Sewing Machine Stitches

retrochick.JPGMichele says:

I had intended for this post to teach you how to actually sew using your sewing machine, but when my fingers hit the keyboard I was struck with a huge realization. In writing these posts about machine sewing, I had glossed over one of the most important features of your machine: the stitches. There are zigzags and dashed lines and, uh, is that a triangle?? I know that it’s tempting to use the straight stitch for everything—ask me how long it took me to use the zig-zag stitch for anything but applique—but each stitch has a specific, sometimes necessary, purpose.


  • 1 & 2  Straight Stitch – The machine version of the straight stitch. You use this stitch for almost everything. Your machine may have two options for the position of the needle for this stitch: center or left. Truthfully, you probably won’t ever need to use the left one unless you have a very specific project, like installing a zipper.
  • Zig-Zag Stitch – It’s exactly what it sounds like. This stitch can be used to reinforce the edges of your seams, and can be used in place of the straight stitch when working with stretchy fabrics like jersey. Additionally, this is the stitch you will see around the edges of appliques. I often use this stitch when I need to attach elastic to itself, because it allows the elastic to stretch without pulling on the thread.
  • Three Step Zig-Zag Stitch – This is like the zig-zag stitch, just dashed. You use this stitch for attaching elastic or anything else that needs to stretch a lot. This stitch can also be used for darning, though it can be tricky for beginners to figure out on their own. (I can do a future post if there’s any interest.) I don’t often use this stitch, because the zig-zag stitch usually works just fine.
  • Blind Hem Stitch – You know what a blind hem stitch is for, right? …Riiiiiight? This stitch works well for curtains and skirt hems and is, for obvious reasons, a million times quicker than a hand blind hem stitch. Just make sure that you’re sewing on the wrong side of the fabric unless you want a really fancy looking visible hem.
  • 6 & 7  Overcast Stitches – These are used to bind the edges of unfinished fabric to prevent or control fraying. These stitches are a favorite for sheer curtains and frayed denim skirts, jeans, or shorts. You’ve probably seen these stitches used decoratively on the edges of fleece blankets. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I can guarantee that you’ll notice it the next time you see a fleece blanket!)
  • BH  Buttonhole Stitch – When used in conjunction with the buttonhole foot, this function creates a buttonhole based on the size of your button. This will be covered in its own post, as it can be tricky to figure out how to attach the buttonhole foot, let alone work out how to use the thing.


But wait! What about those weird looking stitches underneath the basic stitches? The ones that look pretty and overly complicated? Chances are, you won’t ever use them outside of garment construction or quilting. A majority of them exist for purely decorative stitching which makes them kind of pointless in my book. They all require a special double needle and, outside of the double straight stitch (kind of like you would see on the sleeves of some t-shirts), they’re not worth the hassle for a novice sewist.

Some machines have dozens of stitches, others only have straight and zig-zag stitches, but the seven (well, technically eight) described above are the backbones of machine sewing. Once you understand these, you can do pretty much anything. Come on, Home Eccers! Let’s get out of that straight stitch rut and live a little!

Michele Newell is a housewife turned blogger turned Home Ec 101 contributor.  You can read her near daily ramblings at Dreams Unreal.

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