Auxiliary Reference Information | Sewing | Different Stitch Types

During the course of working through the modules and when creating your garments you will need to become familiar with stitch names and understand how you can best use them and have practiced stitching them.

These stitches are not only useful for making garment but they are also useful to help you alter garments and for mending, the sort of things that should be taught in schools!

Now this list is not exhaustive but I have added some of the main stitches and will add more at a later Date!

So if you are not familiar, grab a coffee and a pet to watch you some scrap fabric, a needle and thread and scissors and work through these stitches and have a go, practice makes perfect!

Back Stitch

Info and Application - The Back Stitch is the very strongest stitch that you can do by hand as you are almost doubling stitching the fabric as you move backwards to move forwards. Usually used to secure fabric, you would use this stitch to join fabric pieces together.

Stitch Size – Usually Medium to Small.

Direction of Sewing – Right to Left.

Single/Double – A doubled thread helps when working with thicker layers like gathers or lace overlays or heavy skirts.

Decorative – Not really used for decoration.

Blanket or Button Hole Stitch

Info and Application – This stitch is usually used for decorative purposes to either cover an edging such as a Button Hole or to use on metal hardware to disguise it such as hooks and eyes or to cover a French Tack to use as a closure with a button or hook.

Stitch Size – Usually Small.

Direction of Sewing – Left to Right.

Single/Double – Either, double will give a quicker coverage, but a single thicker thread gives a nice decorative edging.

Decorative – Yes.

Flat Fell Stitch

Info and Application – This is a very useful stitch which is very strong and secure and quick to sew. It holds a layer in place on top of another layer. It is used mainly to secure linings at seams or bindings or facings.

It gives lots of control over the position of fabric such as being able to sew a lining just shy of an edge so really useful for securing lining to a zip, it gives a neat finish with no snagging.

It can be used to secure a lining into the Waist of a bodice to hide everything inside.

It can also be used to sew on Applique or Patch Pockets.

Here is the back view.

Stitch Size – Usually a medium sized stitch.

Direction of Sewing – Left to Right.

Single/Double – Usually Single.

Decorative – In that it is mostly hidden so gives a clean finish.

French Tack

Info and Application – This stitch creates a chain of stitches a little like a crochet chain and created with the fingers. It is useful to use as a loop for a small button to join a fastening at the back of a neck or to join lining in a skirt to the fashion fabric, or to create mini straps across a Shoulder Seam in a bodice to hold bra straps in place, or to create belt loops for decorative belts on lighter fabrics.

The thread is secured either with a knot or with the thread wrapped around the need to create a knot, and a couple of stitches secures the end (see Knots below).

Place the needle back into the fabric through the same stitch and pull out but hold the loop back.

Then it’s basically finger crochet. You grab through the loop and pull the thread through as if it is another loop, as you hold onto this loop the previous loop will slide down until it is in place at the bottom.

Keep repeating this looping and sliding until a line of knots are made that are the length of chain that you require.

Then the needle goes through the loop and is pulled though to close the last loop.

When the chain is long enough attach the other end in position, for example attach to a lining or further along or for whatever application you are using it for. The other end is secured down with a couple of stitches

In this case a bar has been formed that could be used to secure a button or a hook for example.

Stitch Size – Very Small.

Direction of Sewing – Up.

Single/Double – Usually Double.

Decorative – Decorative and Functional.

Gathered Stitching

Info and Application – Lines of thread are stitched with parallel to each other. Up to three lines can be stitched and, three lines produces the best gathering result. The first line of sewing is sewn onto the stitching line and the second and third are sewn in the Seam Allowance.

The thread on the wrong side of the fabric are the ones usually pulled and each line of threads are pulled up by the same amount to create tiny pleats that are in line with each other over the three lines of stitching. Once lined up the fabric is pressed at the Seam Allowance to help the gathers stay in position while they are stitched to an adjoining seam, usually by tacking first.

Here 2 lines of stitching were used to and the back threads pulled to create a gather.

Here they are pressed to help hold them in shape prior to stitching.

Here 3 rows of stitching are used which creates a better structure for the gathers.

Here the gathers have been pulled up very tight and the columns of fabric are very pronounced.

Here the gathers are loosened off but you can still see how they create columns of fabric through the three lines of stitching.

Stitch Size – A smaller stitch will give the best result and keep the gather in place better, although the stitch requires pulling to create the gathered effect so if the stitch is too small the thread will snap so a test is a good idea to see what will work with the fabric to give the desired result.

Direction of Sewing – Up.

Single/Double – Usually Double.

