Tuesday, May 14, 2013

How to Sew a Whip Stitch

Welcome to Sewing With Kids! Today I'm going to explain how to teach your child to sew a whip stitch.

When you whip stitch, the thread loops around the edge of the fabric with each stitch. It's a strong stitch; strong enough to keep stuffing inside a stuffed toy.

When you sew a whip stitch around the perimeter of a felt shape it looks like the photo above; little, slanted lines of thread all the way around. 

{I'll be using the words felt and fabric interchangeably. I always mean felt because that's the only fabric I use to teach beginner hand sewing and this is why.}

This is how to teach the whip stitch to young children.

You'll notice in my photos that there are dots on the sewing project. These will show a beginner where to make each stitch until she has learned stitch spacing. Read about how you can prepare projects for beginners.

Step-1) Thread a needle.

Step-2) Tie a knot. 

Step-3) Line up two pieces of felt and pin them together. We start stitching on the first dot after the 2" gap* in the dots, so have your child find that. She can stitch clockwise or counter clockwise, it doesn't matter.

Step-4) Now, she is ready to whip stitch. This is the verse I always use to help kids remember how to begin - I will explain what action goes with each line afterwards:

a) Come up through the first dot, through just 1 piece of felt. Pull all the way through.
Now, what's the next thing that I do?

b) Come up through 2 layers at the same dot. Pull all the way through.
Now, what's the next thing that I do?

c) Come up through the next dot. Pull all the way through.
Now, what's the next thing that I do? 

c) Come up through the next dot. Pull all the way through.
Now, what's the next thing that I do? 

... and repeat until it's time for a lock stitch.

*Note to grown-ups: If you have prepared the project for a beginner as I have shown you you left a 2" gap in the dots that outline the perimeter. This space tells your beginner where to begin (at the first dot) and end (at the last dot). It also leaves an opening to access later and fill the project with stuffing. 

Now, I will explain the verse.

a) The first line says to "Come up through the first dot through just 1 layer of felt." 

The first thing to do is hide that ugly knot by sandwiching it between the 2 pieces of felt. (Read more about hiding the knot.)

Hiding the knot.
"Pull all the way through" reminds kids that they need to tug on the needle until the thread is taut and they feel the knot snug-up against the felt. 

"What is the next thing that I do?" This asks the sewist to stop and think about the next step which of course is to secure that ugly knot and keep it from poking out.

So, she needs to whip the thread around the outside edge of the fabric to get ready for the next step.

She can use her finger or needle to poke the knot away where she can't see it.

b) "Come up through the same dot," tells the child that after the thread is whipped around the edge of the fabric she is to poke the needle from the back of her project up through the exact dot again. The place where she just hid the knot.

Always poke the needle from underneath the project - back to front. 

"Pull all the way through." Not so tight that it cinches a dent in the fabric, and not so loose that the stuffing we are going to add later will fall out.

Coming up through the same dot.
"What is the next thing that I do?" This again asks the sewist to stop and think about the next step.

c) Then, "Come up through the next dot."  Again, she whips the thread around the edge of the fabric and pokes the needle from the back of her project up through the 2 pieces of felt where the next dot in the line of dots is.

After each stitch she should check under the fabric to make sure there are no twists or knots in the thread. They are a lot easier to prevent than they are to repair!

She repeats part C until it's time to sew a lock stitch

It will begin to look something like this...

Come up through the next dot.

Don't worry if the stitches are a bit awkward and uneven or a dot gets missed occasionally. This is totally normal for a beginner. I personally find it charming and endearing. 

She will soon figure out that too much space between stitches lets the stuffing fall out, and as small motor control improves so will her stitches. It's very important not to criticise any early attempts at sewing!

And that, my friends, is how to breakdown the whip stitch into teachable, tiny steps for tiny people.

Happy stitching!


  1. thanks for share....

    1. You are welcome! Thanks so much for visiting.

  2. Oh this is a wonderful thing for kids.You teach so well via the internet I love the photos of those smiling faces. B

    1. Seeing those smiling faces in person is even better. I hope you have a little loved one to sew with :-)

  3. oh Sue - i will definitely pass your site on to friends with small children...but heck - i am going to spend a lot of time here learning how to sew better! this site is beautiful! i love it!

    your friend,

    1. Thank you Kymber! I hope you find it helpful for both you and your friends. Thanks for visiting :-)

  4. I love the rhyme that you came up with! I think I might find your blog useful as I don't really know how to sew so this would be a good way for me to learn! :)

    1. I would like to take credit, but the rhyme is an oldie that I learned along the way. If you run into any questions feel free to ask. I'd like to help in any way I can. Thanks so much for visiting! :-)


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