How to Do the Whip Stitch

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When an invisible stitch (like the ladder or blind stitch) isn’t critical, the whip stitch could be the hand stitch you want to use.

The whip stitch is a visible stitch that can be used to hold 2 edges together (finished edges or raw) or hold a raw or flat edge against a flat surface.

Label sewn on with a whip stitch and coordinating thread.
The label is sewn on with a whip stitch and coordinating thread.

I’ve seen the whip stitch called both the overhand and overcast stitch. There is a slight difference between these stitches and it has to do with the angle of the needle which affects the angle of the stitch.

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 whip 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, 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.

Video – How to Whip Stitch by Hand

Note: The grosgrain ribbon represents a label with flat edges that would be sewn to a quilt.
  • Introduction
  • 43 seconds – Close an opening with the whip stitch
  • 3 minutes – Hand sew a flat edge to a flat surface with the whip stitch

How to Do the Whip Stitch by Hand

The whip stitch is a visible stitch that can be used to hold 2 edges together or join a raw or flat edge against a flat surface.

Similar stitches are the overhand stitch and overcast stitch. The main difference is the direction the needle is going.

Tips for a Successful Whip Stitch

  • Make the stitches the same distance apart and the same size so they look uniform.
  • Be patient. It takes time to get the stitches to look the same.
  • Use a coordinating thread color to help hide flaws in the stitching.

Pictures – How to Close an Opening with the Whip Stitch

Step 1: Anchor the knot on the inside of the fold near the sewn seam on the side that will be closest to you while you’re working.

Anchor the knot in the fold

Step 2: Take the needle over the edge and through the back and front fabric about 1/4″ inch to the left of the thread. Pass the needle through the fabric a few threads below the top edge on both sides. The needle should end up on the side closest to you.

Take the first whip stitch.

Step 3: Repeat Step 2 until the opening is closed.

Pass the needle over the edge and through the fabric again.
Pull the thread so it closes the opening but isn't too tight.
Pull the thread as you go so it closes the opening but isn’t too tight.
How the whip stitch looks on the back of the project.
How the whip stitch looks on the back of the project.

Pictures – How to Sew a Flat Edge to a Flat Surface with the Whip Stitch

Note: In the photo demonstration, the scrap of green ribbon represents a label.

Step 1: Anchor the knot in the under fabric behind the item you’re sewing down. (In the photos it’s a ribbon scrap that represents a label.)

Anchor the knot in the under fabric

Step 2: Bring the needle to the front of the “label” by pushing it from the back of the “label” a few threads from the top edge. Pull the needle and thread to the front of the “label”.

Important: The needle and thread should not go through to the other side of the “quilt”.

Pass the needle from the back of the label to the front.

Step 3: Take the needle over the edge about a 1/4″ to the left from the point where the thread is. Pass it through the under fabric close to the edge of the “label” and through the back of the “label” a few threads from the top edge. Pull the thread through. The needle and thread should be on the front of the label.

A whip stitch sewing a flat edge against a flat surface.

Step 4: Repeat Step 3 until you’ve sewn all the edges down.

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!

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More Sewing Education

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

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