Sewing is a productive and rewarding pastime. Using a machine is a great way to make projects go faster, but it might seem daunting to learn how to do so. That’s why we’re covering some basic sewing stitches for beginners and some techniques you can use on your projects.
Sewing Stitches For Beginners
A running stitch is a line of straight stitches with even distance between them. In other words, it is the simplest stitch on your sewing machine.
To make a running-stitch seam, follow these steps:
- Place your fabric under the presser foot with a seam allowance of about ½ an inch; this means you will have ½ inch of fabric on the right side of the needle.
- Lower the presser foot.
- Sew a seam across the fabric for the desired length.
A running stitch is simple and easy to use. With this, you can make a lot of different items and even find ways to make them look even better—which we will talk about as we go on.
Use a backstitch at the beginning and end of each seam you sew. This is essentially going forward in your seam, walking it backwards, and then forward to continue sewing. In short, backstitching makes the threads hold tight in the fabric so your seam doesn’t fall out.
Backstitching is also easy to do on most machines. Consult your machine manual if needed, but know there is usually a button or lever you hold down to backstitch.
Here’s how to do it:
- Place your fabric pieces (right sides facing one another) under the presser foot of your sewing machine.
- Drop the presser foot where you want to begin your seam.
- Use the pedal to start three to five stitches, and remove your foot from the pedal.
- Hold down the button or lever and slowly step on the pedal. This will walk the presser foot back over the stitches you just made.
- When you reach where you started, remove your foot from the pedal and release the button/lever.
- Sew the remainder of your seam and remove your foot from the pedal.
- Repeat step four to backstitch three to five stitches.
- Sew forward again to the end of the seam.
Nice work; you now have a well-made seam that is sturdy and won’t fall out!
A topstitch is defined as any stitching you see on the outside of a project. For example, the decorative stitches you see on the edge of a finished quilt are topstitched. You could also topstitch on the outside edge of a shirt. It adds intrigue and stabilizes the two or more pieces of fabric in your projects.
Here’s how to add topstitching to a project:
- Begin with two pieces of fabric with the right sides facing one another; this is the side you want to see on the outside of the project.
- Make the seam as you normally would (with backstitching to secure the seam) and cut the thread when finished.
- Iron the seam and fabric so the right sides are facing out (and the wrong sides are facing one another). This will add a defined finish.
- Place the fabric, right sides out, so that when you sew on the fabric, you will use topstitching against the edge of the seam (with about a ¼-inch to ½-inch seam allowance).
- Topstitch across the length of the fabric as you would a normal seam.
This decorative topstitching can be used for edges of pillows, garments, or quilts. You can use contrasting thread for a creative approach, too.
A zig-zag stitch is another stitch you can use on your sewing machine, and it’s done the same way a straight stitch is made. However, you need more room for the seam with a zig-zag.
Consult your manual on how to set the zig-zag if needed because each machine is different. You can adjust both the width and the length of the stitch to fit your needs, but usually ¼ of an inch is a good width and length to start. As with all stitches, you can test the zig-zag stitch on scrap fabric to make sure the sewing looks neat and works well with the fabric you use.
This stitch can be used for many different things, but it most notably works well with stretch fabric garments; the ease of wear allows more range of movement during use.
Look at the inside of a shirt, and you will see the raw edges are protected with stitches form a serger or overlock machine. This effect keeps the fabric from fraying over time.
Even if you don’t have a serger, you can create similar stitches to do the same job on your sewing machine. Here’s how:
- Sew a straight seam with your desired seam allowance (remember this measurement for later).
- On scrap fabric, test the width of your zig-zag stitch. It needs to measure the same width as your seam allowance did when you made a straight seam. Ideally, the stitches will be on the shorter side. Once the stitch looks good, return to the project piece from step one.
- Make sure the needle is on the left side when you stop sewing. Use the hand crank if necessary.
- Place the fabric beneath the presser foot so the needle lines up with the straight seam; lower the presser foot.
- Use the zig-zag stitch directly on the first seam.
You will notice the zig-zag stitch will overlap the raw edges of the fabric to the right of the needle. This will keep the edges from fraying or unraveling over time and create a “serged” edge.
Curves take a little practice to sew, but once you get the hang of them, they aren’t so bad! They can be useful for lots of projects as well.
The problem is curves don’t stay flat when you turn them right side out.
However, clipped curves will help you in situations like while trying to make a shirt collar stay flat. This is called a cocave curve, or one that goes inwards. Essentially, the fabric needs more space because it overlaps when turned right side out; clipping will help this.
Here’s how to create clipped curves:
- Sew your curve. If you have trouble with curves, try going slowly.
- After you finish the seam, use scissors to clip the fabric. You simply create cuts on the raw edges, but don’t cut through your seam. Make them about ¾ of an inch or 1 inch apart.
- Turn your project to the right side to be sure it lays flat.
Another method of sewing curved seams that lie flat are called notched curves. It is called a convex curve, or one that goes outwards. When you turn it right side out, the fabric doesn’t have enough space to let the seam stay flat. That’s where notching comes in.
Here’s how to create notched curves:
- Sew your curve as you normally would.
- After you finish the seam, notch the fabric; this will look like little V-shapes with the top of the “V” missing on the outside of the raw edge. Make the notches every inch or so.
- Turn your project to the right side and check that it stays flat.
These are the only two methods you’ll need for seams like these. Keep them in mind when sewing curves.
With these basic stitches and techniques, you can make countless sewing projects, and you’ll get better with time and effort. Reap the rewards of this productive habit and share your handmade projects with others!