Even when sewing by hand, the straight stitch isn't the only sewing stitch you can use for your sewing projects. What you wish to achieve determines what sewing stitch you use at any given time. You might use one type of stitch to quickly hold two pieces of fabric together, another on hems and still another style of stitch on raw edges.
The straight stitch is the most common of stitches used in sewing. To straight stitch, thread the needle with double the length of thread you plan to use. Don't make the thread too long or it will tangle. Pull the two ends of the thread together. Some knot the thread. Bring together the fabrics you wish to sew together and pin. It helps to iron the fabric to make it lie flat. Push the needle through both pieces of fabric bottom up and pull until the end knot catches. You can also back-stitch, or stitch back and forth, until you anchor the thread in the fabric. Next, a little further along the fabric, push the needle down through the material and pull the thread until it is taut. Do not pull too tight unless you wish to turn your flat fabric into a ruffle. On the next stitch, push up from the bottom.
This stitch continues up and down until you reach the end of what you wished sewed together. Make several small stitches back and forth, making a knot with the thread. Cut. You choose how long you wish to make each stitch. The shorter and straighter the stitch, the nicer and more finished the end result will appear.
Basting is a long, loose stitch. Use basting to quickly join two pieces of fabric. Basting is like pinning the fabric, but without the pins. Basting isn't meant to be permanent. Make stitches long and loose. Once you use a more permanent stitch, remove basting stitches.
Use the hemming stitch to hem up a garment. A hemming stitch is a neat, short, precise straight stitch that when finished scarcely shows on the right side of the fabric. Push needle from the underside, catching a few threads on the right side of the garment or fabric. On inspection, stitches are small and neat. When hemming, be sure to use a thread the same color as the fabric to make the hem as invisible as possible.
Use the over-stitch to finish off raw edges without folding them over to hem. Over-stitching means you start stitching around the edges of the fabrics you wish to connect. Push the needle through the fabric already pinned or basted together. Instead of the up and down of the straight stitch, bring the needle around the edge and push the needle through from the bottom up. Circle down over the edge and repeat. Always push the needle through from the same side. Do not pull the thread too tight or you'll have a ripple effect. The closer the stitches, the more finished the edge.