Making your own clothing can be rewarding for a lot of reasons; you can save money, make the things that you love and that fit you to a “t”, and if you sew for others–for instance, making clothing for your children–there is something extra-special about those items. Learning to sew and getting amazing at it can supply you with some hard earned bragging rights, too! Besides making clothing, learning to sew can give you the knowledge you need to make utilitarian items too, and the cherry on top is that people who sew (or knit or crochet) swear by the stress-relief powers of all things crafty. In other words, there is something very zen about getting down to business and in the zone with a needle and thread on a project of your choosing. When you learn to read, your first step is to learn your ABCs, right? Well these basic types of stitches are like the ABCs of sewing. Once you know them, you are well on your way!
Hand Sewing Stitches
For a novice sewer, learning to sew by hand can be the easiest way to get started. It doesn’t require a hefty start up cost, just a needle, thread, and some fabric. There are a lot of reasons to continue to hand sew even after you get a machine, though. Quilting and embroidery both use some of the basic had-sewing types of stitches that we will discuss here, and getting handy (pun intended) with a needle and thread will make it easy to do quick repairs on tears and popped buttons.
- Running Stitch
A running stitch is the go-to stitch for beginners: it’s easy, it’s neat, and it gets the job done. The job, of course, is sewing two pieces of fabric to one another. You can use it to repair hems and holes as well. To do a running stitch, simply thread your needle and knot the thread, and then “run” the needle through the fabric in an over-under-over-under pattern until you reach the end. Smaller, tighter stitches take longer, but are much more secure, and a large running stitch can be used to “baste” two fabrics together temporarily. It will look like a dotted line when it is complete.
- Blanket Stitch
Blanket stitches are usually found on–you guessed it–the edges of blankets. The stitch can be used to finish a raw hem by hand, or as a decorative element. It is actually on of the most popular types of embroidery stitches, where it is sometimes called a buttonhole stitch, and is done with much more intricacy. To do this one, you knot the thread and pull your needle from the back to the front of the fabric, anchoring it. Next, push your needle through your first stitch’s entry point, making a vertical stitch and leaving a loop of thread loose. Bring the needle through the loop, and make a new vertical stich, leaving a new loop of thread, but pulling the first loop of thread tight (but not too tight!). When you’re done, you should have a uniform line of threads running along the raw edge, and evenly spaced vertical stitches perpendicular to that.
- Hemming Stitch
There are a few types of stitches that can be used to hem garments, but the most popular is the hemming stitch, sometimes called a blind hem stitch or pick stitch. It is very useful for when you want to make the stitching on your hem invisible, and is often used in high end and couture fashion houses. To do this hemming stitch, you start on the inside of your garment, where the hem has been rolled and secured. Knot your thread to anchor your stitching and then, as you bring your needle to the front, “pick” only a few fabric fibers with your needle before returning to the hem side. For maximum invisibility, be sure to pick a thread color that matches the fabric color perfectly.
- Top Stitch
A top stitch doesn’t refer as much to a type of stitch, instead it is a category of other stitches that are meant to be visible on the right side of a garment. Top stitches are decorative, but they also serve to stabilize and reinforce areas that need it, for instance, on a button placket. On garments, topstitching is usually done as a running stitch and in a contrasting color of thread. The best example of this is on your favorite pair of jeans, where most top stitching is a golden color to contrast with blue denim.
- Back Stitch
The back stitch is another very basic stitch that can be utilitarian or decorative, and it one of the simpler types of stitches, too. To do it, simply bring your needle up through the back of your fabric, and take one running stitch. Instead of pulling your needle up after a small space though, pull it up right before the place where your last stitch ended. This will give you a nice, consistent look.
- Whip Stitch
A whip stitch is done at an angle, and when it is done correctly, the stitch will be snug against the two pieces of fabric it holds together. To do a whipstitch, you push your needle through one layer of fabric and knot the thread, and then push your needle through both layers of fabric so that the thread is wrapped around the fabric at an angle on the seam. You want to space these stitches about 1/8″ apart.
