The Running Stitch | Sewing and Embroidery Basics

an embroidery hoop with six horizontal lines of the running stitch, each a different color: pink, orange, yellow, green, light blue, and lavender

Sharing is caring!

For my very first official tutorial post, I’ve decided to do a guide for the very basic and simple running stitch that you will most likely see plenty of times in future tutorials. I plan to do other guides like this one to compile somewhat of a reference library for all kinds of sewing and crafting techniques that can be linked back to so readers can have a more in-depth reference for any sewing or crafting techniques I plan on using in my tutorials. I hope this can be helpful to those of you who read this.

In this guide I will show you:

  • The running stitch itself
  • How to sew two layers together
  • How to attach an applique
  • Using the running stitch to gather material
  • Examples of variations of the running stitch

The Running Stitch

The running stitch is super easy to do. I think for most people learning to sew, it’s the first stitch they learn. At least, that’s how it was for me anyway.

To make the most basic version of this stitch, simply stitch back and forth through your fabric at even intervals to make what looks like a dashed line.

A horizontal line of the running stitch on an embroidery hoop

Your stitch will look the same on both the front and back of your fabric, which can be useful if you are working on a project where the stitches are visible on both sides. As far as stitch length, you can make them as long or as short as you want, although the smaller your stitches, the more secure they will be.

Sewing Two Layers Using the Running Stitch

The running stitch can be used to sew two layers of fabric together as a seam. Because of the gaps in between each stitch, it isn’t quite as secure as some other stitches, like the backstitch. However, I find it works well as a seam on small projects made of felt or other similar material. It adds a neat look to the edges while still being able to hold up as a functional seam.

To start, knot your thread and push your needle through only one of your layers, going inside to outside.

A needle poking through one layer of white felt

Then you can pull your thread through and your knot will be on the inside of your two layers. I prefer to start with the back layer, but you could start on either side.

A knot on a thread on the inside of two felt pieces

The next stitch will go through both layers and from there you will continue stitching as normal.

Two pieces of felt attached with two stitches of the running stitch

If you’d like to stitch a little faster, you can weave your needle back and forth a few times into the fabric before pulling it through. It does make your stitching go faster, but I find it harder for the stitches to look uniform.

A needle woven through two pieces of felt several times

Continue stitching all the way around until you get back to your first stitch.

Two pieces of felt stiched around the outside with the running stitch and the needle about to make the final stitch

Push your needle through only one layer. In this case it is the front piece.

A needle going between two layers of felt to make the final stitch

Gently pull apart your fabric pieces just enough so you can see the stitches on the inside and put your needle under the nearest inner stitch and make a knot (or two if you want to make it a bit more secure).

A needle going under an inner stitch between two layers of felt

To hide the tail of your thread push it down between your layers and pop your needle out somewhere in the middle. Pull your thread tight and cut your thread close to the fabric.

Two layers of felt attached with the running stitch on the outside and a string coming out of the middle with scissors about to cut it

Pull your fabric layers apart and the end of the thread will disappear into the middle of the layers. The stitching should look the same on both sides of the fabric and you won’t even be able to tell where the stitching began or ended.

A finished look at two pieces of felt attached along the outside with the running stitch

Attaching Appliques Using the Running Stitch

For those who don’t know, an applique is a smaller piece of fabric that is attached to a larger piece of fabric. In this case, I have a small felt heart shape that I will be attaching to a larger rectangle of white felt using the running stitch.

A piece of white felt with a pink felt heart on top

Like in the previous example, we are sewing two pieces of fabric together, but this time after knotting our thread we are going to start our stitch by going through both layers from back to front.

A thread with a knot at the end being pulled through a white piece of felt

Now you can flip your project over to position your next stitch.

A needle about to sew the first stitch to attach a pink heart applique to white felt

From there, continue stitching all the way around your applique.

A pink heart applique on white felt attached with several running stitches at the top

When you reach the point where you started, make your very last stitch going from front to back. Then flip your project over so you are looking at the back side again. Pass your needle under the nearest stitch and make one or two knots.

Tying a knot on the backside of the heart applique to a nearby stitch

Cut your excess thread near your finishing knot and you are done!

A finished look of the pink heart applique attached to the white felt using the running stitch

Cinching and Gathering with the Running Stitch

Another really neat use for the running stitch is for cinching and gathering fabric together. In this first example we are going to stitch all the way around a circle.

A circle of white fleece with the running stitch sewn along the edge

Once you get back to the beginning, pull the tail of your thread and the piece will begin to cinch together.

The thread being pulled and the circle of fleece is bunching up along the stitches

Keep pulling your thread until it is pulled tight and the fabric has gathered together.

The thread pulled all the way and the fleece circle is pulled into a ball shape

From here you can stuff it to make an easy ball shape.

A white ball shape made of fleece and stuffed with polyfil

As you can see in these example pictures, the smaller you make your stitches, the more gathering you have when you pull it together.

A side by side comparison of using the running stitch to make a ball shape but with different stitch lengths

You can also do a running stitch across a long piece of fabric and it will gather together and make a ruffle when you pull the tail of your thread.

A rectangle of white fleece with the running stitch sewn down the middle is having the thread pulled to bunch the fleece into a ruffle

Like with the circle, the smaller your stitches, the more your ruffle will gather together.

A side by side comparison of different stitch lengths of the running stitch when used to pull a rectangle into a ruffle

Using the Running Stitch for Decorative Stitching/Embroidery

Aside from using it as a seam or an edging, the running stitch is also good for simple embroidery. In this example I used the running stitch to embroider several different size hearts in various colors onto a piece of felt.

Six hearts in pastel rainbow colors is stitched onto a piece of white felt using the running stitch

Variations of the Running Stitch

Here you can see some different variations you can do with the running stitch. You can use different stitch lengths and stitch spacing, or variations of the two. As you can see in the last line, you can even do color variations. Play around and find out what will work best for your project.

An embroidery hoop with six horizontal lines of the running stitch in various stitch lengths and distances

(Edit: I now have the corresponding video available for this guide, for those of you who might be interested)

I hope this guide was helpful in showing some of the different uses of the running stitch. I hope you come visit again for more guides and tutorials. Thank you for stopping by and happy crafting!

An embroidery hoop with six lines of the running stitch in pastel rainbow colors and the text "The Running Stitch Sewing & Embroidery Basics" above a six layered heart stitched with the running stitch in pastel rainbow colors

Other Projects You Might Like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *