17 Secrets for Sewing Straight Lines: You can do it too!

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Sewing straight can be challenging; even seasoned sewers like myself encounter wobbly stitches on occasion. The good news? We have an arsenal of tools and tricks to turn those unwanted wanderings into wow-worthy precision.

Mastering straight seams, topstitching, edge finishing, and quilting will take your craft to the next level and boost your sewing confidence along the way. Let’s dive into the secret weapons that will transform your sewing game!

There is No ‘One-Size-Fits-All’ Solution

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None of these tips, tricks, or tools are a one-size-fits-all solution. Some of these hacks will work when you are sewing garments, and others are better if you are making a quilt. I’m including a couple for specialty sewing, like for making piping or sewing a narrow strap. I’ve even found that I prefer one sewing machine over another for sewing in different situations.

Slow Down

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Sometimes we just need to slow down a little. After all, there are a lot of things happening to make that straight stitch. Sure, sometimes it’s the needle, and sometimes it’s the fabric, but start by turning that speed dial down or easing up on the foot pedal. Take a break and really enjoy your sewing, like I did here in the Florida Keys!

Sew on Paper First

Photo Credit: CreativeArtnSoul.com

Sometimes it seems like your machine is the crooked one. If you’re trying to troubleshoot, sew on a sheet of paper! You’ll be able to see clearly if your machine is the wobble factor instead of you. This tip comes from CreativeArtnSoul.

Guidelines on Your Machine

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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. I use tape to extend the lines, and help make them more visible.

Pro Tip: If you don’t want the tape there permanently, only use masking tape.

Make a DIY Moveable Seam Guide

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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).

Pro Tip: Only use masking tape on your sewing machine bed. Do not use other kinds of tape that will leave a residue. I made that mistake once which led me to use acetone to remove the residue, which caused me to smear the printed guidelines on my extension table, which was a huge disaster. Ruining part of your sewing machine is no fun!

The Sew Straight Tool

Photo credit: quiltinaday.com.

If your gridlines need an upgrade, consider using a gridded mat. 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.

Pro Tip: Consider the positioning of your bobbin when attaching tools to your machine.

The Grid Glider

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The Grid Glider is similar to the sew straight tool, but I like this better because I feel like the lines are easier to read. It also makes my sewing surface smooth and easy to use. The Grid Glider has its own adhesion so it’s easy to remove and can be cleaned with water if it loses its tack.

Mark Your Fabric

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Believe it or not, marking a line to sew on really does help you sew straight! This tip is especially amazing when you have to sew around a curve, like on my Peek-a-Boo Pouch Pattern shown above.

Diagonal Seam Tape

Photo Credit: HoneySew

This diagonal seam tape is a smart substitute for drawing on your fabric (not around a curve though). Especially if you don’t have great marking pens or chalk, this tape is straight heaven! (You like what I did there?) The red line is centered between two 1/4″ seam allowances.

Sticky Notes as a Seam Guide

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Sticky notes are a popular seam guide. Peel off a stack of sticky notes about 1/4” tall and place it anywhere you like. It’s easily adjustable and takes straight to an attainable level!

The Seam Guide Ruler

Photo credit: Madame Sew

This fabulous ruler from Madame Sew not only provides you with a guide, but helps you set the exact seam allowance. The magnetic guide may not attach to your machine if you need a very large allowance, but that’s when you bust out your stack of sticky notes!

Attachable Seam Guide or Cloth Guide

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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 guides your 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 machine doesn’t “take the L” try taping it to the top of your walking foot.

1/4” Guide on a Presser Foot

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A few different machine feet have guides already attached. Above are shown two 1/4″ piecing feet with a permanent guide connected to the foot. Both of these are intended for sewing straight seams at one-quarter inch. They can also help with sewing that needs to be 1/4’’ from the edge – like when attaching quilt binding or wide edge stitching.

Center Guide on an Edge Stitching Presser Foot

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An edge stitching foot also has a permanently attached guide, but this one 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 make adjustments, you move your needle left or right.

It’s also great for stitch-in-the-ditch quilting – just leave the needle in the middle. In fact, there is a foot called the ‘stitch-in-the-ditch’ foot.

Pro Tip: 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

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Don’t limit a sewing machine foot to the job in its name. A zipper foot works by only pushing 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.

Change the needle position

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This tip works if you have a tiny sewing allowance and you need the feed dogs to do their job. Not all machines let you shift the needle, but if you can, give it a try.

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.

A Quilting Ruler

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Straight lines on a quilt are stunning – and hard to achieve, even with a lot of marking. I love my straight-edge quilting ruler when I do free-motion quilting. It is made of special acrylic and is thicker than a regular ruler so that it won’t slip under the special rulerwork foot.

Try Foundation Paper Piecing

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Foundation paper piecing is a quilt piecing method that is completely different from traditional quilt piecing methods. It can be tricky to understand at first, but once you catch on to the process, you’ll get to sew along lines that are printed or traced on paper! Learn how with this free paper piecing pattern.

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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. 🙂