When it comes to sewing crafts, there seems to be a never-ending library of stitches. Beginners may find themselves intimidated by the sheer volume, and seasoned sewists may still learn new stitches years after starting their sewing journey.
While the world of stitches may seem too large to comprehend, there are certain stitches that are more important to know than others. If you’re a beginner, it’s important not to get caught up in the volume of stitches, but rather focus on the important ones.
So, what are the most important types of stitches? The most important types of stitches can be broken down into these four categories: machine sewing, hand sewing, machine embroidery, and hand embroidery.
If you only do sewing or only do embroidery, you may be wondering why you’d need to learn the other side. When it comes to stitching fabric, you may soon find that many of these stitches overlap. Embroidery stitches can be useful for plain sewing and vice versa.
We’ve broken down 37 of the most important stitches for you to know, split up into the four categories we mentioned above. Whether you’re working on a machine or by hand, you’ll know exactly which stitches to use.
Machine Sewing Stitches
Below are the best machine sewing stitches.
1. Straight Stitch
The straight stitch is the most common stitch used on a sewing machine. It’s the default setting to run a straight seam along your fabric.
When you’ve run a straight stitch, it will look like a straight line of thread through your fabric. It will be punctuated by each needle prick along the way, but there won’t be any break in between stitches.
This is the ideal stitch for any simple sewing project. If you’re just trying to put together two pieces of cotton fabric, this stitch will work great.
2. Back Stitch (Anchor Stitch)
The back stitch, or sometimes referred to as the anchor stitch, is a way to secure your seam. Regardless of what stitch you’re going to use for the seam, a back stitch is a great way to secure the thread and prevent it from pulling out.
To employ the back stitch, simply run about 3-4 stitches of your chosen stitch type on your machine, pause, and press the reverse button. Most sewing machines have this button on the front of the machine above the needle compartment.
After you’ve run 3 stitches in reverse, let go of the reverse button and continue to sew as normal. You will notice that the threads will overlap, but that’s okay. It’s the whole point! Sewing over the threads back and forth secures them in place.
3. Zig Zag Stitch
The zig zag stitch is exactly what it sounds like – it sews in a zig zag pattern running back and forth along the fabric. You can play a lot with the zig zag stitch by increasing or decreasing the stitch length and width.
Zig zag stitching is important for soft and stretchy knit fabrics. Since those fabrics tend to pull at straight seams and weaken the threads, a zig zag stitch can help secure the stretchy fabric better and prevent too much pulling.
4. Blind Hem Stitch
A blind hem stitch is a pre-programmed stitch on most sewing machines. it’s used to create a hem seam that’s nearly invisible from the outside of the fabric.
On the inside of the fabric, the blind hem stitch has an uneven zig zag look. You’ll notice a few small zig zags with one large dipping V stitch, then the pattern repeats.
If you’re working on stretchy fabric, the zig zags will be more dramatic to hold the fabric in place and provide more stability.
5. Buttonhole Stitch
Most sewing machines have several buttonhole stitch options pre-programmed. These buttonhole stitches are perfect for creating solid buttonholes with secure stitching.
The buttonhole stitch will utilize a zig zag pattern by going back and forth in width, but the stitch length will be extremely small. There will be no gaps in between each stitch.
Your machine will run this stitch along the length of one side, around the top, down the other side, and back around the bottom to create a rectangle.
Once finished, you’ll need to split open the fabric in between each side of the buttonhole stitch with a sharp blade.
6. Cover Stitch
The cover stitch is commonly found on commercially made clothing and linens. It looks like two parallel lines of straight stitch running close together. You may have seen this on the hem of your t-shirt sleeve or the end of your pillowcase.
Using a cover stitch on your fabric would require using a double needle, so you’ll need to make sure your sewing machine has this capacity. Be sure to check your manufacturer guide to use the double needle correctly.
7. Overcast Stitch (Whip Stitch)
The overcast stitch, also sometimes called a whip stitch or overlock stitch, is used when you want to finish a seam smoothly by wrapping thread around the outside of the fabric.
This is similar to the way a serger machine, or overlock machine, operates, but when run on a traditional sewing machine it does not cut the fabric.
8. Basting Stitch
A basting stitch is like a running stitch, but with spaces in between each stitch. The purpose of a basting stitch is to run a temporary seam to keep two pieces of fabric together until you can sew them permanently.
Typically, a basting stitch will be removed after the permanent seam has been sewn in.
