your job. You can buy the blue Glass Head pins as shown in the photo above for beginners who usually sew with cotton fabrics. Read more about the types of pins here.
- PINSCUHION & STORAGE
A pincushion is a pad or stuffed cushion to hold pins and needles. Pierce pins and needles into it so that you can get them easily when you need them.
Pincushions come in different shapes and sizes, but do you know that the most popular shape is a tomato? Read the history here. You may be curious about the little strawberry hanging to it. This strawberry, filled with emery powder, is a handy tool for cleaning and sharpening your pins….which made the already perfect pin cushion even more perfect.
If you are crafty enough, you could make your own pincushion with storage space to keep all your basic sewing essentials in it. All you need is to glue a normal pincushion to a metal candy box, and voila, your DIY pincushion sewing kit. Or, you may choose to sew your pincushion with the free patterns here, not forgetting my popular turtle pincushion sewing kit free pattern.
- MEASURING TAPE & RULERS
Measuring tape and rulers are, certainly, one of the tools to take measurements accurately. The measuring tape is pliable, so it is ideal for measuring curves. Rulers, on the other hand, are great for measuring and drawing straight lines.
- ERASABLE FABRIC MARKERS & Chalk
Marking on fabric is a necessity in most sewing projects. Choose the one that fits your project type, and you are ready to begin tracing or marking your pattern to the fabric.
RIGHT: For tailors, the most common marking tools are the tracing paper, tracing wheel, the tailor’s chalk, and chalk pen or color pencil.
CENTER: For general sewing hobbyists, liquid water erasable marker and heat erasable marker would be more practical.
LEFT: If you are in embroidery or similar decorative sewing, you can consider getting a transfer Pencil. Trace your pattern onto a paper in mirror orientation, flip it onto the fabric, and press with an iron to transfer the drawing.
- SEAM RIPPER
This small tool is shaped to make it easier to undo stitches sewn in the wrong place and open a buttonhole. Insert the fork underneath the thread and push; the sharp blade will cut the thread at the end of the fork. The red ball tip prevents damages done to your fabric when you choose to rip off the seam by inserting the ball tip instead.
Iron is a vital part of the sewing room’s equipment. Use it to open seams, press hems, and create folds and creases. It also improves the finish of a piece of clothing, sharpening edges, smoothing creases, and reducing bulk.
If you are a beginner in appliqué sewing, the mini iron on the left is a good choice for you. It works well for a small and delicate appliqué piece where the normal iron is too big to handle, especially creating fold for appliqués. You can purchase it at Amazon.
- OTHER TOOLS
Here are some other helpful tools that will ease some job in your hand-sewing project.
- Tweezers – Point-tip tweezers are great for loosening threads from the seam during un-picking and useful for shaping the edges. Blunt-tip tweezers, on the other hand, are great for turning small parts inside-out and for stuffing poly-fill.
- Tailor Awl – Tailor awl is used for detailed work such as shaping the edges, feeding the cloth into the sewing machine, and loosening threads. It is used to make holes in thick fabric and leather.
- Needle Threader – Obviously needle threader is a tool that you use to thread a needle. It is super handy if you have a compromised vision or poor lighting, and threading is difficult without a tool. There are manual and automatic needle threaders; click the links to watch a video on how to use them respectively.
- Thimble – if you’re worried about pricking your finger, a thimble can be a helpful tool. Besides protecting your fingers, it allows the needle to be pushed through stubborn fabric layers when needed.
- Finger Grips – To protect your finger from soreness during sewing. And, they give a good grip to the needle when you are sewing thick layers. In some cases, it can be a substitute for a thimble.
How To Thread & Knot
How To Thread Needle: Carefully feed the freshly cut thread through the eye of the needle. If you’re having trouble, you can moisten the tip of the thread with water or saliva and gently run the damp thread through your thumb and index finger to flatten. This will make it easier to thread the needle. Once the thread is through the needle’s eye, pull through the thread to prevent it from being unthreaded.
How To Knot Thread To Begin Sewing: There are quite a few ways to tie a knot to your thread before sewing. I used the basic one since young is to wrap the thread around my index finger to create a knot. First, all you need to do is take the end of the thread and make 1 to 2 loops around your index finger. Then push your thumb toward the end of your index finger, twirl to mix up the loops at the index finger. Next, easing the coils out of the finger and then pull the thread to tighten the knot.
