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What Is Stitch In The Ditch (And How To Do It For Garment Sewing)

Today we’re looking at what stitch in the ditch is, and how to do it, because it’s a great technique to use when sewing your own clothing.

As well as being used for garment sewing, stitching in the ditch is also used for quilting, whether machine quilting or hand quilting.

A piece of orange and pink floral fabric being stitched in the ditch

What Is Stitch In The Ditch?

So, what do I mean when I say stitch in the ditch? It’s a way of sewing a seam that is invisible on one side while securing fabric in place.

I’ve used the technique to finish waistbands when I don’t want any visible stitching on the finished piece, and it works really well to secure facings too!

What Foot Do You Use To Stitch In The Ditch?

A standard presser foot used with my Bernina 1008 sewing machine

Stiching in the ditch can be done with a standard sewing machine presser foot, but for those less confident, there is a dediacted stitch in the ditch presser foot available or a walking foot works well too.

Standard Presser Foot

This is the best option if you’re sewing clothing and want to ditch stitch. You already own a standard presser foot, so can get started right away, and it works, as long as you sew slow and steady.

Edge Joining Foot

The foot has a wide opening to accommodate the swing of a needle in zigzag mode, and there is a guide which you use to line the edge of the fabric against so that the stitch line falls into the existing seam line.

To be honest, I find that the presser foot is more suited to sewing lapped seams, appliqué and and edgestitching.

Walking Foot

The other option is to use a walking foot. This is the foot that moves while you sew. It’s used mainly by quilters for ditch quilting.

I’ve used it many times for sewing garments made of leather and non-grain ‘stitcky’ materials, but I do think it is unnecessary for sewing ditch stitch in garments.

Where Do You Stitch In The Ditch?

Sew the original seam that you'll then stitch in the ditch through

When we ditch stitch, we sew along an existing stitched line, from the right side of the fabric, to secure the under fabric edge in place. The back or ‘wrong’ side needs to be prepped beforehand, so make sure you’ve pressed everything for the neatest finish.

Press and fold the fabric under to the wrong side so that it can be caught and secured when the ditch is stitched

Once sewn, the upper thread is not visible because we are sewing in the ditch created by an existing seam and the lower bobbin thread is then visible on the wrong side of the fabric.

What Stitch Length Should You Use For Stitch In The Ditch?

If you’re sewing garments then your usual stitch length is fine for ditch stitching. I usually use between a 2.5 and 3.5 on my Bernina sewing machine.

If you’re using it as a quilting technique then a shorter stitch length will be good for really securing the different layers together and preventing them from shifting.

How Do You Accurately Stitch In The Ditch?

Ok, now that we’ve covered what it is and why you should use it, here’s a tutorial to help you stitch in the ditch more often!

Step 1: Pin The Seam

Pins hold the seam in place that I intend to stitch in the ditch.

Start by placing pins along the ditch line so that you both layers of fabric are secured into position.

Check the wrong side of the seam after the pins are placed

Check the wrong side of the garment to make sure that when your stitched ditch is sewn, you catch in all the fabric needed.

Step 2: Line Up Your Needle

Line up the needle in the previous stitch line so that the line of stitches will be hidden

Place the project under the needle, with the right side of the fabric facing up at you. Lower your needle into the ditch using the handwheel so that it is perfectly positioned.

Step 3: Sew The Ditch

Women's cargo pants sewing pattern - stitching in the ditch!

Start with a two-stitch backtack, and then slowly and steadily sew a straight line along the existing ditch to create a line of stitching, as far as you need to or as directed by the sewing pattern instructions.

You can sew as slowly as you like to get the stitches in the right place, and don’t be afraid to use the handwheel if needed!

Step 4: Press The Ditch

Press the stitched line after so that the fabric hides the stitched ditch

Finally, once you have backtacked and cut your thread, grab the iron and give the finished seam a nice press.

You should only see the stitched line from the wrong side!

The wrong side of a fabric piece that has been stitched in the ditch

3 Stitch In The Ditch Tips

Let’s finish with some tips so that you get it right every time you ditch stitch!

1. Use The Right Thread

This sounds like common sense right? You’ll be surprised how many times I go to ditch stitch and realise too later that the thread is the wrong color!

The easiest way to make sure your stitching is invisible is to use a clear invisible thread, but that doesn’t look so great on garments, so I opt for a thread which is the same color as the right side of the fabric.

2. Use Your Fingers!

The reason I can sew a beautiful stitched ditch is because I put my fingers to work. Yes this is one of those things that gets easier when you’ve done it a few times, so start practising it right away.

Simply ease the ditch apart with the fingers of both hands, and sew in the space created. Release the fabric and the ditch will close right back up hiding those stitches.

3. Use The Right Presser Foot

I wrote above about the different presser foot options, but the right one is really the foot which will keep you lined up with the ‘ditch’ and I find the standard presser foot with the centre guide to be the best for the job.

What Will You Stitch In The Ditch Next?

Ok, you’re sorted. You know what the stitched ditch is, when to use it, how to do it and I’ve given you three tips to make sure your waistbands and facings are beautifully ditch stitched.

Let me know in the comments what you’ll be using it on!

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