Today I’m going to show you an easy way to practice 3 basic hand stitches.
These stitches were exactly how I got started sewing when I was a kid. I’ve been working with my own students now, and we’ve been having fun exploring sewing with our hand stitches.
In fact, If you can sew these 3 basic hand sewing stitches, you’ll be ready for just about anything.
We’ll talk about the benefits of sewing by hand, the types of hand sewing stitches that are best for beginners. I’ll share one failproof tip for threading needles for beginners. To finish off, I’ll show you step by step how to sew by hand for beginners with 3 easy stitches on paper plates.
If you have kids or grandkids interested in sewing, grab a paper plate and a plastic needle and give this a try right now.
3 hidden benefits of teaching kids to sew by hand
There’s a lot of thought out there that a sewing machine is the easier way to get kids started sewing. While a sewing machine is FASTER than hand sewing and definitely easier to get looking nice, hand sewing with kids is an incredible practice.
Hand sewing does have a steeper learning curve at first, but here are some hidden benefits of teaching kids to sew by hand:
- Hand/eye coordination: trying to figure out where your needle is in space in relation to your fabric does wonders for improving hand/eye coordination.
- Problem solving: sometimes your thread gets tangled. How do you fix it? The only way you’ll figure it out is to practice.
- Improve focus: hand sewing is a slow, methodical process. In a world of screens screaming for our kids’ attention, why not give them something that’ll help them calm down and concentrate?
- Improve fine motor control: learning to hold a needle
Beyond that, learning simple hand stitches like the overcast, running, and backstitch will lay the groundwork for hand sewing later. Hand embroidery uses all of these stitches and couture sewing and tailoring use elements of these stitches. I swear I love hand basting stitches and padstitching in tailoring because my Gram taught me how to do a running stitch!
When can I teach my kids some basic hand sewing stitches?
Every kid is different, but in general, it takes a little bit of growing before kids can grasp a hand needle easily.
In general, I would start little little kids with plastic needles and yarn because it’s big and chunky and simple to manipulate.
By 6, most kids can hold a needle well. They will need help tying knots.
At 7, they’ll start to be able to tie knots for themselves and make their stitches a little even.
Keep your sewing learning with kids in the “exploratory” realm. Don’t expect them to make perfectly even straight stitches. If they’re having fun and their stitches are a little wonky, who cares.
I tell the parents of my violin students that they have to live through the “squeaks”, and the same is true of sewing. Praise the good, let them experience the joy of sewing even if it’s shy of your own personal standards of what stitches should look like.
What types of hand sewing stitches should I teach to my kids first?
I would start with these 3 stitches, sewing on a paper plate which is easy to hold and work with for kids:
- Running stitch: simplest way to learn how to sew a seam by hand.
- Backstitch: ultra strong hand sewing stitch that’s great for embroidery or sewing small items like pincushions by hand.
- Overcast or whipstitch: great for making stuffies, this stitch is an easy way to connect two layers of fabric together.
Almost all of the hand sewing projects you’ll see here on Elizabeth Made This will use one of these 3 basic hand stitches. After these 3 stitches, I would teach bigger kids (junior high and up)
- How to sew a button: decorative, useful practical life skills kind of sewing thing to know.
- Slipstitch: the more refined invisible way to connect two layers of fabric together.
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Supplies for teaching basic hand sewing stitches
- Plastic needles (these tend to bend, so a large pack will be helpful).
- Ballpoint pen
- Hand needle (sharps with decent sized eyes)
- Thread or embroidery yarn
- cotton yarn (I find this is the easiest to thread plastic needles with).
- paper plate
- hole punch
Quick safety tip for teaching hand sewing to kids
Sewing rooms have sharp things in them. It’s important that kids know this and respect their tools.
Talk to kids about paying attention to where the tip of the needle is at all times. I tell my kids all the time that there’s no crying in baseball and there’s no blood in the sewing room!
I tell my kids all the time that there's no crying in baseball and there's no blood in the sewing room!
On to the hand stitches!
How to sew basic hand stitches: running stitch, backstitch, and overcast stitch
The first two steps in sewing basic hand stitches is to get your needle threaded and knotted at the end. If you’re working with kids, you as the adult might need to do this for them for the first few times. As they see you do it, they’ll try themselves.
