When I sat down to sew in my high school home economics class, I thought sewing straight lines was easy. Seriously, how hard can it be?
I put my piece of paper under the presser foot (yes, we had to pass a test sewing paper with no thread before we could graduate to fabric) and put my foot on the presser foot.
Woah! What happened there? The row of stitching is all over the place!
As a sewing beginner, stitching a perfectly straight line of stitching seems impossible. It sounds ridiculously easy to do, but it takes time to master this skill. Here are my tips on how to sew straight lines:
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1. Create a visual reference point
Firstly, you need a visual marker for where you want that line of straight stitching, and there are a few ways to do this:
- Most modern sewing machines have seam guides marked on the footplate. Line up the edge of your fabric with the appropriate marking.
- If all those little markings make you go cross-eyed, place a piece of washi tape (the cutest option), painter's tape or masking tape on your sewing machine and line up your fabric to the edge while you sew.
- Mark your stitch line on your fabric with a washable marker or a chalk pencil. Most sewing machines have a groove or gap to mark the centre. Align your stitching line to this groove.
- Use a magnetic seam guide. Place it on your machine at the correct seam width and use it to guide the fabric. Note: don't use this with computerised sewing machines or you risk damaging the computer.
- Sewing edge is thick reusable vinyl strips that you can attach to your sewing machine, similar to the magnetic seam guide (and a much better option for computerised sewing machines!).
- And the quick method using stuff already lying around the house is to use a stack of Post It Notes. Place it at the desired distance from the needle. When you need to move it and the bottom sticky note starts to lose its stick, throw away the bottom note and stick it on again.
2. Use a specialist presser foot
While not absolutely required, there are several presser feet available to make sewing a perfectly straight seam easier:
An adjustable guide foot has an adjustable flange that you set at the required distance from the needle. Guide the fabric along the flange for perfect straight lines of sewing.
A quarter inch quilting foot has an edge guide to sew a perfect 1/4" seam, perfect for quilting.
When you're not sewing seams and the fabric covers the guides on your footplate, such as in quilting, the Border Guide presser foot can help guide your sewing.
Check what feet came with your sewing machine. If you don't already have them, there are cheap generic presser feet available, but double-check that they fit your machine. While they may clip onto your machine, sometimes the needle doesn't align with the gap in the foot. You can also purchase the feet from your sewing machine manufacturer - they are more expensive, but are guaranteed to work!
3. Don't watch the needle!
If you watch that needle bobbing up and down while you sew, your stitches will be all over the place. Instead, focus on your fabric guides instead.
4. Fabric position
Fabric behind the sewing machine, feeding straight. If it's off to one side, the fabric may pull to that side, and you'll be constantly fighting it. I also find it easier to have the fabric resting on the table in front of my sewing machine instead of hanging down on my lap. The extra pull on the fabric can stop your feed-dogs pulling the fabric through evenly.
5. Guide the fabric, don't pull
The feed dogs do a fantastic job of feeding the fabric through the sewing machine. If your fabric is lined up correctly, you can almost sew with no hands! Try to just guide the fabric into position rather than constantly pulling it around.
6. Adjust your Needle Position
For small seams or hems, where you are sewing close to the edge of the fabric, the fabric may not be gripped by both sets of feed dogs (on either side of the needle). This can stop your fabric from feeding evenly and pull the fabric away from your straight line of stitching. Position your fabric under the presser foot so it's guided by both sets of feed dogs and adjust your needle position to the right to get the small seam that you need. On most machines, you can adjust your needle position by changing the stitch width when doing a straight stitch.
7. Take your time!
If you sew too fast, things can go wrong very fast and you'll find your stitches swerving all over the place. Slow down and make small adjustments as you go. Stop sewing, put the needle down, lift the presser foot and adjust the fabric as needed to get back on track when things start to go wrong.
8. Practise Practise
The more you sew, the easier it will become. Practise sewing lines on paper if you want to (but change your needle before you start sewing with fabric). Soon you'll realise you don't even have to think about it and you'll get perfect seams every time (or most of the time!
Straight sewing may not be as easy as it sounds when you are a beginner, but these tips for how to sew straight lines will help you master this skill in no time! If the boys in my high school class could do it, you can too!
Now, what are you going to sew? Find the best beginner sewing projects here.