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Different Stitches and their uses

Sewing machines possess different stitches and I'll explain what they're for. You are spoilt for choices in almost all modern sewing machines, with most sewing machines possessing more than the simple straight stitch. You might wonder what these stitches are actually used for or if they're simply decorative stitches, wonder no more!

If you have been neglecting those alternative stitches on your sewing machine, here is some uses for them.

Here are the types of stitches you should know;

1. Straight stitch

No need to tell you that the Straight stitch is the most basic and original stitch in all the sewing machines. This versatile stitch is the base stitch used in almost all types of sewing.. The stitch length can be adjusted. Usually, a constant stitch length is maintained, but depending on the type of techniques used the stitch length is changed from 0-6 mm – 2 or 2.5 mark in my machine. You can change the needle position when sewing the straight stitch, by changing the stitch width or by moving the special lever/button for this. The needle is moved to the left or right by adjusting the stitch width.

2. Reverse straight stitch / Anchor stitch

Most modern sewing machines have a reverse button and you can sew in reverse as you press this. You can use this with a straight or zig-zag stitch and your machine will sew that stitch backwards. A reverse stitch is mostly used as an Anchor stitch at the start and end of sewing. When you start to sew you are eager to get on with your sewing but taking a simple precaution at the start of the sewing will ensure that you will not have unraveling seams – I am talking about making securing lock stitches at the start and end of stitching. To make this stitch, straight stitch about 3 stitches forward and then change the lever to reverse stitching and go back the same way 3 stitches. Come back and then continue your sewing. This is how you secure the stitches. Do the same when you end your stitching. Another method is to reduce the stitch length to 0 and sew three stitches in the same place. With a zig zag stitch you will use straight stitches as anchoring stitches.

3. Basting stitches/gathering stitches

This is a straight stitch with a long stitch length used for basting or gathering. You just need to increase the stitch length to the maximum to get this stitch so that the fabric can be gathered along the thread. For a long base stitch it can be up to 2 inch (5 cms) long.

4. Zigzag stitch

A stitch that forms a zig-zag line. For making this very useful stitch you will need a pressure foot with a wider hole than the one for a straight stitch. The stitch width can be adjusted according to the purpose. The most common use of zig zag stitches is to neaten cut fabric edges. It is also used for top stitching as a rick rack stitch.

5. Satin stitch

This is made as a closely made zigzag stitch. To make this stitch you use a zig zag foot and increase the stitch width and decrease the stitch width. It is used to finish edges, to sew appliques, stitch monogram/letters etc. It is also used to make buttonholes and other decorative stitching purposes.

6. Stretch stitch

A stretch stitch is a narrow zig zag stitch and it is used to stitch knit fabrics. A straight stitch will break under the stretch of these fabrics but a zigzag stitch stretches according to the fabric stretch. Some call it the lightning stitch or elastic stitch.

It is also used to join elastic and for joining fabric. This is a good stitch to use for mending tears in fabric . You need to keep the torn fabric together and stitch, joining the pieces.

7. Triple straight stitch

This stitch uses a two steps forward, one step back pattern. This stitch is also called back stitch or triple stretch stitch because it is used to sew very strong seams in stretchy fabrics. You can also use them for sewing seams in difficult places like the armsyce. The triple straight stitch is also great when used for top stitching.

8. Rolled edge stitch

This is a zig zag stitch made with a special foot the hemmer foot to make rolled edges on fabric cut edges.

9. Edge stitching

This is a stitch accomplished with the help of an edge presser foot and uses a straight stitch.

10. Coverstitch

This is a common stitching found in ready to wear garments – you will find parallel rows of straight machine stitching on the face of the fabric but zig zag stitching on the back. This is made using a coverstitch machine.

You can get this effect with your regular sewing machine using double needles doing twin stitching.

11. Blind hem stitch

This stitch is used for blind hemming, ie hemming fabric without much evidence on the face. All you get are tiny dots on the surface of your garment. It is an almost perfect hemming technique.

12. Buttonhole stitch

You can manually adjust your zig zag sewing machine to sew beautiful buttonholes – but it needs great effort and practice. With a buttonhole stitch, you can do that very easily. Some machine come with one step buttonhole stitch, and some with 2 steps.

13. Scallop Stitch

This is a stitch used to make easy scallops. Though I have tried many times the scallops I make with this stitch turn out to be horrible.

14. Overcasting stitch

This is my favourite stitch for neatening fabric edges. You can use an overcast presser foot for this. Another use is to stitch seams in knits (for its stretch) instead of the straight stitch. You can also make picot edges and shell-tucks with this stitch and overcast foot.

15. Shell Tuck stitch

This is another stitch which makes beautiful shell tucks along the fabric edge.

16. Insertion stitch/faggoting stitch

These are stitches used to join two fabric pieces together. This stitch is also called a cross stitch. You can use it to join two stretchy fabric pieces in an abutting seam. There may be more than one stitch in your sewing machine that can be used as a faggoting stitch/insertion stitch.

17. Ladder Stitch

A Ladder stitch is used to make channels for elastic and ribbon. Also called a Rampart stitch

18. Multi step zig zag stitch

The Multi-Stitch Zigzag is commonly used to finish fabric edges. You can also use it as an insertion stitch

19. Overlock stitch

This mimics the look of an overlocker stitch/ serger stitch and it used to finish the ends of fabric.

20. Decorative stitches

If you have a sewing machine with many decorative stitches – count yourself lucky. You are probably among a small percentage of people with sewing machines with decorative stitches in the world. But you may be keeping these stitches idle for lack of knowledge about the power of these stitches. Almost all sewing projects can be embellished beautifully with these stitches.

You just need to use a good sturdy thread and have some patience. Most of the clothes we sew are made with fabrics which are difficult to sew-so that translates to sewing it with decorative stitches too. With some precautions, you can avoid the frustrations people usually have with these stitches.

First and foremost test the decorative stitch in a fabric scrap from the same fabric you will be sewing. Experiment with the stitch length and width to see which is most suitable. Use a suitable backing on your fabric and stitch away.

If you have the straight stitch presser foot attached, change it to the multipurpose presser foot or better a satin stitch presser foot with a hollow area underneath – this will help the presser foot to go over bulky stitches easily.

If the fabric is puckering or you are not happy with the way stitches have formed loosen the top tension of your sewing machine. Then attach a paper thin backing underneath the area. Start with a straight stitch for 3 stitches and then change the lever to the decorative stitch. This will anchor your stitch. Or you can use the reverse lever in your sewing machine with the decorative stitch – this will create a lockstitch which will also anchor the stitching. Sew the decorative stitches slowly and patiently. End with another anchoring lock stitch.


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