how to end a stitch

One of the most common mistakes beginner sewists make is not properly finishing their stitches which can cause their seams to loosen or come undone completely.

In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to finish your stitches properly when sewing on a sewing machine or by hand, to keep your stitches neat and your seams secure.

How to end a stitch on a sewing machine

When sewing on a sewing machine, the easiest and most secure way to end the stitch is with a back-stitch. This is much easier than the alternative of tying both ends of the thread by hand into a square knot.

Here is your step-by-step guide to using the back-stitch method to end a stitch on a sewing machine.

Step 1. Stitch your seam

Stitch your seam until it is complete. This will normally be when you’ve reached around three-quarters of an inch from the edge of your fabric.

stitching with a sewing machine on a red fabric

The finishing method we will outline works for most stitch types, including straight and zigzag stitches. If you’re a beginner, it is a good idea to practice stitching and finishing your stitches on a scrap of fabric before tackling your actual project.

Step 2. Find your reverse button

Once you’re ready to finish your seam, stop sewing and locate your machine’s reverse button.

sewing machine control buttons close up

The reverse function depends on the model, but on most sewing machines there is a button somewhere near your stitch dial. It is generally marked with a u-shaped symbol or arrow that shows it will reverse the direction of stitching.

On some mechanical sewing machines you need to hold the button down while you stitch for it to work. On other machines, all you need to do is press the button to activate reverse stitching and press it again when you want to sew forward once more.

Read your sewing machine’s instruction manual to check how the reverse button works on your machine. It’s a good idea to double check the manual before you use any new function or feature!

Step 3. Sew a few backstitches

After pressing the reverse button, you can make a few back-stitches. Ideally, you want to sew between three and five stitches back over the stitches of the seam you’ve just sewn.

a piece of red fabric on a sewing machine and turning hand wheel collage

You can do this by gently pressing on the foot pedal and release again once you’ve sewn a few stitches. Alternatively, you can use your machine’s hand wheel to make the stitches.

The hand wheel is easier to control and can be preferable for beginners who may struggle to do just a few stitches with the foot pedal.

Sewing back over your seam will secure your stitches and minimize the risk of them unraveling. The smaller your back-stitches, the more secure they will be. If you want to be really sure that your stitches are secure you can reduce the stitch length to 2mm or less before sewing your back-stitches.

Step 4: Sew forwards again

To complete the process, you need to sew forward again, back over your stitches once more. Let go of the reverse button or press the button to activate forward stitching, depending on your machine.

Three lines of stitches on a red piece of fabric

Keep sewing until you reach the end of the fabric. You will have three lines of stitches on top of each other at the end of your seam, keeping the stitches firm and secure.

Step 5. Cut your thread tails

Finally, lift your presser lever up, and make sure that your needle is in the up position. If your needle is still down in your fabric you’ll need to use the hand wheel to raise it up.

Gently slide the fabric out from under the needle and pull it to the side. Take your scissors and cut the thread so there are thread tails of at least six inches from your needle. This will mean your needle won’t come unthreaded and you are ready to start sewing again.

ended stitch with thread ends cut off

Alternatively, if your machine has a thread cutter, use this to cut the thread.

Note: you can use this same back-stitch method when starting your stitches to make sure your seam is secure from beginning to end.

How to end a stitch by hand

Just like when you are using a sewing machine, when sewing by hand it is important to properly finish your stitches to keep your seams neat and secure.

Step 1. Turn over your project

Once you’ve finished sewing your seam by hand, turn over your project so that the wrong side of the fabric is facing you.

a stitch sewn by hand

This is important to make sure that the knots you make are not visible on the right side of your fabric, but instead hidden on the final project.

You should also make sure that you have at least 6 inches of thread left on your needle when you finish sewing in order to properly finish your stitches. This means thinking ahead and rethreading your needle if necessary so you don’t run out of thread!

Step 2. Make a loop using the last stitch

Looking at the underside of your fabric, take the needle and slide it under the last stitch you made on the back of the fabric. This will be the closest stitch to where your needle and thread is now.

creating a loop with white thread on a red piece of fabric

Pull the needle through so that the thread goes under the stitch, but don’t pull all the way. You want to leave a loop of thread of at least 1 inch.

If you get to this stage and find you don’t have enough thread left on your needle to make a loop you can always tie more thread to the end of your needle and slide the needle onto the extended thread.

Step 3. Make a knot with the loop

Put your needle through the loop of thread you’ve just made, making sure to enter from the bottom of the loop so that it is a closed circle.

a knot on a stitch sewn by hand

This time, keep pulling on the thread so that it makes a knot. When you pull on the thread, you should be able to see three small threads coming from the bottom of the knot.

Step 4. Double knot the stitch

Repeat the process by putting your needle through that same stitch and making another loop. Remember to do this on the back of the project so that the knots are not visible from the front.

Repeat Step 3 by feeding your needle through the loop and pulling it tightly so that another knot forms.

This will make sure the knot stays firm and that your stitches are secure.

Step 5. Trim the excess thread

Make sure that your knot is nice and tight, then trim the excess thread with scissors. You should leave not more than a quarter-inch of thread after the knot, this will avoid thread tails becoming tangled under your project.

double knot on a stitch sewn by hand with thread ends cut off

As long as you’ve tied the knot tightly the thread will not loosen so you can cut as close as you like to the knot.

Step 6. Turn your project over

Flip your project over again so that you can see the right side of the fabric, and make sure that there are no knots or loose threads visible. It should be nice and neat.

Congratulations – you’ve finished your stitch!

Wrapping up

Knowing how to properly finish a stitch is vital because it ensures that your seams stay secure and do not unravel. Whether sewing by hand or on a sewing machine, it is vital that you finish your stitches firmly and neatly.

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