This post is about the most commonly used stitches used with a sewing machine to sew.
You are spoilt for choices in almost all modern sewing machines – so many stitches! – the sewing machine dealer promising the moon with those stitches and we end up buying the machine with the most number of stitches in the shop. The question in the mind is ‘what if you want that particular stitch in the future and you let this machine with that stitch unbought and alone in the shop’!
But after a few years you look back and find that you hardly ever used some of those stitches which you thought were going to magically whip up all those wonderful sewing projects.
And worst of all, you don’t even know what are the purposes of half of those stitches.
You are right, I am speaking from my experience. If you want to know more about some of the most basic sewing machine stitches your sewing machine (probably) has, here they are. Do not let them sit idle, like I did
Different types of Sewing Machine Stitches
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.
Sewing plain seams, different other types of seams, tucks, darts, topstitching – everything is possible with this stitch.
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 learn more about this most useful stitch in this post: Straight stitch: How to use this versatile stitch properly.
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. For a long baste stitch it can be up to 2 inch (5 cms) long.
Learn more about basting stitches and gathering stitches here
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.
Learn more about satin stitch here. Read more on different presser foot for satin stitching.
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.
Check out this post on using a hemmer foot and zig zag stitch to make a rolled edge stitch
9. Edge stitching
This is a stitch accomplished with the help of an edge presser foot and uses a straight stitch. Check out this post on edge stitch and the best way to make edge foot for more details
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. Check out this post on the correct way to use a double needle.
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.
In some machines you also have a stretch blind hem stitch to use with stretchy fabrics. Check out this post to see how to do a blind hem.
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 in one machine – but on another machine they turned out alright.
Check out this post on other different and more effective ways to make scalloped edges.
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.
Learn how to make overcast stitches in detail here.
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. If you want to know other stitches used as insertion stitches check out the post
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.You also get a stretch overlock stitch in some machines
A stretch overlock stitch would look like this
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. Checkout this post that details how to adjust sewing machine tension.
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
I got all these info by going through the sewing machine manual I got with my sewing machine. If you have that special machine with a 100 built-in stitches ( yes, they do exist) and do not have your sewing machine manual with you, do not panic; You can get them easily- check out this post for more details on sewing machine manuals
Related posts : 20 basic types of sewing machines.; Simple way to start using a sewing machine
Updated on October 4, 2022 by Sarina Tariq
Great, informative article. Best article out of ten I’ve reviewed on how to use decorative stitches. I am teaching a beginning sewing class to a group of homeschoolers (for the first time). One of the topics requested was on how to use the different stitches on the sewing machine. This article will be very useful because it shows:
a. What the stitch looks like, b. What it is used for, c. The name of the stitch, and d. What foot to use to make the stitch.
Thank you for such a well-written article!
Yes, twice around with straight stitch and finish the fabric edges with zig zag stitch (You can still clip the edges after this, if you have to). If the fabric is strong enough sewing stitches generally work ok.
I’m sewing a cut and sew doll about 18 inches tall for my 7 month old granddaughter. It calls for a 1/4 inch seam allowance. Is there a stitch that would be stronger to reduce tears and have stuffing loss? I’ve read my machine manual and things online. Thought about sewing a straight stitch twice around the doll. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks Jan
Valuable information about stitching for me and my boutique
Thanks helped alot
Thanks for al your advice. Helped us alot xoxo
Hello, i want to use the embroidery stiches on my machine. A Singer Fashon Mate. Do i need a different foot? How can i order one
Maybe you would also want to read this post on sewing knit fabrics with your home sewing machine.. Thanks for writing the comment
Thank You for this info, I mostly use the straight stitch for every thing but I am wanting to make a skirt out of a knit material. Now I know a little more about the correct stitch to use. Thanks again and may God bless you!
Glad to hear that Sarah
Natutunan ko talaga Lahat
Can you clarify – did not understand properly what you mean.
Need more info for needle and stitch types so i cant understand needle ISO
Thank you Samantha
I really loved the stiching techniques used, absolutly life-changing.
You can be sewing for a while and learn something new everyday. These stitches have been very interesting to know what these stitches can be used for. Thanks Thanks
You can use straight stitch/ zig zag stitch for free motion embroidery – this post https://sewguide.com/free-motion-machine-embroidery/ maybe of help to you
This topic on stitches is so helpful & informative. I have brother LX27NT with 27 stitch patterns. Please let me know which stitches can I use for filling a leaf or a flower in free motion embroidery. With tips for a nrat finish. Because I love machine embroidery very much. Wautung for yoyr suggetuons at the earliest. Thank you. 🙁
So happy to know it is helpful. Hope you will find the articles here in this post more of use to you in your future sewing projects
I am new to sewing & just bought my first sewing machine. I haven’t made anything since Home Ec in high school so this is a bit daunting for me but your article was helpful.