Top 9 Tools to Sew Straight Lines

Everyone knows that crooked seams and uneven topstitching scream to the world: “This is homemade!” And we want to tell the world ourselves that we made something, not let a bad seam reveal it! That’s why we wanted to share some tips with you on straight line stitching.

Straight line stitching in parallel lines

Keep in mind, none of us automatically knows how to sew straight lines. 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 on how to sew straight.

Think of it like driving…

  1. Practice! Sewing straight lines takes some time to master. If you’re a newbie, use some scraps.

  2. Go slowly. Set your machine to a slow pace and increase your speed as you gain confidence.

  3. Be patient and careful.

  4. Sit up straight.

  5. Keep your eyes on everything, not just the needle, and not just on the item directly in front of you.

  6. 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.

  7. To get neat, straight 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.

  8. Don’t drink ‘n drive 🙂.

  9. Buy yourself a good seam ripper.

  10. And breathe… It’s ok to take a break and reposition your fabric.

How to Sew Straight Lines Along the Edge of Your Fabric

Use the Edge of Your Presser Foot as a Guide for Sewing Straight

Use the edge of your presser foot as a guide for sewing straight
How to sew straight using the edge of your presser foot as a guide

It goes almost without saying that you can use the edge of your presser foot as a guide for straight line stitching. If your sewing machine has an adjustable needle position, you can move your needle to the left for a larger seam allowance. However, if you need an even larger seam allowance, for home decorations for example, the widths are too limited to use the edge of your presser foot as a guide.

With my Brother sewing machine, I have a 3/8” seam allowance with my needle in the center position and a 1/4” seam allowance with my needle in the left position. However, every sewing machine is a little different. You can use a seam guide ruler to check the distance between your needle and the edge of your presser foot.

One common mistake people make when learning how to sew straight is that they only pay attention to the needle. Keep an eye on the edge of your presser foot. l repeat: Don’t watch the needle!

Use the Markings on Your Needle Plate to Keep Your Stitches Straight

Seam allowance markings on needle plate for sewing straight lines

The seam guide markings on your needle plate show 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.

5/8" is the sewing industry standard for garment seams and 1/4" is the standard for quilt seams. 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. However, always check your pattern because sometimes you’ll see 1/2” and other seam allowances.

Keep your fabric right at the line you need and keep your eye on this line. This is how to do a straight stitch.

The needle plate of my Brother machine goes from 1/4” to 1 ¾ ". These markings are helpful, but can sometimes be hard to see. If they don’t work for you, there are other options.

Use Painters Tape, Washi Tape, or an Elastic Band as a Seam Guide for Sewing Straight

Use washi tape/elastic/painters tape as a seam guide
Elastic band placed as seam guide
Painters tape placed as seam guide

You can create your own seam guide with painter’s tape or washi tape. They are much easier to see than the lines on your needle plate. You can also mark on the tape where you want to focus while sewing so you’re not looking at the needle.

Some people use a sticky note or even put an elastic band around their sewing arm to create a seam guide for straight line stitching.

Use a Magnetic Seam Guide to Keep Your Stitches Straight

Magnetic seam guide to help in sewing straight lines
Magnetic seam guide placed on metal needle plate

For metal sewing machines or machines with a metal needle 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 needle plate of your sewing machine and easily move or remove it if you need to. It will surely help you keep a uniform seam width for straight line stitching. 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 needle plate, I can go up to 1 ¾” width, the same distance as the needle plate. People with a metal machine can probably go farther.

How to Sew Straight Lines When You're Not Sewing on the 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 elastic bands 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.

Use fabric markers to draw straight lines to follow
Use fabric markers to mark stitching lines

Get a Little Help Sewing Straight Lines with Guides on Your Presser Foot

Some presser feet have guides built into them. Some are made for hemming, others for edge stitching, and others for larger seams. You can use them on your fabric or at the edge.

How to sew straight using specialty presser feet
1. Straight stitch foot

markings/guide at:
1/16”, ⅛”, 3/16”, ¼”

Ultimate Presser Foot Set
Foot number 6

The shape of this foot helps when fabric starts to pucker under your regular foot. It can handle multiple layers. The little marks on the right are great for tiny seams of accurate topstitching.

Straight stitch foot
Straight stitch foot
2. Edge joining foot

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

Edge joining foot
Edge joining foot
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.

¼” quilting foot
4. ¼” quilting foot with guide

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. Some people don’t like this guide for topstitching because the guide doesn’t always slide smoothly over all fabrics.

¼” quilting foot with guide
5. Walking foot with guide

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:

Walking foot with guide
6. Border guide foot

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.

Border guide foot
7. Adjustable guide 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”

Adjustable guide foot
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.

Stitch guide foot

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The more you sew, the easier sewing straight will become. Practice, practice, practice. And with these tips and some help from the right tools, you’ll master sewing straight in no time.

If you’ve always wanted to learn how to sew in a straight line and get some help from available tools, we recommend getting Madam Sew’s Ultimate Presser Foot Set and trying out some of the presser feet with built-in seam guides. You’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to keep your lines straight. The magnetic seam guide is also a must have for beginners! With a little bit of practice, you’ll be sewing straight lines in no time at all.

Need a little sewing inspiration? Check out this post: 10 Beginner-Friendly Sewing Projects.

Happy Sewing

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