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All About Sewing Machine Stitches

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Inside: All About Sewing Machine Stitches

You might be new to sewing and wondering what all the different stitches are on a machine.

Let me first assure you that you only need two basic stitches as a beginner and a buttonhole to complete the project.

There will be a wide variety of stitch options on different models and brands of sewing machines. Naturally, you might think that 1,000 stitches is better than 20. As a beginner, however, you will only need a handful of stitches because you won’t use them all.

Basic Stitches

1. Straight Stitch

Straight stitch is the most popular and can be found on all domestic sewing machines. This stitch is a basic utility stitch, and it is often labeled #1 on the machine. Not all basic utility stitches will be placed first on most machines.

Nearly all machines default to straight stitch when they are turned on. This is the only available stitch on older machines like a Singer Featherweight.

This is the stitch that you’ll use to join most pieces of fabric.

For different purposes, you can adjust the length of straight stitches.

  • 2.5mm is the standard stitch length. It is suitable for most sewing. The majority of people will adjust their stitch length from 2.0mm to 3.0mm. To find the right stitch length for you, practice on several projects.
  • For gathering and basting, a stitch length of 4mm to 5mm is ideal. These long stitches are easy to pull into gathers and pull apart when basting a project. Learn more about gathering fabric.

You can adjust the needle position on some sewing machines. The straight stitch may be in a right or left position. It is recommended that the needle remain in the middle position when sewing straight stitches. When adding in a zipper, you would change the needle position.

A Triple Straight Stitch is one variation of the straight stitch. This basic utility stitch is very similar to the straight one. To make a strong seam, it sews one stitch forward and two stitches back. This stitch can be used for Sewing with Knits and on garment stress points like a pocket.

2. Zigzag Stitch

Another utility stitch is the zigzag. The zigzag stitch is primarily used to prevent fraying. This is the stitch your machine will use to sew a buttonhole.

The most popular zigzag default settings are a 3.5mm width, and a 1.5mm length. This setting is great for garments with a lot of movement, such as knits. You can easily adjust the stitch length or width to make this stitch change.

To find the best stitch width and length for your projects, I recommend that you practice. The zigzag stitch can tunnel on thin fabrics. To prevent this, I recommend using a stabilizer.

There are many ways you can use the zigzag stitch.

  • Sewing with Knit Fabric Give the seam a tug. If the stitches don’t pop out, this setting is suitable for knits. Keep at it if you are having trouble.
  • Applique: Secure an applique using a zigzag stitch. You’ll have to play around with this as it will be different for each person. For a satin stitch, lower the stitch length and for a gentler one, increase it. Learn more about Applique here.
  • Hem: A zigzag stitch will make your hem stay in place and not unravel.
  • Raw edges: To prevent fraying, you can use a ZIGZAG stitch.

A Triple Zigzag Stitch, also known as 3-Step Zigzag (or Multi-Step Zigzag), setting may be visible on your machine. This stitch makes a tight stretch stitch and a zigzag pattern in steps. This is ideal for a large stretchy item such as a swimsuit leg opening.

3. Overcast Stitch

Although the Overcast Stitch may look like a regular Zigzag stitch it is quite different. This stitch is used to close the unfinished or raw seams on woven fabrics. Many machines come with an Overcast foot, which makes this stitch even more beautiful.

You can achieve a seam with no raveling if you do it correctly. This is an alternative to using a serger seam. Because there is no cutting function, you will need to trim the excess seam allowance.

For years, I used an Overcast Stitch foot with the Overcast stitch until I bought a serger. It is sometimes used for small projects when a heavier serger seam may be too bulky.

Buttonhole Stitches

There are many buttonhole options depending on the make and type of your sewing machine. You also have a special buttonhole foot. These three buttonholes are likely to be the ones that you use most.

Modern sewing machines will include a semi-automatic or automatic system to create buttonholes. A zigzag stitch is used to create a buttonhole.

  • Square Buttonhole – This buttonhole is the most popular and best suited to medium-weight woven fabrics.
  • Semi-round or rounded buttonhole: Some machines have a semi-round or rounded buttonhole. This buttonhole looks best when used with smaller buttons. It is also well-suited for lighter fabrics. This buttonhole is my favorite for blouses.
  • The Keyhole Buttonhole: This buttonhole looks best on a jacket or coat with larger shank buttons. It works well with woven and lined fabrics that are stronger.

Here’s a quick video that shows you how to make a buttonhole. Here are some tips to make them perfect every time.

Satin or Decorative Stitches

Machines will have different designs for Decorative and Satin Stitches. You can adjust the size and look of the Zigzag Stitch by changing the width and length of the stitch.

These stitches can be used to embellish your project. Use a shiny rayon or polyester thread in a contrast color to make your design stand out.

You can also use Decorative Stitches to create a stitch pattern by mixing several different stitch patterns together to create an original look.

If you are adding a Decorative Stitch or Satin Stitch to your fabric, make sure to mark a line and stabilize it. Your designs may become distorted if you don’t.

Grab some fabric and tear-away stabilizer, and you can start to create different stitch patterns that you can use to add to jeans’ hems or for decorating projects.

Last Thoughts

There are many other stitches available, but these are the most common ones that you will see on most machines. It will be a pleasure to learn the different stitches for different fabrics.

You can also visit my Sewing Machine Feet Guide for tips on how to combine these stitches with your best feet.

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