How to Do the Running Stitch

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The running stitch is a straight stitch that can be worked in both straight and curved lines. Believe it or not, it can be both practical and decorative.

It’s one of the basic hand-sewing stitches you want in your sewing skills toolkit.

Gathering, tucking, mending, and fine sewing are some of the practical applications of the running stitch.

Doodle stitching and embroidery are more decorative applications of the running stitch.

If you get into visible mending, the running stitch is both practical and decorative.

The running stitch can be used for visible mending.

Just So You Know: I’m right-handed and don’t know if my tutorials will work for those of you who are left-handed. Still, I encourage you to take a look at the videos and photos. Hopefully, the technique will be something you can use.

Sanity Saver: When you’re hand sewing, it’s common for the thread to get twisted. If this happens to you, hold up the project and let the needle and thread dangle. The thread will unwind but the needle may fall off the thread so keep an eye on it.

Needles and Thread

To keep this post focused on helping you learn how to do the running stitch, I don’t talk in-depth about selecting needles and thread for your project.

However, these are two important factors in hand sewing.

Needles

If you’re not sure what needle to use for your project, check out the Hand Needle Guide from Joann.com.

It features photos and descriptions of 14 different hand sewing needles, as well as needle threaders, thimbles and a couple of other hand sewing tools.

Thread

Does thread have you confused?

According to this sewingpartsonline.com article Thread Mastery: A Guide to Understanding Thread, an all-purpose thread is what you’ll use 95% of the time. It is good for all weights of fabric and is usually made from polyester or cotton.

The Thread Mastery Guide is very in-depth and provides A LOT of information. If you want to learn more about thread, it’s a great resource to read and bookmark for future reference.

Books for Your Library

The above-linked resources on needles and thread are free, but if you are looking for some excellent books to add to your sewing library, I recommend the following two books.

The book Know Your Needles by Liz Kettle

Know Your Needles by Liz Kettle is a pocket-sized resource that provides easy-to-consume information about both machine and hand sewing needles.

For each needle, photos are included along with details such as fabrics, threads, sizes, and tasks that are appropriate for the needle.

There are 13 sewing machine needles and 17 hand sewing needles featured in this book.

Book - The Ultimate Thread Guide by Becky Goldsmith

The Ultimate Thread Guide by Becky Goldsmith lives up to its subtitle Everything You Need to Know to Choose the Perfect Thread for Every Project.

My favorite part of this book is the section on thread manufacturers. There are 14 manufacturers presented in the book and each has a 2-page spread giving a snapshot of their threads at the time of the book’s printing (2019).

Part of the snapshot is a quick reference chart of different threads and includes the thread name, fiber, weight/ply, use, and needle size.

In addition, there are several chapters to help you build foundational knowledge about threads.

Supplies to Practice the Running Stitch

Some of the basic hand stitches (ladder stitch, blind stitch, and whip stitch) are ones you can learn while you’re actually doing them on your project.

However, the running stitch is a basic hand stitch that requires some practice to get the stitches and spaces between even. This is especially important, if the stitches are going to be visible.

To practice the running stitch, you’ll need:

  • needle
  • thread
  • fabric scrap
  • scissors
  • marking utensil
  • embroidery hoop (an optional tool for method 1)

Video – How to Do a Running Stitch

  • Important info to know about the running stitch starts at :12.
  • Method 1 – One Stitch at a Time starts at 1:30.
  • Method 2 – Multiple Stitches at a Time starts at 2:29.

How to Do a Running Stitch

The running stitch is very versatile. It’s a straight stitch that can be done in curves or straight lines. You definitely want the running stitch in your sewing skills toolkit.

With the running stitch, you can do practical things like gather, tuck, and mend. It also allows the opportunity for creativity if you use it to add decoration to a project or want to get fancy with some mending.

There are 2 different methods I use interchangeably to hand sew the running stitch.

Note: The running stitch is simple to do. However, it can be challenging to get the stitches and the spaces between them even. Just know the stitches will probably always look better on the side you see while you’re working than on the other side.

