Sewing Fundamentals: The Stitch

You know what? I bet if you have spent some quality time with your sewing machine, you know how to rock the straight stitch. Cruising along hemming curtains or maybe even seaming up some pajama bottoms. We all know it and love it...but there is a wide world of stitches out there. And they aren't as scary as you might think. 

Here are 5 basic stitches to get you started: 

Straight Stitch: as I mentioned above, it is the workhorse in your arsenal. This stitch has 2 main functions: 1.) seaming two fabrics together smoothly 2.) top stitching. With this stitch you can make a ton of stuff. Even an entire quilt!

Zigzag: I just love saying the word..zigzag! This stretchy seam can attach elastic, finish the raw edge of a fabric that frays, or even look cute securing appliqu├ęs.

Overlock: This is the bad-ass version of the zigzag when it comes to finishing the raw edge of a fabric. It mimics the effect of an edge finished with a serger. You overlock it and that edge ain't going nowhere.

Honeycomb: This stitch isn't used that often, but it is really handy in certain situations. Smocking (which I just love), a stretchy stitch for attaching elastic (like the zigzag), or simply used for decoration.

Blind Hem: Wonder how you can sew a hem on your machine without seeing stitching on the outside of the garment? This is your stitch. You need to use the blind-hem foot that came with your machine and a special technique for this one but the results are awesome. Check out this awesome video I found:

There are a couple things to keep in mind before you sew. Normally you can set the dial on your sewing machine to your chosen stitch and are ready to roll with the preset stitch length and tension. But, occasionally, you will need to fiddle with those settings.

The shorter your stitch, the stronger the seam. So, maybe when you are sewing children's pants or something else that will take a lot of abuse, you might want to shorten your stitch length a little bit. On the other end of that spectrum, the longer the stitch, the easier it is to remove. So if you are just basting or even gathering...lengthen that stitch. Sometimes when I am going through multiple layers (like when quilting), I lengthen my stitch to help ease the fabric through. You get less "bunching up" that way.

Tension...yes, I said it. The word that drives fear into the hearts of many of us sewers. Let me tell you what I know about tension. If you have your upper tension set between 3 and 5, you are probably in a safe zone (don't even think about fiddling with the lower tension unless you are some sort of rocket scientist). Even then, different fabrics have certain tension needs. If you see that your bottom thread loops are peeking out at the top, your upper tension is too tight. Lower that sucker until it looks as it should. On the other hand, if your lower threads (on the bottom of your fabric) look too loose, tighten it up until you have a very even stitch on both sides of your fabric.

Now, this is a very breezy overview of stitches. There is much more to know but we need to start with first-things-first. I have to tell you though, it boggles my mind how little you need to know in order to do so many projects.


P.S. - In case you missed any of the other posts in the Sewing Fundamentals Series:
Choosing a Sewing Machine
Fundamentals of Needles and Presser Feet


  1. Thanks for the tips! I've been eyeing the blind hem stitch wanting to give it a go but haven't yet. Good video.
    My fabric tends to pucker sometimes. Do you think that is a tension thing? If so, upper or lower? Or could it be the needle?
    Take care,

    1. @Angela: You mean it puckers on any stitch? If so, then I think your upper tension could be too tight. If it does not get better after you fiddle with the upper tension, stitch length, and make sure your needle is new and appropriate for the fabric, then I would take your machine in for service. It could possibly be that the lower tension got wonky and they can adjust it for you. Keep me posted...I'm curious what is going on with it!