There you have it! A bunch of easy-peasy hand sewing types of stitches. If you want to practice before diving into your next project, getting an embroidery circle frame can help you keep your fabric steady while you learn the ropes. If you do decide to take on a big project, remember to take some time to learn some strategies that will keep you focused and on track. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day!
Machine Sewing Stitches
When you graduate to a sewing machine, the first thing that you will probably notice is that most modern machines come with a card or small computer screen that give you the option to choose from many types of stitches. Some you will use often, and some you might not ever touch! Either way, learning what types of stitches are used for which purpose can help you unlock the amazing things that your sewing machine can do.
Sewing by machine differs in that, when you sew by hand, you are using one thread and one needle. On a machine, you still use one needle (though you can purchase double needle attachments in many cases) but two threads. The first thread is fed through the needle, where it catches the second thread from the bobbin. It’s great for bigger projects like garment work, and once you are comfortable with them, you can start whipping up fashions that you designed yourself.
- Basting Stitch
A basting stitch is much like the running stitch that you do by hand, but machine basting is not meant to last. It works by spacing the stitches out and running them long, making them very easy to remove. Another use for the basting stitch is if you are attempting to make a gathered, ruffled, or ruched detail. You will run your basting stitch across all of your fabric, and then gently pull the top thread by hand to cause the fabric to bunch. Then you can secure your gather or ruching with the next stitch, a straight stitch.
- Straight Stitch
Here is the stitch you will use most often in your machine sewing adventures. It is extremely utilitarian, and is mostly used to join two pieces of fabric together at a seam, to hem, and to topstitch. You can vary the tightness and spacing of a straight stitch by adjusting those settings on your machine. A quick tip, though: spacing your straight stitches too close to one another can make them very difficult to get out, if you need to undo a hem to make an alteration.
- Zig-Zag Stitch
Of all the types of stitches on a sewing machine, the zig-zag stitch is the one that is going to get you out of your comfort zone and trying new sewing projects. It’s a fun little stitch, and hey, even the name is fun to say. The zig zag makes neat, even little peaks in alternating directions and are ideal for finishing raw edges, adding elastic to your garment projects, and are great for knit or stretchy fabrics because the stitch has a little “give”. When you are ready to get adventurous in your sewing, the zig-zag stitch will be waiting for you.
- Overcast Stitch
There is another family of machines called sergers or overlocks that exist primarily for finishing raw edges and hems. The overcast stitch does something similar, but often times people will confuse it for an overlock stitch instead. This stitch works a lot like the blanket stitch, in that it makes a neat line across the top of an edge and is paired with straight or diagonal vertical stitches. This type of stitch keeps your hems and seams from fraying or ripping.
- Buttonhole Stitch
The buttonhole stitch on your machine should not be confused with the types of stitches in embroidery that are referred to as “buttonhole” types. On a machine, these stitches actually make buttonholes with the use of a special presser foot, usually using a teeny-tiny zig zag stitch to reinforce the edges when you cut a slit for the button later.
- Decorative Stitch
This category of stitches come in all shapes and sizes, from honeycomb and diamond patterns to vines and flowers. They are automated; usually you select the stitch code number, and the machine will do the rest of the work. Decorative stitches are great for adding interesting elements to your garment as a top stitch, and are also commonly used to finish quilts. They are a lot of fun to play around with.
Now you know some of the most common types of stitches that you can use for machine sewing. It’s always best to “learn by doing”, so grab some scrap fabric and start practicing. You might be amazed by all of the cool stuff that your machine can do.
Once you’ve mastered your sewing ABCs, there is so much that you can explore. Maybe you’ll want to try your hand at a warm, cozy sweater by learning the ins and outs of knitting. Better yet, why not apply what you’ve learned to a t-shirt quilt that will preserve your memories for years to come?