How to hand stitch a seam that won't gap, split or rip out

By Susan Fletcher
Hand sewn shirt

No sewing machine?

You can still sew your own clothing.

Here is how to make a hand sewn seam that won't gap, split or rip out.

  • Use a running stitch to stitch the entire seam from top to bottom. Your stitches don't have to be tiny but keep them small and evenly spaced as much as possible.
  • As you stitch the seam take a back stitch every so often. I do this more often on areas that will get stressed such as shoulder seams, but about every 3" on long side seams. 

hand stitching a seam, step one

  • When you reach the end of the seam, use a new thread and a running stitch to stitch the whole seam again in the opposite direction, again putting in back stitches now and then. This time, be sure to make your running stitches alternate between the first row of stitches so that the distance between stitches is cut in half. (see the photo)
  • Now you have a seam that is protected against gapping or splitting seams by both the backstitches and a double line of stitches.  

hans sewing clothing, how to make good seam, step 2

We might as well address the problem in finishing raw edges while we are here. 

For casual shirts, I resort to the old fashioned and fast method of cutting out with pinking shears. It won't work for every fabric, so test a swatch first, but most fabrics be okay.  The pinking shear's zigzag cut causes the ravelling that happens in the first washing to stop at about the depth of the zig zag. At that point you can trim away long ugly threads and if necessary slip stitch any area of seam that looks dice-y with a few tinier close stitches)

You do still need to clip your seam allowances on curved seams.

sewing clothing by hand, making a good seam, step 3

Below is a blouse that has been washed a few times

should seam of pinked and washed blouse

You can see how the fraying back has stopped and this shoulder seam will be fine.

However if it seemed like the fabric was going to keep fraying back in future washings, I could stitch a bias cut strip over it -  kind of like the facing band on the neck opening. 

hand sewn and pinked side seam on washed blouse

I'm happy with this method for my everyday clothing. If I was to sew a dress for going out for an evening, I would want to take the time to make flat French seams. You can find out how to do that in many U-tube sewing videos.

Here is a shirt I made from a looser weave fabric recently, and below it a photo of the inside side seam.

My hand sewn shirt (and me :-))

looser weave fabric hand stitches and finished with pinking shears

Here is what pinking shears look like. I think it is worth while to own a good pair  if you are a mender and/or sew your own clothing.

pinking shears

Happy sewing as always,