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Couture Sewing - Hand stitches

Use the shortest finest needles you are able to thread. I use John James Betweens size 8, with Guttermann silk sewing thread, although that's getting harder to find locally.

Run the thread through beeswax, then under a hot iron on a pad of kitchen towel. This strengthens the thread and reduces twisting. It also helps if you make a 1/4 turn of the needle with each stitch.

Back Stitch

This is a really strong stitch used for making seams. Aim for 8-10 to 2.5cm (1 inch).

I prepare by using diagonal tacking stitches, they are easy to miss as you stitch the seam, making them easy to remove.

On the top back stitch look similar to a machine stitch. It is worked from right to left.

Bring the needle out on the RS. Make as 2mm stitch to the right of the thread, bringing the needle out 2mm to the left of the thread. The rest of the stitches are made by putting the needle in at the end of the previous stitch and bringing it out to the left of the thread.

Pick Stitch

Pick stitch is very similar to back stitch. It's used for understitching, top stitching and even stitching in zips.

It is made in the same way as back stitch except the right side has tiny stitches with spaces in between them.

Figure of Eight Stitch

 Figure of eight stitch is a really strong and flexible hemming stitch.

Finish the edge of the hem, tack near the fold and just above the hem edge. Attach the thread to the underside of the hem. You need to roll back the edge of the hem for this method.

Take a very small stitch through the back of the main fabric. You need to pick up a few threads, but without the needle showing on the right side.

Make the next small stitch through the rolled back hem, so when finished the thread make a figure of eight. Don't pull tight.

Make a back stitch through the hem in the same place as the last stitch.

Thread the needle along the hem for about 1cm and make the next stitch.

Press the hem flat hiding the stitches.

Fell Stitch -

 This is an a great stitch to join two folded edges like lapels. The edges need to be folded in and tacked together. For a lapel one edge will be wider than the other so that it doesn't show on the right side.


Bring the needle out on the fold nearest to you. Put the needle into the back of the other fold right next to the thread. Angle the needle through the fold so that it picks up the back of the nearest fold, right on the edge. Pull tight,

Slip Stitch - is similar to a fell stitch but it only picks up a small piece of fabric.

I work this from top to bottom and use it for bindings and stitching collars and cuffs.

It can be worked without the machine stitch.

Put the needle through a machine stitch or pick up a very small amount of fabric.

Roll back the folded edge and pick up a small amount of fabric from the back of the fold, so the needle comes out on the fold.

Pull tight and repeat.

Herringbone Stitch - tailors call this cross stitch.  

It's used to hem and cover edges that might fray, as well as securing pocket bags and undercollars.

Herringbone stitch is worked from left to right and covers the raw edge of the fabric.

The needle makes stitches from right to left so each stitch crosses over itself.

Make a small stitch through the hem from right to left. The next stitch is made about 5mm to the right through the body fabric, picking up just a few threads so the stitch doesn't show on the right side. Don't pull tight, just firm enough to hold the fabric in place.

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