You’re almost there! After spending a little time today building foundational understanding about sewing machine stitches, you’re going to sew!
Note: This post is part of a series called Get Ready to Sew! This series is intended for people who are either new to sewing or are getting back into sewing. It is intended to help you prepare for wildly successful sewing experiences.
Because there are so many different sewing machines, it is impossible to share with you specific details about the stitches on your make and model of machine. The goal of this post is to provide a framework so you understand the basics of sewing machine stitches regardless of brand or model.
Stitches on Your Sewing Machine
The most basic definition of a stitch is a length of thread holding two or more pieces of fabric together.
When a needle moves up and down in the fabric on a sewing machine, the upper and lower threads come together forming a stitch.
Your sewing machine may only make a straight stitch or it may have thousands of different stitch options. More than likely the number of stitches your machine makes will be a number between 1 and 1,000s. The brand and model of your sewing machine will determine the number of different types of stitches you will be able to sew.
Many stitches are decorative, but there are several that serve a specific function. For example, if you are sewing on a knit fabric, you can select a stitch that will stretch with the fabric. Other examples of functional stitches are zigzag stitches and blind hem stitches.
When you select a stitch on your sewing machine for either decoration or function, you may need to use a specific presser foot and make changes to the stitch length and width.
The presser foot holds the fabric against the feed dogs (also called feed teeth). This bumpy part of the sewing machine controls the movement of fabric under the presser foot.
Before We Get Started
You need to do two things to make the most out of the information in this post:
- Get your sewing machine out and set it on the table in front of you.
- Have the instruction manual* next to your sewing machine.
*Note: If you don’t have an instruction manual, more than likely you will be able to find it online. To do this you will need to search using the brand/manufacturer and model of the machine. You can contact the manufacturer of the sewing machine directly or search online for a third party distributor of sewing machine manuals. Depending on the sewing machine, the manual may be free or you might have to pay a small fee. Regardless, if the machine you will be sewing with doesn’t have an instruction manual, you will be saving yourself a lot of frustration if you take steps now to get one.
Open the instruction manual that goes with your machine so you are looking at the illustration(s) or the photograph(s) where the main parts of your sewing machine are labeled.
Some parts you want to locate in order to change stitches are:
- stitch selection
- stitch length
- stitch width
Look in the instruction manual for specific details for your sewing machine on selecting stitches, stitch length and stitch width.
The stitch selection on your sewing machine allows you to choose the type of stitch you want to sew with.
To select the type of stitch you want, you may need to spin a dial or push a button.
For every type of stitch, there is a recommended length and width to make the stitch.
Some stitches require a specific presser foot. Using the wrong presser foot may result in a broken needle.
Refer to your instruction manual for details that include stitch length, stitch width, and the presser foot required for the stitch you have selected.
Many sewing machines have dials or knobs you turn to select the length of the stitch. The numbers for stitch length usually range between 0-4.
A setting of zero means the needle goes up and down in one place (no length). The longest stitch is 4 (or the greatest number) on the stitch length dial.
When you choose a certain stitch using the stitch selection, look in your instruction manual for the recommended stitch length.
The needle doesn’t move when you change the stitch length. However, it is a good idea to get in the habit of raising the needle by turning the flywheel so it is in its highest position before making any changes.
The stitch width is usually a dial with numbers ranging from 0-6.
When you select a stitch width, it actually moves the needle position left or right.
Make sure your needle is in the highest position before you adjust the stitch width.
If you work with different types of stitches and change the width, it is a good idea to make sure the needle is back in the “center” when you are using a straight stitch. That way if you are using the measurements on the needle plate, the seam allowance will be accurate.
Important: “Center” is not always the middle needle position. On my machine, when the needle is positioned to the far right it is in the “center”. Refer to the instruction manual to find out what “center” is for your sewing machine.
What You’ve Learned
Depending on your sewing machine, there are many options for the different stitches you will be able to sew.
Each type of stitch has recommendations for the length and width of the stitches. Some stitches require a special presser foot.
When changing stitch width, you need to raise the needle to its highest position. It is a good idea to do the same when you are changing the length of the stitch, too.
Always refer to the instruction manual for your sewing machine for details on stitches.
The Next Step
Let’s put all your new sewing knowledge together and start sewing by reading an applying what you learn in Sewing Straight and Zig-Zag Stitches!
Hello, I'm Nicki!
I'm a fabric lover who believes in the necessity of having a creative outlet. My goal is to educate and inspire others in sewing-related projects that are fun, functional, or both. Sign up to receive notice when new posts have been published.