Whoever made up the phrase, ‘I can’t sew a straight line,’ makes it sound easy. On the contrary, sewing a straight line is one of the hardest 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 many tools (and a few tricks) are available to make it much easier to sew straight. Let’s face it: sewing straight seam lines, topstitching, edge stitching, and sometimes quilting can make your project look more professional.
There is No ‘One-Size-Fits-All’ Solution
None of these tips and tricks (or tools) are a one-size-fits-all solution. One technique might be perfect when sewing seams, and a different technique will work well for topstitching. Quilting requires a whole different set of techniques. I’ve even found that I love to use one sewing machine or another for sewing in different situations.
Browse this list and try the sewing machine feet and tools you already have. If you’re still unsatisfied, maybe you need a new sewing notion!
Use the guidelines on your sewing machine
Our first helpers for sewing straight lines are guidelines. Domestic sewing machines made in the last few decades all have guidelines on the needle plate. These are helpful but also very small and sometimes hard to see.
Attach a sewing machine grid like the Sew Straight Tool
If the guidelines on your sewing machine aren’t helping 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.
The Sew Straight Tool is shown above. It 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’ll have to lift the mat to check or change the bobbin.
The Grid Glider is self-stick
I prefer the Grid Glider. I find that the lines on the Grid Glider are easier to read. It makes my sewing surface very smooth and easy to use. The Grid Glider doesn’t need masking tape because it has adhesive on the back. 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.
Apply masking tape
If you need a quick guideline that can be adjusted to any seam allowance, try masking tape. It’s the ultimate low-budget fix; you probably already have some.
This fix works for sewing straight seams and edge stitching (topstitching on edge).
Tip: Only use masking tape on your sewing machine bed. Do not use other kinds of tape that will leave a residue. That mistake led me to use acetone to remove the residue, which caused me to smear the printed guidelines on my extension table, which was a big disaster. Because of that, I purchased a Sew Steady extension table instead (which I love). But ruining part of your sewing machine is no fun!
Sticky Notes as a Seam Guide
Sticky notes from the office supply section of any store (or the dollar store!) are also a popular seam guide. Peel off a stack of sticky notes about 1/4” tall and place it anywhere you like for an adjustable seam guide!
Use a presser foot with a 1/4” guide
A few different types of sewing machine feet have a guide attached. Above are two quarter-inch piecing feet with a guide connected to the foot. Both of these are intended for sewing straight 1/4’’ seams. They can also help with sewing that needs to be 1/4’’ from the edge – like attaching quilt binding or wide edge stitching.
Use an edge stitching presser foot with a center guide
An edge stitching foot also has a guide permanently attached, but this guide is down the middle of the foot. This foot is helpful for edge stitching a fixed distance close to the edge of the project or top stitching a fixed distance from a seam. To change the distance, you would move the needle to the left or right.
It’s also great for stitch-in-the-ditch quilting – 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!
Try a zipper foot
Remember: 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. That also comes in handy when making piping and attaching piping, pom-poms, and other bulky trims.
Attach an attachable seam guide or cloth guide
Most sewing machines come with this funny L-shaped tool. Do you know what it is for?
It attaches to the sewing machine’s 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 different widths. If your sewing machine’s foot doesn’t take an L-shaped seam guide, but you have one anyway, you can usually make it work by taping it to the top of your walking foot.
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.
For example, if 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 follow the 1/4’’ guideline on your sewing machine or mat, or use a foot with a 1/4’’ guide.
Quilt straight lines with a quilting 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-edge quilting ruler. It is made of special acrylic and is thicker than a regular ruler so that it won’t slip under the special rulerwork foot.
These are my best tips for sewing a straight line. Now, all you need is practice!
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