7 Ways to Sew Straighter – How to sew straight seams, topstitching, and quilting

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Sew Straighter.jpg

Whoever made up the phrase ‘I can’t even sew a straight line!’ didn’t know what they were talking about because sewing a straight line is one of the hardest things to master.

I’ve been sewing for too many years to count and when I’m having a bad day, sometimes I can’t sew a straight line, lol!

That’s why I’m so glad there are lots of tools (and a few tricks) available to us to make it much easier to sew straight. Because let’s face it: having straight seam lines, topstitching, edgestitching, and sometimes quilting can make your project look a lot more professional.

Keep in mind that I know all of these tips and tricks (and own all of the tools) because none of them are a one-size-fits all solution. When I’m sewing seams, I’ll use one technique, and then a different technique for topstitching. Quilting requires a whole different set of tricks and tools. I’ve even found that I really love to use one sewing machine or another for sewing in different situations.

Take a look at this list and try the sewing machine feet and tools that you already have. If you’re still not satisfied, maybe you need a new sewing notion!



1. Attach a sewing machine grid or slider with a grid

Our first helpers for sewing straight lines are guidelines. There probably already are guidelines marked on your sewing machine. But if they aren’t helping very much, consider adding a grid or gridded mat with better guidelines to the bed of your sewing machine. I have tried both the Sew Straight tool and the Grid Glider. Both are good, although I prefer the Grid Glider.

The Sew Straight ruler/mat/tool must be adhered to your sewing machine’s bed with masking tape. That might be preferred if you have a drop in bobbin (because you have to lift the mat to check or change the bobbin). But I found that the lines on the Grid Glider are easier to read plus it really makes my sewing surface so smooth and easy to use. The Grid Glider doesn’t need masking tape because it has adhesive on the back (like the Supreme Slider). It’s easy to remove and can be cleaned with water if it loses its tack. I use it on my Bernina – the bobbin is not drop-in.

This fix works for sewing straight seams and edgestitching (topstitching on an edge).

On the Juki TL2010Q

On the Juki TL2010Q

2. Apply masking tape

If you need a quick guideline that can be adjusted to any seam allowance – try masking tape. It’s the ultimate budget fix – you probably already have some.

Tip: Only use masking tape on your sewing machine bed – not other kinds of tape that will leave residue. Making that mistake led me to use acetone to remove sticky residue, which led me to smear the printed guidelines on my extension table, which was a big disaster. It led me to buy a Sew Steady extension table instead (which I love). But ruining part of your sewing machine is no fun!

This fix works for sewing straight seams and edgestitching (topstitching on an edge).

On the Juki TL2010Q

On the Juki TL2010Q

On the Janome Memory Craft 14,000.

On the Janome Memory Craft 14,000.

3. Use a sewing machine foot with a guide

There are a few different types of sewing machine feet that have a guide attached. Above are two quarter inch piecing feet that have a guide that is connected to the foot.

Both of these are intended for sewing straight 1/4’’ seams. They also help for other sewing that needs to be 1/4’’ from the edge – like attaching quilt binding or wide edgestitching.

On the Bernina 770QE

On the Bernina 770QE

On the Bernina 770QE

On the Bernina 770QE

An edgestitching foot also has a guide permanently attached – but this guide is down the middle of the foot.

This foot is helpful for edgestitching a fixed distance close to the edge of the project, or topstitching a fixed distance from a seam. In order to change the distance, you would move the needle to the left or right.

It’s also great for stitch in the ditch quilting – just leave the needle in the middle. In fact my Janome has a foot just like this that they call the ‘stitch-in-the-ditch’ foot.

Never limit a sewing machine foot to the job in its name – you will probably find other things it can do!

On the Janome 14,000

On the Janome 14,000

4. Try a zipper foot

Like I just said – don’t limit a sewing machine foot to the job in its name. A zipper foot helps sew straight next to a zipper because it only pushes the fabric down on one side of the needle.