Decorative – Decorative and Functional.

Herringbone or Catch Stitch

Info and Application – This is a very useful stitch used to secure Hems and Interlinings or Seam Allowances in place or any fabric that lays flat on another layer. The stitch is secure but flexible and allows a little movement, but the strength not to create any distortions.

The stitching creates a cross by pinching a little of one side then pinching a little of the other side (the amount pinched and sewn depends on the application, usually any stitch that would show on the outside is the smallest stitch to help hide it).

Its not easy to see in this picture but there is a fold across the fabric just like you would have with a hem. Although the stitching moves from Left to Right along the garment the needle and the actual stitch goes from right to left. You tak a very small bite each time alternating between taking a few strands of thread from the top and very slightly going through to the outside of the garment and then back down to secure the hem just below the fold.

Here is the back view, obviously you would usually stitch in a similar colour thread to the fabric and the little stitches would then blend in and be hardly visible.

Stitch Size – From the smallest stitch to the largest stitch depending on application.

Direction of Sewing – Left to Right.

Single/Double – Usually Single.

Decorative – Not usually, this stitching is usually hidden inside or covered by lining.

Invisible Hem Stitch or Blind Stitch

Info and Application – Gives a discrete finish to a hem. Although a little trickier to sew as you will need to fold down the top edge of a hem and sew between the hem and the Fashion fabric. The two sides are joined with a row of stitches that zig zag from one side to the other pinching a little out of one side then the other. It is a looser stitch to sew. This stitch can be used or a catch stitch variation that gives a slightly stronger result but would only be used on the hem side otherwise the stitch would show through to the front.

A hem is folded in the usual way, folded up then folded again and placed along the fabric ready to sew. However for an Invisible Hem Stitch the main fabric is folded back down to give access to the back of the hem so that the stitches can be made between the hem and the main fabric. The thread is secured in this case coming out of the hem at just over 2/8” below the top edge.

The stitch is made by taking a small bite from the main fabric then crossing back over to take a small bit out of the hem and going back and forth in a zig zag motion as the stitches travel to the left.

Here is the back view which looks very similar to the Herringbone Stitch however the advantage here is that the stitch can not be seen on the inside of the garment on the hem.

Stitch Size – Medium with a small pinched stitch on the outside of the garment.

Direction of Sewing – Right to Left.

Single/Double – Usually Single.

Decorative – In that it is mostly hidden so gives a clean finish.

Knot or Alternative to a Knot

Info and Application – A Knot secures the thread at the beginning but can also be done at the end of a line of sewing.

On a finer thread or when using a tacking threadI find an easy way to create a knot is to wrap the end of the thread around my finger leaving a small end of around ½”.

I then squeeze my thumb onto my finger at the point where the thread crosses then push my thumb up my finger to roll the thread together.

After rolling pinch the knot down with my nail while at the same time pulling on the long thread to tighten the knot.

It is easy to do but harder to explain I think, so if you are stuck just tie an overhand knot then do another on top then snip any excess thread off, always leave 1/2" of thread if you can to secure the knot even further the knot can usually be hidden from view perhaps inside a Seam Allowance.

You can create a knot by wrapping a thread under the needle in its final stitch and then pull the needle through to create the knot. This has the extra advantage of not having a little bulky knot to deal with especially if you have a sheer fabric. But this method is not as secure as knotting before you sew.

You can do this at the beginning of the sewing then secure it down by stitching two or three stitches to secure it before cutting off the end tail.

Another way is to secure the thread at the beginning is to thread the needle with the thread doubled by folding the thread in half and threading the folded end through the eye of the needle which creates a loop.

You can then sew the first stitch and after pulling the needle through you can pass the needle back through the loop to create a secured end.

Here it is pulled tighter, pull until the thread is snug up to the fabric.

I use the last two techniques more with embroidery which create a cleaner finish on the reverse side, in sewing they allow for a cleaner finish for sheer fabrics or silks.

Stitch Size – N/A.

Direction of Sewing – N/A.

Single/Double – N/A.

Decorative – No.

Over Casting or Overlocking

Info and Application – This is a finish for the edge of fabric usually within a Seam Allowance done on either a machine or by hand.

Machine stitching can use three threads to neaten an edge of fabric to prevent fraying. Or four threads used on more difficult fabrics or on knit fabrics to give more support.

The hand application gives more attention to a couture garment and offers a neat finish without the ridge caused by machine stitching zigzags or overlocking or the causing the stiffness and bulk that other seam finishes can give. It is a clean finish that does not distort and is the kindest finish to an edge of fabric. It can also hold multiple layers securely together. It is a stitch not to be underestimated for the time it takes to do it.

