Starting and ending a stitch?

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I am just starting to learn how to machine sew, and I am wondering how I
should start and finish stitches so that they don't unravel.

What I've been doing (been playing the last couple of days on scraps) is,
when I start a stitch, to go forward a little, hit the "backwards" lever and
go backwards to the start, and then go forward again with my stitch. At the
end I do a similar maneuver. .

Is this the right method to start and stop a stitch? Also, I have just been
using a straight stitch (not a zig zag) doing this, and about in the same
line as the stitch. Is this right, or should I be making more of an "N" (or
other?) shape so that I don't sew in the same line..

Thanks for any tips,


Re: Starting and ending a stitch?
Jon Danniken wrote:

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Reversing is a standard method of ending lines of stitching.  But I
never bother if that line end will be crossed with another line of
stitching, especially if the seam ands will be trimmed down later.  On
fine stuff the extra stitching creates unwanted bulk.  It's a really
good idea on anything that will take hard or rough wear.  keep all the
lines of stitching on top of each other as far as possible to reduce bulk.

Kate  XXXXXX  R.C.T.Q Madame Chef des Trolls
Lady Catherine, Wardrobe Mistress of the Chocolate Buttons
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Re: Starting and ending a stitch? (Thanks)
"Kate Dicey" wrote:
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Thank you Kate, and also thanks to the other responders as well.  I really
appreciate the feedback on this, and it's good to get some additional
insight as well. .

Thanks again,


Re: Starting and ending a stitch? (Thanks)
I'm just wondering if backstitching is also good for sewing by hand.
Haven't found a place to set up my machine yet, and it's been a long
time :).


Re: Starting and ending a stitch? (Thanks)
Normally, in handstitching, you have a choice of things to do. Usually,
when I do it, I make a knot towards the end, but it seems to me that
doing an actual backstitch (as opposed to just sewing back and forth a
few times) should hold it very well... I think it would really depend
on the fabric and how much wear, tear and strain the item will get...

Re: Starting and ending a stitch? (Thanks)

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That's almost my only way of securing thread ends in hand sewing --
but "backstitch" means something entirely different when done by hand.
You put the needle in a little behind the place where it came up --
there should be any number of illustrations on the Web, and every
sewing book has a picture of backstitch.  Backstitch is also a basic
embroidery stitch, so a dictionary of embroidery stitches would be the
quickest way to find a picture, if you happen to have one handy.  

Google brought up
which shows a good picture of  closed back stitch.  

For most sewing, I leave a little space between the stitches instead
of going down in the same hole where the thread came up.  This is
called "spaced backstitch" or "open backstitch".  In a thick fabric,
I'll leave a space equal to the length of the stitch, and try to so
angle the needle that the stitches on the back are the same length as
the stitches on the front.

Backstitch is the strongest way to sew a seam, in addition to being
the best way to secure the ends of the thread.  

There is a compromise called "combination stitch" or "running back
stitch", which has some of the strength and elasticity of backstitch,
but is almost as quick to work, and makes as little bulk in the seam,
as running stitch.  

First, weave the needle through the fabric as many times as you can.
(I've heard re-enactors call this version of running stitch "rocker
stitch" -- since it's my default way to work running stitch, I call it
"running stitch" and call the other method "stab stitch".)  

Then you pull the thread through, adjust the tension (neither loopy
nor puckered; this becomes automatic after a while), put the needle
into the fabric one stitch-length behind the place where it came out,
and weave another set of running stitches.


The first thing I learned when learning to sew was how to tie a knot
in the very end of a thread -- and the second thing I learned was how
to get along without ever tying a knot!  Nowadays I don't even use
knots when basting unless I want to mark the wrong side.   I usually
take a few short stitches at the beginning and end, and start before
and end after the place where basting is needed, which allows me to
pull the thread out from either end and either side.  

I've given up backstitching by machine.  If there is no force on the
seam before it ends up inside a hem or another seam, there is no need
-- and if there is force on the seam, I'd rather the stitching gave
than the fabric.  An inch or two of threads dangling is nearly always
enough security, and when it isn't, you can pull on them to tighten
the stitches up again.  (Be sure to trim the dangling threads off at
some point.  Or hide them between layers.)

I vaguely recall backstitching the end of a seam last winter, but I've
forgotten why.  At any rate, *one* backward stitch is quite enough.  

Joy Beeson
-- -- needlework
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Re: Starting and ending a stitch?

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What you are doing is just fine.  It's called backstitching.  You do want to
sew directly over the previous line of stitches.  That's what makes them
lock together.  You don't need to back up over more than a few stitches,
like 3 or 4.  Also, if you don't like how that looks, you can set your
stitch length to zero, and stitch in place for about 3 stitches.  Then set
it back to whatever length you like, and stitch to the end.  Return to zero
for 3 stitches at the end.  That works well too.  :)

Good job figuring it out on your own.


Never try to teach a pig to sing.  It's a waste of time and just annoys the

Re: Starting and ending a stitch?

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Very good. :)  You need only reverse for a stitch or two and you can do
that when you're sewing zig zag and other practical stitches as well.  
Try to keep it in the seam allowance.  However, should you ever have the
occasion to sew a dart, you never backstitch at the apex or point of the
dart.  You leave several inch tails and hand-tie them in a square knot
without pulling on the dart.  You do this so the end of the dart won't
be distorted.  And where reverse stitching will show on the outside of
the garment, heavy top-stitching or sashiko quilting for instance, you
leave the top thread tail long enough to thread a regular sewing needle
so you can thread it thru to the reverse side of the fabric and then tie
it carefully.  98% of the time, a little backstitch is all you need.  
You need not backstitch for stay stitching or machine basting.

I fear me you but warm the starved snake,
Who, cherished in your breasts, will sting your hearts. (Henry VI, Shakespeare)

Re: Starting and ending a stitch?
There's no need to backstitch with zigzag stitching, or any multi-step
stitch. Sometimes I do out of habit, but it's really unnecessary.

Karen Maslowski in Cincinnati

Phaedrine wrote:

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