9. Decorative Stitches
Although we’ve only listed 8 machine sewing stitches so far, you may notice that your sewing machine came with anywhere from 20-100 stitches.
Sewing machines come pre-programmed with an assortment of decorative stitches to be used for various projects. If you have a spare bit of fabric and want to have some fun, try them out!
Below are the best hand stitches.
10. Running Stitch
The running stitch is basically the straight stitch, but done by hand instead of by machine. It runs a straight line through the fabric with the thread.
By hand, you’ll notice that the running stitch has to have small spaces in between each stitch. It won’t be a perfectly straight line, but it will create the line effect and give you a nice, straight seam.
11. Back Stitch
The back stitch in hand sewing is different than in machine sewing. Although they can both be used to lock your stitching in place, the back stitch runs in a single line like the running stitch, but the individual stitches are sewn backwards.
This means that when you sew, you’ll bring the needle up through the fabric, move it backwards a stitch length and go into the fabric, then bring it up again a stitch length ahead of that stitch.
You’ll be sewing backwards, but moving in a straight, forward line.
12. Basting Stitch
The basting stitch in hand sewing is the same as in machine sewing. This will be a spaced out running stitch used as a temporary join of fabrics or to mark the seam line.
Just as with the machine basting stitch, you’ll want to pull these stitches out after you’ve sewn in your permanent seam.
13. Slip Stitch (Ladder Stitch)
The slip stitch is a favorite of all seamstresses who work by hand. If you want to create a seam that disappears into the fabric, the slip stitch will be your best friend.
Also called the ladder stitch, the slip stitch is run through each side of the fabric so that you don’t see the thread from the outside.
As you work, you’ll notice lines of stitches running horizontal between the two fabrics, forming what looks like a “ladder” of stitches. This is where the slip stitch gets its alternate name, the ladder stitch.
14. Whip Stitch
The whip stitch done by hand works the same as when a sewing machine does it. You’ll sew along the edge of the fabric, wrapping the threads around the outside to give it a nice, soft edge.
This helps bring two pieces of fabric together with a smooth edge without doing an internal seam. It adds a little extra flair and decoration to the piece and is commonly seen with pillowcases.
15. Blanket Stitch
The blanket stitch looks like a variation of the whip stitch. It wraps around the edges just as with the whip stitch, but has an extra step of locking in the thread by looping the needle through it.
With a whip stitch, there’s no thread line along the edge of the fabric. You just have your wrapped thread running perpendicular to the fabric.
With a blanket stitch, you’ll also have a line of thread along that edge of the fabric to give it extra security and smoothness. This is common on – you guessed it – blankets!
16. Buttonhole Stitch
The buttonhole stitch with hand sewing is very different from the machine sewing buttonhole stitch.
For hand sewing, it will be structured like the blanket stitch, with an extra knot added along the running thread line to give more security.
Because of the added knots, the buttonhole stitch is a favorite among hand sewists.
17. Catch Stitch
The catch stitch is used to create hems on thick fabrics, like wool, that would be hard to run a traditional hem stitch on.
When you look at the catch stitch, you’ll notice it looks like a series of V’s. Sewing a catch stitch involves grabbing just a small bite of fabric with your needle, then traveling in a long length to the other fabric and picking up another small bit of fabric.
You’ll go back and forth like this, grabbing small pieces of fabric with your needle and running long pieces of thread across the two fabrics.
18. Securing Stitch
The securing stitch is an important part of hand sewing. Although it’s not a type of stitch that you run through the fabric, you’ll need to use this at the end of every seam.
You’ll make the securing stitch by pulling your needle through the back of the fabric for your last stitch, then running the needle under one of the back stitch lengths.
Don’t pull it all the way through, because you’re going to thread your needle through the loop you’ve just created.
Keep a finger on the second loop and pull the thread to secure the first loop, then pull the needle through the second loop and pull tight.
Written directions for this can be difficult to follow, so check out the video below to learn how to use a securing stitch.
Machine Embroidery Stitches
Below are the best embroidery machine stitches.
19. Run Stitch (Straight Stitch)
The run stitch on an embroidery machine is basically the straight stitch on a sewing machine. It runs a straight line of stitches with no spaces in between.
With an embroidery machine, it may be a large or small line. You may use a full 6 strand thread of embroidery floss or reduce it down to 3 strands. Your machine may repeat stitches over the run stitch to make it larger.