But that also comes in handy when making piping as well as attaching piping, pom-poms, and other bulky trims.

On the Bernina 770QE

On the Bernina 770QE

5. Use an attachable seam guide or cloth guide

Most sewing machines come with this funny L-shaped tool. Did you know what it is for?

It attaches to the sewing machine foot and helps you guide fabric when sewing seams or quilting. It’s especially good for wide seams or straight line (walking foot) quilting because you can adjust it to lots of different widths.

If your sewing machine doesn’t take an L-shaped seam guide but you have one anyway, you can usually rig it to work by taping it to the top of your walking foot. 🙂

My Janome Memory Craft 14,000 came with a really amazing attachable cloth guide, by the way. I just had to share! It attaches in the back to the (closed) embroidery arm. Then I can adjust its distance from the needle using on-screen commands that move the embroidery arm by tiny increments.

Little things like this make me love my Janome as much as my Bernina 770QE.

On the Janome 14,000

On the Janome 14,000

6. Change the needle position

This tip works with any sewing machine foot and any other tool, as long as your sewing machine lets you move the needle to the left or right.

If, for example, you are sewing something tiny that doesn’t cover all the feed dogs on your sewing machine, move the needle over all the way to one side. Then (hopefully) your tiny item is pushed by at least one set of feed dogs.

This is also helpful for sewing a scant quarter inch seam allowance. Just move the needle a smidge to the right and then use the 1/4’’ guideline on your sewing machine or mat. Or even a foot with a 1/4’’ guide.

On the Bernina 770QE

On the Bernina 770QE

7. Quilt straight lines with a ruler

Straight lines on a quilt are so pretty – and hard to achieve, even with a lot of marking.

When free motion quilting, I love my straight quilting ruler. It is made of special acrylic and is thicker than a regular ruler so it won’t slip under the special rulerwork foot. {See how I quilted this quilt with rulers here.}

So there you go – my best tips for sewing a straight line are all there! Do you have another tip that we should know about? Please share it with us in the comments.



Disclosure: some of my posts contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through one of those links I may receive a small commission, so thank you for supporting SewCanShe when you shop! All of the opinions are my own and I only suggest products that I actually use. 🙂

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  1. You’ve given us such helpful information! I love that you know how to talk to the experienced sewist, the novice, and people in between (like me). You’ve laid out exactly when one might choose one method over another. I’m sure I’ll return to this post many times!

    I have one more method to add to your list. When I was young, my mother kindly made me a quilt—done by machine so she didn’t have to look at a months-long-project on my floor if I forgot to make my bed. She used a plaid sheet as the backing so she had straight lines already printed!

  2. Rhyl
    Instead of using masking tape on the arm of the machine, I slide a rubber band over the arm and align it up in the same way. It is then easily moveable if you want to use a different seam allowance next time!

  3. Love your blog and all the tutorials you post – your instructions are always accurate and easy to follow! Also love the patient doggo who let you use him for the model for the critter sweater! I DO take exception at one thing, tho …. please, please, please …. do not use regular rotary cutting rulers for straight line quilting as shown in the pictures. If somehow one accidentally "jumps" onto the ruler while stitching, serious damage could be done to your machine. There are a lot of inexpensive, easy-to-handle quilting rulers and special quilting feet to go with that one can purchase at your LQS or sewing machine dealers. Please don’t take chances with one of your biggest sewing investments – your sewing machines! And keep up the good work!

  4. sue kantor says:

    Is it hard to line up the Grid Glider so it is straight for accurate piecing? I have other tools but have never been able to get them lined up properly. I already own a Supreme Slider so would only be purchasing this for the grid. Wondering if it is worth the investment. Thanks for all of your tips, tricks and free patterns!

  5. Pam Smith says:

    If you have a sticky residue left on any surface, try removing with WD40.

  6. What is the foot on the "On the Juki TL2010Q" picture!? I have been looking fur exactly that!!

  7. Thanks so much this is so lovely I can now sew on my own i am looking forward for more from you 👍👍👍👍

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