Meet Your Machine: Basic Sewing Machine Stitches

Posted in: Meet Your Machine, Sewing 101 — By on January 26, 2011 11:14 AM

So we’ve covered how to choose a pattern, which fabric to use, how to thread your machine, and even what to look for when buying a second hand machine… but what do all those stitches do? Which ones will you use often and which ones are fancy extras?

Your machine will have at least a few stitches to choose from. All of these can vary in length, and some can vary in width. Here’s an overview of some common stitches:

1. straight stitches

straight stitches

used for: seams, top stitching, basting, gathering

  • You can use the straight stitch for a number of applications, depending on the length of the stitch you use.  For example, for basting or gathering you would use a long stitch as opposed to a short stitch for a seam on a blouse.

2. zig zag

zigzag stitches

used for: finishing raw edges of seams, sewing elastic (and other stretchy things), appliqués, buttonholes (this is my favourite stitch!)

  • Zigzag stitches that are very close together (a very short stitch length) are called a satin stitches and are used for appliqué.
  • Zigzag stitches stretch more than a straight stitch, so they are good to use on stretchy materials or elastic.
  • If you don’t have a serger, you can use a zigzag stitch to finish your seams.
  • You can also use your zigzag stitch for buttonholes, but most machines have a special stitch just for that.

3. buttonhole

buttonhole stitches

used for: buttonholes (duh!)

  • This stitch creates a bartack at each end of two close together zig zag stitches. Once the buttonhole is complete, you can use a seam ripper to (carefully!) rip open the hole.
  • Your machine might come with a special foot or even a whole set of attachments to create different types of button holes for different applications.

4. overcast

overcast stitch

used for: finishing raw edges

  • Use this stitch instead of a serger or zigzag to finish the edges of a seam (this method of edge finishing is not as good a serger, but better than a zigzag and might require a special presser foot)

Your machine might have 20 more stitches, but the above are what you’ll use the most. Many machines come with a variety of decorative stitches, stretch stitches or special function stitches like the blind hem stitch, which you use when you want to hem something, but don’t want to see the stitches like a pair of dress pants.

Sew forth! Use some inexpensive woven fabric and a sharp needle to experiment with different stitches and get a feel for your machine. Make sure that you don’t put the pedal to the metal just yet… go as slow as you need to! Try sewing a seam, and then attempt a few different kinds of stitches. You will probably need to adjust the tension on some of your stitches so that the top and bottom thread are balanced, but we’ll talk more about that in a later post.

Have fun trying out your machine, and stay tuned for our upcoming post on a topic that we all have to deal with at some point: Troubleshooting!

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