How to knot to end your sewing: You want to complete the sewing and secure the thread with a knot so your stitches won’t turn undone. First, make a tiny stitch near the last stitch of your sewing. Try to catch only a few threads of the fabric. Next, coil the thread 2 – 3 times around the end of the needle. Lastly, pull the needle through while holding the coils of thread. Pull to tighten the knot to make it as small as possible. Cut thread to remove thread and needle.
Numbers Of Thread To Sew
A single strand or double strand or multi-strand? It depends on what stitch you are using, your fabric type, and what you are sewing. The more strand of thread you used in your sewing will increase the strength of the seam join. However, too many strands will build bulkiness and deteriorate the quality of your sewing project. Thus, we usually sew with double strands to get a strong seam. However, a single strand is used when it is just for temporarily stitching like basting and gathering, or the seam line will never get stretched.
Basic Hand Sewing Stitches
Now that you know what tools and equipment to get, thread the needle, and knot your thread to begin and end your sewing. It’s time to learn how to hand sew the basic stitches that are commonly used in many sewing projects.
- Running Stitch – It is used to join seam fabric together on the seam line. However, it is not as strong as the seam sewed from backstitches. Running Stitch is also used as a decorative stitch in patchwork and needlework crafts, such as darning and Japanese Sashiko. How To Hand Sew: This basic straight stitch is done by taking the needle up and down through the fabric, making regularly spaced and even stitches.
- Basting Stitch – It is similar to running stitch except that the stitch length is longer. These stitches will temporarily hold two pieces of fabric together and can be easily taken out later. It is also used to make gathering on fabric. Popular among tailoring and quilting.
- Backstitch – It is the most common stitch to use for joining seams because it gives a stronger seam than running stitches. How To Hand Sew: Make a small stitch down through the fabric and then up again. Take the needle back to the right to fill in the gap. Continue forwards, making these regular stitches along the length.
- Slip Stitch – Also called a Ladder Stitch or Invisible Stitch. It is perfect for closing up holes in stuffed toys and a ripped seam, joining up pieces from the right side, etc. It is also used in stitching a hem for the garment. Use a thread color similar to the fabric color, and the seam will blend into the fabric. Watch this video on How to Hand sew a Slip Stitch.
- Whip Stitch – Whip Stitch is a quick stitch to sew than Slip Stitch; however, the workmanship is compromised. Whip Stitch leaves a line of short diagonal stitches on the right side of the fabric. Watch this video on How To Hand Sew Whip Stitch.
- Hem Stitch – It is a row of tiny diagonal stitches to hold up a folded edge of ahem. It is invisible on the right side of the fabric, making it great for a blind hem. Watch this video on How To Hand Sew a Hem Stitch.
- Catch Stitch – Similar to Hem Stitch; it is a strong stitch to secure the hem and invisible from the right side. Instead of a row of plain diagonal hem stitches, Catch Stitches create a row of zig-zag patterns. Watch this video on How To Hand Sew Basic Catch Stitch.
- Herringbone Catch Stitch – The Herringbone Catch Stitch is the more popular choice of catch stitch, particularly in dressmaking, as the extra crisscrossing adds strength to the stitching. Watch this video on how to Hand sew Herringbone Catch Stitch.
- Blanket Stitch – Using this stitch to sew the edges of fabric gives them not only a nice look but also strengthens them. This is one of the most sought-after stitches for edging. Read more and watch the video on How To Hand Sew Blanket Stitch.
Basic Fabric Materials
There is a wide range of choices of fabrics available in the market nowadays, from natural to synthetic fibers to blended fibers; from different textures to different weights; from weave to knit to fuse; from plain to printed design. They range from cotton, denim, linen, satin, silk, jersey, fleece, suede or leather, pile fabric, tulle, batting, felt, etc. Here are the list and details of the various fabrics, mainly for garment sewing.
For a beginner hand sewing project, start with something easy to handle. Cotton is among the easiest to sew for a small sewing project. Felt fabric, too, is a popular fabric for beginner sewing projects since the raw edges stay intact and will not fray. Anyhow, cotton and felt might not be suitable for some specific sewing projects, so read the materials list of the pattern to get the correct fabric to start your sewing project.
Other Basic Sewing Notions
There are other basic sewing notions you need to add to your bucket list along the way. They are button, zippers, snaps, elastic band, ribbon, lace, trim, bias tape.