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How to...Pin, Tack, and Hand Stitch

Whether you will be stitching by hand or machine, you need to hold your fabric pieces together firmly in place by pinning and tacking – follow our handy guide to the basic stitches

Preparing your fabric before you stitch does take a little time but it’s well worth it in the long run. It saves you from having to unpick mistakes and you’ll also get a neater finish. Pin, then tack, then stitch is the golden rule – particularly if you are a beginner. Although a sewing machine can be used for a lot of projects, some hand stitches are also necessary so it’s important to understand these and practice them first.



Pins are vital for stopping your fabric moving about while you’re sewing. For large projects, insert pins at right angles to the edge of your fabric, about 15cm (6in) apart. For smaller projects, insert your pins much closer together. You should also use more pins if you’re securing a curve or corner. Don’t use pins with plastic heads if you’re going to press your fabric because they may melt, but you can buy larger glass-headed pins, which are ideal for thicker fabric and you can iron on top of them. If you are pinning tricky areas, such as curved edges, then place your pin lengthways along the seam line. Always remove the pins as you go if you are machine stitching as you may bend or snap your needle if you stitch over them. When pinning hems you can pin in either direction, but if the hem is quite deep then place pins at right angles because it’s easier for easing fabric into place using this method.

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Tacking (also known as basting) is something we often skip as it does take time. Pinning is fine for just straight seams, but if you are working on curves, or joining slippery or stretchy fabrics together, then tacking is well worth the effort. It avoids you having to unpick your seam later, and possibly marking your fabric in the process. The more you stitch and become confident, the less you will feel the need to tack seams first. Use a contrasting coloured thread for tacking so the stitches can easily be seen when you remove them later.

Basic tack

Simple tacking stitches are used for holding two pieces of fabric together and making temporary hems. Since the stitches won’t be staying in the fabric, you can use a knot to start off. Just use a single thread to make straight stitches, evenly spaced. When you need to remove them, if your fabric is loosely woven, you can just pull the thread. On denser material, cut the thread every few stitches and pull it out of the fabric gently.

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Long and short tack

This is a neater stitch that’s handy when the stitches might be kept in the fabric for a while before removal. Simply create a long version of the basic tack and leave a short space in between each stitch.

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Diagonal Tack

Diagonal tacks are used on folds or areas where one piece of fabric lies on top of another. The stitches are worked vertically and appear on the right side as diagonal stitches, but are vertical on the wrong side of the fabric.

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Hand stitches

For most projects you will need to do some sewing by hand – for example, making hems, stitching trickier areas, or for a little decoration.

Double stitch

This is a tidy way to start off without using a knot when you are working any hand stitches or even tacking. Make your first stitch and then stitch over it a couple of times, keeping it as neat as possible. Slide the needle through the stitches on the wrong side for extra security before you start sewing. You can also use double stitch to fasten off when you finish sewing, to secure your thread.

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Slip stitch

Since this stitch is almost invisible you can use it for hems and to sew on bias binding and appliqué shapes. It’s usually formed by slipping the thread under a fold of fabric and can be used to join two folded edges together, a folded edge to a flat piece of fabric or even two flat pieces of fabric. Work from right to left. Fasten the thread by taking a couple of stitches where they won’t be seen and then bring the needle and thread out through one folded edge (upper part of illustration). The stitch visible under the fabric will be a long diagonal one. Next push your needle down through the second fabric, very close to where the first fabric lies, forming a tiny vertical stitch (lower part of illustration). Bring your needle out and draw the thread through. Repeat for each stitch.

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Running Stitch

This stitch is similar to tacking and is generally used for decorating a finished project and for gathering fabric. Simply bring your needle up and down through the fabric at regular intervals to create evenly-spaced stitches. Make sure that all the stitches are the same length and the spaces between them too – this is particularly important if you are using it as an embellishment.

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A strong stitch, this is useful for seams that will take a lot of weight. It’s also a decorative embroidery stitch. Working from right to left, bring the needle up through the fabric a stitch length to the left of where you actually want the stitching to start and then take the needle back to the start, through the fabric and up again another stitch length to the left.

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Blanket Stitch

This can be used to edge blankets as well as for stitching appliqué to the base material. Push the needle in a short distance from the edge of the fabric, then, with the thread underneath the needle, pull it through to form a loop. The vertical stitches should be evenly spaced and of the same length.

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