Starting on a machine? With the sheer amount of features and options available on even the most standard of sewing machines it can be hard knowing where to begin, so we've put together a short guide to the most basic - and versatile - machine stitches that are key to the construction and finishing of garments. We've also included ideas on how to alter the features of each stitch in order to get the most out of your machine!
If you’ve sewed using a machine before, you’ve likely come across a straight stitch - its the most basic stitch used in construction, as well as the most versatile as it used for a multitude of purposes such as seams, hemming and topstitching. The standard stitch length is about 2.2-2.5, but it can be changed to suit different purposes or fabrics; a longer stitch normally works better for heavier weight fabrics, whereas lighter weight and sheer fabrics often require a shorter stitch length to prevent pulling. A longer stitch (normally the longest stitch your machine will allow) is also needed to gather fabric, such as when making gathered sleeves or a tiered skirt.
Zig Zag Stitch
Another useful stitch, the Zig Zag stitch is frequently used to finish fabric edges and prevent fraying, perfect if you don’t have access to an overlocker. A zig zag stitch can also be used for hemming - a lettuce hem can be achieved on stretch fabrics by stretching the fabric as you sew a zig zag stitch along the edge. Similar to the straight stitch, the zig zag stitch can be used for different purposes dependent on the stitch width you choose - for example, a tight zig zag can be used to sew buttonholes, or for appliqué as it resembles a satin stitch. The zig zag stitch is ideal for stretch fabrics as it has more elasticity than a straight stitch and can ‘stretch’ or flatten out with the material.
Three-part Zig Zag
The three-part zig zag stitch closely resembles a regular zig zag stitch, however each line of the zig zag is made up of three small stitches. The three-part zig zag can be used for decorative purposes, and also works great as a stretch stitch as it lays flatter on delicate fabrics than the ordinary zig zag stitch.
Mock Overlock Stitch
As the name suggests, this stitch simulates an overlocker, used to finish the raw edges on woven fabrics especially and prevent them from fraying. If your machine doesn’t have this function, then a zig zag stitch will work just fine, just make sure you choose a low-medium stitch length.
Want to learn more? Check out our beginner's guide to cutting woven fabrics here.