Have you ever misplaced a button and had to sew a replacement? Or do you need to repair a ripped seam, a frayed hem, or a hole? Or do you simply want to sew something from the free sewing patterns for your family and friends? We will explore the knowledge and guidance on how to hand sew in this comprehensive step-by-step guide, from the essential tools you will need to the basic stitches and advanced techniques that will take your sewing projects to the next level. We’ve also included 16 beginner sewing projects at the end of this article for you to try out.
Once you’ve mastered the basics of hand sewing, you can expand your skill set to include a variety of useful and appealing stitches. Hand sewing has advantages over machine sewing, despite being slower. It’s inexpensive to get started, simple to do in a pinch, and provides excellent control. You can save money by learning to sew by hand instead of paying for professional alterations or repairs.
How To Hand Sew – The Beginner Sewing Tips
It is never too late to begin if you are new to sewing. To make your sewing journey easier, we’ve compiled a list of the fundamentals of how to sew by hand for beginners. We have included the following topics:
- Essential tools & equipment;
- How to start and end sewing by threading and tying the thread;
- Some basic hand stitches you’ll need to know;
- The most common types of fabric
- Basic sewing accessories you should have.
Though this post is intended for beginners learning to hand sew, the additional information may be useful as you advance your sewing skills.
Essential Tools & Equipment
Hand needles come in a variety of shapes and sizes to suit various tasks. They are classified primarily by the sewing task and are distinguished by the size and length of the tip, body, and eye. As a beginner, you can buy assorted needle sizes in a pack, then gradually add on the expert range as you progress.
How do you choose which needle to use for your sewing project from the various sizes available? Since cotton fabric is typically used by beginners because it is the easiest to work with. A universal needle is all you need for basic stitches with regular sewing thread. If you need to embellish your project with thicker thread or yarn, use a needle with large eyes, such as a Tapestry needle or an Embroidery needle.
Here are some examples of needles available on the market and their applications:
- Universal/all-purpose sewing needles have a sharp tip, a round eye, and a medium length. They are ideal for all household sewing tasks and can be used on practically any fabric.
- Embroidery needles – Similar to universal needles, but with sharper eyes for easier threading of multiple threads, pearls, floss, or ribbon. They can be used for cutwork, smocking, heirloom sewing, and more.
- Quilting needles is Similar to Universal needles but shorter in length. This small, agile needle is often used to sew small stitches in tailoring.
- Tapestry needles have large eyes that can hold multi-strand embroidery floss, crochet threads, and thicker fibers than regular sewing thread. Their blunt tips allow them to pass through loosely woven fabrics without snagging or piercing. These needles can be used for various needlework techniques, including embroidery, sewing, cross-stitch, knitting, crocheting, and others.
- Darning needles are thicker and longer in length than standard sewing needles. They are used for basting stitches and darning with wool or cotton.
- Beading needles are very thin and long, making them ideal for passing small beads through. It is long enough to string several beads at once.
- Doll needles – Similar to a darning needle, but much longer, typically ranging from 3 to 6 inches in length. The elongated shape of the needle allows it to reach through layers of fabric or stuffing. It is used to stuff and upholstered items.
- Leather needles have sharp triangular points that easily pierce through leather, vinyl, plastic, and other tough materials. They can be used to sew leather coats, pants, and hats and to add finishing touches to heavyweight craft projects.
- Self-threading needles, also known as calyx-eyes, have a slotted top to facilitate threading and piercing. Pull the thread down from the top of the needle to the thread.
- Thread & Wax
Threads are available in a variety of materials, thicknesses, and colors. For normal sewing projects, there are cotton thread, polyester thread, nylon thread, waxed thread, invisible thread, and so on. There’s also floss and yarn for decorative sewing projects like embroidery and needlework.
For beginners, you’ll need some basic thread colors to match the thread color to the fabric color. Cotton or polyester threads in white, black, red, blue, green, and yellow are ideal for use in an emergency.
