The straight stitch and top stitch are the mighty work horses in the world of sewing. The straight stitch is necessary to complete nearly any sewing project. In this article I cover the basics on these stitches, including how to take your straight stitch around corners and add a top stitch for greater durability and a better finished look.
The Straight Stitch
This stitch is most often used to sew two pieces of fabric together along their edges. The finished seam ends up on the inside, unseen, once complete. Before tackling the straight stitch, make sure your sewing machine is properly set up. The next step is to place the two fabrics together, right sides on the inside (This puts the seam on the inside when complete). Depending on the fabric, place the fabric under the sewing machine’s presser foot with a 0.25 to 0.5 inch seam allowance.
I always start with a reverse stitch by depressing the reverse-feed button on the sewing machine. Sewing a few stitches in reverse locks the end of the seam, preventing it from unraveling. After reverse stitching about 0.5 inch, release the reverse-feed button and proceed to stitch along the fabric’s edge. While sewing, use your right hand to hold the edge of the fabric feeding into the machine and steer the fabric to maintain the desired seam allowance. I use my left hand to keep the rest of the fabric out of the way. To keep the two fabrics together, I usually use my thumb and forefinger, but many will find pins handy for this. Finish the stitch by reverse stitching the final 0.5 inch of the seam.
|I start off my straight stitches with the reverse-feed button depressed (left) which adds stitches while backing up. Back stitching for a few stitches first locks the end of the stitching, and prevents it from unraveling.|
When sewing, I use the thumb and forefinger of my right hand to feed the fabric. This allows me to keep the two pieces of fabric together with their edges aligned (one could use pins instead) and steer the fabric to maintain my desired seam allowance. Finish your stitch with a reverse-feed stitch to lock the seam.
Sewing around Corners
Many outdoor gear projects require a sewn corner (i.e. backpacks, stuff sacks, sleeping bags, etc.). We could stop the straight stitch at the corner with a reverse-feed stitch to lock the seam, clip the threads, and realign the sewing project to sew the next edge. What a pain. How about just steering the fabric around the corner as you continue sewing? There’s another, much easier option.
Upon reaching the corner, stop sewing with the needle down in the fabric. You might have to advance the sewing machine by hand using the hand wheel to get the needle where you want it. With the needle in the fabric, raise the presser foot and rotate the fabric to the new direction you wish to sew. Continue sewing after lowering the presser foot.
|When you reach the corner, stop with the needle in the fabric. Lift the presser foot (top left), and rotate the fabric around on the needle (top right). Once realigned (bottom left), drop the presser foot and continue sewing (bottom right).|
Adding a top stitch gives a finished look to your seam and adds a bit of strength. The top stitch is sewn on top of a primary straight stitch, sewing through the top of the fabric and the seam allowances underneath.
To sew the top stitch, lay open the previously sewn fabrics with right sides up and the seam allowance underneath. Fold the seam allowance (underneath) to the side where you intend to top stitch. You will sew through the top fabric and through both fabrics’ seam allowance underneath to hold the seam allowances flat. Sew as you would a straight stitch, with the top stitch seam about 1/8 to 1/4 inch from the straight stitch seam.
Adding a top stitch is as easy as doing a straight stitch. Try to keep it parallel to the primary stitch, about 1/8 to 1/4 inch beside it. A crooked top stitch really stands out. In the above photo, the primary straight stitch is on the left. The top stitch is on the right and is sewn through the top orange fabric and both layers of seam allowance underneath.
|The top stitch adds a bit of strength to the seam, looks more finished and forces the seam to lay flat (right photo).|
|Top stitching can also be used along a fabric edge to help define the edge and hold it flat. The pictures above show a sewn corner (as demonstrated above) turned inside out so the seam allowance is on the inside. The left picture shows this corner without top stitching, and the right shows the top stitch. Using a top stitch in this way is mostly cosmetic, but can give a simple project a more professional look.|
Nothing detracts more from the finished look than hanging threads, and most sewing projects have lots of them at the ends of every seam. Certainly you will want to clip them, but now is not the time to be in a hurry. I have snipped the fabric, along with the thread I was after, a time or two when trying to get done before my next trip. It takes a lot of time to rip seams and re-sew so caution is advised.