What is a Running Stitch?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A running stitch is a very simple type of sewing stitch in which the needle is run in and out of the fabric to create a line of stitches. This stitch forms the foundation for many more complicated forms of sewing stitches, and it is often used to introduce people to sewing. When people think generically of hand sewing in particular, they often visualize a running stitch. Learning this sewing stitch is easy, and the skill can be highly useful.

A running stitch is often part of an introduction to sewing.
A running stitch is often part of an introduction to sewing.

In a running stitch, the stitches on top of the fabric are slightly longer than those on the underside. The sewer works to make the stitches even to create a uniform appearance. Running stitches can be used for a variety of purposes including basting, hemming, and ornamental embroidery. In addition to being made by hand, they can also be accomplished by machine if a sewing machine has a running stitch setting.

People who engage in activities like quilting, cross stitch, embroidery, and other fabric arts generally use the running stitch on a regular basis in their work for everything from creating temporary stitches to hold materials in place to finishing a quilt. Variations on the running stitch include the back stitch, also known as the double running stitch or Holbein stitch, in which a sewer makes a series of running stitches and then doubles back in the other direction to turn them into a solid line. This technique is used in many forms of cross stitch and embroidery, and examples can be seen on a number of antique fabric arts as well, such as the Bayeux Tapestry.

To perform a running stitch, a needle, thread, and sharp pair of scissors are necessary. Once the needle is threaded, the sewer runs it through the fabric several times and pulls the thread tight. The process is repeated to finish the line of stitches, and then the thread is cut and tied off. Skilled sewers can create a very even running stitch, while learners may find that their stitches are irregular until they get used to the technique. People can practice on scraps of fabric to familiarize themselves with the process.

With a running stitch, it's possible to perform a number of clothing repairs at home. This can save money on bills from a seamstress who might otherwise be needed to perform such repairs, and it can rescue garments from the trash or the donation pile. Once people master this sewing technique, they can explore more complex stitches which can be used to create hidden seams and to repair garments which require more advanced skills.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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