Sewing Machine Stitches: Adjust Length and Width

Sewing machine stitch
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    Straight Stitch - Adjusting Stitch Length and Stitch Width

    How to make sewing machine adjustments to your straight stitch
    Straight Stitch Adjustments to Stitch Width and Stitch Length. Debbie Colgrove, Licensed to About.com

    Almost any sewing machine you find today, aside from an industrial sewing machine or extremely old machine, will have a straight stitch and a zigzag stitch available. The straight stitch is your basic utility stitch that will be used for most construction. Straight stitches are best for sewing seams unless you need a stretch stitch.

    When sewing with a straight stitch, the most common adjustment will be adjusting the stitch length. Adjusting the stitch length can eliminate puckered seams and the...MORE overall stitch appearance. Setting the stitch length to the absolute minimum will allow you to sew a lock stitch. A lock-stitch is one way to anchor the stitching without adding back-stitching to what you are sewing.

    When you are sewing a straight stitch, you can adjust the stitch width. The stitch width may be left, right and center or be small, numerous settings depending upon the sewing machines capabilities. The more adjustments that are available, the more control you will have over stitch placement.

    The photo shows a white line that was used as a guideline. The left image shows left, right and center settings for the needle position, and a line of stitching that moves away from the white guideline as settings were changed in small intervals.

    When you adjust the stitch width on a straight stitch, it will not change the width of the stitch, but it will change the needle position. Changing the needle position allows you to use various guides on your sewing machine and have the most control over where your stitching is landing. Adjusting the tension on your sewing machine may also be needed to have a smooth stitched appearance. A straight stitch will not stretch even if you're sewing a stretchy fabric. Stretching the fabric as you sew will not produce a stretch stitch but will produce a puckered, messy stitch. Tension adjustments are detailed in your sewing machine manual.

    Adjustments and solutions to create a smooth, straight stitch:

    Continue to 2 of 2 below.
  • 02 of 02

    Zigzag Stitch - Adjusting Stitch Length and Stitch Width

    Sewing Machine Adjustments to a Zigzag Stitch
    Zigzag Stitch Adjustments to Stitch Width and Stitch Length. Debbie Colgrove, Licensed to About.com

    The most common uses for zigzag stitches are as a stretch stitch and as a seam finish. When you need a stretch stitch, the zigzag stitch can be your solution. Adjustments to stitch length and stitch width will change the appearance of a zigzag stitch, more so than adjusts to a straight stitch.

    The stitch width sets the swing of the needle. If you set the stitch width on a straight stitch it will change the needle position. This is a very useful tool to maintain control over where you are sewing....MORE Adjusting the width of the zigzag stitch will affect how wide the stitch is. The width of the stitch when you are using a zigzag stitch for a seam finish will affect how the fabric lays and ensure that you are catching enough fibers of the fabric to keep a stable seam finish (More about Choosing a Seam Finish)

    Using a zigzag stitch as a stretch stitch requires you to use a narrow zigzag stitch. Small adjustments to increase the width of a zigzag stitch from a straight stitch to a zigzag stitch will allow the stitching to stretch with the fabric but at the same time sew a straight seam. Testing the stretch on scraps of fabric will help you find a perfect combination of stitch width and stitch length.

    Adjusting the length of a zigzag stitch can look like it is affecting the width of a zigzag stitch but it is not. Setting a short stitch length will produce a bar tack and a lengthened stitch length can make the zigzag stitch almost appear to be a straight stitch. By practicing on scraps of fabric you will be able to see the finished appearance of the stitching and you can test the stretch of the stitch by stretching the fabric to see if the stitching stretches with the fabric or if the stitching breaks rather than stretching.

    As always the best way to know about the adjustments that can be made on your sewing machine is to refer to the sewing machine manual and never be afraid to grab scraps of fabric to practice and make samples. I strongly recommend experimenting on scraps of fabric to understand how the adjustments effect the finished stitch and the way those combinations work with your fabric. If you are new to sewing and have limited scraps available, there are many economical fabric sources.

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