Threading a needle: The foolproof way how to thread a needle without frustration
Having your thread unthread itself on the needle is one of the most frustrating things about learning to hand sew. If you hate hand sewing, I’ll bet it’s because you don’t like threading needles, so when you have to do it more, it’s mega argggggghh time.
Thankfully, there’s one piece of cake thing you can do that’ll stop your needle from unthreading forever.
Double the thread. That’s it.
Cut a length of yarn, thread it through the eye of your plastic needle, then meet the ends together. The needle should be in the middle of the thread. Move on to adding a knot.
How to tie a knot for hand sewing
With yarn, you only need to tie a simple slip knot at the ends.
If you’re working with thread, do this:
Press the thread ends into your finger. Press the needle over the top of the thread ends.
Holding the thread with a little tension, wrap the end of the thread around the needle 4-5 times.
Pinch the thread wraps on the needle and hold onto them while you pull on the needle. The knot will move down the thread to the ends. It’s a magic knot!
How to sew an overcast stitch (whipstitch) using a paper plate
Draw dots on the paper plate about 2 fingers width apart all around the outside rim of the plate.
Next, punch holes at the dots.
Pass the knotted yarn from the back of the plate over the edge, then up through the next hole to the top side of the plaste.
Continue stitching all the way around the plate. Tie a knot, then place a piece of tape around the yarn end to hold the thread in place.
How to sew a running stitch on a paper plate
Next, draw on a ring of dots around the inside of the plate. You won’t be able to punch holes with a hole punch here, but you can punch out the holes with your ballpoint pen.
Hold the plate flat on a carpeted surface and poke the holes with the tip of the pen. This is much safer for kids than using an awl, but be prepared to offer help if they’re having trouble here.
With knotted yarn, bring the needle from the back to the front. Next, go down with the needle to the next hole.
Come back up to the top side of the plate in the next hole. Continue making stitches this way. A running stitch will have stitches that have a space between every 2 holes. On the back side of the plate, you’ll see stitches where the space is between stitches on the top side. Finish by tying a knot on the back side. Then place a piece of tape around the yarn end.
How to sew a backstitch on a paper plate
Draw some shapes in the center of your plate with dots. Poke out the holes just like you did for the running stitch.
To make a backstitch, bring your knotted yarn to the top side of the plate then down. Go one hole forward of where you brought the thread down, then go back down in the last hole.
This will connect the thread with stitches. Continue bringing the thread forward of the last stitch by one hole and bringing the thread back down in the last hole you stitched.
You can think of a backstitch as a running stitch where you bring the needle back towards the last hole vs. going on to the next one. Because of how it’s made, a backstitch is stronger than a running stitch. I will say that you can go two times around a shape with a running stitch to hit all the holes if the process of backstitching is confusing. You’ll get the same look!
If your shape is irregular somehow, just restart a new row of backstitches wherever it makes sense. Finish by tying a knot on the back side. Then place a piece of tape around the yarn end.
How to progress with hand stitching: just add felt
So that’s how to sew 3 basic hand stitches (running, overcast, backstitch) for beginners. Where do they go next?
Try repeating the same stitches with easy to sew felt, a sharp hand needle and regular sewing thread.
You can check out Fabulous Felt Christmas Cookies that’ll have you stitching up 12 adorable handmade felt Christmas cookie ornaments. Practice all your basic hand stitches while you’re making something fun to boot!
Also you can make sewing cards too for a variation on what you’re learning here but in a much cuter way.
Make DIY Sewing Cards for kids
Elizabeth Farr is the writer behind the Elizabeth Made This blog where she shares helpful sewing tips, step by step sewing tutorials and videos to help you explore your creativity through sewing. She has written sewing Eguides and patterns, been a featured teacher at Rebecca Page’s Sewing Summit and Jennifer Maker’s Holiday Maker Fest and her work has appeared in Seamwork and Altered Couture magazines. She also created a line of refashioned garments for SEWN Denver. When her sewing machine isn’t humming, she’s playing and teaching violin, and hanging around a good strategic board game with her husband and 4 kids.