Everyone knows that crooked seams or uneven topstitched lines scream to the world: this is homemade! And we want to tell the world ourselves that we made it, not let a bad seam reveal this for you!
Keep in mind, none of us automatically knows how to sew a straight line. It takes practice, yes it does… but there are some tips, tricks and tools that can help you do a better job.
Let’s start with some general guidelines
- Think of it like driving..
- Practice, it will take some time to master. If you’re a newby, use some scraps.
- Go slowly. If you can set your machine on a slow pace and increase your speed as you gain confidence.
- Be patient and careful
- Sit up straight
- Keep your eyes on everything, not on the needle and not just on the item directly in front of you
- Don’t pull or push your fabric. Let the feed dogs do their job. And gently put your hands on both sides of your fabric and reposition them frequently for optimal control.
- To get neat stitches, don’t forget to change your needle regularly. Some say every 8 hours of stitching, others every 20 hours. A dull needle can cause puckered fabric and uneven stitching.
- Don’t drink ‘n drive 🙂
- Buy yourself a good seam ripper
- And breathe… it’s ok to take a break and reposition your fabric
Along The Edge
I’m talking about straight lines you sew close to the edge of your fabric, or the stitches you use for hemming the edge, or joining 2 pieces of fabric together or topstitching along the edge. How to keep this line parallel to the edge?
Use the width/edge of your presser foot
It goes almost without saying that you can use the edge of your presser foot as a guide. If you move your needle to the left, you have more options. However, if you need larger seam allowances for home decorations for example, the widths are too limited. With my Brother I have a 3/8” seam with my needle in the center position and a 1/4” seam with my needle in the left position.
Keep an eye on the guide of your presser foot, l repeat: don’t watch the needle!
Use the guidelines of your throat plate or needle plate
The guidelines and labels on your throat plate mark the distance from the needle to your desired seam allowance measurement. They are marked in different increments, so you can choose how wide you want your seam allowance. The sewing industry standard for garment seams is 5/8”, for quilts 1/4". So if you want a 5/8” seam allowance, you have to line up your fabric edge with the line labeled 5/8”, and so on. The needle plate of my Brother goes from 1/4” to 1 ¾ "
Keep your fabric right at the line you need and keep your eye on this line.
These throat plate guidelines are helpful, but can sometimes be hard to see. If they don’t work for you, there are other options.
Painters/ washi tape or an elastic
You mark your seam guide with painter’s tape or washi tape. It’s much easier to see than the guidelines on your throat plate. You can also mark on the tape where you want to focus while sewing so you’re not looking at the machine needle.
Some people use a sticky note/ post-it or even put a rubber band or elastic around their sewing arm.
For metal sewing machines or machines with a metal throat plate, a magnetic seam guide is not only easy to see, it doesn’t move. You can place it along any seam guideline on the throat plate of your sewing machine and easily move or remove it if you need to. It will surely help you keep a uniform width. Just line your fabric edge against the magnetic seam guide as you sew.
Some people claim a magnetic seam guide is not to be used on computerized sewing machines. I know for a fact that it’s perfectly safe to do so. It doesn’t interfere with the machinery :-)
Because my machine is plastic with a metal throat plate, I can go up to 1 ¾” width, the same distance as the throat plate. Sewers with a metal machine can probably go further.
Far From Edge
When you are not stitching on the edge of a project, you can’t let the throat plate, a seam guide, washi tape or elastics help you. If your lines are close to each other you can use the presser foot width again. Or draw lines with a fabric marker and ruler.
A LITTLE HELP FROM THE PRESSER FEET FRONT
There are presser feet that have guides built into them. Some are made for hemming, others for edge stitching or larger seams. But you can use them on your fabric or at the edge.
1. Straight Stitch Foot
- Markings/ guide at: 1/16”, ⅛”, 3/16”, ¼”
- Ultimate Presser Foot Set Foot number
The shape of this foot helps when the fabric starts to pucker under your regular foot It can handle multiple layers. The little marks on the right ar great for tiny seams of accurate topstitching.
- Stitch in the ditch & ⅛” with needle in left position
- Ultimate Presser Foot Set Foot number 27
This foot has a guide or blade that is positioned just in front of your needle. This way you can stitch in a crease. With your needle in the left position it is great for edge stitching
3. ¼” quilting foot
- Markings at ¼” and ⅛” on the left
- Ultimate Presser Foot Set Foot Number 10
The width of the foot is exactly ¼” on the right and ⅛” on the left.
- A blade at ¼” on the left and ⅛” on the right
- Ultimate Presser Foot Set Foot number 17
This is the same foot as number 3 but with a ¼” guide or blade that gives you more control to keep that line. But some don’t like this guide for topstitching because the guide doesn’t always slide smoothly over all fabrics
- The guide goes from ½” - 2 ¾” on both sides
- Big 5 Presser foot set
The guide that comes with the walking foot is widely used for topstitches in quilting. Carolina did a great post for us on quilting with this tool
- Red guide lines at ½” & 13/16” on both sides
- Big 5 Presser foot set
The border guide foot is made for topstitching parallel rows. You can line up your previous row of stitches with one of the red guide lines on this clear presser foot.
- Red marks & a guide at ⅜”, ½”, ⅝”, ¾” & 1”, small carvings & a guide at 7/16”, 9/16”, 11/16”, 13/16”, 14/16”, 15/16” & 17/16”
- Big 5 Presser foot set
The adjustable guide foot also has this ruler but an adjustable guide as well. You can position this guide from ⅜” - 17/16”
8. Stitch guide foot
- Marks from 1/16” to ⅞”
- Ultimate Presser Foot Set Foot number 24
This is a presser foot with a ruler on the right. Use it for precise and even parallel lines or seam allowances.
Sewing aficionado and keen sewing blogger/vlogger.
An is Madam Sew’s dedicated creative brain, writing and filming insightful, inspirational content for the sewing enthusiast.