Monday, June 06, 2016

How to Sew a Lock Stitch, Technique #2: The Surgical Knot

Long ago I wrote about how to make a beginner's lock stitch. It is the first locking technique that I teach everyone who comes to my little sewing school in the country. The technique I'm writing about today is a little more difficult to do than that one.  BUT with plenty of practice it will be neater and less visible than the beginner technique.

When you learn to sew by hand you will soon see that there are two reasons to make a lock stitch; 1) because the thread is too short to sew any more stitches, and 2) you have come to the end of a line of sewing and need a way to keep the stitches from falling out.

Did you know that it takes at least 5 inches of thread to make a lock stitch and bury the tail ends of the thread? We sewists always try to bury the thread if we can; because it makes our projects look so much neater.

So, whenever you are sewing try to remember, when the thread on the needle is at least 5 inches long it is time to end your sewing with a lock stitch. 5 inches happens to be roughly the same length as your thread snips. Now, that's a happy coincidence!

Keep thread snips close to you while you are sewing. Then, when you think the thread is ready to lock stitch you can compare its length to the length of your thread snips. If they are about the same, it is time to lock your work like a knot.

Are you ready to learn how? Let's go!

How to Sew a Lock Stitch, Technique #2: The Surgical Knot

Step 1 Begin the lock stitch when the thread is at least 5” (12cm) (photo A).

Step 2 At the last dot - in the Winky Cherry System of sewing, a grown-up marks dots around the edge of the project to show you where each stitch should go - poke the needle through the fabric very close to the last stitch that you sewed (photo B). Pull the thread all the way through.

Step 3 Poke the needle through the same place again (photo C).  Pull all the way through.

Step 4 Make a tiny whip stitch (photo D) at that same spot, but do not pull all the way through.

Step 5 Leave a little loop (photo E).

Step 6 Put the needle through the tiny loop (photo F) and before you pull the loop tight, put the needle through the loop a second time, from the same direction (photo G).

Now pull the knot so it's tight against the fabric. Use your finger or thumb nail to help the knot tighten and lie flat while you are pulling. This is called a surgical knot (photo H) and it ties your thread just like a knot. Now your sewing will stay stitched!

But you aren't finished yet! There are 2 more steps.

Step 7 It’s time to make a thread sandwich. That means it is time to bury the thread tails between the two pieces of fabric. Burying the thread makes your sewing look neat and tidy; Remember that neatness is a sewist's heart's desire!

Make the thread sandwich by poking the needle between the two pieces of fabric very close to the surgical knot. Poke it out again to any spot about an inch away (photo I).

TIP: Before you pull the thread through - while the needle is still in the fabric, flip the project over to make sure the needle isn't showing on the back side. If it is showing, try again. Sometimes it takes a few tries. This is why you don’t pull the needle all the way through yet. When the needle is buried invisibly, move on to step 8.

Step 8 When the needle is well buried, the thread will automatically be buried too. So, pull all the way through and tug gently until the fabric makes a little dent. Cut the thread close to the fabric (photo J). The thread will eventually disappear between the two pieces of fabric. Your lock stitch is finished!


TIP #1 The thread knots too soon and it looks kind of loopy: This happens when the loop you made (photo E) is too big. Try reversing what you just did - yes, I mean undo the surgical knot. Start to make the knot again, but this time with a smaller loop. Don’t stress over this, it takes practice to get it right!

TIP #2 The thread knots properly, but one thread tail makes an extra loop: This happens because the thread tails were not even when you made the knot; one was longer than the other. Try loosening the knot and pulling the thread, one tail at a time to make that extra loop disappear. You may need to undo the surgical knot completely. If you do end up undoing the knot completely, hold the project up high with one hand (so the needle dangles) and run your pincher fingers down the thread from project to needle. That will even the thread tails.

Would you like to learn some other stitches? Try these:
Lock stitch technique #1
Running Stitch
Whip Stitch
How to Anchor Thread at the Beginning of a Line of Stitching

Happy stitching!


  1. Thank you for the clear explanation! And I like how you include the troubleshooting tips, just in case we get into trouble.

    1. You are welcome, Miss Daisy! I'm happy to be helpful. :)

  2. Thank you for the great explanation! I think a basic understanding of sewing is so beneficial for every person. But my own knowledge is pretty basic, so I totally need these sort of detailed explanations to be able to help teach my boys!

    1. I love to hear that mums are teaching their kids to sew! If you need help or have any requests for topics that would benefit you and your boys, just email me at sewingwithkids(at)cheerful(dot)com or leave a comment here on the blog and I'll try to help.

  3. I had no idea I needed to leave 5 inches! I've been guilty of not leaving enough for a very long time. Thanks for sharing this post at my Lifelong Learners Link-Up Party at!

    1. I've found with the kids I teach that about 5" of thread gives enough room for little, inexperienced fingers to manipulate the needle and thread without getting frustrated. Of course we adults don't need quite that much. ;) I was happy to share at your link-up party.

  4. This is so excellent!! My mother taught me to sew many, many years ago, feeling that all girls (there were 3 of us and no boys) needed to learn. She taught us by hand and by machine. A true life lesson. You have given such an explicit lesson here. I am glad to find you. I also taught school years ago and taught my first graders to sew...we made a small quilt every year. The ones who enjoyed sewing after each did there own four pieces could continue to sew those squares to other squares and then rows to rows. Boys often loved it after they learned. First graders also did not have that embarrassed feeling so we had fun...and I made it fun!

    1. I love that your mum did that for you and your sisters! And then you passed your love of sewing on to your first graders. That's a happy story. Thank you for sharing it!


Blog Design by Studio Mommy (© Copyright 2014)