Using beeswax in your hand-sewing project will greatly simplify your life. Why? When you run your thread through the beeswax, it gets a nice coating that makes it smoother, keeps it from tangling, and strengthens it. Read more on 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 Scissors are useful for thread snipping, detail cutting, and snipping.
- Thread Snippers are used to cut thread and snip fabric.
- Sharp General Purpose Scissors are used to cut paper, felt, leather, and other non-fabric materials.
- Fabric shears, also known as fabric scissors or dressmaker’s shears, are scissors designed specifically for cutting fabric.
- Pinking shears have saw-toothed blades that cut fabric with a zigzag edge. These shears are primarily used for finishing fabric edges to prevent fraying and add a decorative touch.
- Roller cutters, also known as rotary cutters or fabric cutters, are popular sewing, quilting, and crafting tools. They are made up of a handle and a circular blade that glides smoothly across the cutting surface.
- Sewing Pins
Sewing pins are essential sewing tools that are used to hold fabric layers together temporarily during the construction process. They are available in a variety of sizes, lengths, and types, each serving a specific purpose.
- Pincushions & Storages
A pincushion is a pad or stuffed cushion used to hold pins and needles. Insert pins and needles so you can easily access them when needed.
If you are crafty enough, you could make your own pincushion with storage space for all of your basic sewing necessities. All you need to do is glue a standard pincushion to a metal candy box, and you’ve got yourself a DIY pincushion sewing kit. Alternatively, you can sew yours with the free pincushion patterns, including my popular turtle pincushion sewing kit free pattern.
- Measuring Tape & Rulers
Measuring tapes and rulers are unquestionably useful tools for taking precise measurements. Since the measuring tape is flexible, it is great for measuring things with curves. Rulers, on the other hand, are ideal for measuring and drawing straight lines.
- Erasable Fabric Markers & Chalk
Most sewing projects require making marking on the fabric. Choose the one that best suits your project, and you’re ready to start tracing or marking your pattern on the fabric.
RIGHT: The most common marking tools for tailors are tracing paper, a tracing wheel, a tailor’s chalk, and a chalk pen or colored pencil.
CENTER: Liquid water erasable and heat erasable markers would be more practical for general sewing hobbyists.
LEFT: Consider getting a transfer pencil if you do embroidery or other decorative sewing. Trace your pattern onto mirror-image paper, flip it onto the fabric, and iron to transfer the drawing.
- Seam Ripper
A seam ripper is a useful sewing tool for removing stitches and undoing seams. It has a handle and a small pointed blade that cuts thread easily without damaging the fabric.
Place the pointed end of the seam ripper against the thread and slide it underneath a stitch. Slide the blade along the length of the stitch, cutting through the thread with gentle pressure.
The iron is an essential piece of sewing room equipment. Use it to press seams open and make folds and creases. It also enhances the finish of a garment by sharpening edges, smoothing creases, and reducing bulk.
If you’re new to appliqué sewing, the mini iron on the left is a good place to start. It is especially useful for creating folds for appliqués on small and delicate appliqué pieces where a regular iron is too large to handle. You can get it from Amazon.
- Other Tools
Here are some additional tools that will help you with your hand-sewing project.
- Tweezers – Point-tip tweezers are useful for shaping the edges and loosening threads from the seam during unpicking. Blunt-tip tweezers, on the other hand, are ideal for turning small parts inside out and stuffing poly-fill into cavities.
- Tailor Awl – A tailor awl is used for detailed work such as shaping edges, feeding fabric into sewing machines, and loosening threads. It is used to pierce thick fabric and leather.
- Needle Threader – Needless to say, a needle threader is a tool used to thread a needle. It is extremely useful if you have poor vision or lighting, and threading is difficult without a tool. There are manual and automatic needle threaders; click the links for videos on how to use them.
- Thimble – If you’re concerned about pricking your finger, a thimble can be handy. It not only protects your fingers, but it also allows the needle to be pushed through stubborn fabric layers when necessary.
- Finger Grips – To keep your fingers from getting sore while sewing. They also provide a good grip for the needle when sewing thick layers. In some cases, it can be used in place of a thimble.
How Do You Start Sewing By Hand?