Tips for a Successful Running Stitch

  • Make stitches even in length.
  • Make the spaces between the stitches the same size.
  • The stitch length and the distance between the stitches are more critical on the side that will be seen.
  • Draw lines to follow.
  • If you draw lines, do them on the front if possible. Stitches always seem to look better on the lines then on the other side of the fabric.
  • Use a marking tool to draw the lines that can be erased or will disappear with heat, water, or time.

Method 1: The Running Stitch – One Stitch at a Time

Draw a couple of straight lines and some curves on the fabric scrap to practice the running stitch.

  1. Knot the thread and insert it from the back of the fabric to the front. Pull the needle and thread so the knot is anchored on the back.
Anchor the knot on the wrong side of the fabric.
After anchoring the knot, I rotated the fabric because I like to work from right to left.

2. Now go from front to back – insert the needle a short distance (approx. 1/4″) from where it came out. Pull it and the thread through to the back to form 1 stitch on the front.

Insert the needle from the front to the back.
Pull the needle through to make the first stitch.

3. Repeat step 2 going from the back to the front. A stitch is formed on the back.

Begin the next stitch.

4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 going from front to back and then back to front. Work to keep the stitches and the distance between them even.

Finish the next stitch by pulling the thread to the back.
Three stitches done on the front.
Three stitches done on the front.
Two stitch are on the back.
What the stitches look like on the back.

Method 2: The Running Stitch – Multiple Stitches at a Time

If you have lines left over from method 1, use them to practice this method. Draw more straight and curved lines if you need to.

  1. Continue with the same thread from the first method or anchor another knot.

2. Weave the needle in and out through the fabric 2 or 3 times taking several stitches at one time. Keep the stitches and spaces between them even.

Gather several stitches on the needle by weaving it through the fabric.

3. Pull the thread through the fabric. Be careful not create a gather (unless that is the purpose).

Pull the thread gently.

4. Repeat steps 2 and 3.

The running stitch done 2 different ways yields the same results.
The top row is the one completed during this picture tutorial using both methods. This is the front side.
The running stitch on the back of the fabric.
This is the back of the fabric. Notice the stitches and spaces between them aren’t as evenly spaced as on the front.

Alternate between the 2 methods. Practice getting even stitches with the same distance between them.

Hand Sewing for Beginners

There are several basic hand stitches you need to know. Sometimes hand stitching does the job better than your sewing machine or it allows you to do something your sewing machine can’t.

The type of stitch really depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.

I created a series of picture and video tutorials to demonstrate hand sewing techniques you should know:

You can see all the above lessons in one place at Types of Hand Stitches: a Guide for Beginners.

Projects With Hand Sewing

Most of the sewing projects featured on The Ruffled Purse require the use of a sewing machine.

The projects below need a little hand sewing, too.

Looking for some projects that require only hand sewing? Check out the following posts:

Embroidery Books

The ability to hand sew can be used with a variety of sewing interests such as mending, quilting, clothing, and embroidery.

If you’re interested in embroidery, there are a couple of books you need to check out. Both are part of my own personal sewing library.

Two books with embroidery projects

Doodle-Stitching by Aimee Ray starts off with more than 20 pages of information to get you started with embroidery including a stitch library, materials and tools, and sewing essentials.

Then there are almost 30 fun projects with detailed directions to get you started on incorporating embroidery into all kinds of sewing and quilting projects.

Patchwork Loves Embroidery by Gail Pan has a few pages of general instructions and visuals of how to do basic embroidery stitches.

The best part of Patchwork Loves Embroidery is how most of the projects combine hand stitching with quilting.

Let’s Connect

My main goals are to support, empower, and inspire you to discover the joy of sewing.

Need help or have questions on this project, pattern, or tutorial? Send me an email at nicki@theruffledpurse.com and we can work together to get it figured out!

Make sure you sign up for Snappy Scissors (my FREE newsletter sent directly to your inbox) for ongoing sewing inspiration and education. You can find the sign-up box at the bottom of the post.

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Looking for more sewing education? Here are a few other posts you may like:

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