It is especially useful to finish a couture garment with not predefined Seam Allowance on difficult fraying fabric and is done prior to Catch Stitching a seam into position.

Stitch Size – Usually Medium.

Direction of Sewing – Left to Right.

Single/Double – Usually single.

Decorative – No.

Prick Stitch

Info and Application – This is a strong stich that has a very neat finish and offers very good control of fabric placement and is similar to the Back Stitch. Therefore very useful to use to attach a zip.

It can also be used to secure extra fabric after it has been attached to stop it moving around say a lining at the top of a bodice or a hem that is extra deep for example. It can go through all levels of fabric but not usually through to the outside.

The stitching moves from Right to Left but there is a little mini back stitch which gives the stitch its strength. The stitch would go through layers but not to the outside of the garment. It might go through lining or interlining or folded seams.

In the photo a piece of folded fabric is attached to a layer below. The long stitch goes though the layer below then back out, then repeated creating a mini back stitch as you sew along.

Here is what the back looks like although this would be hidden in the garment.

Direction of Sewing – Right to Left.

Single/Double – Usually single but can be double.

Decorative – In that it is mostly hidden so gives a clean finish.

Slip Stitch

Info and Application – This stitch is similar to the Herringbone or Catch Stitch but is worked in the other direction and does not create a cross shape therefore it is not as strong.

It can be used to secure a hem especially useful if the fabric is very sheer.

It can also be used to hold too pieces of fabric together that need to match in a particular way such as around a curve or to match a pattern or if the fabric is really sheer. The seam of one side is laid flat while the seam of the other side is folded over and the slip stitch holds the two together. Useful for hand stitching on a sleeve to control pattern matching.

The stitches are hidden in the fold of the fabric and only a tiny stitch shows on both front and back. A bite is taken from the back layer then the next stitch goes through the inside of the folded fabric and is hidden from view.

Stitch Size – Medium to Small.

Direction of Sewing – Right to Left.

Single/Double – Single or Double depending on strength required and denseness of fabric.

Decorative – In that it is mostly hidden so gives a clean finish.

Stay Stitching

Information and Application - Stay Stitching is one of the first types of stitching that you will do on the single layer of fabric pieces immediately after they have been cut and the pattern pieces are removed. It is done on the machine.

Its main purpose is to support the seam to help the seam keep its shape and to stabilize edges that are curved or cut on a bias like Necklines or Princess Seams.

You would usually Stay Stitch on a neckline or armhole, but as most seams have some curve to them it makes sense to do the Stay Stitching on all curved seams. Seams cut on a curve have bias in them and can more easily stretch out of shape while you work with the garment and also the weight of the garment can pull down the seam especially with heavy fabric.

It also helps to define a curved Seam Allowance that will be clipped, turned and pressed.

Don’t forget that you will usually snip curved seams to allow the seam to relax and naturally curve into place so Stay Stitching is going to protect the seamline from the cut.

It also provides a stitching guide.

You should also consider placing them on straight seams where extra strength is needed for example where any closures are being used. Or on folds like a lapel neckline or shoulder seams where further stabilization may be used such as twill tape.

If you have a very loose weave fabric then you may consider Stay Stitching on all seams.

You would also do the Stay Stitching on any facing required for the pattern piece and do the Stay Stitching on the same seam and in the same way.

Stay stitching then helps to preserve the grainline and protect the sewing line that you have worked so hard to get accurate so I like to think of Stay Stitches as a protective seam hug!

On a Test Garment however I only do Stay Stitching on the Neckline and Armhole.

If you have done your Test Garment then you know that the pattern pieces fit together nicely for the body already so if you simply just get into the habit of doing Stay Stitching immediately after taking off the pattern pieces off the fashion fabric then it just becomes second nature.

Stay Stitching is done just outside of the sewing line around 1/16” into the Seam Allowance. When the seam is turned in or sewn the Stay Stitching should not show on the outside.

Stay stitching has a particular direction to get the best results possible for a symmetrical sew and the rule is to sew from wide to narrow on all pieces.

  • After cutting, press the fabric piece to ensure that it is has not been stretched out of shape during cutting or storing if you are not constructing immediately you should do your Stay Stitching.

