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Sewing Stitches Quick Guide

Posted by Kara Ballinger on

Sewing Stitches Quick Guide

Basic Sewing Stitches Quick Guide

It’s time to get to know some of the different stitches available to you. Here I will tell you which ones you need, what they do, and when to use them.

Take a look at your sewing machine. How many stitch options do you have? My machine has 99 different stitches to choose from! Even basic machines usually have at least 12 different stitches.

Choosing the right stitches for your project can be confusing when there are so many options. Here is the good news: you only need two stitches for nearly everything you make. Take a breath of relief and read on to see what those stitches are and when you use them.

Straight Stitch

This is the most common type of stitch. It is available on all sewing machines. In fact, some older machines only have one type of stitch and this is it.

The straight stitch is used for sewing seams, hemming, and topstitching. You can adjust the length of a straight stitch depending on your project needs.

A straight stitch does not stretch and should be used on projects that do not need to stretch. I use it most often when working with woven fabric. If you try to use a straight stitch on stretchy fabric seams, your thread may break.  

Zigzag Stitch

This is the second most used stitch. The zigzag shape of the stitch allows the thread to stretch with the fabric without breaking.  Because of its strength and because it is available on almost every machine, the zigzag stitch is considered the most common stretch stitch.

The zigzag stitch works great with knit fabrics to make clothing.  It can be used for sewing seams and hemming anywhere that thread needs to be able to stretch without breaking. A good example of these would be a neckband — the stitches need to be able to stretch to fit over your head.

Other Stitch Lingo (Not actually types of stitches)

There are other times I will use “stitch lingo” in my tutorials.  This terminology is a little confusing because they are not even types of stitches. These stitches are really only different uses or techniques of the stitch types listed above.


Backstitching is just stitching backwards. You will use it at the beginning and end of seams by forward stitching a few times and then reverse stitching over top of those stitches. Your machine should have a button or lever on it that you can use to make your machine reverse stitch.

The purpose of backstitching is to secure stitches in place so they do not come out.  Backstitching is very important for clothing quality and is a technique used in nearly every single sewing project.

You can backstitch in whichever stitch type you are sewing with. So if you are sewing with a zigzag stitch, your reverse stitches will be zigzag as well. 

Basting Stitch

A basting stitch is a long, easily removable stitch that is used to temporarily join two or more pieces of fabric together. It is removed once the final stitches are in place. A basting stitch is commonly used for gathering fabric or sometimes used for attaching fabric in a place where there are a lot of layers to hold in place.

To achieve a basting stitch, all you have to do is increase the length of your straight stitch, usually to the longest length available on you machine. The longer stitches make it easier to remove the stitches later. 

Top Stitch

Topstitching is a sewing technique where the line of stitching is designed to be seen from the outside of the garment.  These stitches can be either decorative or functional. It helps the fabric stay in place and gives it a crisp edge. It can also add strength to the finished project.

So while there are many different types of stitches, you really only need two of them. It almost seems too good to be true! Yes, there are other stitches and a time where a specific project will call for them. But when you’re just getting started, these are the two you will need for the majority of the projects you decide to tackle. Practicing stitch types and lengths on different kinds of fabric is a good exercise to build confidence.

For more help with sewing terminology, you can download our Guide to Sewing Lingo here.

Our sewing kits make it easy to learn and enjoy sewing. 

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