- Thread Your Needle
Threading a needle is a simple but necessary sewing skill. Begin by cutting a length of thread about 18-24 inches long and slightly moistening the cut end to stiffen it. Use your dominant hand to hold the needle and your non-dominant hand to hold the thread. Align the cut end of the thread with the eye of the needle and gently push the thread through from front to back. If you’re having trouble, a needle threader can come in handy. Pull the thread through, leaving a short tail, and you’re ready to begin your sewing project.
- Knot The Thread To Begin Sewing
There are several ways to tie a knot in your thread before sewing. I’ve been using the basic one since I was a kid. Pinch the thread between your thumb and forefinger, then wrap it around your index finger several times. Then, rub your thumb toward the end of your index finger and twirl to mix up the loops at the index finger. Next, gently pull the thread to tighten the knot near the end while easing the coils out of the finger. Trim any excess thread tail once the knot is secure.
- Sewing Your Project
Place your fabric between your non-dominant hand’s thumb and middle finger, leaving the area you want to sew accessibly.
With your dominant hand, grasp the needle between your thumb, index, and middle fingers.
Choose a comfortable grip that allows you to move the needle easily.
Bring the needle up through the fabric, leaving the knot on the wrong side. To make a straight stitch, insert the needle only a short distance into the fabric. Repeat, making sure the stitches are evenly spaced.
- How to knot to end your sewing:
You want to finish sewing and tie a knot in the thread so your stitches don’t come undone. Allow at least 2 inches of thread allowance when making a knot at the end of sewing. First, make a tiny stitch near the end of your sewing (try to catch only a few threads of the fabric). Wrap the thread around the needle two or three times. Gently pull the needle out and tighten the knot near the fabric by pressing your thumb against the thread coils. Lastly, trim the excess thread near the knot.
Basic Hand Sewing Stitches
You’re ready to sew now that you know how to use hand sewing tools and equipment, thread the needle, and begin and end your sewing by tying a knot in the thread. Let’s go over the most common stitches used in 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 sewn 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 make it invisible from the right side. Instead of a row of plain diagonal hemstitches, 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
You need to add other basic sewing notions to your bucket list along the way. They are buttons, zippers, snaps, elastic bands, ribbons, lace, trim, and bias tape.
After learning all the theories on how to hand sew, let’s gather your sewing supplies and start practicing.
- Thimble (optional)
- Make a thread length of 18-24 inches (45-60 cm).
Hold the thread near the cut end and slightly moisten it for easy threading.
Pull the thread through the eye of the needle, leaving an even length of thread on both sides.
- Tie the thread:
Wrap one end of the thread around your finger or place it between your thumb and forefinger.
Roll the thread between your fingers to form a small loop.
Insert the needle through the loop while holding it tightly.
Slide the loop towards the end of the thread to form a knot.
- Holding the fabric and the needle:
Place your fabric between the thumb and middle finger of your non-dominant hand, leaving the area you want to sew accessibly.
Grip the needle between your thumb, index, and middle fingers with your dominant hand.
Choose a comfortable grip that allows you to easily maneuver the needle.
- Practice the following basic stitches:
- running stitch: bring the needle up through the fabric, leaving a small thread tail. Insert the needle a short distance into the fabric to make a straight stitch. Repeat, making sure the stitches are evenly spaced.
- backstitch: Bring the needle up through the fabric and then back into it a short distance ahead. Create an overlap by bringing the needle up a stitch length behind the previous stitch. Rep to make a line of backstitches
- slip stitch: Fold the fabric edge over and pin it together. Insert the needle between the two layers of fabric, catching a small amount of fabric in each stitch. Repeat to make an invisible join.
- Patience, practice, and progress:
Begin with simple projects like hemming, repairs, or small crafts to gain experience.
Be gentle with yourself as you improve your technique and hand-eye coordination.
Experiment with various fabrics, stitches, and techniques to broaden your skill set.
Always remember that practice makes perfect. You will improve your hand-sewing skills with time, patience, and dedication. Enjoy the process and the creativity and satisfaction that come with hand sewing.
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