  • Stay Stitch around 1/16 ” away from the sewing line in the Seam Allowance. If you have thread tracing on the fabric piece then it is a simple thing to simply eyeball the position of the staystitching there would be no need to measure, just be careful that you don’t get too close because you don’t want to see any of the Stay Stitching on the right side after all of the construction has happened. But likewise you don’t want to go too far away from the sewing line as your hug is not protective enough. If you have no thread tracing then you can determine the position using the markings on the sewing machine and work out where 1/16” less than your total Seam Allowance is on the footplate guide, you would then follow this measurement as you sew the Stay stitching.

  • At the point of a V neckline you will need to go right down to the sewing line as no doubt you will be clipping up close to get a good shape so you don’t want the Stay Stitching in the way and if you want extra protection with the Stay Stitching then you don’t want to be damaging it by snipping through it. I also stitch a V Neck by stitching down pivoting and stitching back up the other side. I prefer this to sewing both sides separately because I would end up with ends right on the point and then I would have to either sew them in or tie them off and I would rather not have extra bulk in the point.

  • Use a 2mm to 2.5mm stitch length, a smaller stitch length lends a little more support than a usual stitch length, it depends if you feel the fabric needs the extra support.

  • Ensure that before you sew that you have tested your stitch on a spare piece of fabric left over to get the correct stitch length. This is especially important with a very stretchy fabric.

  • Sometimes I will even cut a curve on a bit of waste fabric the same shape as the one I need to sew and check to see if it is still the same shape after sewing.

  • Use the same colour thread as the sewing thread chosen as you want it to blend into the Seam Allowance.

  • When sewing you guide the fabric gently through the machine following the curve, there is no pulling or stretching of the seam while you sew. Be very careful when stitching long bias seams.

  • After sewing press the seam to settle the stitches into the weave but be careful not to stretch the seam out.

After sewing if the seam has been distorted and stretched out pull up a few of the threads to draw it back in again and press a little. If it is too tight then carefully unpick and try a longer stitch length.

This is what Stay Stitching looks like, shown on a mini pattern piece for a Side Front Bodice as part of a Princess Seam, a pattern piece that has lots of seams on bias.

The Cream Thread tracing here shows the sewing line for the piece and you can see that the Stay Stitching shown in black has been done in the Seam Allowance.

Tack or Baste or Running Stitch

Info and Application – This stitch has multiple uses; Used to join fabric for fittings as easy to undo, and can be done by machine or if this will damage the fabric or risk showing after stitching it should be done by hand (just use a longer stitch on a machine , around 4mm).

You can also use this stitch to join fabric to underlining.

You can also use this stitch to set things in place initially like a zip or a hem especially where pins cannot be used. Used to mark guidelines and locations for the pattern such as Centre Front, pockets, buttons etc. Usually stitched onto the sewing line and then removed after the garment is sewn or left in place.

You would usually use the sewing thread colour or a close match to the Fashion Fabric to allow it to be left in the garment if required.

The stitch is very simple and goes under and over running along the fabric.

Stitch Size – Medium to Small to give a good fit for fittings.

Direction of Sewing – Right to Left.

Single/Double – A doubled thread helps when working with thicker layers like gathers or lace overlays or heavy skirts.

Decorative – With a thicker thread it can be decorative around seams.

Tailor Tack

Info and Application – This stitch is used to mark a particular point internally on a pattern onto the fabric, usually a dart point or some other important point like where to gather up to. The stitch goes into the fabric taking a few threads of the weave then another stitch is placed again into the same position, no knots are used. The stitch can be made longer to mark other important positions such as Dart Legs or notches.

The needle is pulled through the fabric with double thread and no knot. The needle goes back through one or 2 more times to secure the thread then it is snipped off.

A smaller stitch is more useful to show the placement of smaller points such as Dart Points and a larger stitch is useful to show Notches.

Stitch Size – Very Small to Medium.

Direction of Sewing – Right to Left.

Single/Double – Single thread is sufficient although some people do use double thread.

Decorative – No.

Thread Tracing

Info and Application -

Thread Tracing is the process of sewing along the sewing line either by hand or by machine on fabric pieces that don’t have a predetermined Seam Allowance. It is done after cutting out fabric either after wax tracing for machine stitching or prior to removing the pattern for hand stitching.

It defines the sewing line and helps to line up the seams.

You do not need to Thread Trace on a garment where fabric has been cut to a predetermined Seam Allowance perhaps because you want to be frugal with the fabric and create as little waste as possible or you have already worked out what you like as a Seam Allowance you don’t really need to Thread Trace because you can work out the sewing line by using the markers on your sewing machine. This way you can also finish off the edges of each pattern piece prior to construction by using the overlocker or a simple zigzag stitch or using pinking shears (scissors that cut fabric in a zig zag shape which helps to stop it fraying). This is a quicker but does not necessarily give you the best results with accuracy or finish.

