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Learn five basic machine stitches and what they're good for.
This post presents an introduction to basic sewing machine stitches. There are hundreds of different stitches out there in the world, and depending on your machine, you may be able to sew using all of those, or only a couple. We're going to cover five stitches that I use often, and that I'm confident beginning sewists need to have knowledge of.

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  • How to sew . Sewcabulary: Five Different Machine Stitches And When To Use Them - Step 1
    Step 1

    In this tutorial, you'll get a healthy (but not scary!) introduction to basic sewing machine stitches. There are hundreds of different stitches out there in the world, and depending on your machine, you may be able to sew using all of those, or only a couple. We're going to cover six stitches that I use often, and that I'm confident beginning sewists need to have knowledge of. If you have the manual for your machine, it will be extremely helpful.

  • How to sew . Sewcabulary: Five Different Machine Stitches And When To Use Them - Step 2
    Step 2

    Let's cover two basic terms first:

    Stitch Width: How far the needle moves from side to side. (The top dial in this picture)
    Stitch Length: The distance between needle penetrations. (The bottom dial in this picture)

    You don't need to fully understand these yet, keep reading and you'll understand more!

  • How to sew . Sewcabulary: Five Different Machine Stitches And When To Use Them - Step 3
    Step 3

    The straight stitch (number 1 on my sewing machine): All hail the straight stitch. This is the absolute bread-and-butter of sewing. Straight stitches can range in length (this is something you set, using your stitch length knob) and are the stitch you will use for most sewing. Straight stitches do not have width.

  • How to sew . Sewcabulary: Five Different Machine Stitches And When To Use Them - Step 4
    Step 4

    A straight stitch with a lot of length is called a basting stitch, and is used for gathering and to hold pieces together to 'test' them before you sew them together for real. In the picture below, the basting stitch is on the left. A regular length stitch is in the center, and a fine stitch (which is not very useful) is on the right.

  • How to sew . Sewcabulary: Five Different Machine Stitches And When To Use Them - Step 5
    Step 5

    The Zig Zag Stitch (also number 1 on my sewing machine): These stitches, in addition to being cute details, can be used as a rough finishing method to prevent internal seams from fraying. You can create many different looking zig zag stitches by adjusting stitch length and stitch width. These different zig zags are good for mending, applique, creating buttonholes, holding cording in place, and joining two pieces together edge to edge, to name a few.

    You may be asking "Why are both the straight stitch and zig zag stitch number 1 on your sewing machine?".

    Great question. Remember how I said that straight stitches don't have width? Well a zig zag stitch is a straight stitch that goes from side to side (meaning it has width).

  • How to sew . Sewcabulary: Five Different Machine Stitches And When To Use Them - Step 6
    Step 6

    In this photo, I made adjustments to width and length so that you could see three (of the many!) different types of zig zag stitches you can create.

  • How to sew . Sewcabulary: Five Different Machine Stitches And When To Use Them - Step 7
    Step 7

    Overedge Stitches (numbers 9, 11 & 13 on my sewing machine): These types of stitches are essentially fancy versions of the zig zag stitch. They are most useful as seam finishes, to prevent internal seam allowances from fraying. They can be used on both woven and knit fabrics (non-stretchy and stretchy).

  • How to sew . Sewcabulary: Five Different Machine Stitches And When To Use Them - Step 8
    Step 8

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  • How to sew . Sewcabulary: Five Different Machine Stitches And When To Use Them - Step 9
    Step 9

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  • How to sew . Sewcabulary: Five Different Machine Stitches And When To Use Them - Step 10
    Step 10

    Stretch Stitches (number 12 on my sewing machine): These stitches are called triple-stretch-stitches. My sewing machine has an option for a straight stitch or a zig zag stitch. The machine literally goes back and forth over each stitch 3 times (twice in the forward direction, once in the reverse direction). These stitches are best used for seams on stretchy fabrics (jersey, knits, elastic, spandex, etc.) and allow our regular ol' sewing machines to produce stitches that stretch with the fabric. This is crucial so we can get things like t-shirts over our heads without tearing our seams.

  • How to sew . Sewcabulary: Five Different Machine Stitches And When To Use Them - Step 11
    Step 11

    Ornamental Stitches (number 10 on my sewing machine). The stitch pictured below can also be used as a stretch stitch, but I honestly never use it for that, and have found that I use it more just because it looks neat. There are at least 30 kind of decorative, or ornamental, stitches. These stitches are great to use as a detail on pretty much anything. Receiving blankets, napkins, aprons, hems, and sleeve finishes are few great pieces to incorporate decorative stitches that I can think of immediately.

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