Regardless of the little changes your machine can do, a run stitch will be just a simple, straight line of stitching.
20. Satin Stitch
The satin stitch for an embroidery machine works very similar to a satin stitch with hand embroidery. You’re essentially drawing long stitches top to bottom in a single area to create a solid wall of color.
This stitch is popular for lettering and small designs where the area needing to be filled is smaller. It’s a common stitch and you’ll likely use it in every machine embroidery design you create.
21. Fill Stitch
The fill stitch looks a little like the long and short stitch in hand embroidery. As the name would suggest, the fill stitch is used to fill a larger area with machine embroidery.
Typically, if your design has a section that’s too large to feasibly fill with a satin stitch and have it look nice, your machine will instead use the fill stitch to cover the area with your floss color.
It also has a nice dimension to it that can be useful for dynamic designs like animal fur or other textured objects, since it can incorporate multiple colors to create a thread painting.
Hand Embroidery Stitches
22. Running Stitch
The running stitch for embroidery is worked like the straight running stitches of regular sewing. It’s a straight line of stitches, but since it’s done by hand, there are small breaks in between.
For embroidery, the running stitch is primarily used to create an outline or border, or to add small details. It’s incredibly simple to do and is one that many beginners start out practicing.
If you want to add variation to your embroidery, you can play with the stitch length and spacing. Create longer or shorter stitches, or add larger or smaller spaces in between each stitch. These little changes can make for fun designs!
23. Back Stitch
The back stitch for embroidery works the same as the back stitch in hand sewing. It may sound confusing written out in words, but you’re going to sew backwards to create a forward moving straight line.
There’s a second way to work the back stitch for embroidery that may take a little less time, but it works better to watch it in action.
With that in mind, check out this video of both methods to do the back stitch below. It’s a quick 2 minutes and shows you the two options you have for sewing a back stitch!
24. Stem Stitch
The stem stitch is typically used for, of course, creating stems. This would be primarily for floral work. However, the stem stitch also works great when used for a smooth border or line work.
To work the stem stitch, you’ll sew one stitch as normal, then bring your needle back up through the fabric halfway in the middle of the previous stitch. You won’t pull it through the thread strands, but to the side in the space underneath the floss.
It creates a twisted look that adds more size to a regular line of stitching.
25. Satin Stitch
The satin stitch in hand embroidery is done the same as it is by an embroidery machine. The floss will be sewn in straight lines with the stitch starting and ended at the edges of the area you’re filling in.
The satin stitch is primarily used to fill in a section of the design with a nice, smooth coverage of color. It creates a smooth, solid block of color that nearly looks seamless.
Usually satin stitch is done with 3 or less embroidery floss strands, but sometimes people increase the strand amount if working on a bigger project that will require more coverage. The less strands you have, the smoother your work will appear.
26. Long And Short Stitch
The long and short stitch is used to create what’s commonly called a thread painting. It is similar to the satin stitch, but instead of each stitch being done in the same length, the long and short stitches are done in varying lengths: long and short!
You’ll do this in sections throughout one area you’re filling in, varying your stitch length to create depth and texture. This is a common stitch chosen for people who are using more than one color in a specific area.
When using more than one color, you would start with one color for the top section, then switch to the next color for the next section, and so on until you have filled in the desired area.
27. French Knot Stitch
The French knot stitch is a fun way to create little bulbs in hand embroidery. They’re very simple to do, but create a beautiful new texture for things like tiny flower buds, such as baby’s breath.
To stitch a French knot, pull your needle up from the back of the fabric, wrap the thread at the base around your needle three times, then push your needle back through the fabric in a hole that’s right next to the hole you came out of.
You’ll want to hold tension on the wrapped thread to keep it as a tight knot, but don’t hold it so tight that your needle can’t pass through.
For a visual tutorial, check out the video below from Cutesy Crafts.
28. Chain Stitch
The chain stitch can be used to create a bold or textured line. When done correctly, it looks exactly like its namesake, a chain.
There are several variations of the chain stitch, a couple of which we’ll discuss below, but the original chain stitch worked forward is done as follows:
- Pull your needle up through your fabric.
- Push it back down through the same hole, but hold onto the thread loop that forms.
- Pull your needle back up one stitch length forward, running it through the loop.
Doing this on repeat will create the chain look that the chain stitch is known for.
29. Detached Chain Stitch
The detached chain stitch is created from the base knowledge of doing a regular chain stitch, but instead of running these stitches in a straight line, you’ll make one single stitch individually and anchor it down.
