How to Sew the Ladder Stitch – Hand Sewing Tutorial

Good morning, class! Today lesson is on the infamous ladder stitch that I just can’t seem to stop mentioning in my other tutorials lately.

The ladder stitch is also called the slip stitch or the invisible stitch.

If you don’t have a lot of hand sewing experience, getting out the ol’ needle and thread can be a bit daunting. But I’ve got a few tips to make things a little easier for you!

Check out the video or follow along with the text/photo instructions below.

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1. Here I’ve sewn up a small pillow to use for my example. For the record, I’ve used a 1/2 inch seam allowance – I mention this because you’ll want the seam allowance of your hand stitching to match whatever you used for the machine stitching.


2. Here we are right side out. Tada!


3. So the first thing that will help us on our merry hand stitching journey is to press the seam.


4. This cotton pressed into a nice crisp line, but some fabrics – like chenille or velvet – aren’t going to press well. In that case, you can mark the seam allowance with a marking pen or chalk.


5. Even though my fabric did press into a nice line, I’m going to double down with the marking pen, because I’ve found the clearer that line, the more even my stitching is.

Plus it’s easier to see for the sake of this tutorial!

The first component to a good ladder stitch is keeping the stitches on those marked seam allowance lines.


6. The second component is keeping the stitching themselves even and parallel to one another. You know what would help keep the stitches really even? You guessed it. Marking them out ahead of time! Back to the marker.

With my handy dandy ruler, I’m going to start at one end of the gap and mark out 1/4″ notches along the seam allowance lines. First I’ll do the top.


7.And then I’ll transfer those measurements to the bottom line.

You want the marks on the top and bottom lines to match up exactly.

I’ve only marked a few stitches, because I’m impatient as heck. But you might as well mark the whole thing if you’re going to the trouble.


8. Now that we’ve done all our prep work, it’s time to get stitchin! Get a length of thread about 2-3 times as long as the gap. Knot your thread at one end and thread your needle with the unknotted end. I’m using black for the purposes of this tutorial, but you’ll always always ALWAYS have better results if you match your thread to your fabric.

NOTE: I’ll be starting from the right side of the gap and stitching toward the left. I find this is the easiest method as a right-hander. If you’re a leftie, you might find stitching from left to right is easier.


9. As close to the end of the machine backstitching as possible, bring your needle up through the fabric, from the inside (or “wrong” side). It can be kind of tricky to finagle the needle inside, especially on something fluffy like a pillow. Just take your time. The most important thing, is to make sure the needle comes out on the marked seam allowance line.


10. Bring the needle straight down through the bottom seam allowance line, on the mark that matches the top.

The needle goes into the fabric on this mark, and comes out at the next mark in one motion.


11. Pull the thread through and the first stitch is complete!


12. Moving straight up to the top seam allowance line, we’ll create a stitch that’s parallel to the first by repeating the last sequence. The needle goes in through the first mark, and comes out on the next mark down the line.


Keep repeating this sequence all the way down to the other end of the gap.

NOTE: I marked my stitches out in 1/4″ increments, and that’s about as big as I’d go on most applications. But you can go smaller. The smaller the stitch, the more invisible it will be, especially if you’re blending it into a seam with some machine stitching. So if you want to go down to 3/16″ or even 1/8″, you can do that.


14. After you have a few stitches in place, Pull it tight and you’ll see how good everything looks. Wowee zowee!

Why is it called a ladder stitch?

NOTE: Something you might notice (once you’ve got a fair number of stitches in a nice neat row) is why it’s called a ladder stitch. See, if you turn it on its side, it looks like of like the rungs of a ladder. This is what I’m talking about when I say parallel stitches.

What happens if my stitches are sloppy and uneven?

NOTE: Here’s what happens if you get all loosey goosey, and your stitches aren’t very even or parallel. (I should have really gone off the rails and ignored my seam allowance line, too, just to make a point. But once you’ve got that line marked, it’s hard to stray from it.)

As you can see, there’s some pulling, some puckering, and even some thread visible.

The good news is, if you notice you’re getting a little sloppy, just pull those stitches out and start again.

Look ma! I’m a ruler!

TIP: Here’s a silly little tip… If you don’t feel like you quite need to measure out each individual stitch, but you want just a bit of extra help… mark your finger! Here I’ve marked out 1/4″ increments on the side of my finger with a fine tip Sharpie, and now I can use that as a quick guide when I’m placing my stitches.


15. OK, enough screwing around! Let’s finish this.

When you reach the other end of the gap, it’s time to tie off the thread. I like to stitch back to the previous stitch so I can use that to loop my thread around.


16. Slip the needle under the previous stitch, creating a loop.


17. Once you have a loop, make a knot. Repeat. I recommend triple-knotting the thread.


18. Once you’re satisfied with the knottiness, poke the needle down into the pillow so that it comes out one side.


19. Pull the thread through, and hold it tight. As close to the surface of the pillow as possible, clip the thread. The tail should spring back inside the pillow and be completely hidden from sight!


20. You may have noticed that a few stitches are just barely visible, and I’m going to blame that on the black thread. Just to prove how nearly invisible the ladder stitch can be, I redid the stitching in white thread. See the difference?

Just one little blip where I tied it off, probably a hair too tightly.

You can also give it a quick press and steam and I think that often really makes the stitching blend in with the rest. Honestly, if that little wonky bit is the only spot on the whole thing you might squint at, I’m happy!

That’s it! I now declare you a Master of the Ladder Stitch!

If you have any hand sewing tips of your own, share them in the comments below.

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