What Is an Overcast Stitch?

Samples of Hand-Sewn Overcast Stitch
Mollie Johanson

Overcast stitch, sometimes called whipstitch, is a hand sewing stitch that wraps the working thread around the edge of fabric or seams. You can use this easy stitch for sewing fabric or few pieces together, finishing seams, appliqué, or even as a decorative element.

If you've ever used a serger or seen an overlock stitch on a sewing machine, you know about the machine version of overcast stitch, and the idea is similar to the hand sewing version. With each, the stitches effectively bind the fabric edge and prevent fraying.

Like the machine version, you can also use this stitch for sewing a seam. Most often this is referred to as whipstitch, but the process is exactly the same. When sewing two or more layers of fabric together with overcast or whipstitch, it's usually with felt or as a way to sew an opening closed, such as on a stuffed toy.

With all this talk of the sewing machine version of this stitch, you might wonder why you would ever pick up a needle and do this by hand. But hand sewing is more useful than some folks might think. First, sometimes you need something low-tech, either because you don't have a serger or because grabbing a needle and thread is easier or gives you more control. But it's also relaxing to make little stitches by hand.

Stitching overcast stitch by hand is especially enjoyable when sewing small felt projects or appliqué. Just like working with surface blanket stitch, when doing appliqué, the stitches go through the back fabric and around the edge of the front material. Not only do the stitches hold the pieces in place, but they also add a cute edge.

Starting Overcast Stitch
Mollie Johanson

How to Hand-Sew With Overcast Stitch

Start your overcast stitch with a knot. You can leave a little tail to stitch over, but you should still make it a secure knot. Come up through the fabric or seam from back to front. If you're going through more than one layer of fabric you may want to hide the knot between the layers.

How to Hand Sew Overcast Stitches
Mollie Johanson

Bring the needle through the fabric from back to front again. With each stitch, the needle should always come through in the same direction. As you add stitches, the thread should be wrapping around the edge of the material.

Pull each stitch so the thread is right at the fabric edge, but not pulling it down tight. It can take some practice to get the tension even, but the more you stitch, the easier it gets.

It's also a good idea to keep the stitch spacing even so your overcast stitch looks neat and uniform.

Ending Overcast Stitch
Mollie Johanson

To end overcast stitch, make a small tacking stitch through the back of the fabric near where you would normally take the next stitch. On felt, you should be able to go through only part of the material and when working with multiple layers, you can go through only the back layer. End off with a knot.

Overcast Stitch as a Seam Finish
Mollie Johanson

Finishing a Seam With Overcast Stitch

When sewing garments or other projects, you often need to apply a seam finish. While overcast stitch isn't the most secure or long-lasting, it does work and you don't need any special tools or supplies. Follow the same stitches above to whip stitch the edge of your seam. The sample shows contrasting thread so you can see the stitches, but you should choose a matching thread.

Hand-Sewn Zigzag Overcast Stitches
Mollie Johanson

To add an extra layer of stitching, after working a line of overcast stitch in one direction, go back and stitch another line in the opposite direction. This creates something similar to a zigzag stitch on a sewing machine.

Try this handy stitch the next time you need a simple way to finish a project by hand!

Updated by Mollie Johanson