I have been working on writing this post for quite some time and to be honest, I’ve been stressing over it a bit! This is a technique I knew I wanted to try and teach because it is really, really useful. But it is also kind of hard to explain.
A slip stitch is a hand-sewing technique that allows you to sew an opening closed without the seam showing. I have a kind of love-hate relationship with this technique. Although hate might be too strong a word. Maybe more of a love-dislike relationship. I dislike the technique because I don’t love hand-sewing in general. I am happiest at a machine. Slip-stitching is usually needed at the end of a project, at the point when I’m anxious to be finished! Doing a nice slip stitch takes patience and not rushing, and it’s hard for me to go slowly when I’m ready to be done. BUT the good news is that this is an extremely handy technique! I use it ALL.THE.TIME. It is an absolute must-know.
It is a bit hard to explain without being there in person. But I shall do my best!
First things first. When you need a slip stitch, it is because you’ve sewn something inside out (or, to use the more proper term, you’ve sewn something with the right sides together) and now you need to flip it. This is just a tiny sample of scrap fabric. But you can pretend it is going to be a pillow or something. It is sewn all the way around the edges with a small opening left on one side.
Start by ironing your seams. Do NOT skip this step! This is how I learned the importance of ironing my seams open. I was making a tote and I didn’t iron my seams. When it came time to slip-stitch, I was having a really hard time figuring out where to stitch. My sister informed me it would be much easier with the seams ironed. From that point on, I have been a seam-ironing convert.
Now, turn your item. In sewing we refer to this as turning but we really mean we’re flipping it right-side out.
Get your corners turned out and the way you want them. If you’re stuffing something inside, do it now because we’re sewing this baby shut!
When that’s all taken care of, you should have something that looks like the above—your handiwork with a small opening. Can you see that crease where we ironed? That is about to come in handy.
Thread a hand-sewing needle so it is double-threaded and knot at the end. I am going to use yarn for this demonstration to make it easier to see. But you should definitely use thread! Generally it makes things easiest if your thread matches your fabric well because that really helps to camouflage it if you don’t happen to get the slip-stitching exactly so. I almost always end up using the thread I’ve been sewing with the whole time.
Okay, stick your needle through just inside where it was sewn by the machine. You want to stick it at the very top of the fabric crease. This is why we ironed those seams. You want the thread to come out of the fabric right where the crease is. Pull your thread through until the knot catches on the fabric.
Okay, your thread is sticking through one piece of fabric and there’s a second piece of fabric, right? You’re stitching two pieces closed. So stick your needle down into the other piece of the fabric, directly across from where the thread is in your first piece of fabric.
Pull the needle and the thread all the way down through the second piece of fabric. Your piece should look like this. You can see where a bit of yarn is holding the two pieces of fabric together. You want to pull it taut so that the fabric pieces come together and the thread ends up being hidden for the most part. Don’t pull it too tightly, though, otherwise the fabric will end up puckering.
Now, take your needle (which should be down inside between the two pieces of fabric) and poke it back up through the same piece of fabric, only about 1/4 inch further down the opening. Make sure to bring the needle back up right in that ironed crease. (To recap, your needle has gone down into the fabric, gone under the crease about 1/4 inch and then comes back up out the top of the same piece of fabric.)
At this point, your thread should be out of the fabric and now you’re going to repeat the process, starting by taking the needle straight across and down into the other piece of fabric.
This process gets repeated until you’ve finished the entire opening.
This happens to me more often than I care to admit. Be careful that it doesn’t happen to you!
It happens when you’re sticking your needle down and you aren’t careful to make sure it just goes through the top of the crease and nothing else. Just be careful!
Obviously you slip stitch all the way across your open seam. Sometimes I end up going back over the seam again—it depends on how much pressure I think the seam is going to have on it.
There seem to be different opinions on how to finish off a slip stitch. This is how I do it.
Tie a knot in your thread near the fabric. If you want to be extra-careful, you can use a previous stitch to help make your knot or however you feel comfortable doing it. I usually just make a couple stitches back and forth right at the end of the seam to make sure it holds.
Didn’t I just say not to do this? Yes I did, but I meant that you shouldn’t do this while you’re stitching. When you’re finished, it’s okay. Basically I take my needle and stick it straight down into the seam I’ve just sewn and then I bring the needle out the side of the fabric. I pull the needle so the extra thread comes out the side of the fabric and the knot that was sitting at the seam on top gets pulled down inside the opening. That way you can’t see the knot and it should just stay tucked down inside for forever.
Pull the thread out through the side of the fabric. Pull it so you can get most of the thread out. Then cut it. See that light blue ‘S’? That’s where I’ve just cut my thread.
Kind of wiggle your fabric so that the leftover attached thread slips back inside, never to be seen again!
And that’s it!
When you’re all done, your seam will look something like this. Hopefully it won’t be too puckered, but don’t be discouraged if it is—it takes practice to get it just right. Also, using thread instead of yarn should help!
And now that you know the slip stitch, there are all kinds of things you can make! I can’t wait to show you!