Thread Tracing by Machine

Test Garments are Thread Traced by machine to save time as they have already been wax traced – refer to Auxiliary Reference Information - Test Garment Creation - 4. Fabric Preparation for lots of detail of how to Thread Trace by machine. I usually only Thread Trace Test Garments and no other garment type. You simply stitch along the sewing lines, it helps to sew before the line to after the line by ½” then not cut the thread but lift the foot and pivot the fabric each time you change to a new sewing line.

Thread Tracing by Hand Stitching When making a garment designed as more of a couture piece where you are aiming for the best quality garment you can possibly make and using high quality fabrics, I would not usually have a predetermined Seam Allowance on the Flexible Pattern. However you may not want to Wax Trace always as the fabric composition may not allow you to make the marks on it with the wax. Also I don’t like marking my fashion fabric in this way, and if I make a mistake with wax tracing then I have an issue to deal with. I would use hand sewing to do the thread tracing for this garment.

You would Thread Trace by creating Running Stiches around the outline of the pattern with the pattern piece still attached to the fabric. With this in mind then I tend to create a Flexible Pattern piece for each piece of fabric, i.e. one for each side just for the ease of thread tracing because I can then cut out all of the fabric pieces together and know that I have enough fabric for the whole pattern and I can then keep all of my pattern pieces at the same stage in the process without the extra time pressure of having to Thread Trace a piece to cut out another one as I would need the pattern piece for the other side. I don’t like to unpin a pattern piece to release the bottom layer for thread tracing because I would lose the exact grainline for the piece underneath, and although you can tack 2 pieces at the same time this is time consuming and reduces your ability to pattern match individual pieces.

Creating extra pattern pieces is slightly longer but then its couture so it’s worth it, and obviously then you always have them to hand to reuse for the next garment.

Internal Lines For the internal lines I just fold back the pattern to identify the position of the line, or sometimes use chalk to create a mark to sew along although I prefer not to mark my fabric in any way like this when it is a couture garment.

Marking Notches You will need to mark Notches on the fabric and this includes notches for Darts. To do this place a tacking stitch at the Notch points and a Tailor Tack at the Dart Point.

Some people cut or mark the notches with pen, however I do not like marking fabric and potentially damaging or weakening it unnecessarily.

Stitch Size – Medium.

Direction of Sewing – Right to Left.

Single/Double – Single and use a cotton easy to break thread to assist with removal after sewing.

Decorative – No.

Top Stitching and Edge Stitching

To avoid confusion between these two stitches I have placed them here together.

Info and ApplicationEdge Stitching is a decorative stitch usually a straight or running stitch by hand or by machine and gives a clean finish to an edge or for decoration. It is usually sewn between 1/8” and 3/8” away from an edge and uses a usual stitch length. You could use it on Bindings, Necklines, Armholes and Waistbands. It does help to Edge Stitch to keep layers from moving around.

Here is an Edge Stitch, usual stitch length and close to the edge.

Understitching is a type of Edge Stitch as it is close to the Edge and uses a usual stitch length.

Top Stitching is sewn ¼” from the edge but the stitch length is longer than an edge stitch say 3.0mm so that the stitch is not lost in the mass of fabric. Sometimes a top stitch thread is used which is slightly thicker than normal thread and could be contrasted to the fashion fabric.

Other decorative stitches can be used to create a Top Stitch effect such as a small triple stitch.

Stitch Size – Medium.

Direction of Sewing – Right to Left if done by hand.

Single/Double – Usually Single.

Decorative – Yes and there are special Top Stitching threads that you can use that are slightly thicker and more obvious when sewn.

Under Stitching

Info and Application – This is used to secure a seam that is on the edge of the garment and usually done by machine although on a Couture garment can also be done by hand using a Prick Stitch. It helps to stop the garment rolling to the right side side when worn and is recommended to do on all Necklines and Armholes.

The seam is sewn first then the after pressing and working from the right side with the seam opened out and the Seam Allowance on the facing side, the Seam Allowance is sewn to the facing side of the seam approximately 1/16” to 1/8” from the seam/sewing line. I add a little tension when I sew by placing my hands flat on either side of the seam and gently pressing down and out to pull the seam as far out as it can. The trick to sewing the line straight is to place the centre mark on your machine food directly on the fold then shift over the needle a notch or two to the side then sew matching the centre marker on the machine foot to the fold all the way down.