Whoever coined the phrase “I can’t sew a straight line” makes it look easy. On the contrary, sewing a straight line is one of the most difficult things to master. I've been sewing for too many years to count. When I'm having a bad day, I can't sew straight either!
That's why I'm so glad that there are plenty of tools (and a few tips) available to make straight sewing easier. Let's face it: sewing straight seam lines, topstitching, edge stitching, and sometimes quilting can make your project look more professional.
No “one size fits all” solution
None of these tips and tricks (or tools) are a one-size-fits-all solution. When sewing seams, one technique may be perfect and then another technique for topstitching. Quilting requires a whole different set of techniques. I've even discovered that I enjoy using one sewing machine or another to sew in different situations.
Go through this list and try out the sewing machine feet and tools you already own. If you're still not satisfied, maybe you need a new sewing concept!
1. Use the directions on your sewing machine
Our first assistants in sewing straight lines are guidelines. Home sewing machines manufactured in recent decades all have guidelines on the needle plate. These are useful but also very small and sometimes difficult to see.
2. Attach a sewing machine grid like the Sew Straight tool
The Straight Sew tool is shown above. It must be stuck to the frame of your sewing machine with adhesive tape. This might be best if you have a bobbin to insert, as you will have to lift the mat to check or change the bobbin.
The Grid Glider is self-adhesive
I prefer the Grid Glider. I find the Grid Glider lines easier to read. This makes my sewing surface very smooth and easy to use. The Grid Glider does not need masking tape as it has adhesive on the back. It is easy to remove and can be cleaned with water if it loses its stickiness. I use it on my Bernina – the bobbin is not removable.
3. Apply masking tape
If you need a quick guide that can be adjusted to any seam allowance, try masking tape. It’s the ultimate low-budget solution; you probably already have some.
This solution works for sewing straight seams and edge seams (edge topstitching).
Advice: Only use masking tape on your sewing machine bed. Do not use other types of tape that will leave residue. This mistake led me to use acetone to remove the residue, which caused me to smear the printed directions on my extension cord, which was a big disaster. For this reason, I purchased a Sew Steady extension table instead (which I love). But ruining part of your sewing machine is no fun!
4. Use a presser foot with a 1/4″ guide
A few different types of sewing machine feet come with a guide. Above are two quarter-inch assembly feet with a guide connected to the foot. These two items are intended for sewing 1/4” straight seams. They can also facilitate sewing that needs to be 1/4” from the edge, such as attaching quilt binding or wide edge seams.
5. Use an edge sewing presser foot with a center guide
An edge sewing foot also has a permanently attached guide, but the guide is in the middle of the foot. This foot is useful for sewing edges a fixed distance near the edge of the project or for sewing edges a fixed distance from a seam. To change the distance, you would move the needle left or right.
This is also ideal for quilting with ditch stitches: leave the needle in the middle. Actually, my Janome has a foot like this that they call the “point in the ditch” foot. Never limit a sewing machine foot to the task listed in its name – you'll probably find other things it can do!
6. Try a zipper foot
Remember: don't limit a sewing machine foot to its named task. A zipper foot allows you to sew directly next to a zipper because it only pushes the fabric to one side of the needle. This also comes in handy when making piping and attaching piping, pom poms and other bulky trim.
7. Attach a removable seam guide or fabric guide
Most sewing machines come with this fun L-shaped tool. Do you know what it's for?
It attaches to the sewing machine foot and helps you guide the fabric when sewing or quilting. It is particularly suitable for wide seams or straight line quilting (walking foot), as you can adjust it to different widths. If your sewing machine foot doesn't take an L-shaped sewing guide, but you have one anyway, you can usually make it work by taping it to the top of your walking foot.
8. Change the needle position
This tip works with any sewing machine foot and any other tool as long as your sewing machine allows you to move the needle left or right.
For example, if you're sewing something small that doesn't cover all of the feed dogs on your sewing machine, move the needle all the way to one side. Then, hopefully, your little object will be pushed by at least one set of feed dogs.
This is also useful for sewing a seam allowance limited to a quarter inch. Simply move the needle a little to the right, then follow the 1/4” guide on your sewing machine or mat, or use a foot with a 1/4” guide.
9. Quilting straight lines with a quilting ruler
Straight lines on a quilt are so pretty – and difficult to achieve, even with lots of markings.
When free-motion quilting, I love my straight edge quilting ruler. It is made of special acrylic and is thicker than a regular ruler so that it will not slip under the special ruler foot.
These are my best tips for sewing a straight line. Now all you have to do is practice!
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