Detached chain stitches are used for making flowers, like the lazy daisy stitch we’ll detail below, and leaves.
To work a detached chain stitch, start off as you would with a regular chain stitch. Pull your needle up through the fabric, push it down through the same hole while holding onto the thread, and pull the needle back up a stitch length away through the loop.
Now, rather than continuing with the chain, you’ll simply push the needle back through the fabric just on the other side of your loop thread. This will create a small anchor stitch to hold down the loop.
You may do this repeatedly in as many places as you like. Each one is a single detached chain stitch.
30. Lazy Daisy Stitch
The lazy daisy stitch is made using several detached chain stitches in a pattern to create a flower.
You’ll want to draw the outline of your flower, or at least the center of your flower, so you know where to start each stitch. Once you have your outline, create your first detached chain stitch.
Now that you have one anchored down, move just a little to the side of your original stitch and create another one. Do this in a circular pattern until you’ve created the petals of your flower.
31. Reverse Chain Stitch
The reverse chain stitch will look exactly like the regular chain stitch; the only difference is the way it’s sewn onto the fabric.
To sew a reverse chain stitch, you’ll create a detached chain stitch first, but you’ll want your anchor to be at the end of your stitch line.
This means you’ll pull the needle up for your first stitch at a stitch length distance from the end of the stitch line and secure it backwards, at that line end.
Next, bring your needle up through the fabric a stitch length away from your previous chain. Then slide your needle underneath the chain loop you’ve created, and push it back down through your new stitch hole. This should create a new chain loop.
Repeat this process to work the reverse chain stitch.
32. Feather Stitch
The feather stitch is used to create a textured look for scales, foliage, or feathers. All the stitches are linked together, but unlike the chain stitch, you’ll notice a lot of open area that gives the design some movement.
As you work this stitch, you’ll begin to see a pattern in the way you’re running these stitches. Although they seem haphazard at first, you’ll end up making interlocking V’s alternating left to right, higher and lower.
33. Straight Stitch
The straight stitch may sound like it’s similar to a running stitch, but these will have the same detached structure as the detached chain stitch.
A straight stitch is created by simply stitching an individual straight line. Usually the straight stitch is used to create a star or snowflake type pattern where the design consists of segmented straight lines.
34. Couching Stitch
The couching stitch is one not often mentioned, but that can be useful when you need it. It consists of two separate thread lengths, one resting on top of the fabric, and one to secure it down.
As you work the couching stitch, you’ll secure down the thread that’s resting on top of the fabric by running tiny straight stitches over the thread to anchor it. This is often used for adding texture, such as for caterpillars or butterfly bodies.
35. Split Stitch
The split stitch is another common outline or border stitch, simply adding a little extra texture to the line.
To work a split stitch, you’ll sew a straight stitch, then bring the needle up in the middle of the previous stitch. When you did this with the stem stitch, you made sure not to break the threads of the previous stitch.
Now, with the split stitch, that will be your goal. Use the needle to split that previous stitch and bring your new thread in between the previous strands. This will create a split stitch.
36. Woven Wheel Stitch
The woven wheel stitch may look overwhelming and difficult to a beginner, but it’s an incredibly easy way to create large, textured, layered flowers.
To create a woven wheel stitch, you’ll want to sew 5 straight stitches in a star pattern, all starting at the same center point and going outward.
Then, pull your needle up through the middle of two stitches at the base, and weave your needle and thread over and under the straight stitches. Work your way out to the ends of the straight stitches, and you’ll see that you’ve created a round flower.
37. Bullion Knot Stitch
The bullion knot stitch is for advanced sewists who have practice in other hand sewing or embroidery. For a beginner, it will be difficult to master and may cause you to get discouraged.
If you’re ready to try this advanced stitch, you’ll want to bring your needle up through the fabric, then push it down a long stitch length away. Don’t pull the entire length of thread through the fabric because you’ll need it for the next step.
Make sure you have a large loop of thread on the top side of the fabric, then pull your needle back up through the starting point of your stitch. Wrap the thread several times around your needle, pushing it down as you go.
Once your wrapping is about the same length as your stitch length, hold it in place and pull your needle up through the fabric. Push the needle through the other end of the stitch and pull, slowly and carefully, to secure your bullion knot.
For a great tutorial on using bullion knot stitches to create a bullion rose, check out the video below from Cutesy Crafts.
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