Hand sewing for dressmaking

Part Four

Knowing how to sew by hand with a needle and thread is a really important basic skill to have when sewing and making garments.

In this top tips post I’m going to cover the most common stitches you’ll need to know when making clothes along with when and where you’ll likely use them along with the tools you'll need.

To see a more detail instruction check out my latest Youtube video


There are many different types of hand sewing needles out there but for normal regular hand sewing on most garments a ‘sharps’ needle will be fine - these are general purpose sewing needles.


You can just use exactly the same thread that you use in the sewing machine. Just pull a length from there to use. I personally like to use a length of thread that can be doubled up as there is less chance of the needle coming unthreaded as you sew. I also use a length of thread that is no longer than my forearm once the needle is threaded. Any longer than this and it’s really likely to get tangled.

Using a thimble

I think this is really a personal preference thing. My personal preference is not to use a thimble, for my it feels a bit clumsy, but then I’m not used to it and I’ve got my own way of sewing and keeping control of the needle without it.

If you are sewing very thick fabric or going through lots of layers, you may really need to use one, otherwise the needle is just going to push into your fingertips and be sore.

You can also get needle grabbers that give you more grip on the needle when sewing thick fabric. They are like little spongy discs that will give you extra purchase on the needle when pulling it through.

Bees Wax

Running your thread through bees wax before you start sewing will help to prevent it from getting knotted and will also make the thread stronger.

Starting and ending hand stitching

No matter what type of stitch you are actually making, you’ll still need to secure your thread at the start and end of the stitching. This is the equivalent of doing a reverse or back stitch on the sewing machine, or tying off your threads.

Starting option 1 - Tie a knot in the end of the thread. Loop the end of the thread around your finger and place the end of the thread through that loop to tie a knot. If the thread is very fine, you may need to tie 2 or 3 knots on top of each other to stop the thread slipping through the fabric.

Starting option 2 - Alternatively, and this is my preferred method, don’t tie a knot and just make a very small stitch along on the same spot, just catching a few fibres of the fabric. Leave a little of the thread tails sticking out. Make another 1 or 2 stitches exactly on the same spot and this will secure the thread tightly, meaning when you pull on the thread it won’t come away from the fabric.

Ending or tying off - I will make another small stitch on the spot and before I pull the thread all the way through the fabric, I’ll pass the needle through the loop and pull it tight. I usually do this twice, on the same spot and then just cut the threads loose.

Tacking, basting or running stitch

This a loose simple stitch that is typically used to hold fabric together temporarily until it is sewn again. So for example, you may tack or baste a sleeve head into position before sewing it with the sewing machine.

You simple just pass the thread in and out of the fabric a small regular intervals, securing it at the beginning and end.

Overcast or whip stitch

This is also a simple stitch that is used on the edge of fabric or folds in fabric. The stitching will be visible so its best used on hidden areas of a garment, for example, holding a facing in place at a shoulder seam on the inside of a neckline or to minimise the fraying of a fabric.

Once you have secured the thread, you go up and over the edge of the fabric or fold of fabric to make small diagonal loop stitches. You can make the stitching stronger and more durable by making the stitches smaller and closer together.

Ladder stitch or invisible/blind stitch

This invisible method of hand sewing is a really neat way to join two sections of fabric invisibly. It can be used where two folds of fabric come together or where a fold meets a flat section of fabric.

This stitch is really useful where you want the stitching to be concealed on areas of a garment that are more visible, for example holding a binding down, securing the lining on a dress or skirt to the zip on the inside.

First of all secure the thread on the inside of the folds of fabric. Bring the needle up through the edge of one of the folds. Where the thread leaves the fold, insert it into the other fold at the same place. Make a small stitch, about 5 mm in the fold and pull the needle though. Where you see the thread leave the fold, insert it into the same place on the opposite fold. Continue along the edge of the folds and tie off the thread to secure it.

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