Hello sewists! I hope you’re getting comfortable pushing fabric through your sewing machine and are ready to get more creative with your stitches, because now it’s time to look at the different stitches your machine can do and when to use them. There are approximately billions of different stitches you can do (estimation rounded up), but here are some of the basic stitches that will come in handy on your machine.
Straight stitch - I hope you’ve already been using this stitch by now as it is the most basic, simple stitch that a machine can do. It can hold together most basic seams and is totally sufficient for a beginner sewist working on early projects and crafts. If you choose not to finish your raw edges and seams, an entire project can be completed using only a straight stitch.
Straight stitches are also used for embellishments like topstitching. Topstitching is simply a straight stitch done on the right side of the fabric that is visible on the completed project. Usually, topstitching will be used to secure a seam allowance in a certain direction, but it can also be used purely for decoration. As covered in this post, you should use a longer stitch length for topstitching.
If your pattern calls for staystitching, this is simply a straight stitch done in the seam allowance that forces a pattern piece to hold its shape during construction. This is often used when a pattern piece cut in one direction will be attached to a piece that was cut in another direction. Use a normal stitch length if you need to staystitch a piece.
If you need to gather some fabric, simply stitch a straight stitch with a long stitch length and pull the ends to cause the fabric to bunch. For an illustration, see this post on stitch length.
Zigzag stitch – A zigzag stitch is exactly what it sounds like, a stitch that directs the thread in zigzag lines rather than straight lines. The primary purpose of a zigzag stitch when stitching a seam is to provide the fabric with more stretch than a straight stitch will allow. Remember these stitches from last week’s stitch length post?
Well here is the same fabric, stitched this time with a zigzag stitch instead of a straight stitch.
Notice that the fabric not only does not pucker as it did with the straight stitch, but it is much more free to stretch.
Zigzag stitches are also used in finishing edges after stitching and pressing a seam. To achieve this, simply stitch a zigzag stitch right on the edge of a seam allowance.
Zigzag stitches are also used to sew the edges of buttonholes. If your sewing machine is equipped for buttonholes, you simply sew a zigzag stitch with an extremely short stitch length to create the buttonhole edges. Be on the lookout for a future tutorial on buttonholes!
Finally, you’ll want to use a zigzag stitch when attaching elastic directly to fabric. Using a zigzag will allow the elastic to stretch and will ensure that the entire elastic strip is attached if you adjust the width or your stitch to cover the entire band.
Blind hem stitch – This is actually a stitch I typically skip and do by hand, but it can come in very handy if you master it. If you look at a dress skirt or dress pants very closely, you can find a faint line of stitches on the outside of the garment where the hem has been attached. This was achieved using a blind hem stitch. The process of performing this stitch is slightly more complicated than a straight stitch or zigzag stitch, so I will have to write a full post on it in the near future.
Here is a picture of a blind hem stitch in progress and a completed blind hem stitch.
When I say that I do this by hand, I mean I use the stitch demonstrated in this post.
These three stitches combined are truly all you’ll need as a beginner to complete a plethora of different crafts and projects. Happy sewing!