All machines have the same basic stitches, but what are they for?!
There are a wide range of stitches modern machines can sew, so I've focused here on the main ones you will use all the time for most sewing projects. These stitches are all avalible on the Brother Innov-is 15 machine which is a fantastic simple machine to use. The Innov-is range sets up the stitches automatically so no need to worry about getting the stitches wrong.
I've tried to explain clearly what each stitch is for, but please leave any questions in the comments!
Straight stitch is obviously used most in sewing, but there are actually a number of different ways you can use it.
When sewing a straight stitch your stitch width setting becomes your needle position setting. Increasing the width moves the needle left to right, which effectually reduces the seam allowance. For dressmaking you normally have the needle to the far left to line up a 1.5cm seam allowance.
If you lengthen the straight stitch to 5mm (usually the longest avalible on a machine) you can use this stitch for basting or tacking two pieces of fabric together temporarily while testing the fit.
Or you can sew two or three lines of long stitches along a length of fabric you want to gather. Three lines of stitching is nice and strong and helps keep the gathers evenly distributed.
You also use straight stitch for inserting zips! We'll do a whole tutorial for inserting zips soon, but, spoiler alert; it's done with a standard straight stitch.
Zigzag stitch is also very versatile, you can use it on a narrow setting for sewing seams in jersey, for top stitching and, if you make the stitch length very short, you can do a satin stitch for applique.
The stitch above on the bottom is a triple zigzag, usually used on lingerie and swimwear- very useful!
If you shorten a zigzag stitch to 0 length and 3.5mm wide, you can also use it to sew on buttons! You should have a button attaching foot included with your machine.
Stretch Stitch and Triple Stitch
If you have stretch stitch on your machine (it looks like a little bolt of lightning) you can easily set up to sew with jersey or stretch fabrics. The design of this stitch allows you to maintain neat and accurate seam allowances while retaining the stretch of your fabric.
Triple stitch sews over each stitch three times, giving a nice bold finish. On the machine it looks like three lines of stitching next to each other, but the finished stitches are all in the same place. This is particularly useful for decorative top stitching when you need to use regular thread.
Overcasting and Blind Hemming
Overcasting (top line) is a method of finishing off the raw edges of fabric to minimise fraying and help prolong the life of a garment. Using your overcasting foot, you'll sew a line of this stitching along the very edge of your fabric, so the points of the triangles cover the edge of the fabric.
Blind hem stitch is for neatly turning up hems without having a line of stitching showing on the right side of the fabric. It gives an almost invisible finished when the thread used matches the fabric, with just the smallest prick stitches visible on the outside of a garment.
Whether you have a one step or a four step button hole function on your machine, it's still easier than doing it by hand! I will be showing you how to sew button hole with both a one step and a four step system in a tutorial later on.
Button holes come in a verity of different shapes, some have traditional uses, such as for trousers or for coats, but when you're sewing for pleasure you can choose your favourite design and use it whenever you choose.
One last note; Tension
Tension is the tightness of the stitch into the fabric created by the tension the thread is put under to make it run through the sewing machine thread guides. On most modern machines the tension is pretty stable and you shouldn’t need to change it much. Usually, the default tension is "4".
The only time you should need to change this is if you are sewing particularly light or heavy/thick fabrics, in which case change the tension very gradually, adjusting a notch up or down at a time. For lighter weight fabics tighten the tension (up) and for heavier fabrics loosen the tension (down).
If you find that your stitches are loose/tight, uneven, puckered or looping at the back see the stitch troubleshooting guide in our next post.
Tension is one of the things that will be adjusted when you have your machine services, for older machines which are still being used a lot, we'd recommend servicing your machine every 2-3 years.
Our Learn to Sew series is designed to encourage new sewers to feel confident at their sewing machines and teach the basics of sewing so anyone can have a go. We have the same philosophy at Crafty Sew and So workshops. If you would like to have a go at sewing with a little more help and support, why not come to one of our ‘Start as you Mean to Sew On’ workshops, or one of the Learn to Sew workshops in our studio, where we can answer questions and help you every step of the way.